The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)
When I addressed the Committee last year in a similar Debate, we were passing through a period of special anxiety in regard to food supplies and distribution. Since that time a good many things have happened, and though it would be impossible, in the time at my disposal, to 536 mention all the activities of the Ministry of Food, I will do my best to touch upon one or two of the more important. Twelve months ago the nation was enduring the worst trial that it had had to endure, as far as the food front was concerned, during this war. All our principal nearby sources of supply had been cut off, we were enduring intensive aerial bombardment of our ports and our industrial centres, and our shipping was subjected to most determined attacks by submarine and from the air. During the winter months of 1940–41, food imports showed a substantial decline, and in the three months January to March, 1941, arrivals were only half those of the peak period in the Summer of 1940.
Our imports of food are affected by three factors. First, of course, there is the sinking of our ships by enemy action. While the loss of actual food as a result of sinkings by enemy action has never, I am glad to say, since the war started, been really substantial, the serious thing is the loss of the ships which reduces the carrying capacity of our merchant fleet. Another factor which affects our food imports is, particularly in Winter time, the delay caused by bad weather in the actual voyage and delays caused in the docks by the long nights and the blackout. But the most important of all the factors is the diversion of ships from carrying food to this country to support of military operations in other parts of the world.
As I have said, imports were at their lowest point when the Committee were engaged in the similar Debate last year. Even so, thanks to the stocks that had been built up earlier, we were able to maintain our reserves, which, even at their lowest point, were kept at a substantially higher level than in 1940. During the second half of 1941, however, a substantial improvement occurred in the supply position, with the result that the total for the year as a whole reached a very satisfactory level. We took advantage of this improvement to build up our stocks of essential foods, with the result that our stocks in December, 1941, were 30 per cent. higher than in December, 1940. If we could only look forward to maintaining this level for the rest of the war, the task of the Ministry in future would be a much more simple one than I expect it will be.
Two important factors have contributed to this improvement in our stock 537 position. The first is the increase in our food production at home, due to the magnificent response of our agricultural community to the appeals made to them. The second is the very substantial help we have received from the United States of America. Between the end of April and the end of December, 1941, we received a quantity of Lend-Lease food approximately equal to an average month's imports from all sources. This is really an understatement, because the Lend-Lease goods were exactly what we needed to improve our diet. For example, the canned meats now being distributed under the points scheme put an additional one-fifth on our meat ration. The milk products have also been of the utmost value in supplementing our home-produced supply. This result did not come about by accident. It was achieved by detailed planning and close collaboration between the United States Administration on the other side, and the headquarters of the Ministry of Food on this side, with our Food Mission in Washington, under the very capable leadership of Mr. R. H. Brand, acting as an efficient link between the two. On behalf of His Majesty's Government, I wish to express our sincere thanks and admiration for the way the Government and the people of the United States of America have helped us with food.
I referred just now to the great improvement that has taken place in the position of our stocks of essential foodstuffs. This is very satisfactory. But I warned the House last October, the last time I addressed it on the subject of food, that we would have to regard these stocks as our insurance and that because of them we would be in a better position to meet whatever trials we had to face; but that they would have to be regarded as our insurance. This is a war of shipping. Every ship to-day is a ship of war. The demands upon our shipping increase with every new commitment. The question that has to be decided is whether any particular ship can best contribute to victory by bringing food supplies to these ports or by supporting our armies and those of our Allies in other parts of the world. We as a nation must realise the situation. We are facing this year a difficult period. Our food imports will be reduced. We shall have to go without some of the things that we are getting to-day. It may be necessary even to reduce to some ex 538 tent the existing rations. We have been at war for two and a half years, and we have not yet been called upon for any serious food sacrifices—inconvenience, yes; loss of freedom, possibly; but real sacrifice, no. Whatever restrictions we may have to suffer, however, I can say that, thanks to our policy of building up our reserves over the last twelve months, the nation will be adequately fed, and neither our health nor our morale will suffer.
I come now to the question of distribution. Much of the Debate last year was devoted to this important question, and I then foreshadowed further developments. I think no one will deny that a great improvement has been brought about in this respect during the interval. Food queues to-day are rarely seen, and those that continue are usually for flour—confectionery, chocolate, or sweets—in fact, non-essentials. The improvement is due partly, as I have explained, to the increased supplies, partly to better organisation, and partly to the extension of rationing.
During the recent Debate on the war situation it was, I think, the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) who criticised the Ministry for not rationing food "more in accordance with the needs of the people and less in accordance with their ability to pay." I propose to deal with that criticism to-day. I believe that the various measures which my Department have taken since the commencement of the war have done far more to enable each consumer to obtain a fair share of the supplies available than many people realise. I would remind the Committee of what has been done in regard to the ordinary people. First of all there is the rationing of what are called "straight" rations. I do not think I need develop that. Then there is the group rationing, for instance, preserves, and soap has now been added. Thirdly, there is the fair-share system, if I may call it such, which is really rationing in inverted commas. That is milk and eggs and so on. Finally, there is the Points Scheme. This Scheme has worked very well, and the public may expect the extension of the Scheme to new foodstuffs at intervals in the present year.
I would emphasise that it is not practicable to put new items in the Points Scheme without an immense amount of preliminary work, firstly, to ensure that 539 an adequate supply is available, and, secondly, that this supply is reasonably well distributed. It is a tremendous task to distribute what is to be included in the Points Scheme to every town and hamlet in the country. The commodities have to be distributed before the Scheme can start. Clearly, we have to have the co-operation of the trade in this sort of Scheme, and this we have always received. We are conscious of the burden thrown upon them, and we are deeply grateful for what they have done. This applies not only to wholesalers but to retailers, and, particularly, to the staffs of retail shops who have so much extra work to do as a consequence of this and other schemes which we have brought forward, and who are, make no mistake about it, as vital a cog in our war machine as any other war worker, because food, whatever quantity we have, has to be distributed, and that is a very important part of the work.
I now come to another important part to ensure that all towns have a fair share, namely, the question of price control. During 1941 price control was extended to cover 60 commodities or groups of commodities. There are, indeed, very few commodities to-day which are left uncontrolled. In fact, out of every 10 shillings spent by an average family, on an average seven-and-sixpence goes to goods which are price controlled. About one-third of family purchases of foods are assisted by Government subsidy, and the retail food index figure to-day is only 25 points above what it was at the beginning of the war. Since this Debate took place last year it has actually fallen seven points. So much for the ordinary consumer.
I now come to those sections of the population which are deserving of special care, namely, the workers upon whom we rely for our war effort, and the rising generation for whose sake surely we are making this effort. Last October I outlined to the Committee what the Ministry of Food were doing to justify their decision to concentrate on canteen facilities and British Restaurants for sections of our people, rather than singling them out for an increased ration individually. (If this were a book, this is the place which I would suggest the Committee should skip, because I have one or two figures which I apologise for having to give.) It 540 is, however, important that people should realise that we are trying to look after food not in accordance with their ability to pay, but in accordance with their needs. I indicated in the Debate last October that we would give increased allowances to canteens organised in accordance with the needs of the workers employed. That has been in operation for some time. Last year there were, I think, about 4,300 factory canteens. This year there are 5,500, and these 5,500 canteens are serving a substantial meal six days a week. Many of them also serve breakfast, tea, snack meals for night shift workers and light refreshments. The mines, as hon. Members opposite know better than I, presented a very difficult problem, and we have done everything we can to provide these canteens with food wherever they are put up. I believe that at the moment about 80 per cent. of the mineworkers of this country have got some canteen facilities. Before very long, if the schemes which are now in contemplation are completed, the figure will be 95 per cent., and I think that that is a very great improvement.
Let the Committee realise what this means. I am talking now about dealing with the need of people who deserve our special care. In the case of category A industrial canteens—that is, the canteen which receives an extra special ration which is double the ordinary ration for cheese and so on for a catering establishment—there are at this moment, 15,000,000 meals being served per week. In category B, where rations are half as much again as those provided for ordinary British Restaurants, there are 28,000,000 meals being served per week. That means that workers at their work are consuming between 6,000,000 and 7,000,000 meals a day. I think that that is a very remarkable thing, and I think it is essential that the Committee should know it in order that we should not have these charges rather lightly banded about Then we come to another important development, that of British Restaurants. I am glad to say that British Restaurants are now becoming not only an accepted but a growing part of our national life. Last time when I spoke the number of these Restaurants in the country was 749. To-day we have 1,320, but there is an even more striking increase than that. Last year these 700 odd Restaurants served only 82,000 meals a day, whereas 541 the 1,300 which we have to-day are serving over 350,000. So there is a very much greater increase in their capacity. I have visited many of these canteens and British Restaurants, and I have fed at many of them. I say quite frankly to the Committee that you cannot get a better meal to-day in any other place in the country. You may pay more for it, but you will not get a better meal.
Major Lloyd George
I think, so far as canteens and British. Restaurants are concerned, the Committee will agree that a great deal has been done. But I am not satisfied yet. I regard this development as vital. There is the strain of working long hours and travelling often in the blackout, long distances both ways. If the worker is to be properly fed at his work, unless he can have a canteen, it means that he can only obtain a packed lunch, often at the expense of his family. Young people not fully grown are now working. They must be properly fed. Finally, many women are in factories for the first time and, paradoxical as it may seem, some of them are not accustomed to feeding themselves for the work they are now doing. It is our duty to see that all these people do not suffer. We are making a special effort to prevent children suffering from restrictions of food supplies which are inevitable during war. I am glad to say that the evidence available encourages us to hope that our efforts are going to be successful. About 650,000 children are obtaining meals at schools in Great Britain, and about 3,500,000 are receiving milk in school in addition to priority supplies of fresh milk at home. In addition, free supplies of certain preparations—black currant juice, orange juice and cod liver oil—are made available for them, and they enjoy priority for supplies of eggs and oranges. I cannot tell what will happen to the activities of the Ministry of Food when peace comes, but I only trust that the development that has taken place in the last few years, and is still continuing, in the feeding of men and women at their work and children will not be allowed to fall off. I have given the Committee a picture of the measures that we have taken to meet the special needs of special groups, and I feel sure they will agree with me that need rather than 542 ability to pay has been the mainspring of the policy of the Ministry.
I cannot deny that the Ministry's efforts with different commodities have not been uniformly successful. Broadly speaking, our experience is that the organization of distribution depends on the supplies available. For example, in the case of bread there has been no shortage, but eggs, fish and winter milk are in short supply, and equitable distribution has been extremely difficult. Eggs have always contributed to the fund of our national humour and, for some reason which I am quite unable to understand, the fund seems to have been enriched by the Ministry of Food. But two considerations make it inevitable that eggs should present a difficult question. Owing to the loss of our large pre-war continental supplies and the greatly reduced quantity of feeding-stuffs, there was bound to be a severe shortage of eggs. Nevertheless, we have succeeded—some people may think in defiance of the proverb—in putting all the supplies of the larger producers and all imported eggs into the Ministry's basket.
The total number of eggs distributed under the Ministry's scheme between 1st July and 31st December last year was 1,065,000,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "Good or bad?"] Good. The bad ones were not distributed. The bad ones, as I explained at the time, were those brought in under very difficult conditions from very great distances, and, after the first, the experiment was not repeated. In no single case that has been brought to my notice have I been able to find evidence to support the suggestion that large quantities of home-produced eggs were rotting all over the country. I had every single case followed up, and, apart from those imported eggs that I have mentioned, which came from a long distance under very difficult circumstances, I found no evidence at all—[An HON. MEMBER: "I had three out of three last week."] They must have come from China before she came into the war. The distribution of one egg to each consumer, including the allowances to the priority classes means 60,000,000 eggs. The number per month has varied from four per consumer in July to two in November. In March we hope to distribute three.
Fish is another of the difficulties created by short supply. During the last year 543 fish prices have been brought under control. We introduced a system of allocation to wholesalers at the ports, which has smoothed out some, but not all, the difficulties of distribution. The Department is now devising a system of more extensive control by which fish will be distributed on a zonal basis, and, as far as possible, fishmongers, caterers and fish fryers will all receive a fair share.
Now I come to milk, the most important article, I think, of our war-time diet. This presented one of our most difficult problems. Owing to the relative shortness of supply in the winter and to the fact that milk is a perishable commodity, its equitable distribution is not an easy matter. The public has generally accepted the principle that children, expectant mothers and invalids should be provided for before healthy adults. The Ministry realised that they had to tackle a most difficult and complex task and they established therefore a Milk Movements Branch at the beginning of December to level out differences of supply in different areas. Delays in registration by consumers, I regret to say, and small local inequalities gave rise to the greatest difficulties, which have not yet been completely overcome.
Perhaps, however, I may explain the type of problem which we have overcome. Take the Rhondda Valley, an extremely important part of the country from the point of view of the war effort. Comparing the end of 1941 with a similar period in 1939, the consumption of milk has been doubled and if you take the County of Glamorgan as a whole, it has been more than doubled. In the Northern half of England production was down by 2,000,000 gallons as compared with December, 1940. Nevertheless, the reduced production was more than offset by redirection of supply. Daily trainloads of 45 3,000 gallon tanks, which would have come to London in a free market, were diverted to the North and to Scotland, where, owing to the fact that production has fallen more steeply than in England, supplies were particularly short. Not only did we divert from the South to the North, but we had to go to Northern Ireland for milk for Scotland, and we have been bringing up to 17,000 gallons a day by boat. Despite all these difficulties, however, I can claim that the Ministry has fulfilled the promise 544 made when the scheme was introduced, that, taking liquid milk, condensed milk and powdered milk, the nation has not had less than it had last year. The total amount of liquid and condensed milk consumed from October, 1939, to February, 1940, was 436,000,000 gallons, and in the corresponding period of this winter there have been made available to the people of this country, in liquid, condensed and powdered milk, 505,000,000 gallons. I think I can claim that we have carried out the promise which was made.
I can hardly leave the question of the difficulties which have been encountered without a reference to the national wheatmeal loaf. Some people may be surprised to hear that there are two sides to that question. If we increase the extraction rate of flour to 85 per cent. we shall save shipping space and supply a bread which has certain nutritive advantages, but because of the consequent reduction in the supply of animal feeding-stuffs, we shall lose a certain amount of milk, meat or eggs, and we shall have a bread which, frankly, is not what the people of this country prefer. The weight which ought to be given to these conflicting arguments must be influenced, above all, by shipping prospects. Only the Government are in a position to know at what moment the balance as it were tips down on the side of 85 per cent. extraction. All I can say is that when and if that decision is taken, the change can be effected without delay. I have, inevitably, to pass over with little more than a word scientific and technical matters such as the vitaminisation of bread, the saving of shipping space by the boning-out of meat before shipment, and by the importation of dried eggs. Such measures have proved the ability of my Department to adapt itself to the swift changes of war.
I should now like to say a few words about a matter which is, rightly, of great interest to the people of this country, and that is the black market. I deal first with the question of enforcement. The wider the Ministry extends its control, the greater the temptation to unscrupulous people to evade our regulations. Consequently, as the war has progressed we have developed a considerable organisation for dealing with these people. We employ over 800 inspectors in the enforce- 545 ment of these orders. The other day a black marketeer who was caught was extremely pained because, he said, the inspector who had caught him looked far too respectable to have had anything to do with the Ministry of Food. Nevertheless these inspectors do what is wanted. I would refer to one of the main difficulties which we have had in dealing with these crimes. I am speaking not about mere technical offences by overworked shop assistants. It is a great mistake to assume that all the prosecutions, of which there have been 40,000 since the war started, are black market prosecutions. They are not, but I am speaking now about the serious food offences which can really be called black market cases. The difficulty, I say, has been the lenient view which many courts appear to take of these cases. We have recently amended the law, and I am glad to note that, particularly in the last month, offenders have been treated much more severely than they were being treated a month ago. No one in this Committee takes a more serious view of black market activities than I do. While it is true that the national larder is not seriously threatened by the activities of these people, they are a danger to our cause, and we are determined that they shall be stamped out. The Government have had this whole matter under review, and I am glad to say that amendments of the Defence Regulations are, at the present moment, being drafted, and an announcement will be made on the subject as soon as practicable by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
There are, naturally, many matters with which I should have liked to have dealt. But I have not the time, and I know that many hon. Members are anxious to speak and that they will bring forward whatever points they have in mind. I have endeavoured to give the Committee a review of our activities in the past year and of the possibilities during the year that lies ahead. The situation to-day made it necessary that I should utter a word of warning, but it is encouraging that after two-and-a-half years of war, the national diet is good both in quantity and quality, and there are no indications whatever that it has in any way impaired the health of the nation. Difficult times lie ahead of us, but however difficult those times may be, I know that our people will face them 546 with resolution. What is more, I believe they can face them with confidence.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
I beg to move, "That Item Class X, Vote 4 (Ministry of Food), be reduced by £5."
I am sure I express the views of the Committee as a whole when I say that both the House of Commons and the country much appreciate the work which the Ministry has done in building up our stores of food and, generally, seeing that food is distributed over the country. I think the Committee will also agree with me in thinking that the part played by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in that work has not been a small one. In moving this Amendment, however, I want to make a number of criticisms, because I think that the country at the present time feels that a period of stress is upon us, and it is therefore well that the food policy which has been carried out up to now and particularly in the last year should be reviewed. We should see whether any changes are required to enable us to meet the times of stress which are now upon us, and are likely to be intensified during the coming months. Especially should we look into the question of whether such supplies of food as we have in the country are being fairly distributed.
I think the country agrees with the case made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that an attempt has been made to get fair distribution, but there have been exceptions, and there is a good deal of feeling that where the distribution is not fair, that unfairness ought to be corrected. I shall deal first and foremost with the question of the black market. I am very pleased to hear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's Department, in conjunction with other Departments, is making a big drive to control the black market, and I am sure the Committee will generally approve of the amendments in the Defence Regulations which have been forecast. It will also be agreed, I think, that magistrates have not been strict enough in enforcing the penalties, but a point which I would put to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is this: I think the Ministry itself could play a much bigger part in suppressing the black market, if it made it more difficult for black marketeers to operate. Up to now, the main policy seems to have been one of chasing after people who have been break- 547 ing the law and trying to bring them to book.
The case I want to put to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is that he should arrange machinery which will make it more difficult for the black market to exist. The case put up by a number of hon. Gentlemen to Lord Woolton is that if you want to cut out the black market, the most effective way to do it is for the Ministry to have adequate control of the food trade right through from production to the point of sale. In that way it would be possible to cut out the leakages which exist under the present system. The Ministry of Food take over all food at the point of entry into the country. Our case is that they should also in most cases take over the food at the point of production in this country. Obviously there would have to be some exceptions, but our general view is that that should be done as a definite policy. If it were done, the Ministry would have control of food right through from the wholesalers to the retailers, and that would cut out the opportunities for the black market which now exist.
I do not think this would mean creating a system of undue bureaucracy. At the present time the ordinary retailer knows approximately the amount of food he has to buy in order to supply people who are rationed through or registered with him. Surely it would be possible for each retailer to make known his needs through the wholesalers back to the point of production, where the Ministry would come in. There could be a rationing system for all wholesalers and price control at each stage.
If that system were adopted, it would give no opportunity to the black market, and it would make for a much simpler distribution system. We take the view that if each wholesaler were licensed, it would be an effective form of sanction because the licence could be taken away from anyone indulging in the black market. It would be a better sanction than taking people to court. For they could be put completely out of business for such offences.
The objection that Lord Woolton has made to our suggestion so far is that it would require an enormous hoard of officials. We question that very much. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said 548 just now that his Department required 800 inspectors to prevent black marketing. The week-end papers have made a number of perhaps rather extravagant estimates as to the number of officials which will be required by the new drive to check up on the black market. One paper said that 16,000 people would be employed. That is obviously an outside figure, but it is agreed that a large number of people have to be employed in tracking down the black marketeers. If a system of the kind I have suggested were adopted, these officials might be turned to some more useful purpose in organising distribution rather than in preventing people breaking the law. We are more likely to eliminate the black market by a system of rationing right the way through than by trying to chase law-breakers.
The black market not only undermines the morale of the country, but it has a serious effect by causing dishonesty among people who have not been dishonest in the past. I was interested to see the case made by Mr. Marchbanks, of the National Union of Railwaymen, who took the view that there had been an increase in pilfering on the railways, and often men who had never before done anything dishonest were tempted by the black marketeers to do something which was dishonest. When they were taken into the court the man at the top very often escaped. It is much more important to convict the real villains than to convict their tools, and it is desirable that these people should not have the opportunity of being dishonest.
There are many rumours of dishonesty on the part of certain responsible officials. It has been stated that in certain cases responsible officials in the Ministry have taken advantage of their position to benefit themselves financially. Many of these accusations may be wild rumours, but it is important that if there are statements of that kind, they should be tracked down and the full facts made known. There was recently reported in the papers what was known as the "Phantom Ship" case at Southampton. A number of ships were supposed to exist in Southampton Water, and a local firm was supplying meat for them. After a time it was found that the ships did not exist, and the managing director of the firm was sentenced at Winchester Assizes to a year's imprisonment. In the trial Mr. Justice Singleton took the view that some officials in the Ministry of 549 Food controlling the distribution of meat in that area must have known about it, and he hoped the Ministry would follow the case up and see that any people who were responsible were properly dealt with. The rumour circulating in Southampton and district was that an important official of the Ministry was himself interested in the company which sold the meat to the bogus ships and that he had had an important position with a sausage company in the past. I hope that the Ministry is inquiring into this matter. I put clown a request that the inquiry should be made public. I agree with the case made by the Ministry that in the preliminary stages, at any rate, the inquiry should be made in private, but I press the Minister to make known the main facts when the inquiry has been held, not only in order to clear up such rumours, but also so that the public will know that when these things are brought to the notice of the Ministry they are fully gone into and dealt with.
I would like to turn to the question of restaurant meals. The point has been made many times in the House that the amount of rationed food consumed in restaurants is very small and that it would be more troublesome to see that people gave up coupons for the food they had than to leave things as they are. The point I would like to make, however, is that even although the amount of rationed food consumed in restaurants is very small, the fact that there are these restaurants where one can get very good meals, often at high prices, and the fact that there is this leakage outside the system of rationing, has a bad effect on the morale of the country. I suggest, therefore, that the matter should be reexamined. With the vast growth of restaurant meals the proportion of rationed foods consumed may be a good deal higher than when the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave the figures about a year ago, but even leaving that point out of consideration, I would press him to deal with this question. I believe that it would have a good effect to have either a maximum price for restaurant meals, say, 3s. 6d. or something of that kind, or to have high taxation on meals over a certain price. I hope the Minister will look into that point, because, although the actual quantity of food consumed may not be large, the effect on morale is very important. Also, we have to recog- 550 nise the fact that restaurant meals are an outlet for the products of the black market. If we controlled restaurant meals, there would be a certain control over the possibilities of profit for those trading in the black market.
Next I should like to take up the question of extending rationing. The first item I would mention is a rather controversial one—bread. It has been widely assumed that we should never consider the rationing of bread. People who have gone into the question have been surprised and horrified at the enormous wastage of bread. The amount found in pig food bins and ash cans generally is very high. I do not know whether some system of rationing would cut that out. If we are to have a rationing of bread, it ought to be kept low in price, and the ration must be quite adequate to the needs of the people. But there is a very big wastage of bread, and I would ask the Minister to look into the question to see whether that wastage can be cut. One hears of many cases in which people take more bread than they need in order to be able to feed stale bread to their chicken, though that is rather an expensive way of producing eggs. The question of bread is of vital importance, mainly from the point of view of shipping space. We have had to divert an enormous lot of shipping to the Far East, and increasing commitments are likely to add to our difficulties. Therefore, if by the more adequate control of bread, one could reduce the amount of shipping space given to wheat coming into the country, one would have more shipping space for other commodities and thus enable our diet to be more varied.
I was pleased to hear that it is proposed to extend the Points Scheme, which has received the approval of the country. I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to include as soon as possible such things as oats and breakfast cereals. They are things which many working-class households need, and they would like to have them in the Points Scheme. Then I should like to ask what has happened to meat offals. There is a general feeling that they are unduly short. Can something be done to see that more of them are available to the ordinary housewife? One suggestion has been that they might once more be bought inside the meat ration at a reasonable price, with a rather enlarged monetary value to the ration. 551 That would ensure fairer distribution of offals to the ordinary housewife and prevent an undue proportion going to restaurants. Then there is the question of sweets and of tobacco, the latter a matter, I think, rather for the Board of Trade. It would be useful to have as soon as possible some scheme whereby these two things are rationed. At the present time supplies can be obtained most readily by those who have nothing else to do but wait in queues, and they are not the people who are contributing most to the war effort, and it would be a definite advantage to have a system of rationing sweets and tobacco to ensure that supplies are more evenly distributed among the people as a whole. As to the soap ration, there are many complaints by mothers of young children that the ration is not adequate, especially when they do all the washing for their children who are under school age. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will consider some extra allowance for mothers with young children under school age.
Turning to the relations of the Ministry of Food with the Ministry of Agriculture, I hope the Minister of Food will, if necessary, stand up to the Minister of Agriculture when necessary. I should like to know, first, when the price of malting barley is to be fixed. That is of more importance from the point of view of the Ministry of Food than might appear at first sight, because, according to figures which I have seen, this last winter has seen an actual reduction in wheat planting in the best wheat-growing part of the country, that is, East of a line drawn from the Wash to the Thames. During last autumn the amount of wheat sown in that area was only 90 per cent. of what it was in 1938, the last year before the war. That is primarily due to the fact that barley has been fetching such high prices that farmers have switched over from wheat to barley. That is one serious result of not fixing the price of malting barley, and I hope that it soon will be fixed. I have been told that up to now brewers have taken the line that they would rather pay high prices than have any measure of control, as it is a question of paying money over to the farmers or else paying it by way of Supertax; to escape control the brewers therefore do not mind paying high prices. The Ministry of Food should press the Min- 552 istry of Agriculture to see that there is a big campaign for the planting of spring wheat and see that the same thing does not happen next autumn as happened last autumn. At the same time there should be a control of the price of malting barley so that there is not a temptation to sow barley instead of wheat.
There is a good deal of feeling in the country that the egg scheme is not an adequate one. When it was first introduced all flocks of more than 12 hens were put inside the scheme. Owing to pressure in this House, that figure was raised to 50. I would ask the Minister to reconsider the scheme and accept the idea of taking in all flocks of over 20 hens. The number of eggs produced by flocks of between 20 and 50 hens is a large proportion of the total, and I am sure that the egg ration could be considerably increased if the figure were brought down from 50 to 20.
My next point is concerned with the supplies of fresh vegetables and fruit for the coming season. Last year we had very high prices, with a great scarcity of many fresh vegetables and fruit. I hope that the Minister is preparing ahead for the spring and that we shall see proper control and distribution of fresh vegetables and fruit. The National Vegetable Marketing Board would appear from recent statements to have been a failure. It would seem that the original scheme for using their wide powers to control the growing of vegetables generally has not been applied, and that, as regards carrots and onions, the Board itself has lost a good deal of money. I should like the Minister to tell us whether it is intended to use the Board in future, why up to the present it has not exercised its very wide powers and whether, if it has been a failure, it is proposed to replace it with some other body or to reconstruct it in some way. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he is proposing to take greater control over fish. I think the country would like to feel that the limited supplies of fish which can be caught or imported were distributed as fairly as possible.
Then there is the question of British Restaurants and canteens. The Minister gave us figures about their rapid growth in the past year. I am sure there is general approval of the steps which have been taken to develop those restaurants and canteens, but there is a feeling among many people that the growth in the num- 553 ber of them has not been anything like rapid enough. Complaint is made that it is difficult to get the actual cooking machinery and that the Ministry of Food is not backing up local authorities, employers and others by getting priority for the manufacture of that machinery. I hope the Minister will bring pressure to bear on other Departments to try and secure earlier priority. Particularly would I like to urge the need for expansion in the supply of school meals. They seem to be that section of communal feeding which has been held back more than any other.
There is a very real need in various districts—particularly in my own constituency—for the expansion of school meals. There is a strong feeling among parents that that ought to be done in the near future. I hope the Minister will not be influenced in his drive for more British Restaurants by the opposition of certain caterers to the expansion of this service. I think it was unwise of Lord Woolton to make a statement that after the war it was proposed to scrap British Restaurants. That is a question which should be settled after the war and is not one which the Government should try to determine now. There is great feeling among the people that these restaurants have given and are giving valuable service to the community and ought to be retained after the war.
§ Lieutenant Butcher (Holland with Boston)
Would the hon. Gentleman give the exact words of the Noble Lord, because my distinct impression was that the position was to be reconsidered?
§ Mr. Parker
I accept the hon. and gallant Gentleman's correction, but the impression I gathered was that the Noble Lord was being pressed by caterers to break them up after the war and that that is what he said. It seems to me that there is plenty of room both for British Restaurants and caterers in normal times. The public which is now going to British Restaurants is largely a public which has not eaten out before, and I think they will get into the habit, from which many private establishments will benefit after the war. I do not see why there should be any rivalry between them.
I would like to say a word or two about the controls which have been set up inside the food trades. There is a certain feeling that some of the people in control 554 have definitely used their positions to the advantage of their particular firm or industry. For instance, it is widely believed that with regard to the bread decisions taken so far by the Ministry they have been influenced by the fact that flour control is largely in the hands of the millers, who are not anxious that wheatmeal bread should become generally eaten. The Ministry of Food pressed for the wheatmeal loaf to be eaten, and a number of millers and bakers have been doing their best to discourage the whole campaign. So I hope that in making a decision on this matter the Minister will not allow himself to be influenced by the fact that there are millers actually advising the Ministry. In making a decision on this matter, it is important that the question of shipping space should come first.
In conclusion, I would like to press the Minister to set up a Consumers' Council. I think there is real need for some such Council, on which the ordinary housewife and ordinary members of the public could have representatives who could put their point of view directly to the Minister. Up to now it has been argued by the Ministry that the T.U.C. have a Committee which takes the place of the Consumers' Council. I think everyone will agree that this Committee has rendered valuable service by taking up various points, such as the needs of heavy workers and so on, but I think the points of view of the people on that Committee are rather different from the point of view of the housewife. The fact that such a Committee already exists is not a case against creating a Consumers' Council, and I would like to press the Minister to set up such a Council, on which there could be the representatives I have suggested, who could put their points of view to him and have suggestions from the Minister put to them for their consideration. I think the creation of such a body, which did such valuable service in the last war, would help to ease the difficult times which we see ahead of us in the present development of the war.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I am grateful for this opportunity of being able to congratulate and thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary for his clear and very full review of our food situation. There were moments when I wondered who was 555 standing at that Box making that review, and I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will feel that no greater compliment can be paid to him when I say that I thought there were moments when the words of his statement were being uttered by the senior Privy Councillor of this House and not by one of the junior Privy Councillors. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, however, has his own strong personality and his own individual way of putting forward such statements, and I am sure the Committee and the country thank him for the way in which he presented his case to-day.
As he rightly said, although we are now in the 30th month of the war there has been no real shortage of food. There has been no suffering; at the most there has been a little inconvenience here and there, and that is a wonderful tribute not only to the Ministry but to the organisation that was in existence in this country prior to the war, and, still more, a wonderful tribute to our merchant seamen who have continued to bring supplies into this country. The Ministry has, rightly, built up stocks which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman reminded us were regarded as an insurance. It is right that they should have built up those stocks, but the chances are now that that insurance will be dwindling and not increasing. That will be due to the important fact to which he called attention—the shipping situation. Unfortunately, there seems to have been the view in this country that when America entered the war the shipping situation would be at once eased. It will be eased in time, but at the moment it is being rendered much more difficult. Every ship that is on the sea to-day, whether it is a British ship or belongs to any one of the Dominions, Allies or neutral countries, is really an asset to us, and every loss of a ship which is not sailing under the enemy flag is a loss to us. The entry of America and Japan into the war has called for bigger obligations, and American ships must, of course, be used at the present time in the Pacific and for the purposes of supplying expeditionary forces, wherever they may be.
They cannot be diverted to our use, but, more than that, there is a new enemy on the sea who is undoubtedly sinking in places where, hitherto, ships have been able to go without danger. The Prime 556 Minister rightly warned us the other day about the losses which had occurred in December and January. I only wish the Government would reconsider their decision with regard to the publication of losses. At the moment we are being warned—the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Minister of Agriculture have warned us—that grimmer times are ahead. The public are perfectly prepared to do all that is necessary. If there is to be a tightening of their belts, they will do it, but they must be told the truth. It is necessary to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Since the Prime Minister issued that warning, there have been public statements, issued by the Government, I suppose, that the shipping situation in the North Atlantic continued to be good. That may be so; I do not know. It has been stated to us, and rightly, that our losses in the North Atlantic during the last half of last year were far lighter than in the first half. The only effect of continuing to publish all about that situation is that the public are apt to think that all is well and to forget that our losses during December and January were far heavier than before and left us in a serious situation. I ask the Minister of Food to urge upon his colleagues to see whether it is not advisable once again to publish these figures, so that the public may know the position.
We are now in the 30th month of the war. It is something like the 10th month since I first asked in this House for complete rationing. There has been a considerable increase in rationing, and it has worked extraordinarily well. There has been no grumbling or indignation. The public have accepted rationing, and they will accept further rationing. They have accepted the Points Rationing Scheme without grumbling. Many of us had been asking for it for months before it happened. It surprises us that the Ministry do not go further and complete the scheme. If the scheme is right in part, it is still more right in the whole. It has many effects. One is that it accustoms us to the rationing of every article, so that we cannot say that as we are limited on some particular article we can make it up on an unrationed article, whether you can or cannot get it. The supply of the unrationed article may not be there, or you may not have the money or the opportunity to buy it before it is taken up by 557 other people. Another effect is that it keeps consumption within its proper limits, so that the amount of unrationed food given to us is necessary to maintain the war effort at its highest and fullest. A third effect is that it saves shipping space.
A fourth effect has already been mentioned to-day, and time and again to the Minister. It is the effect upon the psychology of the people. The answer which is now made by the Ministry is that the amount of food being bought at restaurants and hotels is dwindling, while the amount being served in British Restaurants is increasing, and therefore there is no need to bother about these little things because the Ministry is engaged upon much bigger things. I would point out that the little things affect us personally and psychologically. I do not suppose much time has been wasted upon dog-racing or attendance at boxing matches, or much petrol been lost in that way, but the psychological effect of people being able to go to them while others are still at work is bad for the morale of the people. It arouses jealousies and enmities that ought not to be present. The same argument applies when one man can walk into a restaurant, having the money, and buy an expensive meal, while others have to go home and are limited to the ration. The effect is far deeper than is proportional to the mere quantity of food. I therefore ask again, as I have asked steadily throughout these months, for a complete rationing scheme. With a complete rationing scheme you are in a better position to manipulate the stocks that you have and to see that there is a steady spread of the right kinds of food.
I am sorry that the Ministry are still continuing to allow white bread to be manufactured and sold. The argument used by the Minister is that to continue an extraction of 75 per cent. instead of 85 per cent. means that a certain amount of offal is available for feeding-stuffs. I wonder. New methods of feeding have now been brought in, and we do not rely so much as we used to do upon this offal. Take silage, a thing which was almost unknown during the last war. If it was used, it was only by an occasional large farmer, but now it has become general. We understand more about rationing and balanced meals than we did. Still, there is a deeper answer than that. Why is it 558 that we use our best land in this country to raise produce, not to feed man direct, but to put food into the stomachs of bullocks? After all, the bullock is not a good converter into meat. I know that we are a meat-eating people, but when we are face to face with difficulties we have to take the wisest step for feeding the people. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mention the amount of shipping space it was calculated would be saved by converting our bread into wheatmeal bread. The figure given to me is the staggering one of 700,000 tons.
§ Mr. Davies
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. It is a tremendous quantity. I believe 700,000 tons of shipping is as much as we could possibly build on the shipping stocks to-day in a whole year's work. That can be saved. Are we therefore to be told that we must continue our present policy until our stocks run down and we know precisely what is happening? Can you foretell the future in that way? Could anyone have foretold that on 7th December the blow would be struck by Japan? Could anyone have realised then the effect that that would have upon supplies to this country? We are cut off already from a possible supply of hundreds of thousands of tons—2,000,000 tons—of vegetable oils which were produced in the East Indies. I do not know the quantity of sugar or the quantity of tea, but they have gone, and other sources of supply must be looked for. I therefore ask the Minister to say that we must preserve our stocks, and if we can preserve them to the extent of 700,000 tons in 12 months by refusing to allow white bread to be made but allowing only wholemeal bread, then the sooner we begin the better. It is admitted in addition that wholemeal bread is more nutritious than the other, and we shall all benefit.
From rationing I want to turn to what I consider is the main principle which ought to guide us. I do not know how the Ministry have managed so well during this winter. The Minister has control over all food brought into this country. He is responsible for purchasing it, he selects it, and he sees that it is shipped to this country, and when it arrives here he is responsible for its distribution. The only mistakes he could make in his calculations are in regard to sinkings. Over 559 imported food he has full control, but that is only part of our supply. The other part is grown in this country, and over that he has no control whatsoever. He can control prices if they come into the market, but as to when the produce shall be taken from the producer and how, he has no control at all. Again I would reiterate my claim that the Minister of Food should be in complete control of food. How otherwise can he possibly see to the needs not only of the Armies but of all the people in this country?
Hitherto, the Minister has lived upon the law of averages, and at any moment that law may let him down. What I should like would be that he should direct the Minister of Agriculture what that Ministry should have produced in this country—so much wheat, so much milk, so much potatoes and so on, going through the whole list, and say to them, "That is my list, and that I must have, otherwise my rationing will go wrong, and I shall not be able to feed the people in the way I want." Thereupon the Minister of Agriculture would direct his war agricultural committees what each county should produce, and they in turn would work in close collaboration with the farmers and see that those goods were produced. I asked for this in 1940 and in 1941, and now, in 1942, the Minister of Agriculture went down to Exeter on Friday and warned us about the grim position facing us with regard to food. He went on to say this:In the summer of this year we shall be consulting with the farmer to direct him what he shall be raising in the year 1943.Will not the Ministry of Food take control now in 1942, so that they may know what will be raised in the spring of 1942 and will have it available in the grim winter of 1942? Why wait until 1943 before these directions come into force? Heaven knows what will be our position in regard to food then.
Finally, I come to distribution. Just as the Ministry has lived on the law of averages with regard to production; so it has lived on the law of averages with regard to distribution. Is it not time that the Ministry had its own scheme for distribution? Whether it should bring it into effect at once is another matter, but it ought to have its plan for distribution. May I give the Committee an instance of what I mean by living on the law of 560 averages? Suppose that you had a small town of 5,000 people in which all the grocers happened to be under 25. That little town might wake up one morning and find itself without a grocer. Fortunately the law of averages has operated, and there are men of perhaps 70 carrying on, but there have been instances of little country shops where the point has been brought home, where the little country shop does everything—it is the post office, it sells groceries, it sells meat, and everything from boot laces to hams—and the men there have been called up. It does not very much matter about the men, but it does matter about the community and the way in which their distribution can be affected. In the meantime, small independent traders are being slowly done to death. They have been living upon hope.
§ The Chairman
I compliment the hon. and learned Gentleman on the way in which he has succeeded in discussing the affairs of a good many other Ministries, but I must ask him not to go too far. That is entirely outside the Ministry of Food.
§ Mr. Davies
I am very much obliged; I thought it was relevant to distribution, that these smaller independent people have gone out of business and there is no one to replace them. All I would urge is that the Ministry should have its scheme ready. It would be well if it published it, so that those who are now distributing food might realise their situation. They would then be able to make their arrangements. It may be better that they should suffer sudden death rather than this slow death of living on hope. At any rate, the public would feel sure that the distribution of food was secured, and properly secured. I would urge that this should be taken up and published as soon as possible. A lot of time has been lost with regard to the distribution of these commodities, and committees have taken a long time to report. The matter is urgent, and I would ask the Ministry to take it up at once.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Oldham)
May I, like my hon. and learned Friend, add my congratulations to my right hon. and gallant Friend on his opening speech? It was a model of clear and concise presentation, and it reminded me somewhat of those tennis strokes one used to see at 561 Wimbledon which appeared so easy to the onlooker but which only the most consistent practice could achieve. I think it is pleasant to turn for a time from the alarms and excursions of war, and political crises at home to a realm where unstinted praise can be given. I feel that if one of those much-discussed Gallup polls were taken among the back benchers of this House, a great majority of them would agree that the Ministry of Food is one of the best in Whitehall. Letters are always promptly acknowledged, questions immediately investigated and very fully looked into, and a very welcome sense of action is engendered. I take this opportunity of saying that back benchers do appreciate these things. I would also like to say that I think the policy of the Ministry has been fundamentally right. It is indeed a credit to them that in this third year of war, had not Japan intervened and had not her fleet dominated the Western Pacific and threatened the Indian ocean, our food supplies might now be even more ample than in the first and second years of war.
At the beginning of this war, when the future seemed a little dark and uncertain, I thought it a possibility that at the end of the war I might be turning the handle of a barrel organ at some street corner. I thought I should be certain of a job if I took up cooking as a profession, so I now take a moderate interest in the prices and cooking of food. The housewife to-day, although she has the tedium of going to the shop once, or even twice a day, can return at least three times a week with some sort of meat. The cheapening of the price of fish has likewise helped the family larder; but it seems to me that certain vegetables, such as leeks, sprouts, and greens, are somewhat expensive at the present time. Doubtless there is a good reason for that, but they form an important item in the dietary. I admit that supplies may be helped out by the efforts of amateur gardeners. One has only to travel along the railway line into any big city to see garden after garden with spring and winter vegetables. I would like to add to what my hon. Friend opposite said in praise of the British restaurants. The quality of the food in them is excellent. So is that of the food provided in works canteens. I would like to emphasise the strong feeling that exists in the country about black markets. 562 Public opinion would support even the harshest penalties. I was stationed for two years near the London docks, and I know how much pilfering went on. Public opinion would support long terms of imprisonment, and even the cat, for the worst offenders.
§ Mr. Kerr
In certain areas I have received complaints from married women in factories that they have been unable to get to the shops in time. When they come from their work in the evenings, they find that the goods are all sold. Certain works have solved the problem by allowing the women out at 4.30 on Fridays, instead of 5.30. Is that practice general throughout industry? Then there are the British Restaurants. I have eaten in a number of them, and I think the food excellent. But very often the appearance and the lay-out could be improved. I am thinking of one in particular. It has only one entrance, and those queueing up outside are often held up by the people coming out. Inside, I think a coat of paint and some bright wallpaper, or railway posters, would improve the general appearance. I remember going to a canteen in the university of California where one could get a four-course meal in less than a minute. One walked round a counter, selected the items, and paid one's cheque, all within a minute. I feel-that that type of counter could usefully be copied in this country. I want to refer to the teaching of cooking in the schools. It should be compulsory for all girls to be taught cooking. We have neglected that subject too much in the past. We have made a great mistake in trying to turn out people exclusively for white-collar jobs. We should restore the dignity of the work done with the hands. Many of our so-called intellectuals would be more useful members of society if, as well as writing books, they could make a Lancashire hotpot or mend a chicken coop.
§ Mr. Kerr
Yes, especially a Yorkshire pudding. I would like to take this opportunity to give a word of praise to our merchant seamen. We owe a good deal to their efforts. One has only to go to 563 the ports to realise the arduous life of our sailors. They stand 24 hours a day on watch; 24 hours of the day the tension never ceases. At any moment the track of a torpedo may cross their bows; at any moment the ship may shudder and dissolve in the grey waters. Or at any moment the drone of an aeroplane engine above the clouds may herald the approach of the dreaded raider and the scream of its bombs. The British farmer has risen admirably to the occasion. I hope that after the war we shall not allow food production in this country to sink to the level it reached before the war. I have the honour to represent a big industrial constituency, a constituency of great mills and machine works; but I hope that British agriculture will never sink to the level at which it was before the war, and have to be kept alive by the pittances which mercy demands. In the last century, we made the horrible mistake of going in for quick profits and quick returns. You see the results, in slums and unhealthy bodies. In this century we have to go back to those essential qualities which made the type of our race. That character was born and nurtured in the soil. And I hope that the point made by my hon. Friend opposite will some day be considered, and that the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Food should work together in co-operation, and, perhaps, be united into one body.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
I also am glad to have an opportunity of congratulating my right hon. and gallant Friend upon his pronouncement to-day. Knowing me as he does, he will appreciate that a word of praise from me must be very seriously taken. On the Government Benches for years there has been entrenched such a mediocrity that, to an old Parliamentarian like myself, it becomes utterly boring. To-day's statement by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was very refreshing. But there is one thing which rather distresses me. It is not so much a matter of what he said as of the reaction in the House. Speaking of the British Restaurants and the canteen system, he said that he hoped that after the war they would not be dissolved. Immediately a cheer ran through the House. I agree that when we are at war it is necessary to do something to cope with the food situation, but I should be very 564 depressed to think that after the war is over we have to enter into a sort of State-feeding fraternity, rather than to have independent people feeding themselves in comfortable homes. In saying that, I am not condoning what has been going on for a long time, in the form of an attempt by some people to monopolise the restaurant business.
Let me pass to the first of the things about which I want to ask the Minister. We are told that there is to be a serious shortage of food this year or next. What I was going to say here has been anticipated by other speakers, and I will merely touch on the point. What conjoint policy is being worked out between the Minister of Food, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of War Transport, and the Minister of Shipping? I wonder whether my right hon. and gallant Friend will let us know whether conferences are being held at the moment in some general council between these four Ministers. We are in the difficulty, in discussing this Vote, that we cannot have incursions into the administrations of other Ministries, but we can at least press that there should be some unified conception of the problem lying immediately ahead, and for that purpose these four Ministers should now be uniting to formulate some policy. In the last two or three weeks we have noticed a very interesting thing happening. The Ministry of Agriculture, in order to encourage production, agreed to certain increases in wages for agricultural workers. These wages were based again upon prices, and I think I can see a rift arising between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food on that point. I do not know how they will get over the difficulty, but let us hope that, before things become much more serious in regard to the feeding of the people of this country, difficulties of that kind will not come too much to the top, and that however these difficulties are to be met, they will be met by some definite policy rather than that it should come to the notice of the public eye that there is the possibility of a rift in the lute between the two administrations.
Another thing that I want to ask the Minister is with regard to the following: When going into Stoke-on-Trent station very often I see piled up on the platform cases that convey ice-cream and ice-cream blocks from London as far North as Stoke-on-Trent. They take up a fair 565 amount of train space, and owing to the elimination of railway porterage at the station it is very distressing to see women railway porters trying to wrestle with these cases. It is incongruous when a war is on to see these ice-cream cases being conveyed and taking up train space which might be used for more necessary foodstuffs. I would like the Minister to inquire into this matter. We need all the available space, not merely in ships, but in trains, for the purpose of conveying food, and there ought to be an elimination, as far as possible, of unnecessary commodities of that kind.
I want to stress the appeal that has already been made with regard to the Minister drawing up a programme of requirements and placing it before the agricultural community of the country. I know that it may be said that he will be transgressing in the field of operation of the Minister of Agriculture, but at least, in having the data before him, he can anticipate the requirements and lay before the agricultural community what is necessary for the ensuing year or the time ahead. It would be dangerous for me to go further in discussing the Vote for this Ministry, but it is essential that the Minister of Food should press the Minister of Agriculture to see that every acre of land is put to its best possible use to meet the requirements, which are likely to be very great by 1943 and 1944.
With regard to eggs, I was looking over a smallholding the other day and noticed that the man was keeping some hens, and the question arose about feeding-stuffs for those hens. He took me to one end of his smallholding and showed me that he was growing barley quite successfully and that he had no difficulty in getting food for the hens. One has only to look round the countryside to see plenty of land available where feeding-stuffs could be grown; we ought not always to be in this distressed condition with regard to the proverbial egg. I cannot see why we could not have a proper, healthy, poultry population in this country by the better use of the land for chicken feeding. That is all I want to say, because while sitting here I have noticed that many of the points that I wanted to raise have already been raised by other hon. Members, and as we are getting very much out of the old rut that there should be no reiteration of argument, I am not going to transgress that 566 Rule myself. I will content myself with what I have said, and I submit my humble questions to the Minister. He has done well to-day, and I hope that there are many more days ahead for him to acquit himself in as masterly a manner as he has done to-day.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little (University of London)
I want to confine my argument to the question of bread, and I make no apology for doing so, because it is obvious that bread is one of the very imminent problems to be decided. I would remind the Committee that in the Debate in July, 1940, I made the suggestion that the expedient which was adopted in the last war of giving a more wholesome and higher content loaf should be followed in this war. I had all the more confidence in making that suggestion because the celebrated author of that scheme was the father of the present Parliamentary Secretary. The scheme for which he was so largely responsible was one of the best that could possibly be adopted, and it proved a success.
I wish to pay a tribute to the present Parliamentary Secretary for his imperturbable good humour and also to my very good friends the Clerks at the Table, because I have had frequent Questions on this particular subject. But my right hon. and gallant Friend is something of an adept in putting up a smoke screen, and it has required a considerable persistence to make any sort of impression upon that foggy shield. The decision taken upon this subject in July, 1940, was announced in the Debate on that occasion, and it had been arrived at nearly a fortnight before the Debate. In the course of the Debate the Parliamentary Secretary at the time described the scheme, which was essentially the addition of a synthetic vitamin B.1 to the white flour then under the control of the Ministry. He described that scheme in somewhat extravagant language and said that it was going to be an unprecedented and indeed, a revolutionary step, which would excite the wonder of the world, and the scientists on whose responsibility he based that suggestion must not be too much puffed up at the success of their device. That was the description given in that Debate.
In that Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary also said that the scheme of vitaminisation was adopted following the receipt of a report from the Scientific Food 567 Committee, of which Sir William Bragg, who was then the President of the Royal Society, was chairman. In passing, I want to emphasise, that, in my opinion—and I think it is the general opinion—the feeding of the nation is, and must be, essentially a highly scientific problem. It is not something that can be decided without a very profound knowledge of nutritive values and other things. Therefore, one needs to find out what was the scientific sanction for the experiment—for it was admittedly an experiment—that was, as it were, burst upon the House without any previous warning. In the Debate to which I have referred, the responsibility was given to the Scientific Food Committee. That Committee had been brought into existence four weeks before, and for a scientific committee to come to an extremely important decision within four weeks is a little astonishing. At that date there was before the Government another report, produced by a Committee of the Medical Research Council which had been established for something like 10 years for the express purpose of studying the question of the importance of vitamins in food. That Committee had been working on the subject for very many years, and its report contained two highly important recommendations. The first was that the flour for the bread of the people should contain the wheat germ and the finer parts of the bran, and the second recommendation, not so essential, was that bleaching should be prohibited. The Government had that report before them at the time of the Debate, but they elected to follow the scheme which was, of course, adopted.
The part played by the Bragg Committee in producing that scheme was rendered even more doubtful by subsequent events. Three months later, in October, Sir William Bragg contributed to the "Times" an important article the purpose of which was to emphasise the enormous importance of going back to a whole-wheat diet for the great bulk-of the people, and to show how, when the people had followed that diet, their nutrition had been infinitely greater than at the present time. That important article by Sir William Bragg raised a very considerable element of doubt as to the measure of assent which the Bragg Committee had given to the scheme, and I think that ele- 568 ment of doubt was increased by the fact that there was no answer to repeated requests for information about the Committee, about some parts of their report, and about whether the report had been unanimous, and how far questions had been put to the Committee which elicited predetermined answers. These requests for information remained unanswered, and no explanation was given.
However, this is perhaps rendered a little obsolete now because we have had a much more authoritative statement from the Minister himself to the effect that in making the decisions concerning bread he has been guided by the advice of the Cereals Division of the Ministry and his scientific advisers. At the date of the Debate, July, 1940, the Cereals Division of the Ministry, which was then called the Cereals Control Board, consisted of four persons. One of them was the chairman of the Orient Line steamship company, another a civil servant, and the other two were representatives of two great milling firms in this country. These two members were the only experts on the Committee. Therefore, the opinion given by the Cereals Control Board would necessarily be prejudiced in favour of milling interests. Let us, then, consider who were the scientific advisers. They were Professor Drummond, appointed in February, 1940, and Dr. Moran, appointed in June, 1940. At the time of the Debate, these two gentlemen were the advisers on whom the Ministry chiefly relied. Both of them are very eminent scientists, but here again, one has met with some difficulty.
Professor Drummond wrote a very interesting and important book a little while before the Debate in which he compared the relative values, from the nutritional aspect of white bread and wholemeal bread, and he gave three comparisons which are essential. The first had reference to the iron content. This is one of the most important constituents of a diet, and it is very largely deficient in our diet. The content of iron was 9 for white bread and 21 for wholemeal bread. He then gave the comparison with regard to vitamins. In the case of Vitamin A, there were 2,200 international units in the wholemeal bread, and 250 in the white bread. In the case of Vitamin B, in the wholemeal bread there were 1,050 international units, and in the white bread 320. These three devastating comparisons were made 569 by an expert who was held to be responsible for advising the Ministry in regard to the scheme which they adopted, and I think the inconsistency of his position must strike everybody. With regard to the other adviser, Dr. Moran, at the time when the scheme was introduced, he was Director of the Flour Millers' Research Association. He is a very eminent scientist, but I submit, with all respect, that he must be a man with divided loyalties, and for him to be at the same time carrying on research for the Flour Millers' Association and an adviser to the Government is not an entirely satisfactory position.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will the hon. Gentleman make the terms he has used a little plainer to the public? With regard to vitamins, what does the expression "2,000 international units" mean?
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
The international units are estimated by biological standards. The hon. Member can make a comparison by the figures, which show that in the case of Vitamin A the nutritional value of wholemeal bread is 10 times as great as that of white bread.
§ Mr. Tinker
The general public gets lost with these figures. Can the hon. Member make it a little more plain?
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
In the case of Vitamin A, the wholemeal bread is 10 times as nutritious as white bread, and in the case of Vitamin B, it is three times as nutritious. There is another element that enters, and it is that the process of bleaching, which is conducted with regard to all white flour in this country, unfortunately destroys the whole of the Vitamin A and a part of Vitamin B, and half of the iron content, so that the comparison is even more unfavourable for the white bread.
Therefore, I think it is quite plain that the scientific opinion offered by the Medical Research Council which had the support of the vast majority of scientists, was set aside in adopting this scheme. What was the reason for its adoption? The real facts were not disclosed until 21st January, 1941, when the Parliamentary Secretary replied to a Question I put to him. Certain facts were brought out in that reply. It was disclosed that in April, 1939, after a long negotiation the Millers' Mutual Associa 570 tion concluded an agreement for the addition of synthetic Vitamin B,1. in flour for all their members. The production of that vitamin was entrusted to one firm which was given the monopoly for 15 years. On that security the firm began to build very large factories. The point I wish to make is that the decision to vitaminise bread was not suddenly produced as a scientific proposition, but was adopted by a very powerful technical trade association not with any idea of the national interest but to help their own trade. There is no doubt at all that the white loaf was losing popularity at the time, and it was felt that something must be done to restore its prestige. This project was of that nature; it was an attempt to restore the prestige of the white loaf.
It was a very costly undertaking. I say nothing about the lack of proper care in starting it, because as a medical man one would at once call before making a great experiment on 30 to 40 million people for long clinical examination before attempting to introduce it. That was not done, and no provision of the kind was made before its adoption. It was adopted in that rather hasty way. Is it really desirable at this stage of our critical position to go on with this system of vitaminisation, and to incur still further this very heavy expenditure? The Parliamentary Secretary, in answer to a Question, told me that two new factories were being put up for the production of Vitamin B, 1. I submit that it is a most extravagant expenditure, and I am not alone in thinking so. A very eminent scientist, Sir W. Dunstan, in a letter to the "Times," pointed out how unwise it was to go on with the scheme, which is not, of course, a success. In July it was stated that the shipping position was not so serious as in 1917, that one could afford to let people cat what they liked and it was undesirable to interfere with their habits. I contend that that is not now the position. I do not think that the public would in any way resent compulsion to eat wholemeal bread, if they were told that the nutrition value was higher, and that it would save a considerable amount of shipping space. However, the position which has resulted is, I think, disastrous. For two and a half years the people of this country have been fed on bread which is almost en- 571 tirely composed of starch. All vitamins have been removed, either by bleaching or by the removal of the wheat germ. As I say, the bread is composed of little more than starch. I have a curious little cutting from a popular newspaper in which a public relations officer for the Ministry of Food says that Mrs. Smith must not use flour for stiffening her linen. All I can say is that if wheat starch is suitable for stiffening linen, it cannot be the best food for feeding our people.
I wish to answer the argument that there have been no effects on the health of the people. As a medical man I have, of course, to read medical literature, and there is no doubt at all that there is considerable anxiety in the medical profession in regard to certain recent developments. First of all, there is the rise of the mortality and incidence of tuberculosis, a disease universally accepted by medical statisticians as an index of malnutrition. Secondly, there has been a very extensive epidemic of gingivitis, which disease is an early stage of scurvy. Scurvy is definitely a deficiency disease and occurs when there is a lack of Vitamins C and B. Therefore, there, has certainly been a vitamin deficiency in diet. What is the position as regards dental diseases? In a Debate last week, it was made quite clear that the record of health in the Army had been on the whole satisfactory, with the exception of dental diseases. I think it was stated that 80 per cent. of the men in the Army were found to have dental caries, and this also is regarded as a deficiency disease. In addition to the white loaf, in 1941 the Minister brought forward the national wheat loaf. It had a very good Press, and there was a spate of advertising for three or four months when this loaf was brought on the market. Unfortunately, its success was endangered by certain omissions. In the first place, the loaf was supposed to be of a certain specification. It was laid down that the bread should be of a certain composition, but no effort was made for checking this, and, still more important, no measures were taken to impose a punishment for a breach of the regulation. Both these statements are made clear in an answer by the Parliamentary Secretary to a question I put to him, which is my authority for making them. There was one survey made early in 1941, which showed 572 that 25 per cent. of the samples taken were found to be not in accordance with specification, but no measures were taken to punish those persons, and if you have a loaf whose composition is not disclosed and remains unenforced, you cannot expect success, which the Minister, I am sure, wishes to secure.
These circumstances have brought about a state of affairs in which the national wheatmeal loaf is, I think, thoroughly discredited, and not only discredited but very difficult to procure. I have had at least 50 letters from people in different parts of the country, who say, "I notice your campaign in favour of wholemeal bread; but what is the good? We cannot get it." I have a letter from a very celebrated civil servant, who tells me that in a large baker's shop in his neighbourhod there is a poster of a picture of a naval officer in the window saying, "I am doing my bit; what are you doing?" The picture shows 10 ships, and it is suggested that one out of the 10 could be spared if people ate wholemeal bread. The would-be purchaser who writes to me says, "There are about five loaves in the window in a welter of white bread, and unless you get there before 10 o'clock in the morning you cannot buy it." There is no inducement at all to buy the loaf, and consumption is going down all the time. It was said, I think in October, to be 7 per cent. and in December, 4.2 per cent.
May I say a word about the objection which has been taken as regards the value of the part of the grain that is sacrificed to make white bread? It must be understood that only 70 to 75 per cent. of the grain is used for flour for human consumption, and the rest is used for cattle food. It is suggested that we ought to continue this plan because it would be very disastrous to knock out the feeding of the cattle. Other speakers have shown that that is rather a fallacy, because cattle food can be produced in other ways. When we are in a death grapple, can we really afford to take 25 to 30 per cent. out of the wheat that is imported at such terrible risk? Further consideration must be given to the economics of food conversion. In a very expert article contributed to the "Times" a few days ago it was pointed out that the deficiency of the conversion of feeding-stuffs for cattle into human 573 food was such that you get only 4.1 per cent. of the value of your foodstuff from the cattle fed upon it. A booklet published by the Ministry of Information says that it takes two and a half ship loads of feeding-stuff to produce one shipload of eggs. Again, I suggest that the example of 1917 should be adopted, which was that there was a diversion of the greater part of the feeding-stuff from stock to human beings, and only a small proportion of it was allowed to be used for cattle, in order to maintain dairy herds. It was largely due to the work of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) as Food Controller that it was carried out without any difficulties at all. If the wheatmeal loaf was made compulsory and if an extra 10 per cent. of grain was devoted to human needs, the loss to cattle would represent only 2.2 per cent. of the feeding-stuffs brought in for cattle.
I have been challenged by the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to my statement that there had been an organised campaign against wheatmeal to prevent its sale. I have had a very large number of letters to that effect. I received one from the proprietor of a provincial journal who had been the editor of two London papers. He says:I can testify that during the earlier months of 1941 this paper received a very large number of letters decrying the wheatmeal loaf. They came from all parts of the country right outside our circulation area, and as an old journalist I had no difficulty at all in detecting their spurious nature.
§ Mr. Woods (Finsbury)
Is the hon. Member in Order in dealing with one point at such length? The whole thing was covered by the same hon. Member at the same considerable length in a previous Debate.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
For the last half hour or more I have had some difficulty in hearing the hon. Member. As far as I can make out, he has been referring to the other Debate, and the Rule against repetition applies only to repetition in the same speech; therefore, I am afraid the hon. Member's point is not a sound one.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
I must admit that I have great sympathy with the bakers, because their difficulties are largely produced by circumstances not in their control. There is a very significant letter in a trade journal in which a baker 574 points out that he cannot possibly be expected to go on producing indefinitely a loaf for which there is no demand. The bakers themselves are in a difficult position from that point of view.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
I would make no other bread. The use of white flour has already been forbidden in South Africa and in Southern Ireland, and it was, I am told, prohibited in Greece and Denmark during the last war. I believe that the whole of the position in this country is brought about by a certain influence. It is difficult to speak about it, but it ought to be spoken about. Undoubtedly there is a strong control on the production of bread and, also, I think, even on the Ministry of Food by a combine of millers practically consisting of three firms, who between them control 80 to 90 per cent. of the milling. They are able to exercise a great deal of pressure in many ways. They have bought up a large number of country mills and put them out of action. In the last century there were 26,000 mills, but now there are fewer than 400. They are able to exercise influence in every sort of way, and the position is not only improper but dangerous. Sometime or other an impartial inquiry will have to be conducted into why they obstruct what every expert who has approached the matter advises, namely, the prohibition of the white loaf and the provision of a proper wheatmeal loaf.
§ Mr. Clynes (Manchester, Platting)
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made a speech which, I am certain, every Member felt was adequate to the occasion. It conveyed a great deal of information on the work which the Food Ministry has been doing, and we are indebted to him for having enlightened us on many matters. Like all men who make the best speeches he will be criticised, but the Food Ministry will be no worse there for. I will state what in my view were the three most interesting features of the speech. The first was the reassuring information as to the food reserves which have been acquired and well placed in the country for any emergency that might arise. The second was the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, which the Committee 575 welcomed, as to the development of restaurants and canteens for the feeding of very large numbers of people who find it difficult to get to their homes for their midday meal. While I was not startled by the figures he gave, I was glad to get information which I did not expect to get as to the dimensions of the provision already made for the feeding of so many workpeople and the millions of meals that are provided for them. The third was the information given by the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the intentions of the Government better to deal with the offenders who are now associated with what are known as the black markets and profiteering groups. I rather thought that the Parliamentary Secretary dealt too lightly with these offenders, and I am glad that we are to have early legislation, which is now in preparation, better to equip the Ministers of the law and better to guide the courts of law for dealing with the odious offences which are committed by those who violate the law.
As the Parliamentary Secretary did not spend much time in outlining the character of the offences and the degree of wrong which is being done to the country, I wish to refer to them further. Indeed, I rise mainly because I have been stirred by the wickedness of the groups of civilians who are committing these evils against the country at the time of its greatest trial. Incidentally, I am certain that the racketeers and the black marketeers tend to obscure the good work that is being done by the Ministry of Food. I have had many most revealing instances of how deep is the indignation of the British public on learning that these things can be done in spite of all the attempts to stop them. In the beginnings of the last war we had no Food Ministry. Indeed, although we had commissions which dealt with such articles as sugar and wheat, it was 1917 before a Ministry proper was established to deal with the food problem. I am not going to say there are not great differences between the experience in the last war and that in this war. The differences are great, wide and real as between the two.
In the last war, after the pressure of the queues and the shortage began to make themselves felt, a Food Ministry had to be set up. The British Government rather reluctantly did it, and yet the 576 work under Lord Rhondda as the Food Minister was done with such success that we finished almost as a popular Ministry, in spite of the fact that we had to deal with the appetites and the physical needs of the people several times a day. The Ministry had to initiate and make its own plans from its own experience. It does not fall to me to speak now of what those plans were, but in this war the Food Ministry is able to turn to the experience gathered in the last war, and the procedure and schemes that were left by those of us who had a hand in that work are there for present day use. The differences, however, are so deep and real as between the last war and this that the work of the present Food Ministry is not easy work. It is very difficult indeed, and I think that its task is made more serious because of the shipping difficulties. They in turn are made more serious because of the largeness of the war areas and the immense demands which are being made for the shipping services. That in turn produces its own kind of internal transport troubles. In addition to that, a great underlying cause of the difficulties for the Food Ministry can be found in the effectiveness so far of enemy action. There are greater losses than in the last war, and there are the longer distances which our ships must travel not only to bring food to this country but to play their part in all the other circumstances of the war.
I hope this trouble will not develop into anything like a struggle between the Services and the civilians. I am prompted to remind the Committee that millions of men have volunteered to serve in the Forces of the Crown, and it is said that such service brings out the best in a man. I am willing to believe it, and I stress it because I fear that just as service to the Crown has evoked the best, the lack of service to the Crown has produced in some civilians nothing but the worst. I would therefore ask that the civilian population should now assist more than ever to make the work of the Food Ministry an unqualified success. If we are to get that co-operation, we shall require, as a preceding speaker has urged, cooperation among the State Departments. I shall not repeat his argument, but I draw attention to it because we must have that co-operation in order to hunt down and severely punish those whose crimes, in my view, amount to treason. There 577 are many shameless men who are betraying the State and subverting the laws of the country. They are aiding the King's enemies, and this in time of war is treason of the worst kind. Their disloyalty to the country deserves the most severe punishment, and I am certain that the public indignation over the wrongs endured will support the Ministry in any steps taken to restrain them and in the infliction of heavier penalties.
It is not a difference merely in degree, it is a difference very largely in kind. In the last war we had to deal with offenders who evaded the law and by hoarding and deception selfishly sought to secure some measure of personal gain. In every community one must expect to find a few who will be evildoers, but I fear there has been too much imitation of evils which have been spreading in other countries, and that they have tended to take root here in Britain where we thought such things could never be done. That group of offenders in this war has greatly increased. The methods of what are known as the black market have spread in many parts of the country. But even if the cases were fewer than they are they would still leave a trail tending to deepen public indignation. They make a mock of the law and prevent the full value of administrative effort finding its way into every British household. In the earlier array of cases that were brought into court the hand of the law came down too gently upon those who had been found guilty. Moral persuasion is wasted when addressed to people of that character. Stern justice only is what they understand. I am glad to see present my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. Reading the speech he made in the House last week, I was very much struck by his references to the waste and the evils that accrue from certain of our sports and pastimes—the boxing ring, the turf or dog-racing. In speaking of those evils my right hon. and learned Friend said they were againstthe true spirit of determination of the people in this crisis in their history and steps will be taken to see that such and similar activities are no longer allowed to offend the solid and serious intention of this country to achieve victory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, col. 313. Vol. 378.]I take it that what we heard from the Parliamentary Secretary this morning is an indication of the early intention of the 578 Government to make good that welcome reassurance given to the House less than a week ago. Already we have stern laws and regulations dealing with wrongdoers in war-time. Even before there was any looting, the House of Commons was aroused to indignation against looters and showed its eagerness to pass the strongest laws against them. Looters may suffer death for their wrongdoing. I do not say that we must go to the length of hanging a wrongdoer, I would not go the length of saying we should even flog him, but I would go to the length of putting him out of harm's way for a very long period if not for the whole of his life. His crime is so odious, so heinous, that the public will support any measure which may be taken by Parliament to put an end to his disgraceful proceeding.
In my view the worst criminals are those who run the black markets and have deliberately organised exploitation in order to make fortunes out of war conditions. The difference between the racketeer, the black marketeer and the looter exists, but usually the looter acts upon impulse and as the result of immediate temptation. The racketeer and the black marketeer plan and scheme and by deliberate and calculated action try to deprive others of their rights. As an instance of how bad examples are copied, there appeared in the papers yesterday a statement from a railway authority that cases of theft and pilfering on the railways had gone up by 1,000 per cent. recently. I do not pretend to know exactly what is meant by putting it in terms of percentages in that way, but it clearly indicates how alarmingly this natural tendency to imitation can spread once there is wrongdoing. There are manufacturers and merchants trading in food substitutes who are deceiving the public by selling them rubbish at extortionate prices. Not long ago the courts dealt with a case in which the value of the article was 3d. and it was sold to the buyer for 3s. The magistrate described that as a wicked scandal but imposed a fine of only £10. That is no deterrent to men who can make hundreds of pounds out of such sales. I want to assure the Parliamentary Secretary of the reality and the widespread nature of the public feeling upon this matter. I found in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday a letter on this question which is one of hundreds 579 which have poured in from London and provincial centres. This letter says:The Government has passed laws to help us carry on the fight for our lives—or perish. Why are not those who deliberately set out secretly to break these laws merely to make money for their own selfish ends not treated as traitors? What deterrent is it merely to take away the money illegally made from men who are, as a rule, already rich.Unfortunately, that is so. It is such letters as these which prove that there is a great deal of indignation and anxiety on this question. Men who run the black market are, in my view, guilty not of an antisocial act but of something far worse. It is not too severe to say that theirs is a crime of treason against the State itself. With regard to the cure, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) indicated that we had a choice between two courses. We could choose the course of complete control of all commodities, the conditions under which they were sold and prices, which, I think, would be a course of wisdom to take. It would be a good thing to take that course and make the job as complete as possible. I am willing to try the other course of strengthening the law and insisting that it be sternly and thoroughly enforced. If we were to try what is called complete control at every stage, it might mean a large number of officials. But that would not deter me, for the information we have received to-day shows that there is already a large number of officials administering the law as it now stands. What does deter me for the moment is that an attempt to do anything which so absorbs the energy needed for the good of the nation would be an exchange of a very questionable character. Therefore, I am willing to try further stern repressive legislation.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary has under-rated public feeling and the nature of public experience concerning the working of the Ministry's egg and milk schemes. I cannot claim to be an expert on either; I know there are others on these Benches who know more about these two important articles of food than I do, but I realise that there have been waste and inequality, which cause irritation. Let me quote from another letter which was in a newspaper yesterday..…surplus of milk is being given to pigs. This is happening in many parts of the country. Families without young children are receiving 70 per cent. less milk than 580 before the ration notwithstanding that available supplies of fresh milk, as recently stated by Lord Woolton, are larger than at this time last year.I could give similar information with regard to eggs, but I will content myself with bringing these points to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary and expressing the hope that we shall have from the Minister of Food a more detailed and satisfactory account of the working of these two schemes.
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
I have such a high appreciation of the work of the Ministry of Food, and I know most Members of this House have so great an admiration not only for the Minister, but in particular for the Parliamentary Secretary for the skill with which he helps to run his Department and his invariable courtesy, that I feel I should be trespassing beyond the bounds of decency by indulging in any form of acute criticism. Many of us were apprehensive when the last game of musical chairs as played among Parliamentary Secretaries—a game no man of average intelligence can understand—lest the Parliamentary Secretary should be transferred to another post, and I think we have cause to be thankful this misfortune has not yet occurred. There are, however, three suggestions I would like to make to my right hon. and gallant Friend, not in the spirit of criticism but in a spirit of appreciation. The first is that the Department should reconsider their attitude to the national wholemeal loaf. I do not want to lose myself in a mass of scientific terms or technicalities, which mean nothing to the ordinary person, but I think it will be admitted beyond any shadow of doubt—any possible probable shadow of doubt—that the national wholemeal loaf is a far better loaf than the ordinary white loaf. Not only is it a better loaf from the dietetic point of view, but it is more nourishing, more palatable and more satisfying.
There is a peculiar fondness for the white loaf in this country which rather baffles the imagination. Yet it is not peculiar to this country; in other countries too the whiter the loaf, the better the sale. I do not think it is fair to put the responsibility on the millers and bakers. They both produce what the public demands and eats. It arises in part from what is rather a weakness in our national character, namely, a feeling of snobbery that regards the white loaf as 581 something better than any other substitute. But we are faced to-day with a very real and grim problem. There is a tremendous strain on our shipping, and there is the virtual certainty that next winter will see us short of supplies. How on earth, with these facts before us, can we calmly consider the position as it is at present with the consumption of the national loaf actually declining when, by the universal use of the national wholemeal loaf, we should save a volume of shipping estimated at as high a figure as 1,000,000 tons and as low as 700,000 tons? Although the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister are rightly anxious to carry the public with them in all policies they pursue, I think we have passed beyond the stage when prejudice and custom should be allowed to govern the character of our bread, when the advantages of the wholemeal loaf have been so clearly demonstrated and the shipping position has been put before us in such menacing terms.
I would venture to make another suggestion. We have been promised an increase in the milk ration, but is that the best method of using the increased supply which comes in the summer months? Would it not be wiser to use that extra quantity in the form of cheese or dried milk, so that it could be stored and be available as a reserve in the grim months of winter?
I find no pleasure in the prodigal release of tinned meats and fish which took place a month or two ago; nor in the tinned fruits which is now being made available. Such resources should be regarded as buried treasure—as priceless and probably irreplaceable treasure, against the contingencies which may have to be faced during next winter or the winter after that. Last week, the Leader of the House used two pregnant words: "ruthlessness" and "austerity." I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to convey to his Noble Friend who is head of his Department the suggestion that, even if it should mean a certain amount of unpopularity, he should be ruthless in his conservation of our food resources and vigorous in demanding greater austerity in our daily lives. This may be forced upon us by the pressure of inexorable events; surely it would be far wiser to attune ourselves to these hard times in advance, and by 582 a gradual tightening-up policy prepare the nation for the lean winter months which we are told will assuredly come upon us this year and probably next too.
Mr. Leslie me (Sedgefield)
We have listened to a very instructive speech from the Parliamentary Secretary, and I was very pleased that he made special reference to the shipping problem. When I hear people grousing about food supplies, I wonder whether they ever think of the seamen who risk life and limb on our behalf. Naturally, my thoughts go to the seamen, hailing as I do from the far North, where to-day more than 7,000 seamen are sailing the Seven Seas. In time of war there should be equality of treatment. Rationing of food is necessary, so that the policy of share and share alike may operate. As the Parliamentary Secretary told us, shop staffs are vital. The lot of those behind the counter is far from pleasant. Staffing has been a problem. No occupation has been drawn upon to the same extent as have the distributive trades. Man-power in the shops is conspicuous to-day by its absence. If a man happens to be in charge in a shop, his responsibility is increased by having a staff of untrained women. Sufficient consideration has not been given to this aspect of the situation. Local food control committees are without the guidance of experienced shop workers. Employers are represented, but not all employers have the same experience as the man behind the counter.
A complaint that ought to receive consideration from the Food Minister relates to the time limit in effecting changes. For example, an announcement was made on the wireless on a Sunday that there would be a change in the sugar ration. That meant the weighing of bags of sugar for sale on Monday, and that with depleted staffs. I wonder whether Members of Parliament know to what extent rationing adds to the work and worry of shop assistants. For some time three ration books for each customer have been in existence. The sooner that system is changed to one book, the better for all concerned. A good deal of clerical work is involved in operating the food control Regulations. It is doubtful whether the Minister realises what work these Regulations entail. The Ministry should maintain close contact with representatives of organised workers and ought not to wait until representations 583 are made by shop workers. Rationing arrangements could be simplified. More than two years ago I attended a conference in London of shop managers, and on that occasion I was glad to see two officials present from the Ministry. The managers put forward certain suggestions, some of which have been operated with advantage. An objection was raised to dealing with six forms, but not till many months afterwards did the Ministry adopt one form. By doing so there was a saving in printing of 10,000,000 forms. Surely that was worth considering.
It was stated to-day that there had been 40,000 prosecutions. I have a Press report here about a woman being fined for food hoarding. One wonders when food hoarding becomes a crime, and whether the Minister will enlighten us on that subject. A statement was made on the wireless than 2,420 prosecutions had been made in January, 91 per cent. of which were successful. One wonders how many of them affected the notorious black markets. Some inspectors seem very keen upon catching assistants out upon very small details. I hope the Minister realises that minor faults and omissions and simple errors are very likely to occur in shops which are run by only one individual, especially if he has not had much experience. A case came to my notice recently concerning an assistant with only three weeks' experience behind the counter. He was harassed by a customer butting in while he was serving another customer. The first customer wanted a tin of beans. The second customer, who was being served, said that if only one tin of beans was wanted, the assistant had better serve it and let the customer go. The assistant did so, but being inexperienced, he confused the price of the tin of beans with a whole range of tinned foods sold under the same trade name, and he charged a halfpenny too much. No sooner had this customer gone out of the shop than an inspector entered, approached the manager and informed him that the charge for the tin of beans was a halfpenny too much. Is it to be wondered at that many girl assistants are tired of being worried in the shops and are leaving to enter factories where there is less worry and better wages?
Putting dried fruits on the Points Rationing Scheme requires explanation. 584 They were already subject to a form of rationing. The present Points System is a bugbear to shop assistants. Not only does it slow down service, but it wastes time after the shop closes, because coupons have to be counted and fastened together. Why is it necessary for points coupons to be cut out of the book, when soap, which is subject to unregistered rationing, can be supplied without cutting out coupons? And I believe the same applies to tea. I hope whoever replies will be able to deal with the points which I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Woods (Finsbury)
I think the Committee and the whole country will welcome the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, although I think there is some justification for suspicion as to whether it is an absolute statement of fact on which we can rest assured. It is seeping into our consciousness that this total war is as much a battle on the home front, and that the tactic of the enemies of this country is as much to starve us out as to win the war by any other means. While the statement has been a cheerful one, I think it is a great mistake for us to assume that the whole of the credit goes to the Ministry. This House, and hon. Members on this side, have continually stressed the importance of conserving our food supplies to the maximum extent, and of instituting systems of rationing. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessors have put up all sorts of obstacles, and have said that this and that cannot be done—that cheese could not be rationed, that eggs could not be dealt with, that the milk muddle could not be straightened out—since the beginning of the war, but step by step and little by little, the process has gone on. Even now, however, those of us who have to deal with the problem of distributing food are not at all easy in our minds that we shall be able to survive a protracted war and an intensification of the U-boat campaign. We may see our way through 1942 and 1943, but in the grim business that has got hold of the world to-day we have to take a much longer vision than that, and prepare for a long war and for the decimation of the bulk of the world's shipping. Unless we do it in that way, there will not be much assurance in the minds of responsible people who have to deal with the provision and distribution of food.
585 One can sympathise with the Ministers in having to adapt themselves to an entirely new problem of rationing various commodities which, as everybody knows in the trade, have their own peculiar characteristics and problems in regard to distribution, which the trade has been accustomed to for some time. Various experiments have been tried, and there are one or two points with regard to those experiments which are causing some concern, because they are not achieving the results intended. The previous speaker, for example, referred to the question of dried fruits being included in the Points System. It is a problem to those who are having to deal with it, because it provides no guarantee that those who may have more right than others to their share of dried fruits are getting them, for leisured people who have nothing else to do with their time can go with their points from shop to shop, find out where the dried fruits are, and, if they like, spend the bulk of their points on them, while the worker, or the mother of a family, who cannot get out has to take what is going in the shop she visits. Therefore, while the Points System has received a good deal of approval, it can be stretched to a point where it will fail to give satisfaction or to achieve the results intended.
Another difference in the treatment of commodities is the specialised position of tea. It is rationed but not registered, and in view of the development in the Far East it seems that the Ministry ought to be looking at the problem of tea a bit more closely. We are satisfied that there is a substanital amount of leakage of tea, because, after it has been distributed, the Ministry has no control. It is distributed to retailers, who have nothing to show whether they have sold or given away the tea. They are supposed to stamp a book. If they fail to stamp the book, as many of them do in practice because they are too busy, because they overlook it, or because the stamp may have been lost, a person whose book has not been stamped can go back again to the same shop, or go to another shop, and get a double or treble allowance. No Ministry's officials can keep a proper supervision over that. The only way of dealing with tea is to allocate it to distributors on the basis of their registrations. If they were given a quantity to meet their registrations, there would be no waste of distribu- 586 tion, and the whole thing would be on the same basis as other commodities. Practically the whole of the retail trade has pressed for this change, but for some reason or other the Ministry has declined to put it into operation.
I would like to make one further appeal, in addition to the many that have been made, with regard to the position of poultry keepers who have between 12 and 50 hens. What the Ministry is worried about are the eggs. I am given to understand that at least 80 per cent. of the eggs in Scotland are produced by people with flocks of under 50. The Parliamentary Secretary said he was surprised that any bad eggs are getting out. He may not know all that is happening in his Department, but if he makes inquiries, he will find that the invoices sent to retailers make an allowance for the number of bad eggs, so bad eggs are getting out. I can add to the story of my hon. Friend, who spoke of three out of three eggs being bad, the case of an old couple I know who had an egg each, both of them bad. At the same time, perhaps because they have friends in domestic service, people learn that at certain places there are fresh eggs ad lib, because somebody has a motor car and makes a tour round the countryside to make contact with a number of farmers. It is a source of a very great grievance among the masses of the people. Anybody who has kept fowls, if he knows how to keep fowls, knows that a dozen hens will give any normal family more than sufficient eggs to supply them for the whole year, allowing for preservation, so there is no justification for withholding from the general pool eggs produced by those with between 12 and 50 hens.
I would like to suggest to the Minister of Food that he should make further contact with the Minister of Agriculture to deal with the problem of illegal slaughtering. It is being done on a very large scale. I will not say anything further on the subject of the black market, but I would like to appeal to the Minister to increase the penalties on those people who, while not in the black market, are exploiting present shortages by serving up fake substitutes. Every week that goes by some new product appears which consists merely of a little coloured flour, served up and sold for several shillings. It is the very worst kind of sheer exploitation of 587 the people. It ought to be one of the easiest to deal with, because most of these articles are widely advertised, and there would be no difficulty in tracing them. For the period of the war at least the introduction of new products of this kind without special permission should be prohibited. It could be stopped quite easily.
The Minister paid tribute to the traders and their staffs. I am satisfied that the majority are 100 per cent. desirous of helping the Minister in the solution of his problems. We have advocated that all the supplies available in the initial stage, whether from the first producer or from the importer, should come under the control of the Ministry. After milk has been dealt with in various ways, the prospect is that the Board will take over the whole of the milk supplies, and distribute them on an equitable basis. The same system must apply for fish. There is no other solution than to take over the whole of the landings, and distribute what can be expeditiously distributed on a zonal basis, and preserve all the rest, the pilchards of Cornwall and the herring around the coast.
While the Minister has paid a tribute to the retailers and their staffs, we are satisfied that inspectors have not a complete appreciation of the difficulties in the food distribution branches. There are petty fines for first-class swindles, where there is deliberate exploitation of the needs of the people, and then, when innocent mistakes are made by inexperienced individuals, not only the individuals but the establishments are prosecuted and heavily fined. We have had fines of £50 with costs in cases which have resulted from the first mistakes of inexperienced individuals. I appeal to the Minister to realise that, although his statement has given considerable satisfaction, we shall not have peace of mind about the ability of the Government to provide for the feeding of the people no matter how long the war lasts, until there is a more sympathetic appreciation of the problem. I should like to say a word in appreciation of the help that the Ministry have given in facing up to the Ministry of Labour and their demands. We are not satisfied that those demands have not been excessive, but we are sure that we have had the sympathetic help of the Ministry of Food, to enable us to save a certain percentage of our staffs and to carry on.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
I rise simply to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can tell us the results of the investigation, which he promised in the Debate on the Fish Sales Order, into the question of whether the prices paid to inshore fishermen were adequate to meet the costs and the risks incurred and to provide a reasonable recompense for their labour. It is four months since the investigation was promised. I understand that all the data has been put before the Ministry, and that even the fishermen's books have been open to examination by the Ministry's accountants. I do not want to reiterate the arguments put forward on behalf of these men. Those well able to judge maintain that the price is not sufficient to ensure the maximum output. I doubt myself whether the fishermen, who are a race to whom this country owes a great deal, would restrict their output because of any consideration of price. But that is no reason why the price should not be adequate both to meet the vastly increased costs to which the fishermen are subject and to give them ample remuneration for their work. There is another reason why I think some decision is due. I understand that the line-fishing season normally ends in a very short time, but there is a prospect that the men may decide to continue longer if their work is remunerative. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able, either now or at a very early date, to announce the decision in this matter.
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the excellent report he was able to make on the work of his Department. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about British Restaurants, canteens and the feeding of school children. I should like to express the hope that the Ministry will persevere with this work, and allow nothing to prevent a successful conclusion. In some of the country districts there is some hesitation on the part of the education authorities to make full use of the powers they possess for feeding school children, and in these days, when many children have to travel long distances to school, and when, because of rationing, it is difficult for their parents to provide proper meals, it is more important than ever that education authorities should use their powers to the full and provide adequate meals for the children at the schools.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
After listening to the major part of this Debate, I almost feel inclined to rush from the House and sample wholewheat bread. I am satisfied that most Members of the House understand the virtues and the drawbacks of that somewhat unwholesome commodity. But, while congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary, I want to deal with some of the realities of food control administration. In passing, might I say that it is my one regret that such an important office, whose administration affects every home in the land, should be held by a Minister with a scat in another place? I am satisfied that until the Minister of Food is in this House we shall not get the food control administration that we need. We have had two years, and more, of food control, and I want to say here and now that the general feeling, not only among consumers but among retailers, is that the policy of the Ministry is too often dictated by vested interests.
I understand that there has been a change in the Directorate of Meat Manufactures. If so, I welcome the fact; but it is about 18 months too late. It is no use our saying pleasant things to one another in this House when we know of the rumblings going on outside. The man in the street wishes to know why, in dealing with meat manufactures, certain firms should have all the privileges. I have heard it vulgarly said—I am not saying it—that there is a certain combine who control most of the manufactured foodstuffs in this country. There are certain firms dominated by that combine who take page advertisements advertising new lines. The question of how it is possible for any firm to introduce a new line in meat manufacture when they have an allocation based on their prewar usage is one to which I have not been able to get an answer. I go even further, and say that officials of the Department have handed to the Parliamentary Secretary replies to Questions in this House which were false. It will be remembered that on a previous occasion I raised the question of the sale of beef-ham at a very prominent warehouse in the city of Glasgow. I will not mention any names in case I receive some more registered letters from that firm wanting me to say outside what I had said inside. But at that time the Parliamentary Secre- 590 tary, in reply to Questions, insisted that no rump steak was used in the manufacture of that beef-ham. At the instigation of the Director of Meat Manufactures the local officers of the South of Scotland Wholesale Meat Supply Association were instructed not to give the Food Control Committee the information for which they had asked. I happen to be Chairman of the Glasgow Food Control Committee. We took out a summons against this branch of the Ministry to compel them to tell the truth, and after the summons was due we received the information. The meat supplied for this manufacture and sold by the one multiple store ran into, not hundredweights, but tons, against the pre-war usage of hundredweights. We received this information:All allocations … were made on the instructions of the Director of Meat Manufacturers, Ministry of Food, Colwyn Bay, ex Stows D and E, which only contained Silver-sides, Outsides, Topsides and Insides of Rumps.I took some trouble over this, and I got it divided into quarters to satisfy myself, because someone was lying. No other manufacturer in the West of Scotland or in any other part of Scotland had an allocation of the ex Stows D and E, which only contained rumps. All that manufactured stuff was sold in the one warehouse. As recently as the month of December I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary in relation to a commodity being sold by Messrs. Lewis in Glasgow and ticketed as "Fresh cooked brisket—1s. per ¼ lb." That is the fly way of making people think that they are getting a bargain. After the first visit of the official of the Ministry the price was reduced to 11d. per ¼ lb. They did not know what we were after. They were selling something as fresh cooked brisket that was not brisket at all.
There was a prosecution. It took from 3rd December until 17th February for me to get an answer, and I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary telling him that whoever supplied him with that answer was deliberately lying. It said that the firm were charged by the Glasgow police authorities, but that proved that whoever supplied the answer did not trouble to check it up. It was the Public Health Department, and the firm were charged with selling something as cooked brisket which in reality was not brisket. The answer I received from the Parliamentary 591 Secretary and supplied by his Department was that the firm were charged with selling brisket as silverside. Somebody at the Ministry must have silverside on the brain. Really what they were selling was a mixture of tongue roots and glands, the lowest quality of pressed beef, which was not worth 2s. 6d. per lb., and was being sold at 4s. The Parliamentary Secretary is helpless, surrounded by these people. He does not want to mislead the House. It is impossible for the Minister to keep his finger on everything, but my complaint is that, as the Noble Lord who presides over this Department must read the Debates and Questions from time to time, he cannot be innocent of what is going on. There was a stand-still instruction during which no one could sell certain canned food or food in containers. The way in which some firms anticipate the intention of the Ministry of Food is something at which to marvel. There was only one warehouse in Glasgow that could sidestep that order by processing something that was not in a can container, and the stuff to which I refer, namely, pressed brisket, made as it was of offals, was the item.
I want to touch upon one other point. The fruit coupon scheme is something that everybody welcomed, but it had one weakness. There was no declaration called for from the firms concerned as to the stocks in hand, and the stand-still order was to permit the initial supply to go to the retailers. On the first day of the release of the tinned fruit one multiple store in Glasgow uplifted 53,000 coupons. I belong to a branch co-operative society with 3,000 registered customers, and their allocation was only 300. Why did the Ministry depart from the arrangement that the allocation of tinned fruit should be on the basis of the sugar registration? Had there been an allocation according to the sugar registration, the firm referred to would have had no canned fruit because they do not carry registered customers. The ordinary retailer who has to fill in all the Ministry forms and stand all the back-chat from registered customers, when it comes to an allocation of an item such as this, instead of getting his quota on the basis of registration, finds that the arrangement is thrown open to everybody on a basic consumption. When other firms in Glasgow had nothing to offer their customers for the 592 pink coupons, the three multiple general stores in the city were able to keep supplying the ex Stows D and E, and when the second and third allocations took place it was on the basis of the pink coupons which they returned, which means that the multiple stores who get away from a flying start are always going to be in front. I want to say, now that the Minister is here, that I am not saying anything which is to be taken as an attack upon the Parliamentary Secretary.
I have one other subject to mention, and then I will resume my seat. We have never had a satisfactory answer to the question of why ice-cream manufacturers should get 50 per cent. of their pre-war usage. I ask hon. Members to consider the amount of ice-cream sold during the last three months. Is it pertinent to ask who are the largest manufacturers of ice-cream? It is not Tony Capelli. That is a certainty. Who are the people who have the fleet of barrows inviting people to "Stop me and buy one"? Again, it is not Tony Capelli. How do the Ministry arrive at the 50 per cent. allocation, and when is ice-cream not ice-cream? There is a concoction being passed on to the public which is in no way related to ice-cream. It is frozen air and frozen water. The Ministry go on giving 50 per cent. of the prewar usage of sugar to ice-cream manufacturers.
It is time the Minister overhauled some of their other advisers, as they have done in the case of the Directorate of Meat Manufactures. My experience as chairman of the Glasgow committee is that food control committees are nothing but shock-absorbing cushions to take the shock of the abuse of an irate public every time the Ministry make a new regulation. I have seen five policemen regulating the crowd at the food office in Glasgow because the Minister had said over the wireless what he had not confidence to tell the food executive officers before it took place. With regard to the allocation of sugar for ice-cream manufacture, perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell us who checks up the output of ice-cream. It is no use saying to me "If the hon. Member has any knowledge of people using for any other purposes manufacturing sugar given for ice-cream manufacture, perhaps he will let me know." Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will 593 excuse me, but I have not got any guarantee that when the matter is remitted to the particular district, some official will not supply him with the sort of answer that he was given in regard to braised beef.
I think hon. Members should demand that the Minister of Food should be a Member of the House. That need not present the Prime Minister with any difficulty. He has a Minister of Food ready-made here. I do not see why, on a subject such as this, the Parliamentary Secretary, even with his good humour and his broad shoulders, should be asked to take all the cuffing from hon. Members on the question of food administration, while the Noble Lord the Minister of Food gets into his hide-out and consults his advisers who, in every case, have been drawn from vested interests throughout the country. I am speaking now on behalf of the retailers in Scotland. In the matter of allocations for the pink coupons, retailers in Scotland have never got a square deal. The reason is that every pink coupon allocation has been made to suit the convenience of multiple and chain stores who do not carry the weight of registration for ordinary rationed foodstuffs.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I want in the few minutes during which I shall speak to put certain questions to the Parliamentary Secretary, and also ask him whether he does not think that food rationing should be looked at now from a rather different point of view than the very comforting picture he has given the Committee. I quite agree that the administration of the Food Ministry is conducted well, and that the rationing of the country is on very sound lines. I say that with all the more confidence because I know that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Noble Friend are advised by the most competent, expert medical and dietetic committee in the country, and probably in the world. The scientific side of rationing is admirable. Is the policy side of rationing quite as realistic? We have been warned by the Prime Minister of the grave shipping position, we have been told by the Minister of Agriculture, only last week, of the very great necessity for concentration on maximum production this year. While the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken wise words of caution with regard to the 594 rationing situation, are we taking sufficient notice of the dangers that may be ahead? Spring offensives are coming. An offensive is threatened by Hitler. The Russians are talking of their spring offensive. I hope our spring offensive will come, too. Those offensives will place a very much greater strain on our community than perhaps we realise at present. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be better to look at the rationing position from the point of view of the physical survival of the nation rather than the scientific standpoint of optimum nutrition. At the present time we have almost optimum nutrition.
I want also to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether there ought not to be arranged priorities in rationing. Obviously, the Services must come first, and I would bracket with them those who are engaged in productive work in the factories, for they and the Services are on exactly the same plane; but just as in the Army, and presumably in the other Services, those who are engaged in sedentary duties get a lower scale of rationing than those engaged in active duties, so I think it is time that the Government considered whether those doing sedentary duties in the community, including Members of Parliament—because I do not think we should be privileged in this matter—should get a lower scale of rationing, and whether the people—unfortunately, the number is still large in this country—who are doing nothing to help the national effort should get a still lower scale of rations. This might help to bring home to them the position they are taking up.
Are the Ministry making the best use of the food available? I want to put to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman one or two questions. With regard to milk, this is certainly essential for young people, and a certain amount is also necessary for adolescents, those between 14 and 16 and 16 and 18, especially now that they are being called upon for additional duties. I hope they are not forgotten. Briefly, I suggest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the best way of dealing with milk would be to cheapen its cost. That could be done either by cutting down the large amount that is paid for distribution, or by adopting the plan which was followed with great success in Northern Ireland of delivering the milk to depots and letting people collect it themselves at 595 a very much lower price than that which is charged when the milk is delivered to the door. I think this would have a very good effect in equalising the distribution of milk, because it is certain that at the present time, although there are cheap milk schemes and free milk schemes, a considerable number of children are not getting as much milk as they ought to get.
With regard to butter—and to my hon. Friend the Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little) I would say that we ought not to be guided always by purely theoretical, scientific considerations —I want to be guided by what I would call the housewife's point of view. The housewife knows the value of butter, and she knew the value of yellow butter before vitamins were discovered. She used to be ridiculed before the scientists subsequently discovered its contents. The housewife wants more butter, and I consider that more attention should be paid to her point of view.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
When the hon. Member speaks of beautiful yellow butter, is he speaking of natural butter or butter to which certain additions of colouring matter have been added?
The hon. Member is perfectly correct. Some butter was stained by the addition of saffron. But it was stained because women preferred yellow butter and knew from experience that it was a better product. However, that is a minor point. I am suggesting to the Parliamentary Secretary that we must not assume because certain vitamins have been discovered that we know everything there is about butter and that we have come to the end of human knowledge on the matter, and that by adding vitamins to margarine you make it into butter. You do nothing of the sort.
I will not deal with bread, because I have not the time, but I should like to say a word on the subject of fruit and eggs. Generally speaking, I think that the Ministry have been neglecting the possibilities of small producers. There are many hundreds of thousands of people producing eggs for their own consumption, and those who produce them should not be allowed to obtain the egg ration. I suggest that they should be satisfied with the eggs they produce for themselves. Then there is the case of 596 those with fruit trees and bushes in their gardens who make jam and preserve their fruits. I believe that it would be well worth while the Ministry consulting with the small producers and allotment holders to see whether, by agreement, they cannot get a greater quantity of fruit preserved, which is very essential, jam made and a certain amount of the eggs produced to contribute on a voluntary basis to the store of the nation, and whether these people who are producing fruit and eggs and making jam for themselves should not be off the rationing altogether. I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary would obtain a considerable accession of strength to the food resources of the nation in that way.
I now wish to draw attention to food rationing in another respect. The other day I received an invitation to attend a function to meet some important representatives of Allied nations. The invitation asked me whether I would attend a certain luncheon, the cost of the luncheon being half a guinea exclusive of wines. I think an invitation of that kind at the present time is almost indecent and almost offensive. I do not consider that we should have functions of that kind at the present time. I felt inclined to send a rather rude reply, but in fact I sent no reply at all, because I thought I would mention the matter in the House of Commons. There is no reason at all why people wanting to meet distinguished visitors from overseas should not adopt the same scale of expenditure as the National Trade Union Club, which manages to entertain such distinguished visitors as the Foreign Secretary on something like 2s. 6d. I do not see why we should go in for this high expenditure. I suggest that high prices at restaurants and at these exclusive functions should be looked into very closely indeed, and that all restaurant prices should be strictly limited. Personally, I should like to see all these things cut out.
With regard to the black market, I feel as strongly about this subject as most people. But no one has suggested a remedy which is likely to stop it. Hon. Members who may have exceeded the speed limit in their motor cars have probably had their licences endorsed, and I consider that anyone who commits a black-market offence should be obliged to print on the top of his notepaper, "Convicted of a black-market offence on such 597 and such a date," and should be obliged to put up a similar statement in the shop where he is trading. Such a course would have more effect than sentencing a man to a long term of imprisonment, which I should give him in addition, and a large fine. At any rate it would stop him making a profit.
With regard to our attitude to the war, we should not be too comfortable about our rationing, and we should not be too comfortable about our safety. Paratroops landed in France, and there is nothing to prevent enemy paratroops landing in this country. We should provide against these eventualities, instead of directing our attention to the difficulty in bringing a certain amount of wheat, butter or dried fruits to this country. Although it may not be necessary at the moment, I consider it is desirable that we should make a sacrifice in regard to rations which are not an absolute necessity. I suggest that there should be a trimming of luxuries, and that we should cut out these rather pretentious public entertainments and these expensive restaurant meals. I suggest that we should deliberately take on an austerity in regard to rationing, as a discipline for ourselves and for the nation. I think it would be a very good thing if the House of Commons at its own functions and those functions which Members attend gave a lead to the nation in this respect. It would not only save space, but it would be an earnest of our desire to live more closely with others and concentrate all our energies on war purposes.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
I agree with what the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) has said. I think the House will concur that Lord Woolton has done a splendid job by cutting down imports and yet maintaining a remarkable level of living. There is still a margin for further cutting down before we injure the health of the people, and that margin, I have no doubt, is now being seriously studied in view of the difficult times we have ahead of us. In congratulating Lord Woolton, may I say that it is always a great pleasure when the Parliamentary Secretary takes charge of a Debate? No only does he improve with each public appearance, but we are certain to have the presence of a distinguished father who listens to his speech, smiles at his quips and generally behaves 598 as a good father should. In fact, we have seen to-day his father sitting on the Front Bench in order to talk to his son, and I think many of us would not be at all displeased if the right hon. Gentleman had a seat on the Front Bench. Not, of course, that I wish to dismiss the Parliamentary Secretary, but the hereditary principle in the House of Commons is much stronger than in the other place. In that place self-made men have extraordinary opportunities, but here the hereditary principle is very strong, certainly in the Parliamentary Secretary's case, if not in some others.
What I have to say refers to the black market. This sinister form of sabotage is unfortunately only one expression of something which is alien to this country, but is sweeping the country or, if that word is too strong, is spreading and not receding. I need not go over all we hear about bribery in connection with contracts, thefts on the railways, tax evasion and evasion of service. There was a time when throughout the world people who did not speak English at all—we all know this, but we have to remind ourselves of it occasionally—used as an oath the expression, "On the word of an Englishman." If we lost that as a nation, it would be a greater loss than Singapore, Rangoon or any other of these places. We have to deal swiftly with this. We are all glad to hear that the Government are planning to do something and, since the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that it had to do with Defence Regulations, we must assume that it can only mean that the Government intend to set up tribunals to deal with this class of offence.
The Home Secretary has shown a surprising patience and leniency and hesitation in dealing with the problem of aliens and our own nationals who have been interned under 18B, which has not enhanced his reputation. I was in Portsmouth yesterday and had tea with one of the magistrates who sentenced Mr. Bernstein to the alternative of six months' imprisonment or a fine of, I think, £2,670. Mr. Bernstein is obviously a man of shrewd knowledge of business and accurate values. Having sized up what £2,670 means—it is a lot of money—he decided that he would live for six months at the Government's expense instead. If he showed good behaviour, he would be out in five months. It was not in the power of the magistrates to sentence him to both 599 fine and imprisonment. It had to be a choice. They could not sentence him to more than six months on that charge, though they could have fined him £25,000, which I think exposes an extreme absurdity. If a suspected Fascist has no civil rights and can be arrested without trial, why should these men have civil rights? If it is the correct thing in one case to be firm, surely we must take the same attitude. I hope the Government plan, when it is announced, will mean tribunals to deal with offences against the State. The poor devil—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I withdraw the word. I was referring to soldiers. It is a term of endearment which I think the Committee need not be so squeamish about. The soldier pays a dreadful penalty for involuntary cowardice, yet these men, who vilify the country's name, get five months' board and lodging at the Government's expense and then are allowed to come out.
I wish to tread on thin ice for a few moments. I rather hesitate to do so, because one does not want to hurt unnecessarily or to make the blunder of indicting a race, but, if I may be pardoned a personal statement, in my youth I was in the piano business, and we sold pianos on the instalment plan. It was a risk, but when we had concluded a transaction, before we delivered the piano we inquired into the customer's character and standing. If his name was MacIntosh or Macgregor or MacPherson, we delivered the piano without any further inquiry.
§ Mr. Baxter
Since the hon. Member asks if his name was O'Brien, we inquired rather carefully into it in case his love of music led him beyond his capacity to pay. If his name was Brown, Robertson or Baldwin, we delivered the piano but continued the inquiry just in case anything went wrong. But there were other names not of British, English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish origin, and sometimes we would insist upon a very much larger cash payment or not deliver the piano at all. The Jewish community, towards which this House has always maintained historic friendship and consideration, should exert itself in this regard. There are aliens 600 from Europe who have found their best means of activity in making money in these black markets. There are British-born Jewish people in this to far too great an extent. I do not want to go further than that. I appeal to the great Jewish community, to whom we owe much and who owe us much, to bring every pressure they can rather than bring upon themselves those things which would be bad for them and unworthy of this nation.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I was extremely interested to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary an account of his stocktaking, a statement of our achievements and a review of what we may expect in the near future. When we are tendering criticism and showering upon him recommendations as we have done to-day, we are inclined to forget what the housewives of the nation are saying. Whatever mistakes may have been made by the Noble Lord and the staff at the Ministry, whatever jobs of work they may have tackled or done wrong, there is general thankfulness throughout the land, and people say, "Things could be worse, it is not so bad after all, and you would hardly know there is a war on." That has been said to me this week-end at least a score of times, and it is as well to remind ourselves that whatever mistakes we have made, whatever misunderstandings have been created, we as a nation can say that throughout Europe nobody can equal us for reserves or well-laid breakfast, dinner and tea-tables. The Lord Privy Seal said last Wednesday that personal extravagance must be eliminated, together with every other form of wastage, small and large, and all unnecessary expenditure. I cannot understand why the Parliamentary Secretary did not say a word or two about that promise, which was given in the name of the newly constructed War Cabinet, and how the Department intended to implement the undertaking given by the Lord Privy Seal.
§ The Chairman
Possibly the right hon. and gallant Gentleman refrained from doing it as it would have been outside the Vote.
§ Mr. Walkden
I did not intend to violate the Rules of Debate. I was going to suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that although amendments were being drafted to deal with the black market racketeers, he only very modestly 601 suggested that they would deal with punishments and criminals. He did not indicate what his Department was likely to do with the causes of the black market. Have the Committee ever considered what are the causes of and where is the outlet for the ill-gotten gains of the black market? Practically the first time the term "black market" was used in the form of a Question it was associated in the early part of last summer with tomatoes. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) that the beginning of the black market in Covent Garden and Spitalfields Market did not concern the Jews at all. It began with our own people, and their ill-gotten gains were transferred to hotels, restaurants and cafes galore in London in plain vans and private cars.
§ Mr. Baxter
I would be very sorry if from what I said the Jews alone were made to blame. What I said was that the repercussions on the Jews were such that they should be more than careful.
§ Mr. Walkden
I want to link up what happened last summer with something that is happening to-day. Whatever price was fixed for tomatoes, the racketeers of Covent Garden and Spitalfields Market did not care two hoots, nor did hotel caterers and restaurant proprietors. They paid double and treble the price, despite the Order, because they did not sell tomatoes; they sold meals, and if they had to pay 5s. a pound, they did not mind so long as they got tomatoes. I had an experience the other day. I do not often go to clubs, and I use only the Trade Union Club, where the maximum price for meals, even when we entertain the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) or the Russian Ambassador, is only 2S. 6d. I was invited to join a business friend a few days ago at a West End club. I had not been there before.
Around me sat people who were undoubtedly having a really good time. They certainly did not come from the benches, nor did they have jobs of work to do, because they had plenty of time on their hands. They were not bothered very much about having to clock in, because they sat longer than I did, and I left them there. One man had more gammon on his plate than I or any other citizen is allowed for a whole week—in 602 fact, three times the ration allowed for any one person. That was the main portion of fresh meat in the meal, but there were many other odds and ends. When that man came to pay his bill it was 32s., and he consumed only a small amount of wine. I suggest that the vast majority of caterers for the clubs, hotels and luxury restaurants could tell a very disturbing story if they would.
The black market flows each day and every day like old father Thames. In the main it flows to the back doors of the West End clubs, which are used by Members of this House, of restaurants and of many of the small luxury cafés in another part of London which many hon. Members will be able to identify for themselves. Although there are exceptions, and many restaurants and hotel caterers are scrupulously honest in their dealings with food, illegitimate supplies do turn up every day as regularly as the sun rises. I make bold to say that unless we fix a maximum price for meals—I suggest that 3s. 6d. is enough—we shall never get rid of the cause nor the outlet for the ill-gotten gains of the black market.
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
Although I have no interest in the catering trade, may I ask my hon. Friend how he would serve a decent meal for 3s. 6d. in some of the hotels where rents and the cost of wages, light and heat, laundry, and other expenses are high?
§ Mr. Walkden
I would provide it very readily. I would sack all the waiters and make the diners serve themselves, as they do in British Restaurants. I would close every hotel that was not necessary to the war effort. If it is said that it is necessary for officers on leave and other folk who are giving service to the nation to have a little retreat to go to at week-ends, I would convert some of the luxury hotels into clubs for soldiers and give the officers a chance of enjoying themselves in proper surroundings. As to the question of rent, furniture, equipment and the maintenance of the organisation, my answer is clear—grant them a moratorium. The Government have the power to do it. I do not see why we should tolerate lunches at 32s., 35s. or 40s., and I strongly recommend my right hon. and gallant Friend to pay heed to the suggestion that black-market trading can be cured only by more severe 603 punishments and a maximum price order for meals.
In connection with black-market trading, there is another menace to which we must pay heed, and that concerns the price of salads—lettuces, radishes, cress and other greenstuffs which will be coming along in a few days. Young onions, which were 8s. 6d. per bundle of 12 in 1938, rose to 60s. in 1941. Later the Noble Lord controlled the price—but when the market was finished. Our folks love these salads, love a change of diet, but they object to paying 1s. 6d. for a lettuce. The Noble Lord, after many appeals, decided that he could not control the price. They object also to paying 10d. or 1s. for radishes. I mentioned this matter in April last year, but the Noble Lord said he could not control the prices. They object to paying 9d. per lb. for sprouts. That is the price to-day, because there is no control of price. They like this change in diet, they like these odds and ends which make their meals more interesting, and I would urge upon my right hon. and gallant Friend that if we were too late last year we should this year fix prices which will ensure that the workers can get salads and other fresh greenstuffs at a reasonable figure.
Finally, let me say a word upon the black market in whiskey and wines. Why did not my right hon. and gallant Friend mention it? Why is he allowing this kind of thing to go on unchallenged? A few days ago a man walked into a little "local"—a small hotel—with about £2,000 in his case. He is an ex-member of the bookmaking fraternity who, incidentally, dealt in wine in the West End of London when the auction sale was stopped by the President of the Board of Trade. He is a man who would gamble in anything, from black puddings to bombers, so long as he could make a profit. He offered the licensee of that hotel 50 gallons of whiskey for £460. The current price of the whiskey as sold by distillers is £4 10s. a gallon. He was offering it at over £9 a gallon. I do not understand where he gets his supplies. To buy the whiskey one must pay an agent who has an address somewhere in the North of London but who lives in Surrey. It comes from a firm—I will not mention the name but I will give it to my right hon. and gallant 604 Friend later—that is not in the trade registry at all, is not to be found in any business or telephone directory, but yet is able to get hold of supplies from somewhere and to resell them at 100 per cent. advance on the prices at which legitimate traders offer it to licensees.
Why cannot my right hon. and gallant Friend fix a price for whiskey? Does he know that every brewer, every distiller's agent, offers whiskey to licensees, whatever the size of the house, whether it is a small public house, club or pub, at 15s. 6d. a bottle? Does he tell me that he cannot fix a maximum price for the retailer; does he say he cannot fix it for the consumer? I understand that the Noble Lord sent for a price list and was amazed because he saw that there were about 1,000 different kinds of whiskey, wines and spirits mentioned in it. He asked, "How can I fix a maximum price order?" But about 900 of the wines and whiskies mentioned in that list are not obtainable at all in this country. Whiteway's wine, which is advertised in the papers at 4s. 9d. a quart bottle, is being sold this very day as British white port at 1s. 3d. per nip by many licensees. They are making 37s. 6d. on a bottle of British wine which has cost them 4s. 9d. and is known as Whiteway's white port.
I should like to have mentioned a few other odd items, but I will say only that if the Noble Lord wishes to restore our confidence in him and his Department he must at least pay heed to some of these matters which we put to him. We do not bring them forward with the idea of putting him in an awkward corner. They are put forward in all sincerity in the interests of the British people, because I believe with the hon. Member for Wood Green that anybody who tries it on this nation at this time, who deprives us of any odd items of foodstuffs by making a racket out of food, is a saboteur and traitor, and that we should destroy him and exterminate him with all the weapons we possess. I trust that my right hon. and gallant Friend will profit by the contributions which have been made and will give us a statement upon the action which it is proposed to take.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I want to talk about things at the other end of the scale, not about whiskey drinkers or clubs, because I do not know much about 605 them. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his sympathetic attitude towards a certain class of people whose needs I take it upon myself to put forward in Parliament from time to time, and I would ask him to give them still further consideration. When there is any distribution of oranges in this country will the Minister try to see that the diabetics have a fair share of them? They require them, they are asking for them. I get letters galore from these people pleading for them. I ask him to give consideration to that matter before he starts to put a maximum price on whiskey. Further, I wish to know whether he has the power to control the price of insulin, because during the last three months it has gone up by 33 per cent. straightaway. It used to be 2s. 6d. per bottle—a bottle no bigger than my little finger, containing 100 units. Now the price has jumped straightaway to 3s. 4d., which is a rise of 10d. Some of my hon. Friends on these benches have said to me "Insured people get insulin free." I know that is so, but the wives and children of insured persons do not get insulin free. They have to pay for it.
In the village where I live the wife of a man who works on a coke plant has to take about 80 units of insulin every day to keep her alive. This adds up to about five and a half vials of insulin, which costs the man 4s. 6d. a week more than he was previously paying. Two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said there would be no Purchase Tax on insulin. There is no Purchase Tax, yet there is this increase of 33⅓ per cent. on the price. The man to whom I have referred is paying £1 a week for insulin because his wife is not a State insured person. I ask the Minister to take this into consideration. Give the diabetics oranges and apples when they are available and bring back the cost of insulin to 2s. 6d. a bottle instead of the 3s. 4d. which it is to-day. I am not pleading for myself; I can stand it for the moment, because I have the best job I have ever had in my life, and I hope to keep it until I go the other side of a coffin lid. I am pleading for the 300,000 diabetics in this country.
I will say only one word more, and that is about the black market dealers. I would put them up against a wall and put a bullet through them. Until you decide to do that, this kind of dealing will continue. Nothing short of death will frighten them. That is the way we must deal with them.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food presented once again, to-day, a case for his Department with the efficiency we have learned to expect from him. The problem we have to face to-day and in the future is not whether we have or have not done passably well but whether we cannot do still better. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman rightly emphasised—as did his colleague the Minister of Agriculture when speaking at Exeter the other evening—that, whatever we may do, what lies in front of us is bound to be more severe in regard to our food problems, than anything we have hitherto experienced. The Parliamentary Secretary also stated that the reserves of food in this country must be looked upon as a form of insurance. That I take to mean that the policy is to hold on to those reserves and utilise them only if we come up against an exceedingly grave and acute crisis.
May I invite the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the Debate, to give some indication, if he can, of what is really happening with regard to the consumption of foodstuffs in this country? We all appreciate that certain commodities are almost off the market, or in short supply; but what is happening to such commodities as bread and tea? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman stated that the consumption of milk of all kinds has considerably increased which, of course, is much to be desired. But if we are, facing, as is generally admitted, a period of acute difficulty in regard to our food supplies, I think it follows that the question of home-grown food is bound to come to the forefront more than ever before. I am glad to see that the Ministry are taking the whole of the milk supplies into their account, but when we are dealing with the black market and illicit business relations, it is interesting to note that the general consensus of opinion is that there should be more severe forms of punishment on the individual. The point I would ask the Committee to consider is this. Is this practice of evasion, whenever a country is faced with short supplies of food, a new problem? It is not. Whenever any nation is faced with food shortage and the government of that nation are compelled to intervene to protect the community, and to endeavour to ensure equity between citizens, such a government will always be faced with the 607 evasion of food regulations, which starts among the criminal and blackguardedly elements and goes along the scale to individuals who are, normally, honest.
In two-and-a-half years of war there has been no exceptional privation in this country but the black market has existed since the inception of food control. Members, from those in the War Cabinet downwards, have emphasised that this question must be dealt with. It is a much graver problem to-day. In what field does the black market operate? In the field where food completely passes into the account of the Ministry and is dealt with entirely by the Department, and where no opening for private manipulation should exist. In that wide field of mainly home-grown produce, I think there is a conflict in Ministerial policy. I agree that the grower should receive a fair price, but when that price has been settled, I see no reason why foodstuffs grown in this country should still be in a field open to individual manipulation, as against foodstuffs imported from abroad.
The House of Commons and the Ministry of Food should really face the problem of taking into the national account all foodstuffs when they come under price control. That would go a long way towards getting at the source of the difficulty. If that is not done, a severer form of punishment must be inflicted in order to deter offenders. If we are to stop these practices, we cannot allow the individual to select his form of punishment. Those practices are well known in food administration when a Government faces a situation such as exists to-day. The Government must carry a measure of responsibility for not having dealt adequately with this problem before. The Minister of Food always gives me the impression in his public statements, of trying to convey that he is being held back from dealing fully with the problem, because he is always suggesting that this or that ought to be done and that he could not stop these practices because of this or that difficulty. The Ministry of Food cannot divest itself of direct responsibility for not having evolved a system for stopping the black market, which is now very widespread indeed. Instead of continually fobbing the community off with suggestions of severer penalties that so far do not seem to materialise to any 608 great extent, the Government ought to grapple with the problem. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food ought to deal with it on lines which will have more satisfactory results.
With regard to the general policy of the Ministry of Food, I noticed that the Parliamentary Secretary gave figures relating to the consumption of meals in canteens, which, he said, had now reached 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 meals per day. This fact discloses a vast shift of population in this country. Labour has been moved from its normal surroundings, away from the catering supply which had grown up to serve our big cities where the population resided, and has been diverted to factories, in localities where there have not been adequate arrangements. It was very sound policy on the part of the Ministry of Food to initiate and inaugurate this method of seeing that people so placed got substantial meals.
Side by side with that development, we have had the development of the British Restaurants, another policy which has received general commendation from all quarters of this Committee. As far as one can judge, the general catering facilities of this country still remain, and I venture to form the opinion—and I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary to correct or endorse it—that in fact a great shift of consumption is taking place, and I should like to know what is the net effect on our system of trying to control food consumption. I think I heard earlier in the Debate a suggestion that an undertaking has been given that the British Restaurants will be closed down after the war. If they perform a really useful service to the community, I think community opinion will prevent them from being closed down, and if this form of organisation can provide good solid sustenance, at economic prices, it is desirable that they should continue. One should, however, recognise that, sometimes, a very good policy is later on destroyed by becoming a stunt. I venture to suggest that if the restaurants are to continue to exist, they should be built up on a sound economic business basis, because if a number of them become expensive and uneconomic, those, I am certain, will be picked out as examples for the purpose of destroying the experiment after the war. Can the Parliamentary Secretary indicate what steps are being taken, both by his Department and by local 609 authorities, with regard to the pricing and cost of equipment, and supervision to ensure that each restaurant is established on an economic basis? Are any steps taken to ascertain the actual cost per meal?
The next point to which I should like to refer is the problem of egg supplies. My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) has already referred to this, and the Minister knows that a large section of the distributive trade has differed very substantially with the Ministry over the limitation imposed by taking, on Ministry of Food account, only those supplies of eggs derived from producers who keep more than 50 hens. In view of the experience of the past 12 months, and in view of the urgency of the demand on the part of Members of Parliament here to-day that black market or illicit trading in food supplies shall cease, will hon. Members themselves face up honestly to the sources which provide these commodities? No one who has a knowledge of this problem can argue that a person requires 20, 30, 40 or 50 hens to supply his own family requirements. It must be obvious to any person that 10 or a dozen hens are ample to supply any normal family in this country with all the eggs they need. Why then the decision to exclude from the compulsory account of the Ministry of Food—I do not say that a number do not still find their way into the Ministry of Food account—all flocks up to 50 birds, instead of making the limit 12?
I suggest that, unconsciously, a good deal of humbug creeps into this question of tackling the black market. Let us take the question of barley. Here again, one can see the desire, perhaps the natural desire of the Minister of Agriculture not only to secure a fair price for the growers, but to allow them to get a double return. Before the war, I think, the price of barley was from about 25s. up to £2 for 448 lbs. To-day, barley is fetching 328s. for 448 lbs. The Minister of Agriculture has made a statement at Exeter, to a particular group but obviously intended for national consumption, urging that we should get the fullest possible value out of the land; yet this House deliberately permits a policy under which the brewers are able to offer such an attractive price for barley that in some of the counties upon which we depend for the greatest yield of wheat, the cultivation of wheat has declined, and that of 610 barley has increased. Everyone knows the reason. I do not think that these Debates will serve their purpose, unless we here accept our responsibility and deal with these problems as they arise.
Will the Minister state whether there has been an increase in the consumption of tea? In the case of fats and meat, we have been able to secure for the individual the minimum amount that a balanced diet requires and also to bring about that prevention of excessive consumption which is necessary in the interests of shipping space. It is a matter of life and death to us to save every possible ton of shipping. I am certain that this system, of rationing but not registration, of the consumer for tea allows a fluidity in stocks. There can be no comparison of stocks; and the result, I fancy, is that there is a leakage in respect of tea which does not occur in respect of certain other commodities. I have never been able to see why the Ministry of Food cannot adopt the same policy of both registration and rationing with regard to this commodity. What advantage is there for persons who unnecessarily move about from shop to shop? If you have this irregular system of purchase on demand, it goes on through the manufacturing, wholesale and distributing processes. The coupon system of registration and rationing gives an ordered control of the commodity from the point of production right through to the consumer. If the consumer has a free choice in selecting his retailer, I cannot see that it would interfere with any of his rights.
I welcome the Points Scheme as representing an equitable method of introducing an alternative choice of commodities which I and other people urged many months ago. I understand that the fruit points scheme has been based upon the free choice of the customer, but one or two cases have come to my notice recently in which traders are gradually drifting into the position of refusing to serve customers who are not registered with them. It is the general experience that, if the range of a commodity becomes limited, and you have directed your efforts to the rationing of basic commodities, the retailer, when any difficulty of supply arises, is almost compelled to give preference to the customer who is registered with him for the main commodities. It was obvious from the moment that we 611 entered the war that the character of the struggle would be entirely different from that experienced in the past. In view of the vast expenditure of the national income on the equipment for war, which is probably costing now half the nation's income, and the need for conserving every possible ton of shipping space, and for financing the war so as to avoid inflation, there should be no unnecessary expenditure on consumable goods. We are governed by financial conditions under which it is harmful to the main prosecution of the war if we consume unnecessary commodities. Taking those governing conditions, the whole of our food supplies should by now have been directed on to a registration and rationing basis, aimed at a balanced, healthy diet for the community, governed strictly on the basis of equity, and followed on by severe price control to avoid any unnecessary rises in the prices of commodities. While I am prepared, with other hon. Members, to pay a tribute to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, I am not prepared to say that Lord Woolton has, on the whole, done too good a job. I agree that the main task of the Ministry of Food of securing adequate supplies in this country has been accomplished, but my remarks will have indicated that I do not think that this discharges wholly the responsibilities of the Ministry. I feel that their negligence, after two and a half years of war and at a time when we are facing a grave situation, in not having completely evolved this policy entitles me at any rate to mix my praise with a little criticism.
Major Lloyd George
The Ministry which I represent in the House certainly has no cause for complaint about the attitude of hon. Members during this Debate towards the Ministry's activities over the past 12 months, and, personally; I have no cause for complaint, for hon. Members have been extremely kind to me, and I very much appreciate what they have said. It is not the easiest of tasks, and appreciation of what has been done is a source of encouragement. The hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) said he did not think my Noble Friend had done too good a job. I cannot agree with the hon. Member in that. I move about the country a great deal, and 612 while nobody claims perfection for the Ministry, my impression is that the vast majority of the people do not take the same view as the hon. Member does. I think that, on the whole, people realise that, in the circumstances of to-day, not too bad a job has been done.
There have been some very interesting speeches in the Debate, and many points have been touched upon; I am afraid I shall not be able to deal with all of them in the time at my disposal, but I will deal with as many as possible, and I assure hon. Members that all the points that have been made will be noted and looked into. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), in a very interesting speech, referred to the last war and the difficulties in those days. My right hon. Friend will appreciate, of course, that now we are up against an even more serious situation than we were then, because the great sources of supply nearest to us, and therefore most economical in shipping, have been taken away from us, and countries that were our Allies in the last war are actively opposed to us, which has enormously increased the burdens upon our shipping. Nevertheless, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to know that we have learned a great deal from the preliminary work that was done by our predecessors in the last war. We can say that we began where they left off, and we have benefited enormously from their experience.
One hon. Member raised the question of soap and the difficulties of certain sections of the community in this respect. A few days ago I answered a Question in the House in which I said that consideration would be given to what I may call the hard cases, but I must point out that many of the complaints that we have received—and we have received complaints from many quarters, although not, as far as I know, from small boys—came on the first day of the scheme. We would rather like to wait to see how exactly it works before we amend a scheme which, after all, has as its main purpose the conservation of two raw materials vitally important to the welfare and safety of the country, oils and fats. We are waiting to see, as a result of experience, what the position is, and we will look into it very carefully.
The hon. Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little) spoke on his favourite subject, but I am afraid that I 613 cannot add anything to what I said when I first spoke. There are two sides of this question, and all I can say is that the decision must lie with the Government in view of the shipping situation. I will repeat that, if and when any decision is come to as a result of the shipping position, action can be taken without any delay whatever.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) referred to the fact, I gather, that we are completely in the hands of the millers, and that they conduct policy. There is no justification whatever for that suggestion. We are simply guided by the people who know something about it, and I do not know who can advise us on flour except the millers. Responsibility, however, for whatever policy is adopted is my Noble Friend's and no one else's. We simply take advice from the people who we think are most competent to give advice. The hon. Member for London University also referred to the health of the nation. Speaking for the Department I represent, all I can say is there is no evidence at all at the present moment that the diet of the people is having any detrimental effect on their health. There is no evidence to that effect which I have been able to find, but my Ministry is keeping in very close touch. We have had investigations made in various parts of the country, and we can find no evidence; it is very gratifying to know that that is so.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) said that we ought to go in for a policy of complete rationing. That is easy enough to say, but why do we have different types of rationing? The first type of rationing is what I called "straight" rationing, where there are adequate supplies which we can divide equally among the people of the country. When we undertake to give those rations, we are giving a guarantee that they will be delivered, which is a very important fact. When we come to other items not in sufficient supply to enable us to do that, we have the Points Scheme, where, since there is not enough for one particular commodity, we take four or five similar commodities and put them in a group. By making this points arrangement, we ensure that every person in the country will obtain an equitable share of that group, but not of each individual part of it. When you talk about extending the rationing scheme 614 —and I indicated earlier that there will probably be extensions of the Points Scheme during this year—you have to remember what your supplies are. It may not be possible in the case of some commodity to put it in a group, because possibly there is nothing appropriate to put with it. It is not quite so easy as it sounds to say, "Let us ration everything." It would be far simpler if it could be done, but when you come to the method of distribution you have to be governed by the supplies of a particular commodity available.
Reference was made to women shoppers. It is a very difficult matter, but we have been working in very close collaboration with the Ministry of Labour on this subject. We have tried various methods locally by which help can be given to women working in factories, and we are pursuing the matter very closely indeed. We are co-operating with the Ministry of Labour, and, of course, our own Food Executive officers, and the local welfare officers do what they can to assist.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) raised the very tricky question of hoarding. We have not altered what was laid down earlier, roughly, that not more than seven days' supply should be kept except in special circumstances. Special circumstances would be, for instance, very heavy weather in the Highlands of Scotland, as happened last year when communication was completely cut off. It is left to the courts to decide exactly whether there has been hoarding or not, having regard to the special circumstances of each case. The Order laid down at the beginning of the war that seven days' supply should be regarded as normal.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
I have a number of constituents who have saved, say, a tin of fruit each week for a long period, and they now have several weeks' or even months' supply. Would they be considered guilty of a breach of the Order?
Major Lloyd George
I cannot lay down a hard and fast rule, but I should say not. If I cared to save my sugar ration to use for making jam, it seems obvious that could not be regarded as hoarding. The thing we have in mind is where people have had hundreds of tins of sardines and that kind of thing—getting more than they ought to have. We can safely leave that to the courts to look after.
615 One point was raised about hens, and I was asked why we still retained the limit of 50. It is demanded that this should be put right, because it is a great help to the black market. There is no doubt that poultry keeping has taken a great hold in the country, and when we made our decision last July very great pressure was brought to bear that the number should be 50 for fear small poultry keepers would wring the neck of every hen beyond 12.
Another point with which I want to deal is the question of a Consumers' Council. I am not at all sure whether a Consumers' Council is all that it is made out to be. The difficulty about it is that it would be so big as to become almost a public meeting. I do not think anyone can deny that we keep in very close touch with public opinion. We have 1,500 food committees all over the country, and they get an enormous number of queries which are transmitted to us. We have our Public Relations Department and the Food Advice Centres, which not only give advice to housewives but encourage them to make any complaints they have. In addition, we have what I always considered a good consumers' council, and that is this House. I have noticed since I have been in office that hon. Members are not slow in asking me questions. They do represent every part of the country, constituents write to them, and there is no question that we get very close contact with consumers. Further than that, my noble Friend and I have visited practically every area in the country in the last few months. We have been present at conferences of the food executive officers and the chairman of food committees in all the districts, we have been subject to cross-examination by them, and we have got first hand information as to the conditions in the various localities.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Can the Minister say when either he or Lord Woolton was at Glasgow?
Major Lloyd George
We have not been to all the districts, but practically all. I believe that Edinburgh has been visited and Glasgow may be visited shortly.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden
Could we as Members see the reports which come in concerning our own divisions, that is, the 616 reports sent by the food officers, the advice bureaux and the food centres?
Major Lloyd George
It would be a very difficult task to make 600 copies of the reports, which are sometimes very voluminous. We have reports from chief constables and an enormous number of other reports and complaints. I will, however, consider whether something can be done to meet the hon. Member's wish.
Another point that has been raised is that of the black market. I indicated in my speech to-day that amendments were in contemplation and, therefore, I cannot discuss them, but let me say one or two things about this question. I do not want the Committee to go away with the idea that this is on a gigantic scale. I made the observation earlier that it has no substantial effect on the national larder. Some hon. Members suggested that if we had a better system of control of food there would be no black markets. Whatever system we had, however, theft is always possible. It is possible and takes place in peace-time. When we take food from overseas we have the advantage that it comes through the bottleneck of the port, and we can easily take control of it. If we took control of all the food produced in this country, we would have to deal with tens of thousands of people. The policing of any scheme of that kind would be very difficult. I am not saying it would be impossible, but there are great differences between the control of food that comes from overseas and the control of food that is produced in this country. As regards poultry keepers there are, I believe, nearly 1,000,000 of those who have below 50 head.
Major Lloyd George
They get that food in return for what they turn over to us, but there are hundreds and hundreds of small producers who do not need that food. I am not saying that what my hon. Friends have asked me to do is impossible, but I do beg to point out that there is this difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) has spoken once again about black marketing. With many of the points which he made, I am afraid I have not now time to deal, but he knows that we are going to tackle the question of punishment with even more 617 vigour than before. He asked where the black market people found an outlet for their goods. It is about time we concentrated on another aspect of this matter. We have been concentrating, very rightly, upon the punishment of the criminals, but there could be no black market in this country unless there were buyers, and it is fantastic to believe that the whole output of the black market goes to hotels and restaurants. It is about time the people of this country realised that they, as well as we, have a duty to perform. They cannot think that all the 45,000,000 people in this country are absolutely innocent in this matter and that it is only a few individuals here and there who are concerned. People who want to get something more than their neighbours are responsible, to a very large extent, for the profits made in this business. We all have our duty to do, and I shall be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if he will let me have information. He is always telling us about these things but he does not often let me have the information.
Major Lloyd George
If my hon. Friend will let me have information in these cases I can assure him that quick action will be taken. With regard to restaurants and so forth, do let us keep a sense of proportion. After all, there are 35,000,000 people in this country who feed out every week in restaurants, cater in and hotels.
Major Lloyd George
The number of meals taken, and it is not an inconsider- 618 able figure. We reckon that about 12,000,000 people are feeding out every day. On the question of wines, my hon. Friend has said that we cannot get from abroad now some of the wines which are being sold here. But you can get the labels. One must not now judge a bottle by the label on the outside. If we do take action on the lines he has suggested, there is no end to what will happen. Simply to control prices is not sufficient.
In conclusion, I want to say only that we are very much concerned about the activities of the black market racket. Steps are being taken to stiffen punishments, and everything that can be done will be done to stop what everyone regards as a filthy slur on the national effort at the present time. Whatever sacrifice this country may have to go through in the next few months, we do know that we can call upon our people for any sacrifice, provided they have the knowledge that it is equitable. We regard it as one of our first duties to see that whatever supplies are available shall be distributed as equitably as possible and we shall do our best to achieve that end.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon the next Sitting Day; Committee to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.