Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £90, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Food."—[Note.—£10 has been voted on account.]
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabanc)
This is the first occasion upon which it has fallen to my lot to present the Estimates of a Department. I am very sensible of the importance of presenting the Estimates for a Department in which interest is so widespread as in the case of the Ministry of Food. I can only hope that the happy news with which we have been greeted to-day will persuade the Committee to be as lenient as it can to me. My predecessor, who acquired for himself a reputation no less for his efficiency than for his manner, always managed to please the Committee on these occasions, and I realise what a difficult task I have in following him. Nevertheless, I often hear complimentary remarks about the Ministry of Food. I always hear them with some surprise, for my life is lived mainly with things that go wrong—with troubles expressed in Parliamentary Questions, hon. Members' letters, Adjournment Debates and so on. It would be easy for me to see the picture black. But when I examine this paradox I find that most of the complaints are concerned with matters of detail, whereas the satisfaction relates 809 to the management of our food supplies in large.
There would be more cause for alarm if my Department were attacked, not because of the way in which it manages the distribution of the food we have got, but because we had not got enough food to distribute. I imagine, therefore, that hon. Members and their constituents do comprehend that the major work of the Ministry of Food is carried on out of the public gaze and is concerned with long-term, global planning—planning which enables us in this fourth year of the war to offer a balanced dietary and to be able to look forward to the fifth year with a reasonable degree of calm confidence. Therefore, I do not propose primarily to devote myself to such exciting questions as why we have succeeded in once again performing our celebrated disappearing trick with lobsters, but to draw attention for a while to what I may call the basic strategy of food. My reason for desiring to do so is that during the last year there have been significant and important developments in the management of the world's food stocks, developments undertaken primarily for the purpose of the war but with undoubtedly an important bearing on post-war problems.
First I would just like to say a word —I hope a reassuring word—about food stocks. Since 1939 our food stocks have been greatly strengthened. A cardinal injunction of my Noble Friend is, "Watch the stocks." Additional warehouses have been built; cold storage accommodation has been greatly increased. Only by having these substantial reserves has distribution been maintained on a reasonably even level during the past 12 months. These stored supplies enable us to overcome the difficulties of uncertain and delayed arrivals. Earlier in the war we acquired more food than we released for consumption. Thus our stocks were raised very high above peace-time levels. That position cannot continue, and there is no reason why it should continue. I want to assure hon. Members that provided, as I confidently believe, home agriculture continues to produce as large a proportion of our food during this year as last, the country can be confident that the national larder will continue to be well stocked during the next 12 months. I do not need to say that the food we get does not arrive here by accident, but I sometimes wonder 810 whether the country realises the extent to which design has taken the place of accident, not merely by comparison with the last war, but by comparison with peace-time. Certainly we began earlier. It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the work done before the war by the Food (Defence Plans) Department. That work enabled the Department immediately to exercise a degree of (control not reached even in November, 1918.
Since then control, particularly in the matters of production, procurement and allocation, has steadily become more extensive and complete. The purpose of that control is to secure that an adequate, sufficient and varied dietary shall be available for all for whom we have responsibility. These include, not merely the civilian population of this country, but the members of the Services wherever they may be, with some contingent liability for those occupied areas which we shall liberate. Further, we have willingly undertaken to make substantial provision for the American Forces in the European theatre. Beyond that, our requirements have to be set in accord with those of the rest of the Empire and of the other members of the Grand Alliance of the United Nations. To achieve harmony and balance in that is no small task. It has been made easier by the remarkable development in recent years of the science of nutrition. Shakespeare put into the mouth of Julius Caesar words which might seem appropriate to my Noble Friend:Let me have men about me that are fat.Yet, accurately to represent my Noble Friend's mind, one letter needs to be changed. It should be made:Let me have men about me that are fit.And our scientists can now properly relate food and fitness; we are able to produce and import, not merely food but food values, not merely filling but nourishment. When, then, the scientists have prepared their plan in terms of calories, vitamins and the like, that plan must be transformed into terms of actual foodstuffs. Plans for production here at home and overseas must be prepared and arrangements made for procurement, for transport, for, storage and for distribution. This is a long-term business. The main concern of the Ministry of Food to-day is not with what people will eat to-morrow; it is with what people will eat in 1944 and 811 1945. Equally, the food we have today is the fruit of plans made and completed 18 months ago. These plans have, inevitably, to be flexible. They are made in a changing world. The fluctuations of war, the exigencies of shipping and many other factors conspire daily to make our plans "gang agley." But the tea ration has been maintained, notwithstanding the loss of some our important tea-producing areas. For months before Pearl Harbour, our tea stocks were built up to a point sufficient to enable us to carry over the period until the greatly increased production, immediately arranged in India and Ceylon, could become available. We lost almost the whole of our rice supply, yet at no period has rice been to any degree short of demand, either for civilians or for the Services, because we called in the New World to redress the balance of the Old. We turned to the West to provide what the East could no longer provide. We found succour in Brazil and the United States. Here were areas capable of producing rice, and our requests that they should be employed for that purpose were met.
No less has production to be related to shipping. Throughout the war my Department has been concerned, all the time, to reduce the ratio of volume to value, and we can truly say now that never has so much been carried in so little. Some examples may interest hon. Members. The dried egg—popular, I assure hon. Members, as a food no less than as a joke—is something quite new. The process was discovered and production arranged well over a year before the first shipments reached this country from the United States. Shell eggs are bulky and have a rooted objection to long journeys. Dried egg enables us to bring to this country the equivalent of shell eggs in a fifth of the tonnage. Scarcely less striking are the advances made in the preparation of meat. Carcases are boned and telescoped so that we can stow in 75 cubic feet what previously needed 100 cubic feet. The saving in meat is considerably more than that, because, of course, we do not bring the bone. Take cheese and butter. Shortage of refrigerated tonnage prevented us bringing all the butter available but we did not abandon the food values. We arranged for the erection of plants for cheese manufacture, and instead of bringing butter 812 we brought cheese. But the greatest economy of all lies in the process in which very many hon. Members have expressed an interest, and with which one hon. Member at least, has expressed verbal disgust—dehydration. Dried foods are not new, but, in the past, drying has dried out vitamin content. The new process retains the vitamins. At home and abroad the process is developing. Its product is being used in ever-increasing degrees for the Services. Here in this country we are concentrating on vegetables, and it is a nutritional revolution to be able to provide fresh greens, with full food value, for the sailor in the Arctic or for the soldier in the desert. As a measure of the economy, I may say that 1,000 tons of raw cabbage, which occupied 140,000 cubic feet, is reduced by dehydration to 40 tons, occupying only 15,000 cubic feet. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that this development has within it remarkable opportunities for the future.
Shipping, indeed, is graven on the hearts of the commodity officers of the Ministry of Food. It is no obsession. We know that military needs are paramount. We know that, at any moment, we may be called upon to sacrifice ships to a military purpose. Now that we have the glad news that Tunisia is taken, I can Say that for three months after the landing in North Africa the total shipping sufficient to bring in even the grain we available for my Department was barely needed for use during that period. Now, too, perhaps hon. Members will appreciate why my noble Friend was so anxious during the winter that we should eat potatoes and not bread.
I want to ask hon. Members, however, to contemplate an even wider canvas—a world picture. The strategy of food is not a domestic affair. It concerns all the United Nations. It would be disastrous if the procurement of supplies became a scramble among them. It is not. There are a combined staff and a common strategy. Nothing during the last year has been more important or more significant than the establishment of the machinery of that common strategy. In 'June, 1942,.by a joint directive of the President and the Prime Minister, a Combined Food Board was establishedto complete the organisation needed for the most effective use of the combined resources of the United States and the United Kingdom for the prosecution of the war.813 That Board has as its members the Secretary for Agriculture of the United States and the head of the British Food Mission in Washington. It is concerned with the allocation of foodstuffs, and the world is its parish. As a pendant to the Combined Food Board, the London Food Committee was set up, and of that body I have the honour to be chairman. On the London Food Committee are represented all the Dominions—with the exception of Canada and Eire—India, and, indirectly, all the Colonies and all our European Allies. The purpose of that Committee is to prepare a programme of the essential needs of all the countries with which it is concerned, to relate those needs to the supplies available, and, finally, to present an agreed programme to the Combined Food Board for approval and submission to their Governments.
I say that this machinery is important and significant. It is important. It prevents any competitive buying of foodstuffs that are in short supply. Further, it removes any sense of grievance on the grounds that this or that country is going short while there is a surplus somewhere else. It is significant. Already it is evident that after the war many foodstuffs will be in short supply for some time. The way to inflation is competitive buying among the nations of the world. For some time, perhaps for longer than we think, sane statesmanship will, I believe, demand the maintenance of machinery, to which Governments will, I hope, give their consent, to screen the needs of the people of the world, to be concerned with the organisation of production to meet those needs, to relate those needs to the supplies available, and, finally, to procure and to allocate those supplies. For that reason I think this machinery which has come into being in the last year has a particular significance now that we are thinking of post-war problems. The grand strategy of food in wartime, if I may use the phrase without seeming pompous, has, it seems to me, its lessons for the period of disturbance that will inevitably follow the collapse of the Axis.
Before leaving this matter, I cannot forbear to remind hon. Members of the vital part played by home agriculture. The Ministry of Food is the customer of the agricultural Departments. We tell them what we want. We pitch our requirements high. We ask them what a 814 very short time ago would have been thought unattainable. They do not flinch; they set about meeting the demand. I should feel it curmudgeonly if I did not take the opportunity to thank my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and all our farmers and all the men and women workers on the land, for what they have done to enable our expectations to be so near in practical performance to the paper programme.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Can my hon. Friend give us any further information about the balance there will be between the different kinds of foods available in the post-war world?
§ Mr. Mabane
I should find it extremely difficult to do that, because, as I said, the picture is always changing. I have referred to some of the losses we have sustained, but we have gained Madagascar and French Africa, we have just got further territory in North Africa, and now we have to see exactly what the position is there, what fertilisers they have and how we can step up production, and we must make the picture change as the situation changes. I should be glad to do what my hon. Friend desires, but I do not think it is within the wit of man to produce now the figures he wants. So much for the general strategical background. The work of the Ministry of Food divides easily into four parts: deciding what we want, getting it, distributing it, using it. I have spoken about the first two parts, and I think hon. Members will expect me to render some account of our stewardship in regard to the other two parts of the work, the parts, moreover, which intimately concern us in our daily life.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little (London University)
Can the hon. Gentleman give the figures of the wheat imported into this country?
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Would it not be better to allow the Minister to proceed with his speech without these interruptions? It is a very important occasion.
§ Mr. Mabane
Before embarking on details in regard to food policy, there is one element of universal importance to 815 which I Should like to refer—price stabilisation. In no respect has food control in this war shown so sharp a contrast with experience in the last. Prices have never been allowed to get out of hand. In September, 1939, there were no panic purchases. Later a major Government decision was taken to stabilise the cost of living. Food prices have remained steady, not accidentally, but as a result of deliberate action with my Department as the instrument, and as a result in the average home to-day no less than 95 per cent. of the expenditure on food goes upon foodstuffs which are subject to some form of price control. Actually, during the last two years the increase has fallen from 23 per cent. above pre-war to 20 per cent., the figure of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer reminded the House the other day.
§ Mr. Mabane
Yes, for food. In the spring of 1918 the equivalent rise in food prices was 108 per cent. This steadiness in food prices has two causes. The first is the establishment of something like a buying monopoly which has prevented the rise of world prices, and the second the contributions from the Exchequer by way of subsidy to foodstuffs, paid through the Ministry of Food. The Ministry of Food account falls into two categories, first, those accounts which relate to foods for which no subsidy is required and which in general show a small profit, and second, those which, like wheat and meat, are deliberately run at a loss. To that policy Parliament has given, and I think rightly given, its consent, and it is misleading to speak of the sums necessarily disbursed to maintain a steady level of prices as lost.
During the year to 31st March, 1943, the amount spent in subsidies was approximately £145, 000, 000—spent to maintain level prices for the staple foodstuffs. I think hon. Members will be interested to know, as indeed they are entitled to know, how this sum was distributed among the principal subsidised foodstuffs. Here are the figures, which I shall give in millions of pounds: Bread, flour and oatmeal, £35,000,000; meat, £23,000,000; potatoes, £23,000,000; milk, £11,000,000; eggs, £13,000,000; sugar, £16,000,000; national milk and 816 milk-in-schools schemes, £17,000,000; tea, milk products, bacon and other small items, £12,000,000. Hon. Members may object to some of these figures in detail, we have heard criticisms, for example, of the egg subsidy, but in general I am confident that hon. Members do not regret having authorised this policy, both to avoid inflation and to ensure the maintenance of an adequate nutritional standard.
Having provided for essential foodstuffs to be within the purchasing power of all, the next problem is to secure that they are available for people to purchase. So far as foodstuffs on the straight ration are concerned, I think there are in general no complaints. The essence of straight rationing is that the coupon shall have a fixed value and that the coupon shall be met. To me it is a permanent wonder That each week at the almost innumerable distributing points there is enough meat, enough butter, enough sugar to meet the coupons of the consumers, but there it is. The system works, and it works thanks to the co-operation of the trade and the public. To me, I must say, it is something of a weekly miracle.
In this country we have deliberately chosen an equal ration for all as the basis of our policy. Other countries adopt a system of differential rationing. Certainly, needs vary, but to assess the difference between the needs of different classes is a most acrimonious business, and we have endeavoured to meet those variable needs. in other ways, to which I shall refer later. Straight rationing is only a part, albeit a vital part, of the machinery of rationing and control. Last year, my predecessor, speaking at this Box, referred to the points scheme, which had then been in operation for, I think, about three months. Since then the points scheme has become one of the most popular elements in the whole distributive process. It has indeed created a new currency. The housewife says to the shopkeeper not "What is that in money? "but" How many points is it? "and when she is told, she may say that she cannot afford it because it costs too many points. During the year, five more foodstuffs have been added to the points scheme—condensed milk, breakfast cereals, syrup and treacle, biscuits, and, to the distress of the Scots, oatflakes, yet, in view of the frequent injunctions to put this or that commodity 817 on points, it is important to remember the background of the points scheme. It covers foodstuffs not in universal demand but not in sufficient supply individually. Also, it does not include foodstuffs that are perishable. To overload the scheme would be dangerous, and to include within it perishable foodstuffs would possibly be fatal. It enables all, by using their points entitlement to come by thrice little extras which add variety and palatability to the diet, and which I saw, before the introduction of the scheme, were tending to go far too much to far too limited hands. It represents the effort of the Ministry of Food to put into practice the doctrine of that profound popular philosopher, Marie Lloyd, who said, "A little of what you fancy does you good."
Let me interpose one word about a matter which has often appeared to me to be a subject of concern in this House, the small man. Many suppose that the practice of registration with particular suppliers for rationed commodities operates against the small man. Statistics do not support that view. I have figures—I have got the figures out with some trouble—for sugar, butter and bacon. While at the re-registration in 1941 independent shopkeepers increased their registrations by 5 per cent. and in 1942 by 3 per cent., on the other hand the multiples in 1941 lost 5 per cent. and in 1942 lost 3 per cent.
The success of straight rationing and points is, I think we can claim, the foundation of such good will as the Ministry of Food has. Our troubles lie elsewhere. They are provoked by foodstuffs permanently in short supply or perishable or, worse than all, when both those horrid qualities are present, as in the case of fish. For us, a little foodstuff is a dangerous thing. We have no trouble with bananas, and nobody worries. People do not worry very much because they have not got something, but only because somebody else has. Game, poultry, meat offals, rabbits, fish and eggs, of which the available supplies do not and cannot, so long as the war lasts, anything like meet the public demand, are permanent headaches. Leave them alone, and the price goes to the ceiling. Control them, and they tend to disappear unless we have a most rigid system of control from the point 'of production to the point of consumption, as in the case of eggs. In theory, such control is not difficult, but the expenditure of 818 man-power and effort is very considerable, and the rewards of evasion are great.
Still, much has been attempted, and I think with success, to secure to the public an even flow at reasonable prices of many of those intractable commodities. I would instance fresh fruit and vegetables. In the last year, an effort has been made to regulate the prices of green onions, leeks, swedes, cucumbers, tomatoes, soft fruits, plums, cherries, apples, pears and rhubarb. In the case of tomatoes with the great assistance of the trade, a scheme of distribution was successfully operated last summer, notwithstanding the most gloomy forebodings. Fruits, it has been decided, can be most equitably distributed by way of jam, and consequently both last year and again this year fruits have been preempted in order that they shall be used in the form of jam. We laid our hands on green vegetables later, and it is not possible to say how our scheme would work in normal conditions. We made our plans for a normal winter, but we counted without my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power. I am very glad that the sun shone on him with unaccustomed vigour, but the result for us was a glut of vegetables and a series of administrative problems much different from those we expected when we introduced this scheme. Nevertheless, because we had contracted to buy certain acreages, we were able, by directing supplies to markets where supplies were short or prices high, to bring down prices to reasonable levels.
While I am dealing with our difficulties hon. Members may expect me to mention fish. They will understand if I say that there have been many times in the last few months when I never wanted to hear the word "fish" again. Here is a food highly perishable and in permanently short supply. It is unrationable. It has been in short supply since the outbreak of war. Its distribution was wasteful of transport. Last year, to economise in transport and clear the lines for the guns, we introduced a scheme for more rational distribution. That scheme did not have any effect on the supply of fish. Supply was short before, particularly in the winter months. I have looked back to March, 1940, when my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) hoped:that something will be done to ensure that an adequate supply of fish is brought in now to meet the appalling deficiency of which I 819 have told the Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1940; col. 1289, Vol. 358.]In April, 1941, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) asked my predecessor whether he was aware that shops serving working class areascannot obtain supplies at prices their customers can afford to pay?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, ig4t; col. 433, Vol. 371]Last year at this Box, my predecessor stated:Fish is another of the difficulties created by short supply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1942; col. 542, Vol. 378.]The main difference is that this year fish has had more publicity. The public were told that there was no fish, and in consequence they observed more acutely the deficiency. The observation of the public is shrewd, however, and far from attacking the Ministry of Food they have tended to turn their attention to the fish trade. It is interesting that 95 per cent. of the letters received in my Department from the public on this subject are complaints not about the Department, but about the fish trade. I am glad to be able to say that the fish Industry Joint Council deplores as much as I do the atmosphere of hysteria which appears on occasion to have developed on this subject. This responsible body is now working in close harmony with the Ministry of Food. I have had an opportunity recently of a conference with its members and I have every reason to believe that, so far as it lies in the power of that body and the Department such fish as we can get will be distributed as equitably and as well as may be.
The country must recognise that, at a time when the demand for fish, owing to the shortage of meat, is greater than ever before, we are reduced to approximately 25 per cent. of our pre-war fishing fleet, and for that the reason is obvious. Both vessels and men are engaged in seeking more dangerous catches. Let me emphasise that the purpose of fish zoning had nothing to do with better distribution of fish. Its purpose was really to save transport. It illustrates a complication in the work of the Department which has become particularly acute during the last year. It has made the work at times much more like an obstacle race. I refer to the ever-increasing demands made upon the Minis try of Food by the Ministry of 820 Labour to save man-power, by the Ministry of War Transport to save transport, and by the Board of Trade to save space. These are perfectly proper demands and the Ministry of Food has done its best to meet them loyally, while at the same time avoiding unnecessary burdens on the public. Concentrations of production, delimitations of areas of distribution, rationalisation of retail deliveries: few, if any of those are food schemes, yet my Department and the food trades are glad if they can,.by accepting and developing those schemes, add something to the total effort of the war. I hope that hon. Members will remember this and will exercise due leniency in their criticisms and that they will not condemn a scheme on the ground that it does not assist in the better distribution of food when, in fact, that was never its intention. Our contribution has been substantial. Fish zoning is saving about 7,000 train-miles a week; the scheme for moving seed potatoes from Scotland this year saved the railways 250,000 tons of traffic; the rationalisation of the retail milk deliveries, by no means yet complete, shows a saving of petrol at the rate of 35 per cent. Soft drink concentration has enabled 1,000 vehicles to be taken off the road. Last year the food trades released very large numbers of men and women for the Ministry of Labour, and in the current six months plan to release proportionately still more.
Notwithstanding these obstacles, it may be claimed that the people of this country, and in particular the working population, are better fed now than a year ago. Earlier I said that we had deliberately rejected the system of differential rations. Instead we have sought to provide for the special needs of the workers by feeding them on the job or near the job. The past year has seen a remarkable development of industrial canteens and of British Restaurants. Exact estimates are difficult, but as near as I can say 180,000,000 meals a week are taken in catering establishments, including British Restaurants and industrial canteens. Approximately 10 per cent. of our total civilian supplies are used in this way, and go per cent. are used in the home. Some argue that this system is inequitable. Meals out, they say, should be rationed. It is certain, however, that if the surrender of coupons were demanded for meals taken out by those whose work prevents them eating 821 at home—and such cases account for all but a" small fraction of meals taken out —there would at once be a demand for an increase in the domestic entitlement of many classes of workers, a proper demand too. No substantial increase in the general domestic ration could possibly result from any system of coupons for meals. Nevertheless, new periods of stringency may come upon us, and it may he that we shall have to exercise a more severe control of catering establishments. If that time comes, then our plans are complete and will be put into operation almost overnight.
But coupons or no coupons, the British Restaurants have proved themselves to be one of the most popular war-time institutions. There are now 2,058. They are increasing at the rate of about HI a week. Local authorities are being pressed by their constituents to establish British Restaurants, and the degree of success they attain is a measure of the enterprise and efficiency of the local authority concerned. I heard the other day an example of that enterprise. Regrettably, in some parts of the country, the rate of disappearance of cutlery in British Restaurants is high. I hope that the public will amend their habits in this respect. One British Restaurant hit upon the plan of demanding a deposit of 2s. 6d. on going in for the knife and fork, to be returned on their surrender. All appeared to be going well. There were no complaints, but at the end of the week it was found that the stock of knives and forks had increased.
So far I have been concerned with the distribution of foodstuffs which are subject to some form of rationing or control. Let me now turn to the pride and joy of the Ministry of Food, our main unrationed foodstuff, the staff of life, the National loaf. Not merely for departmental prestige do we attempt to maintain the only unrationed loaf in Europe. In this we have so far succeeded. Let us hope we can so carry on to the end, but if we were compelled to ration bread, an equal ration for all is out of the question, so different are the degrees of consumption. Bread rationing would lead us straight into the thorny path of differential rations. We claim that our loaf is the best bread in Europe. Since the Debate a year ago the National loaf has been introduced, and has received a remarkably favourable reception. The 822 white loaf has gone and our flour is milled at an 85 per cent. extraction rate. Now other grains, home-grown barley and oats, are added in small proportions. Hon. Members will, I think, agree with me that throughout the world—Europe at any rate —there is no cheaper food than the National loaf at 2¼d, a lb. We are at pains to keep the standard high. Samples are taken in each Food Division every week. Bakers are given advice and competitions are organised to encourage their efforts.
Another commodity outside the general rationing scheme is milk. The quantities available vary substantially with the seasons, and variations are accordingly made in the entitlement which is determined for the adult population. But for those who need milk—children, expectant and nursing mothers, and invalids—a prior claim is recognised and met throughout the course of the year. Let us remember that the National Milk scheme and the development of the Milk in Schools scheme have increased the consumption of liquid milk far above the peace-time level, and that were consumption on the same level as before the war, there would be no need to limit the entitlements of anyone throughout the whole year. The claim of children and expectant mothers on milk supplies comes first. That is not their only priority. Whatever they need, not merely for an adequate diet, but for a full diet, my Noble Friend is determined to supply. Ever since he has been in office their needs have come first. Whoever may have to go short, the children, he has said, shall not. I believe that his attitude has the full support of Parliament. The raw material of the race is too valuable to put at risk.
So I come to the end of my domestic story. I would like to say much about the fourth of the main divisions of our work, the usage of food, but I have not time to enter at length into that. Let me say, however, that stringency demands that we should squeeze the last calorie and the ultimate vitamin out of the food we have. It is a sorry end of food brought at great risk from the ends of the earth to have its valuable food content burned out of it or boiled out of it and poured dawn the drain. On the one hand plenty, on the other hand bad housing, have conspired to limit our culinary talents. The Ministry attaches 823 great importance to its efforts to revive and develop the art of cooling. By advertisements, by leaflets, by the establishment of Food Advice Centres, this work is daily being pursued. We have already established 33 Food Advice Centres, but if we were able to double or quadruple the number, we should not have met the demand we get from all parts of the country for the establishment of Food Advice Centres. As time passes the full usage of food becomes ever more important. I hope the coming year may see great developments in this branch of our work.
The foundation of this vast structure of food control is, I regret to say, a vast amount of paper—Defence Regulations, Statutory Rules and Orders, directions, and so on. Wherever possible we proceed by voluntary arrangements with the food trade. The scheme for the rationalisation of retail milk deliveries, for example, is based on voluntary agreements. That is all to the good. But, willy-nilly, a legal process is involved in most of our actions. That legal process creates offences. Enforcement is a major problem of my Department. Offences are of two distinct kinds. There are technical offences, as it were, driving at more than 30 miles an hour in built-up areas, and offences that are deliberate attempts to defeat the food regulations for purposes of private gain, in other words, the black market offences, properly so called. My Noble Friend takes a very different attitude to these two classes of offences. In respect of the first, his direction is to avoid a prosecution if a warning will do. In respect of the second, his direction is to pursue the offenders with the utmost rigour of the law. In the result the general body of public and traders do not feel themselves harried, while the true black-market operators become a diminishing and dispirited band. We have now got them, so to speak, in the Tunisian tip. Unfortunately we have not yet got them, like von Arnim, in the bag.
But to one offence I should like to refer. It was mentioned in a Sunday newspaper. Reports have been coming to the Department of a practice, certainly not widespread, but certainly disquieting, of the giving and taking of tips in retail shops, particularly with reference to purchases of fish and meat. As the news- 824 paper rightly pointed out, such payments are secret commissions and therefore offences. But they are more, and I want to give a serious warning. Such payments, if made in connection with the purchase of foodstuffs subject to price control, are breaches of the price order. Both giver and receiver commit the offence. Let me remind any who contemplate such action that two offenders were sentenced to nine months' hard labour the other day for a breach of a maximum price order. Deliberate offences against the food orders are, however, fortunately very rare.
If food distribution has succeeded in this country it is because of the willing and whole-hearted co-operation of the food trades and of the public. Without that co-operation no system could have worked. The law-abiding habit of the people of this country has been the Department's greatest asset. Indeed, the manner in which the British people have, by their own efforts, stamped out black market activities is the amazement and wonder of every visitor to this country from abroad. To buy on the black market in this country to-day is not merely an offence, it is worse—it is bad form. In the matter of enforcement the whole population has voluntarily constituted itself the Home Guard of the Food Front. For that co-operation my Noble Friend has consistently sought. People in this country do not take kindly to too much paternalism in Government, but in some strange way my Noble Friend has contrived to develop what I would call avuncular government, and I think that it is as a kind of universal uncle that he is accepted. In many ways the Ministry of Food is an unusual Department. It certainly does not conform to the orthodox pattern. It has many executive and trading functions in addition to its administrative function. Its staff reflects that diversity. Within its walls the lion lies down with the lamb, civil servants mingle with business executives—it would not be for me to distinguish between the lion and the lamb. Indeed, for my own private purposes, I divide the Department into bureaucrats and magnates. I hope I can say that without offence to my colleagues in the Ministry.
Let me say seriously that I could not imagine a happier or more devoted team than has been produced by this combination of able administrative experts and the 825 most highly-skilled business executives. When the history is written the country will recognise that it has reason to be grateful to those very many leaders of the food trades who gladly left their desks in their private businesses to devote themselves and their talents to the national effort. This country was indeed fortunate that, by reason of its predominant position as a too-1 importer, it possessed men in every branch of the food trades, who were literally supreme in their sphere in the world. If my Department's record has not been unsatisfactory, might it not be because. we have brought the experts on to the stage, rather than let them remain in the auditorium as possibly critical spectators?
If I have been too long, I crave the pardon of this House. Yet I feel that I have even now not covered all the ground some hon. Members would have wished. To select the topics with which to deal from a Department with such widespread ramifications, is not easy. It is less easy still for one who like myself is anxious, not I hope with an excess of exuberance, to display to hon. Members both what we are doing and the problems with which we are confronted in the immediate future. I shall, I know, in the rest of the Debate probably be brought back to an earthy realisation of the imperfections of my Department. For that reason, perhaps hon Members will forgive me if for a brief hour I have permitted myself an attempt to persuade both myself and hon., Members, and perhaps the country as well, that the Ministry of Food is not so bad after all. We are in Committee of Supply. I come here as a suppliant asking for money. I hope that the record of the past year will persuade hon. Members that they may safely entrust the Ministry of Food with the money which we ask them to vote for another year.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
I am confident that I am expressing the general view of Members when I offer the Parliamentary Secretary our congratulations. He need have no anxiety as to whether we shall provide the wherewithal to conduct the operations of the Ministry of Food for the next.12 months. My own view is that a far better testimonial than my congratulations is the statement that, in the general opinion of this country, the Ministry of Food are doing a really good job. I am satisfied that it is the public's 826 tribute that the Parliamentary Secretary and his Noble Friend wish to have. I also feel it necessary to associate myself with a recognition of the part which the Ministry of Agriculture is playing in the development of the production of our food supplies. An interesting feature of this Debate is that in the Noble Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary we have two excellent examples of private enterprise glorying in the efficiency of a Socialist administration. I may say that I, as a keen advocate of collectivism, co-operation and Socialism, approach the problem of food production and distribution in war-time unhampered by many views that I hold in normal conditions and which I shall probably advocate when we return again to more normal times.
For the time being we are confronting the problem of securing for the people of this country, in war-time conditions, the food supplies upon which, after all, our war effort is based. Probably the satisfaction of the general public is largely due to the understanding, the good will and the willing co-operation that has prevailed between the Ministry, the food traders, and, last but not least, the housewives of this country. I think the Noble Lord was quite justified in his tribute, at the Caxton Hall meeting yesterday, to the contribution made by the housewives on this problem. Because the Ministry of Food have given general satisfaction, it should not be assumed that their job has been an easy one; quite the opposite. When one realises the fundamental changes in the habits and the food administration of this country, it is realised that their task has been formidable indeed; and their success reflects very great credit upon the Noble Lord and his executives. But I take the view that Debates, particularly in Committee of Supply, do not serve their purpose by becoming congratulatory. We should seek, particularly in dealing with a Department of this kind, to pool our knowledge and experience, and to see how far we can improve the service to the general community. I have not hesitated to criticise the Ministry of Food, particularly in the early days, and the Department have never resented criticism, especially if it arose from a desire to improve the service to the public.
I recall early Debates when we were threshing out the problem of the type of rationing which would be most suitable in 827 this country. I myself urged the need for the straight rationing of foodstuffs in short supply; for all-round control and stabilisation of food prices; for variety of rationing, which eventually, as the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, has found its expression in the points system; and priorities, or the recognition of special needs. We have to recognise that the general satisfaction now is due to the fact that the Ministry of Food have followed a progressive policy along those lines. In addition, both the Ministry and traders have gained experience from the experiments which have been made. I want to pass on a few practical suggestions which I think, if adopted, might be to the advantage of all concerned. First, I would submit, from my detached position, that there is justification for the Ministry of Food's policy of subsidising the primary foodstuffs of this country. I have been influenced to do this by the fact that a few days ago I noticed in the "Daily Express" a heading stating that £96,000,000 had been lost on food subsidies.
§ Mr. Barnes
No, I do not say that the article generally is abominable. The matter contains a good deal of actual data. But the heading is, in my view, calculated to mislead the public.
§ Mr. Barnes
As the "Daily Express" has a circulation of 2,500,000 copies daily, it occurred to me that I might serve a useful function if I dealt with the point, not from the official angle but from the angle of an organisation which exists to serve the general consumer interest. I have advocated from the very beginning of the war a definite policy of stabilisation of prices. In my view, the only Government Department that has carried out this policy effectively has been the Ministry of Food. If I were able to cover the whole range of commodity prices, I should demonstrate that different types of policy have been followed by the various Government Departments. If you compared the Board of Trade administration with that of the Ministry of Food, I think the point that I would like to make, but cannot make now, would become apparent. Let me direct my attention to 828 the administration of the Ministry of Food. I want the public particularly to note the advantages that the average housewife gains from this policy of subsidies. I propose to take the prices of certain commodities in June, 1917, and the prices ruling at present. A pound of butter in June, 1917, cost 2s. 0½d.; to-day, it costs is. 8d. That is a saving of 4½d. a lb. for the housewife. Margarine in June, 1917, cost '11¾d. a lb.; to-day, it is stabilised in two grades at 9d. and 5d. The higher-priced article represents a saving of 2¾d. a lb., and the lower-grade article 6¾d. Take lard: in June, 1917, it cost is. 2d. a lb.; to-day, it costs 9d., a saving of 5d. Bacon in 1917 cost Is. 8¼d.; now it costs Is. 8d. There the price has hardly changed. Cheese in 1917 cost Is. 7½d., and in May, 1943, is. Id., showing a saving of 6½d., a lb. Sugar in 1917 cost 5¾d., and now it costs 3d.—a saving of 21d. a lb. The cost of those six commodities alone, taking a pound each of those articles, in 1917 was 7s. 11¾d. and to-day it is 6s. 2d., or a saving of is. 9¾d.
That is a remarkable situation. It not only represents a general economy but is of the utmost value not only to old age pensioners but to that group of persons on fixed small incomes who always suffer the greatest disadvantage in a period of inflation of incomes or prices for war reasons. When one takes the general circumstances of the war in which every man-hour on the production of aeroplanes, ships, tanks and guns is of vital importance to the strategy and prosecution of the war, a policy of this description always starts its irritations on the sale price of foodstuffs. No one can measure what this stabilisation of food prices has meant to the community and the general prosecution of the war in the reduction of labour irritations and in enabling trade unions to work with the executive Government of the day to secure the maximum production. Therefore, I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to feel that he has the full and unqualified support of Members in all parts of the Committee for the continuance of a policy of this description.
I now pass to certain practical considerations. I want to take one or two commodities and present certain aspects of their administration to the Parliamentary Secretary and to ask him to consult 829 his Noble Friend to see whether these matters cannot receive fresh consideration. The first matter I desire to examine is the problem of tea. Everyone is gratified with the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the effect that, despite the interruption of tea supplies in the production centres, the forethought of the Department has been able to ensure the rat-inn of two ounces per hereon in this country. The present trade position is that the Ministry of Food secure an allocation to wholesalers and tea merchants, dividing their total tea supplies into three categories, good tea, medium tea and a low-grade tea. Immediately one is faced with that allocation, it becomes essential that subsequent results should be taken into consideration in the policy and administration of the Ministry of Food, but they are not. The wholesaler, having an allocation of one-third good, one-third medium and one-third low-grade tea, can only pass on a proportionate quantity of similar grades to the retailer for distribution to the consumer. On the other hand, whenever there is a limitation of supply— and the average consumption of tea in this country works out on a basis of three ounces per head as against two ounces allowed in the ration— and given conditions in which the majority of the people can afford the higher priced article, if the consumer and the retailer are not controlled in a similar way to the wholesaler, there is a steady flow of purchasing power from the lower grade commodity to the higher priced commodity. That is what has been happening in the tea trade for some time now.
I submit to the Minister that the time has arrived when he and his Department should consider the practicability of a single blended tea, a national tea— at one price. If that is not possible or if the Minister is reluctant to agree to a one-price tea, the advantages of which I shall point out presently, will he consider adopting the procedure that was applied to margarine? The public difficulty of a one-price tea is whether it is desirable to take off the market the lower graded tea, and I admit that point to the full. If we admit that position there is nothing to prevent the Minister blending the two higher priced teas and retaining the lower priced tea in the same way as was done in regard to margarine and then let the public determine the position they require.
830 That has happened in the case of the margarine procedure. Demand moved steadily from the commodity price of 5d. towards the standard article of 9d. per lb. and the Ministry eventually adjusted their direction and enabled the wholesalers and retailers to adjust their allocations to the demand of the commodity. There are always sufficient quantities of the lower priced commodity. for those who have not the wherewithal to purchase the higher priced brand. The Ministry should now apply a similar policy in respect of tea.
These are some of the advantages. A nationally controlled tea would make possible a considerable simplification of the whole system of control. A close and comprehensive control of prices and proper margins would automatically follow the fixing of wholesale and retail prices for a single nationally controlled tea. It would immensely simplify the wholesalers' task of blending, packing and distributing tea. Seriously depleted technical and office staffs have found it increasingly difficult to cope with the growing intricacies of control and to maintain pre-war standards of service. A single blend would make possible a greater use of planned direction and distribution methods by wholesalers. Retailers would be freed from the embarrassment of receiving requests for higher priced teas from customers who believe that it is possible for them to exercise complete freedom on this question when it is not. The Minister will agree that the fact that customers can go to any retailer for their supplies may produce certain anomalies. He spoke very strongly at the end of his remarks against any development of fraud or fraudulent practices.
This Committee ought to be vigilant in order to see that the conditions adopted with regard to any commodity do not lead to the commencement of the encouragement of any fraudulent practices. Information has been passed on to me that already there are certain wholesalers — and I want this point to be particularly appreciated— who have been offering non-priced packet tea. Where you have the conditions of customers going from shop to shop in search of better and higher priced brands, immediately the practice develops of wholesalers and tea merchants offering to the retailers non-priced packet 831 tea and you begin to get the conditions— I do not say they exist, and I do not want to make any charges— in which fraudulent practices begin to develop. The situation in the tea trade has reached the posifion where the Minister cannot avoid facing up to this issue any longer. If the wholesaler is to have his goods allocated on that basis, then the retailer should have proportionate supplies and the consumer should be told that the quantities of better priced teas are not available.
The next point I want to put to the Minister is as to whether the condition of the division of tea into three grades is imposed upon all wholesalers. Are all wholesalers compelled to take their supplies in that three— division dimension? If they are, how does the Minister explain away the fact that there are certain tea merchants in this country who used to sell a single-priced brand before the war who are still able to maintain the sale of a single— priced brand? Surely, he does not suggest that they are surrendering their allocation of the medium grade and the low grade teas. That does not appear to be feasible. The Minister would not stand at that Box and admit that there are certain wholesalers who are getting all their tea supplies of the higher quality brand. I should like a specific and public reply to the two points that I have raised. I sincerely hope that the Minister will face up to either the margarine procedure of two brands or a single— blended tea at a price of something like 2S. 8d. per pound, as in the last war.
The next point to which I wish to refer is on the question of milk supplies and the reaction of favourable weather conditions, which, the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, have been an advantage to the Ministry of Fuel and Power but which presented him with the problem of bounty in many respects. We have here a public service, and the Ministry of Food have not yet, and never will, adopt the policy which private enterprise often adopted before the war of destroying surplus supplies. That is another interesting aspect of a public service. Let us look at the milk problem and how it has worked out. I want to make it plain that I am not directing any criticism towards the Ministry of Food on this matter except to say that the Ministry and the country must be prepared to face certain losses at 832 particular moments. The mild weather, particularly since the beginning of this year, supplemented by the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, has increased very considerably our supplies of liquid milk. Now immediately there was an increase in the supplies of liquid milk what reaction did that have on Ministry of Food policy with regard to tinned and powdered milk? Obviously, the Ministry of Food were wise in reserving stocks to meet any possible shortage in liquid milk supplies; they would have been subject to very severe criticism if they had not. The necessity of holding tinned milk as reserve for balancing supplies is essential and the need for holding milk powder represents a wise decision.
I now come to a criticism of judgment and administration. Tinned milk has been pointed at eight points a tin. With the increase of liquid milk supplies to the community, there was a falling— off in the demand for tinned milk, and eventually the Ministry had to encourage its sale by making a drastic reduction from eight points to two points. Prior to this reduction the Ministry— and I say it with all due respect and consideration— appears to me to have been following a policy which misled the trade. There is a general impression that traders who have stocking facilities, by taking their allocation from the Ministry of Food, are helping in the national requirement of dispersing stocks and assisting the Ministry to carry their stocks. Most traders with stocking facilities, not looking at it from the point of view of their own business judgment, as they would do if they had to carry the consequences of their own work, but looking at it as a working partner with a State Department, took, at the request of the Ministry, their allocations of tinned milk. When it became the policy of the Ministry to shift these retarded stocks by reducing them from eight points to two points traders were left with great losses in points as a result of that reduction. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary is smiling; it is not a smiling matter. I am presenting a point of view for serious consideration.
§ Mr. Barnes
Then I hope that because I am presenting it skilfully it will 833 none of its force and will receive serious consideration. I am aware of the fact that in matters of taxation and things of that sort there is often a quid pro quo and that what one loses on the swings one gains on the roundabouts, but this is quite a different point. It is not a question of losing one or two points, which might represent a balancing out over a number of commodities. By reducing the points from eight to two, the Ministry of Food inflicted a hardship on a type of trader who was prepared to carry maximum stocks for the advantage of the Ministry. Such traders suffered the loss of millions of points. Ultimately it is not only the trader who suffers but the regular customer. The trader suffers if he cannot go to the Ministry and replace commodities through having lost millions of points, and the regular customer eventually feels the pinch in the absence of those points. There is a good deal of soreness in this trade on this matter, and I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will give serious and considered attention to the point I am making.
§ Mr. Barnes
The other point I want to deal with concerns milk powder. Here, again, I hasten to acknowledge that the Ministry of Food was wise to provide milk powder reserves in case of emergency. No points are involved here, but the price is 9d. per tin, and now that the liquid milk supplies have been increased to individual consumers there is a tendency for a falling— off in the sale of this milk powder. That is regrettable, because this powder can be used for custards, milk puddings, coffee, cocoa and the like. The time limit of quality of these commodities is not indefinite. There will come a time, not so far ahead, when they will commence to deteriorate and whatever the circumstances may be, and from whatever direction we may get this milk powder, I do not think there is any justification for wasting any food supplies at the present time. Therefore, I want to urge upon the Ministry the desirability of reducing forthwith the price of milk powder and to initiate same kind of campaign to popularise its consumption in certain directions.
My third point with regard to milk policy is connected with cheese production. Some time ago the Milk Products 834 Branch of the Ministry closed about 30 cheese factories in the 2A and 2B regions, which are mainly in the North-West of England. When you close factories and disperse their staffs you cannot restart them at a moment's notice. After having secured the closing and dispersal of these factories, the Ministry now wishes them to be re-established to make cheese out of surplus I understand that steps are being taken to provide the necessary labour so that these factories can recommence business. Although cheese is in a low category, I want to put in a special plea for it because of its convenience for many classes of labour in this country. I hope the Ministry will think twice before closing cheese factories and will keep them in being so that whenever an opportunity presents itself we can get the maximum production of cheese from any temporary surplus of milk. There are many classes of labour in this country to whom additional cheese supplies represent a very considerable advantage in their food consumption, particularly because it is cheap and handy. From time to time I have emphasised that lorry drivers and those who have to go long distances to work ought to have additional cheese supplies.
My final point is to endorse what the Parliamentary Secretary said in regard to prosecutions. I hope the Department and its legal advisers will keep in mind the two categories of mistakes that are made. There is all the difference between a mistake and a crime. No one would adopt the position that any person contravening any Regulation designed to safeguard the public should not suffer some penalty in consequence. No one can defend any policy of defrauding the public, but taking war-time administration into consideration, the distributive trade have lost a higher percentage of their staff than any other trade in this country. The additional duties and responsibilities imposed on that trade by all kinds of Orders and Regulations are immense. Many people have had to be brought into service at a young age or much older persons, who have been out of business for years and have probably forgotten almost all they learned, have had to be employed. A good many petty mistakes have been made in regard to prices and things of that description when there has been no fraudulent or criminal intent. I think it is regrettable from the point of 835 view of multiple firms and co-operative societies which have a great many branches that when a petty case, in which there is no criminal intention, comes before a court all the cases in which the firm has been concerned all over the country should be brought forward. It distorts the whole atmosphere of the court, and I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary's statement with regard to classification of the two kinds of offences. The general body of opinion on this side of the Committee is that the Ministry of Food has done a good job. There is still room for improvement, of course, but the Parliamentary Secretary can depend upon our co-operation to continue that good work, and we trust that some of the lessons learned by himself and his Noble Friend will be remembered when we revert to more normal times.
§ Major York (Ripon)
I, also, must echo the praise which has been given to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the excellent way in which he, presented the Estimates for the Ministry of Food to-day. I would like to make it quite plain that although I may have some criticisms as to detail I, like the rest of the country, do acknowledge the great debt we all owe to the Minister of Food. Although we must criticise because we are in contact with consumers, we still give full confidence to the Noble Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary. I wish to speak for a few moments on the question of milk, because this is one of the most important commodities of the country and one which has had a chequered career during the war. In the autumn of last year the Ministry of Food produced a completely new price structure and based their calculations on what they could find out about the cost of production before this structure came into force. Since then they have been investigating costs, and the results which the Minister was able to announce the other day have shown that there are gratifying savings. The retail margin was reduced and the wholesale retail margin as well. The saving, although it goes indirectly to the consumers, does not affect a reduction in the retail price of milk itself. I hope that as we go on and as price investigation continues we shall find it possible actually to reduce the retail price. 836 I am still very disturbed about the way in which the price structure is weighted in favour of the combines and the larger non-combine firms, and I wish to try once more to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary that the country as a whole is not satisfied to allow this question to go unanswered. Obviously, it is definitely cheaper for the smaller retailers to distribute the milk than for the combines and large firms. The Ministry of Food admit in the price structure that this is so; therefore I submit that instead of encouraging this expensive form of distribution it should be the main object of the Ministry of Food by price cutting to discourage and to reducing the size of the business of these large firms. Before the war there was one single and inclusive price for distribution, and the big firms were able to expand their business and make reasonable and good profits. Since the new price structure has come into force that is now apparently impossible, and although the Ministry tell us that the reason for this addition in price is based upon costs, I have never been allowed to see those costs, and they are hidden in the secret archives of the Ministry.
There is one other point on distribution to which I wish to refer. The Ministry is discouraging the retailer from buying direct from the producer, and they are doing it in this way. Before the new price structure came into being the retailer might if he could arrange it and wanted to do so go direct to the producer and say, "I want your milk," and thereby he would save the wholesale fee that would be payable. Under the new price structure, because there is no differentiation whatever between a man who gets his milk direct from the producer and the man who gets it direct from the wholesaler, there is no inducement to the retailer at all to do anything but get his milk through the easiest channel, that is, from the wholesaler. Thus, the middle man is being fertilised by manna from Portman Square instead of being ruthlessly culled in the interests of the consumer.
Now I want to turn to a question which I raised yesterday. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether retail supplies of tuberculin tested milk were included in the rationalisation scheme and whether it was possible for consumers to change over from non-T.T. milk to T.T. milk should 837 they want to do so, and the answer was that it was included in the rationalisation scheme and that consumers could not change. That, to my mind, is a most disturbing feature of the attitude of the Ministry of Food, as far as I have been able to glean it, towards T.T. milk. What we who are connected with and acting as producers are trying to do is to make the Ministers concerned attempt to turn the whole of the milk supply into a quality equivalent to T.T. milk. That is the basis on which I am talking. T.T. milk retailers have always had a scattered round because there are not a great number of people who have appreciated the advantage of this higher quality and richer milk, for that is almost invariably the case. T.T. milk was retailed mainly by producer retailers and by the higher class town dairy, but the demand was steadily growing, and I am informed that the supply has never been able really to get on top of the demand.
This was brought to my attention in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the educational authorities are crying out for this quality of milk, and their demand is very largely unsatisfied. But the rationalisation scheme comes into force now, and all retail rounds, including the T.T. retail rounds are frozen to the retailer and to the street in which the customers live. But still the T.T. retailers are serving a scattered area, because it would not be possible to block-distribute T.T. milk for two reasons. If you bring all T.T. supplies into one block, some people in the block might not be able to afford it, and it would be grossly unfair to those who have seen the light and demanded it that they should be made to have the lower quality. I think this will mean, first and most important, that there will be no increase in the demand for this high quality milk, because it will not be readily available. I do not say it cannot be got, but it will need a great deal of effort and digging out on behalf of the consumers in the food offices of the town, and that is always difficult.
Again, there will be no incentive to increase supplies of this grade of milk, and therefore there will be no object in producers going in for this form of milk production, for already, owing to the new price structure, the premiums have to a very large extent been taken away and from the remunerative point of view 838 it is not an attractive proposition. It also shows that the Ministry of Food do not fully appreciate the necessity for fostering this quality of milk, and it means that the drive for quality milk, which could have been made universal in less than 10 years if the plans were made now, will have had a terrific setback. The Minister of Food is unconsciously trying to put the clock back in regard to cleaning up the milk supply, and he will prevent a large number of people from drinking any quality of milk other than pasteurised dirty milk, which none of us wants to foist upon the people. A point which should bear very heavily with him is that his decision on the subject will not save him anything in transport or labour, which is one of the main reasons for the whole rationalisation scheme, and he is working directly against the policy of the agricultural Department. This incidentally is another argument in favour of my contention for many years that the Ministries should be amalgamated.
What are the reasons for this refusal? I suspect that the main reason is that the Minister thinks it will interfere with the refrigeration of the milk round which he is trying to bring about if customers were allowed a free choice. It would certainly be rather more difficult to administer, and as T.T. milk supplies increase and the quality of the milk becomes more appreciated, it might well tend to torpedo the whole of the rationalisation scheme, and it would threaten with extinction the less progressive milk retailers.
I have offered destructive criticism, and I will now suggest a scheme to alter the situation. The Minister, in reply to my Question yesterday, said that efforts were being made to encourage and assist dairymen to provide T.T. milk for customers who required it, so obviously he is more than willing to consider any scheme that may be put forward. The Ministry of Food has worked the rationalisation of distribution through voluntary committees of retailers, which have covered a certain area in large towns, and perhaps in smaller towns there has been one committee for the whole town. In these areas there is generally one T.T. retailer. For the purpose of illustration, I will take the case of an area with- one T.T. retailer. I suggest that this man should be empowered, in addition to supplying his
839 other customers, to transfer milk in bottles —that is important—to any other retail dairyman who has a demand from his own customers for that quality of milk. This would supply a complete answer to the whole of my criticism, and I believe it would be welcomed by the producers and by the retailers themselves and certainly by the consumers. But there are three provisos that I must make. First, that there is a T.T. retailer available to supply the demand, that the retailer has supplies sufficiently large to supply all the demands that are required, and there will have to be a small retail charge. The T.T. milk retailer would thereby become in addition to his retailing work a wholesaler as well and would have probably in the future, as the supply increased, to have a subsidiary wholesaling round to the various dairymen requiring this supply of milk.
§ Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)
Will my hon. and gallant Friend give some idea of the comparative prices to the customer?
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say what is the approximate proportion of T.T. milk to ordinary milk?
§ Major York
I have not the figures in my head. I asked the Minister of Food some months ago, but I cannot give the figures from memory. It is unfortunately a small proportion. We should therefore make the greatest effort to increase it. I hope that the Minister will applaud my intention, and I believe that if he will adopt my suggestion he will not only be co-operating with the Minister of Agriculture and the Milk. Marketing Board but will have the whole-hearted support of all the people who are trying to increase and improve the milk supply. In the past I have attacked the Minister of Food, I believe quite unfairly, as to his intentions, and, indeed, as to his integrity, and I am glad to take this opportunity of saying publicly that I believe myself to be in the wrong. The Noble Lord himself, however, will admit that he has made some mistakes, small ones, in the past, and I submit to him and to the Committee that this decision to freeze the sales of T.T. milk is not in the interests of the campaign for a clean milk supply nor in the interests 840 of the food plans of the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major York) has raised the question of tuberculin tested milk. It was really in the last war when the movement for improving the quality of the milk supply began, and the campaign for tuberculin tested milk arose as a result of the experience during the war. I much regret that the movement has not been encouraged by the activities of the Ministry of Food and, perhaps, of the Treasury during this war. The two great difficulties against increasing the supply of T.T. milk are the expense of clearing the disease out of the herds and finding the customers for the milk. Those of us who are interested in the permanent welfare of the milk industry regret that difficulties are put in the way now of increasing the popularity of T.T. milk at a time when there is a growing demand, apparently because customers can now afford the little extra that it costs. Therefore, I would like to support the plea of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon that the Ministry of Food should reconsider the matter. The testing of cattle has been greatly improved since the early days and, looking forward to peace time conditions, it would be much less difficult now to do what the United States have done, which is to clear up this disease in a really wholesale way. That, I believe, is really the ultimate solution of this vexed question of pasteurisation. Whether we have pasteurisation or not, I am sure that from the widest aspect the right thing to do is to clear up tuberculosis in cattle and that even if it means a little greater administrative difficulty during the war, the impediments to that movement should be removed as soon as possible.
Turning to more general questions affecting the Food Ministry, I feel fairly representative of the public in my saying that the Ministry of Food has done a very good job of work during the war, and I should like to say, what other speakers have already said, that the Parliamentary Secretary's speech to-day was most able and interesting and gave us a most comprehensive and valuable review of the work of the Ministry. People have been better fed in this country on the whole during the war than they were 841 before. That is certainly a criticism of conditions as they were before the war, but it is a credit to the Ministry concerned during the war. It may be that the quantity of food that we have will have to be reduced during the war and that on strategic grounds we shall not be able to do as well as we have been doing. I hope the Ministry of Food will not be afraid of that situation if it has to be faced, but it is vital that young people, at any rate, should have all the food that they need. The general public feels, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, that the Ministry of Food is in the position of an uncle on whom they can rely to get their rations. I would add my humble word of congratulation to the Ministry on what the Parliamentary Secretary described as the miracle by which the public receive their rations every week.
I would like to suggest that it would be valuable if we knew a little more about how it is done. We know the results. The publicity of the Ministry of Food is done very well. I understand they do it on their own account and make very little use of the Ministry of Information. That has worked out well. The public know what to expect, they are warned of changes, and they are satisfied with the way the Ministry keep them informed. The public would appreciate knowing how these results have been achieved. The Ministry have a big story to tell, including the stories of the Merchant Navy, of British farming and of the organisation of distribution. I should like to suggest that the Ministry of Food should follow the example of some of the Service Ministries and tell us the story of how the job has been done. One of the objections to doing that might be on grounds of security, but the Ministry of Food is even more security-minded than the Service Departments. I would like to know more of what the British farmers' part in feeding the country has been. I cannot believe that it would really give a great deal of information to the enemy to be told what the British farmer is producing. Now is the time to tell the story as it goes on. Later a solid work of history may be produced telling us what the Ministry did during the war, but a great deal of the current interest will then have gone.
Perhaps I am a little influenced in making the suggestion because I hope 842 that we shall have a Ministry of Food after the war, not, of course, with all the powers it has now, but a Ministry which shall be responsible for seeing that the people are properly fed and for carrying out the Government's policy with regard to feeding the public after the war. I speak for those who sit on this Bench when I say that that ought to he one of the major aims of Government policy after the war, and to carry it out a Ministry will be required. The Ministry of Food works under war-time conditions and what they do in the war does not necessarily mean that such a Ministry would act in the same way in peace-time. Indeed, in one important respect they cannot continue, because if there is a general criticism I would make of the Ministry, it is that while the policy of keeping down the cost of living is right some of the difficulties have sometimes been smoothed away by a rather lavish expenditure of money. That is perhaps an easy way of meeting war-time problems, but I doubt whether all the subsidies are quite necessary and whether sometimes in schemes of re-organisation the difficulties have not been smoothed away in this way. That can hardly be possible in peace-time.
The value of telling how these things are done is that it may enable us to learn some of the lessons, such as whether the big combine can distribute food as cheaply as the small man. It is valuable to the public to know how the Ministry of Food is conducting its affairs for an even wider reason. A world conference is going on in America with a most interesting agenda. We very much hope that we shall have a world food policy aimed at establishing a proper standard of nutrition after the war. In order to do that, we shall have to retain some of the machinery of the Ministry of Food to allocate supplies and to be responsible, in a general way at any rate, for internal distribution of food. I am fairly confident that our Ministry has made very likely the best job of it of any Ministry of Food anywhere, and I think the experience we can contribute to the world will be valuable. People should realise fully in this democratic country how that has been achieved and should have the opportunity now of knowing as much as possible about the machinery and methods of the Ministry, instead of waiting for such an oppor- 843 tunity until afterwards when the subject will not be of such immediate interest to them.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I should like to preface my observations by adding my congratulations to those which have been so general on the very full and informative speech to which we have listened from the Parliamentary Secretary. It very clearly indicated to the country and to the House that the methods of working of the Ministry of Food are being successfully employed and that with the progress of time difficulties are being surmounted with relative ease. I addressed yesterday to the Parliamentary Secretary this Question:Whether he can now give an assurance that it has been decided by his Ministry that all milk Ior human consumption shall be scientifically pasteurised, and by efficient handling and transit thereafter to consumers, ensure to the nation a clean, fresh and safe supply of this food."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1943; col. 627, Vol. 389.]The answer of the Parliamentary Secretary was very short. It was that he was not yet in a position to make a statement upon the matter. But it is now 12 months since his Noble Friend the Minister received what he described as a delegation of extreme weight representative of medical scientific opinion in the country. The Minister promised that deputation that he would give full consideration to their representations. The gravamen of the delegation was to request in the name of the scientific opinion of the country that all milk for human consumption should be pasteurised. The Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of his observations today, used the expression "the raw material of the race, the children, should not be put at risk." He was dealing with the question of milk supplies. If the milk supplies of the country are not pure, are not safe, and are productive of disease in children, then that situation refutes his statement that we are protecting the raw material of the race. Milk, he has advised us, has become the prime food of the whole nation. Increasing quantities are being consumed. Surely it is a very elementary request for any public representative to make to the Government that that prime food should be pure and should be safe. There is no great difficulty in achieving that.
844 Efficient pasteurisation of milk is assented to by all medical scientific opinion in the country, almost without exception, as being a means of destroying the pathogenic infective organisms in milk which produce disease in consumers. The complaint I make is that there is no Government Department expressly charged with the duty of seeing that our milk supply is pure. There is no inspectorate of milk production carried through from the producer to the consumer. Scientific opinion, as I say, is in favour of pasteurisation, and it is easily demonstrated that the process is a sound one. The positive effect is easily confirmed by taking samples of pasteurised milk immediately after pasteurisation, and if pasteurisation has been efficiently done, it is found that there has been effective destruction of disease germs.
But the efficient handling of pasteurised milk after pasteurisation is also a matter of prime importance. We have learned with considerable surprise that in London diseases which are known to be milk-borne occur despite the very general adoption of pasteurisation of milk sold in the Metropolis. That is due to the mishandling of milk which has been properly pasteurised. If bottles or containers have not been sterilised, or if the caps of the bottles are not secure and are readily removed, then you may get contamination of the milk supply, even although it has been efficiently pasteurised. There is in this country no efficient organisation, nothing laid down in the law, that will ensure that this food shall be handed to the consumer in a safe condition. It is a remarkable thing that while every local authority is charged in law with the duty of seeing that there is a pure water supply, there is no such law in the matter of milk. We have had arguments in the House—I think they have been expressed in this Debate by previous speakers— that we ought to aim at the production of a pure milk supply without pasteurisation. That situation is so remote in practice that its possibility, I think, may be looked upon as negligible. In the City of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I am told, if the total amount of milk consumed is taken at zoo, the T.T. certified milk and the ordinary T.T. milk supplied amount to only 1.7 of the total. It is quite clear that such a small amount can have no appreciable effect upon the milk supply of the country. 845 The difficulty of securing a safe milk supply from our farms is fairly obvious. In the first place, it is asserted by experts that 4o per cent. of the cows in the country react to the tuberculin test and that one cow in every 200 excretes tubercle bacilli in milk. Even if the whole nation unanimously agreed to the deletion of such animals from our dairy herds, the period that would elapse before we could be sure of a safe milk supply from our farms would be interminable, in my judgment. It would be practically impossible to adopt such a policy. There is a second point in regard to securing a safe supply of milk from the farms, and that is the control of the human personnel upon our farms. There would be required a degree of supervision which would involve considerable expense. It would involve supervision of personal cleanliness, of clothing, of environment, of housing and of everything associated with the individual. Then there has to be taken into account the question of a pure water supply. That is essential, but we know how difficult it is to achieve. With all the efforts that have been made, it has not been achieved in our rural areas. The destruction of disease-carrying rodents is another matter to be taken into account. Ideal farms would be required to make complete destruction a possibility.
Then, again, veterinary inspection of our dairy cows is not carried out regularly. Cows may not be inspected from one year's end to another, and in certain cases are never inspected at all. Apparently the Minister of Agriculture is incapable or unwilling to undertake a rapid improvement in conditions on the dairy farm. There are hundreds of farms—I have visited many myself— which are in an appalling condition. It is possible to see cows and their calves standing knee deep in filth. I visited one farm in the North country— I will not say whether it was in Scotland or in England— and I was advised by the men attached to the farm that the only time when the byres in which the cows were housed were cleansed was when the amount of refuse grew too high for the cows or the workers to enter. The war agricultural executive committees have great powers to see that maximum production is achieved on the farms, but they have no power to deal with the question of milk production. That appears to 846 be sacred ground which must not be encroached upon either by the Ministry of Agriculture or any other Government Department.
Some time ago I addressed a Question on the improvement of farms to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, whom I am glad to see with us. I suggested necessary, reforms, but his answer was that if we were to attempt to achieve what I sought, the elimination of the unfit farm or the improvement of farms, we should get less milk. Apparently that Ministry is satisfied that the object should be to produce milk, whether poisonous or not. As we are thinking of a pure supply of food for the nation it is interesting to notice that the same Minister, speaking at Cardiff on 21st February this year, said that milk was Priority No. I. He was addressing an audience of farmers, farmworkers and landowners, and he praised the dairy farmers who had enabled the priority classes to consume more milk than pre-war. After some other observations, he added that to enable the farmers to avoid foot-and-mouth disease, the Ministry were arranging for swill to be sterilised before it went to the farms.
§ Mr. Adams
So swill is to be sterilised but milk supplies are not. That is pretty well borne out by the general regulations affecting the production of milk. Very few children are safeguarded against the risks of bovine tuberculosis with as rigorous care as calves in certain herds. For example, one of the conditions of the Tuberculosis (Attested Herds) Scheme, 1938, is that no milk or dairy by-product shall be brought on to the premises of an attested herd for feeding to bovine or other animals except direct from the premises of another attested herd, unless such milk or dairy by-product is pasteurised or sterilised by heating. Happily that applies to the animal kingdom, but so far we have not been successful in securing that it shall be extended to the production of milk. I want to say that I have an abundance of sympathy with the farming interests in this matter. Many farmers are in a position of impoverishment. Some I know do not get as much remuneration from their small herds as do the workers upon their farms. In 847 cases of that sort they cannot afford the capital expenditure necessary to modernise the farm, cannot employ sufficient labour, and have not the means to ensure that their utensils and plant shall be efficient and properly sterilised, nor can they maintain the herd at a healthy standard. It is the duty of the Ministry concerned—
The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MaeAndrew)
I must ask the hon. Member to confine his remarks to the Ministry of Food.
§ Mr. Adams
I am very sorry to transgress in any way. I merely wanted to indicate the difficulties in connection with dairy milk coming direct from farms, and to point out incidentally and inferentially that if you cannot get at the farm we must use some other method of making that milk pure. I should like to give one little example of the sort of thing that is occurring, certainly in our district and probably throughout the country. Recently Professor Ryle, of Cambridge University, with Doctor Quine and Doctor McNichol, visited the Newcastle hospital during his survey of hospitals for the Ministry of Health. Professor Ryle said that he had just had an interesting experience in the matter of milk supply. He said one would have thought that Cambridge, at any rate, would be a safe place. His wife sought to have a pure milk supply for themselves and their three children, and thought she had achieved it, but it was not very long before the children were affected by admittedly milk-borne diseases. Two had throat and gland trouble, and one had bowel trouble. The milk was said to be pasteurised, but upon examination it was found that the pasteurisation plant of the producer-retailer was of an extremely antiquated character, though quite within the law, and that this milk was really not pasteurised. He said that he was struck with the slackness of the conditions under which milk is delivered to consumers when on looking out of his window he observed a small boy filling bottles of alleged pasteurised milk out of a churn in the open, windy street. That might occur anywhere, and there is nothing to prevent it in law.
As to the quality of the milk, I have figures from the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Corporation relating to the bacteriological examination of milk supplies. They are 848 under two grades: the designated milks and non-designated milks. The designated milks are: T.T. (Certified), T.T., accredited, pasteurised, sterilised. The non-designated are what are described as heat-treated and undesignated. The report of the medical officer shows a progressive decline in the two classes in the years 1939, 194o, 1941 and 1942— four years. The percentage of the designated milk which was found to be unsatisfactory on basteriological tests was: 14.3 in 1939; 18.8 in 1940; 22.9 in 1941; 24.1 in 1942. For undesignated milk the figures were: 24.6 in 1939; 30.4 in 1940; 38.7 in 1941 and 33.2 in 1942. This indicates that in spite of all the attempts on the part of the health committee and of the city council the public of Newcastle receive a good deal of milk in a wholly unfit condition, and it is not surprising that in the North of England particularly tuberculosis is on the increase among children.
It is an interesting commentary upon, I take it, the work of the Ministry of Food that prior to the introduction of the national milk scheme medical officers of health had the power to reject milk that was found upon bacteriological examination to be unfit for human consumption. Again and again Newcastle Corporation have rejected milk, saying, "We will take no more milk from that source unless it is brought up to the proper standard." After the introduction of the national milk scheme that power was taken away from local authorities, and all that the medical officer of health can now do is to write to the medical officer of the district supplying the milk and ask him to see that the milk is improved. It is a pious expression, he has no power to enforce his request, and the result is that we foist upon the people milk which is admittedly full of disease germs, and this affects the health of the children. I speak with considerable feeling as an ex-chairman of the Health Committee of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Corporation, because I have seen some of our most healthy children brought from school with milk-borne diseases of the bone, the joint or the glands, never to recover. There is a great incidence of crippled children, once healthy and vigorous, as one of the consequences of drinking milk which is not fit for human consumption. With regard to pasteurised milk, Professor Kay, of the National Institute for Research in Dairying, says that pasteurisation has no ill-effect upon the nutritive 849 value of milk. I think that if it had had an effect upon its nutritive value, we should have heard about it in London, where almost all the milk is pasteurised. There is a certain loss of Vitamin C, but that is corrected by taking fruit juice or other foods.
I am sorry to detain the Committee, but I regard this matter as one of supreme importance. I raised it upon the Adjournment, but for various reasons I had only a very limited time in which to deal with it, and I am anxious that the Ministry should take action without further delay when the situation has been pointed out. New cases of tuberculosis are occurring in the country at the rate of 3,000 to 4,000 a year. At any time there are 13,000 children suffering from tuberculosis, and as regards non-pulmonary tuberculosis some 40 per cent. of these suffering children trace their affliction to the milk. In 1931, 28,699 deaths from tuberculosis were recorded. Some 2,000 children died under the fifth year of age and a very large number who had survived are crippled for life.
In my judgment, the situation is capable of remedy. We are a sensible people, and I believe we are all public spirited. I believe that it cannot be claimed that any section of this House of Commons has any greater affection or attachment to the welfare of the community than another, and if the situation in the country is as I have pointed out, and that is borne out by every medical officer of health and by all scientific opinion, clearly it is our duty to e7f[...] at the earliest possible moment this shocking loss of life, this suffering and waste of national and private resources, and to create a remedial organisation without further delay. I would assert that the method that I have adopted is universally agreed outside this House, although it may be disputed within this House, namely, that pasteurisation will give us a pure milk supply, provided that, after pasteurisation, the milk is handled in a scientific and efficient way in being brought to the consumer. I assert that the time has arrived when there should be a special department of the Ministry of Food charged with the obligation to look to this matter of securing to the community that pure and safe milk supply which, I declare, is quite possible and within our reach. If we decline to do 850 something, I assert, and it will be borne out hereafter by the whole community, that Parliament is grossly negligent of its duty to the community in not insisting forthwith upon this reform.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
I am glad this opportunity has been afforded for a general discussion on the work of the Ministry of Food for two rcasons. Firstly, because in a few days' time a conference of food experts will meet in Virginia to discuss a long-term policy on the subject of food. I very much hope that it will be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to give, in winding up this Debate, some indication of the lines which the Delegation from this country will advocate at that conference. My second reason is that as the war reaches its climax it is time we considered some of the lessons about nutrition that the war has taught us, and apply them to the framework we wish to create under the heading "Freedom from want." I would like to pay a sincere and humble tribute to my noble Friend Lord Woolton and the Parliamentary Secretary for the really magnificent work they have done. In doing this I am only one of many speakers who have said the same thing. In addition to that, I would like to praise our Food Mission in Washington. During several journeys to America in the course of the war I have seen what they have done. They have been able to do an extremely good job on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
For three years of this war I worked in a Department that, at least in its initial stages, was not able to commend itself to the public or to this House. I realised how quickly people in the country react to what they consider unfair restrictions and how often the Adjournment Debate can be used if Members are not happy about a situation. No Ministry could have aroused more criticism or more resentment than the Ministry of Food, and the reasons for its great success lie in what the Parliamentary Secretary said today, that the whole country believes that people are being equally and fairly treated in the distribution of food. I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary in his remarks gave due praise to that Ministry and Minister without whom the Ministry of Food would not have been able to function. I refer of course to the Ministry of Agriculture. It is said that some few marriages are made in heaven; although 851 perhaps Lord Woolton and the Minister of Agriculture are not aware of it, it is clear to the outside world that the union between their two Ministries is of that order. I only hope that when the war is over, those two Ministries, one representing the urban consuming public and the other the countryside and the producer, will either merge and pool their resources and their knowledge or will continue harmoniously to work side by side to create a happy and healthy Britain.
Now, having made these general observations, I will get back to the first of the two points I wish briefly to develop this afternoon. I have no means of knowing what instructions have been given to that very important body of experts who, under the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, are to meet this week in Virginia, but I hope that coming from a country with the largest consuming interest in the world, they have been instructed to encourage production to its maximum and to thwart any attempt to restrict or stifle it. That policy is in no way incompatible with a healthy agriculture at home, provided always that two things are borne in mind. The first is that if our world is employed and prosperous, it will spend a large amount of that prosperity upon food. Taking the world as a whole, there is no limit- within sight in the next 25 or 5o years upon the amount of food which an unfed and hungry people will consume, provided they have the means to pay for that food. Before the war nutrition was a mere word to many people, who did know what it meant. To-day it conjures up to millions of people pink cheeks and healthy bodies, which in turn produce healthy minds. The second point is that British agriculture has shown itself capable of doing the job, and provided it does not have to meet unfair competition in the shape of subsidised commodities from overseas and provided some solution may be found to narrow the gap between what the producer gets and what the consumer has to pay for the product—I know that Lord Woolton is bearing this matter very much in mind and is seeing what can be done about it— it will not be necessary for successive Ministers of Agriculture to come cap in hand and ask for subsidies. On the other hand, if our world is to be allowed to pass through cycles of depression and unemployment, and this country 852 becomes the dumping place for the goods of all the world, obviously home agriculture will have to be safeguarded and defended. I hope, therefore, that our delegates to the Conference have been instructed to turn their heads away from a policy that restricts a hungry world and will devote themselves to the problem of how a hungry world can be made prosperous so as to take advantage of the boundless opportunities which the world has to offer.
I should like to discuss the picture which we wish to see at home at the end of the war. We have recently had several Debates on various aspects of post-war planning. We had a Debate a month or two ago on the Beveridge Report, in which we took up the question of security from want for the maximum number of people. Only last week there was a Debate upon post-war housing. What emerged from both those Debates was that the nation wants to see the maximum of opportunity of health for the greatest number of people. Surely, what we eat and what we feed our children upon must be given a high priority in any considerations of this kind. In the course of the Debate upon housing many hon. Members expressed the horror that was felt in the countryside when the evacuees poured out from the big cities, horror at the habits, or perhaps lack of habits, of the evacuees_ I can assure hon. Members, coming from the countryside where many of these evacuees were received, that there was equal horror among country people at the kind of food the evacuees were in the habit of buying for themselves and feeding their children upon. Only too often nine-tenths of the food, I should say, came out of a tin. In the feeding of the children, beer was preferred to milk. It was quite clear that among a large section of the population there had been no education in feeding and only the most elementary knowledge of nutrition. I am not denying that a very large amount of the ignorance came from lack of facility and from environment. It is obvious that families living in overcrowded and difficult conditions will find it much easier to open a tin can and put the contents on a cooker than to go out and buy good food and then come back and have great difficulty in cooking it.
The war has produced a great change in the habits of the people of this country. 853 In the first place, owing to rationing, it is very difficult to get tinned goods. Secondly, the Ministry has done exceedingly good educational work among a large section of the country. Thirdly, exceedingly good food has been given to the men and women of the Forces. I am told that it is now not at all uncommon to see milk being given round to men engaged in heavy industry in factories in the middle of the day. We must see to it that at the end of this war people never again go back to conditions that were existing when it started. We must gain from the lessons that we have learned during the war, and we must carry those lessons still further. I am quite sure that the result would be of inestimable advantage to the country by creating a healthy people, by eliminating disease, and, finally, by creating a very large increase in agricultural output and prosperity. In the past few weeks we have seen a fair number of reports on the post-war future of agriculture, and they all stress the same thing— the tremendous under-consumption of milk in this country compared with that of other countries of a comparable standard of living. It is estimated, and I think that nearly all the reports said the same thing, that if the needs of the population were fully met, it would require an additional 1,000,000 milking cows to the herds of this country. I am quite certain that if my Noble Friend had those million cows doing their duty at the present time, he would be extremely pleased, because then he would be quite certain that all the children in schools and the expectant mothers were being fully catered for.
But there is not the slightest use in trying to improve the health of the nation by asking them to drink more milk unless we can guarantee that what we give to the people is high both in quality and cleanliness. We have heard to-day quite a large number of speeches in regard to this matter, but most of them have dealt purely with one side— cleanliness— and I want for a moment or two, in concluding my remarks, to accentuate the need also for quality. It is quite true that at the beginning of this war there was more disease in the herds of this country than in those of any other country with the same progressive standards as our own. The previous speaker talked about the incidence of disease in herds. It is not confined only to tuberculosis in cattle but includes also contagious abortion that causes 854 undulant fever in humans, mastitis and so on. I hope that in his winding-up speech to-day the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure the Committee that his Department is thinking of, and getting down to, how disease can be eliminated from the herds. My own experience of farming in the United States at a time when they were engaged in cleaning up the herds in that particular area leads me to believe that pasteurisation is not the end-all and cure.
Pasteurisation, in my opinion, should be left to the local authorities to decide. Where you have large centres of population these will undoubtedly opt to have all milk pasteurised. In the smaller towns and in the country areas where it is a comparatively short time before milk reaches the ultimate consumer, then I think there is no reason for it. The real cure, in order to eliminate disease, should be an adequate water supply to the farms, a rigid inspection of both cows and milk by properly qualified veterinary officers, and thirdly— and I attach considerable importance to this particular point— paying on a quality basis in order that you may persuade farmers that it is far better to have a good quality cow than it is to keep just any kind of poor quality animal. In conclusion, I should just like to say that a programme of this kind will take time and will cost a great deal of money. We should not be deterred by that. We should get down to planning immediately for it, and I am perfectly certain that it will repay us many times over.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I should like to associate myself with the hon. Member who has just spoken in paying my tribute to the Ministry with which we are concerned in this Debate. It seems almost superfluous to say that I feel they have done a remarkably fine job of work during this war. The work of the Minister himself has compelled our admiration. He has tackled a tremendous task with commendable skill and courage. I was particularly glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary, in his admirable speech, going out of his way to pay a tribute to the farm workers and farmers in the job they are doing in this vital business of feeding a nation at war. After all, their hours are long, their work is exacting and their reward, on the whole, is com 855 paratively low when we look at what other workers are able to earn. One thing we can say, and I think we should be proud of it, is that neither the Minister of Food nor our farmers have failed us in this war. The farmers have not lost a single day in the vital business of feeding a nation at war, and to the extent that they have succeeded the task of the Minister of Food has been made easier and even possible, and I am quite certain he would be the very first to admit that fact.
I am very sorely tempted to enter into the Debate on the question of disease raised by my hon. Friend. All I would say is that I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding on this question of pasteurisation of milk. It seems to be in the mind of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) that producers are entirely antagonistic to such a step. Speaking for Scotland, I can say, I think, that that is not quite the case. It does not really matter to the producers in that country whether our milk is pasteurised or not, provided that whoever frames the scheme realises that he must not interfere with our research into animal disease on the one hand, and with the production of tuberculin tested milk on the other hand. There is the question of what will happen if such a scheme should eliminate the producer-retailer who cannot afford the necessary plant. Provided that the T.T. producer is looked after, and that the producer-retailer is either compensated or allowed a certain time to come into the scheme, as was the case in the Milk Bill, then I do not know any producers in Scotland who really care very much whether the milk is pasteurised or not.
I wish to pass to another point, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not misunderstand my putting it forward. A good deal has been said in this Debate about milk. I think it is true to say that there is no commodity of greater importance in this war than milk. It is recognised as Priority Number I, and I think everyone is willing to admit that our dairy farmers can justly claim a highly creditable performance in respect of the production of a commodity placed right in the forefront of the Ministry of Food's war policy of national nutrition. Therefore, it is imperative that we do 856 everything possible to secure harmonious co-operation between the Ministry of Food and those who are responsible for the production of milk. There is a great scarcity in the country due to the increase in consumption, and this scarcity is most acute and most urgent in Scotland. Therefore, everything that can be done should be done to secure harmonious co-operation between the Ministry of Food and our dairy farmers in Scotland. Is the Minister satisfied that his Department is doing everything possible to promote this co-operation, and to enable our dairy farmers in Scotland to pull their whole weight in the battle of production? I, of course, can speak only of Scotland; but I can say, without any exaggeration, that there exists in Scotland a feeling of frustration and resentment. I do not as a rule bring up points here unless I feel that the case is sound, and I am convinced that the case of the Scottish producers in this connection is sound.
The Scottish producers feel that, whereas apeals are constantly being made by the Government for increased production, in a country where an acute shortage exists, the producers are denied their just claim for parity of price with the average of the English and Welsh producers. That claim was publicly supported on two occasions by our own Minister, but it has been rejected by the Government. The Scottish producers cannot understand this, and, as the Ministry of Food are the responsible authority for the controlled price structure, I venture to raise this matter. I would like, however, to make it clear that I have not come here to-day to argue the Scottish dairy farmers' case on the sole basis of £s. d., although I think that no form of agricultural production is governed more by price than milk. I submit my argument on the different grounds of justice and equity. What is the justification for refusing the Scottish producer a price equal to the average price of the English and Welsh regions? Bow can the Minister of Food justify appeals for greater output in Scotland when the March payments on the two sides of the Border were so far out of line? The Scottish Board's March price was only Is. II½ d.; but in seven of the eleven English and Welsh regions it was 2s. 3½ d., in three of them 2s. 3½ d., and in the other one 2s. Ad. Yet everyone knows what kind of month March is in Scotland. This disparity is 857 beyond the comprehension of the Scottish dairy farmer. Is it that a gallon of milk produced in Scotland is of less value to the nation than a gallon produced in England? Or is it that the Scottish dairy farmer is less efficient than the English dairy farmer? Or is it that the Scottish product is in any way inferior in quality to that produced south of the Border? The Minister knows the answer to all these questions. He knows that there is an acute shortage of milk in Scotland, which is an embarrassment to his Department and that he has to obtain milk from Ireland and from England.
I wish the hon. Member for Consett were here to listen to what I have to say about T.T. milk. As to quality, go per cent. of all the milk supplied in schools in Scotland is of T.T. production. If that were not so, there might be something to be said for the differentiation in price on grounds of quality; but unless milk is of T.T. production, it is rejected or subject to special examination in Scotland. That could not be done in England, because England has not the necessary percentage of T.T. producers. Scotland may fail. in many things, but she does not fail in the quality production of an agricultural commodity, whether it be milk, beef, mutton, or potatoes. I cannot understand why, when our quality is right and our production is efficient, we should have this differentiation. Something was said on the other side about our dairy by-laws. It may be useful to know that our dairy by-laws in Scotland are stricter than those south of the Border.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Would my hon. Friend tell the Committee the opinion of the Secretary of State for Scotland on this matter, as publicly expressed?
§ Mr. Snadden
I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend was in the House earlier, when I mentioned that matter. Apart from our dairy by-laws there is our more rigorous climate and our wider and more intensive production, than in England or Wales. How is it then that our producers receive less than the English producers? Does the Parliamentary Secretary believe that that differentiation will bring about an increase in our production? He said, and I thought it a most effective point, that it was what the other fellow had and what 858 you did not have that led to dissatisfaction. That is precisely our trouble. Even the consumer is bewildered, because she finds that, whereas milk in Scotland is cheaper to the consumer than in England, she is being told that there is an acute shortage of milk in Scotland, and she must take a quantity from Ireland. I would like the Minister to hear what some people haveabout the milk that comes from that country.
I would like to show in detail, but briefly, how the disparity arose. The Scottish producers' grievance is that in certain months of the year they are paid less than the average of the ix English and Welsh regional prices, and that if the payments for all the areas were averaged, the difference in price would be about id. In respect of the haulage rate, we have an advantage, and that reduces the margin to.613d. per gallon. Our price should be raised by that amount. I gather that that would cost about £400,000. That figure apparently scares a Minister who is paying in subsidies on food the colossal sum mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, of £ 11,000,000 and £ 17,000,000, making a total of £ 28,000,000. Even if the addition were passed on to the consumer, it would mean an additional cost of only a pint for three months of the year; but there is no reason why it should be passed on to, the consumer, because at the moment such questions are being dealt with by means of Government subsidies. How did this disparity come about? In pre-war days each Board sold as much liquid milk as possible in the liquid market. Manufacturing milk was governed by the price of imported cheese and butter. The proceeds of both markets were pooled, and the result was the producers pool price. Scotland had a larger proportion of manufacturing surplus than England, and had she raised her price she would by increasing that surplus, coupled with a probable fall in consumption, only have lowered her pool price. That is why Scotland had a lower pre-war price, not because she consumed less rn;11, The production was merely more intensive. Today these conditions are reversed. We also have the ludicrous position of Scottish dairy cows crossing the Border in order to send their milk back to Scotland. That is the position to which the Secretary of State referred when he made a speech in Edinburgh to the National Farmers' 859 Union of Scotland and described the position as "Gilbertian." But it still continues and to the dissatisfaction of the consumer, and I submit, to the resentment of the producer. There is another fact, which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, because I know he is sympathetic in this business. Again I say I am not complaining of the.612 pence on the grounds of equity, but it is extremely irritating to the Scottish dairy producer when he realises that great numbers have come into the industry in England who had not previously been in it. These are new milk producers who cannot possibly know the last thing by any means about milk production, and yet they receive a higher price than the Scottish dairy fanner who has been a producer of milk all his life. That is not right.
The Government admit that there is no economic justification for the continuance of this disparity. They say that they cannot be responsible for the pre-war price structure upon which war prices have been built. That is a most unfair argument, for two reasons. First, it was the pre-war policy of the Government themselves which drove Scottish farmers into difficulties. The wheat subsidy and the sugar beet subsidy only affected a fraction of our people. We had to take our Secretary of State more or less by the scruff of the neck and show him that there was nothing left on which our farmers could live but on milk production. Secondly, if control is to go on for another 10 years, or say to 1950, the Scottish dairy producer is apparently to be condemned to a disparity more or less in perpetuity because it existed in 1939. I do not think that anyone can maintain that there is any substance in that argument at all. I do not believe that the Minister himself is unsympathetic to this business. In fact, I am sure he is not. Our own Secretary of State has publicly supported it, and I think he feels this irritation very acutely indeed. Who is the nigger in the woodpile? In my view it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why does he prevent the Minister of Food from achieving harmonious working with the dairy industry? The reason is because he fears that if he agreed to adjust this disparity, he might be faced with a claim from Northern Ireland and from other areas. That boils 860 the whole thing down to the price of justice, which seems too high for the Treasury to pay. It is an unfair argument, because it means that Scotland has to carry on her back the claims of other people who have been unable to iron out their own difficulties. We submit that that is their concern and not ours.
For these reasons I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the whole question with a view to removing this sense of implied inferiority on the part of Scottish milk producers. The amount of the disparity is small, but there is no economic justification for it, and therefore it should be wiped out. By wiping it out I am certain the Ministry would remove a genuine grievance and secure that harmonious cooperation of which I spoke. There is no doubt at all to-day that our dairy farmers are only too willing to do their very utmost to secure that the health of this nation keeps at the very high level at which it is to-day until the war is over. The actual.6 is of secondary importance; it is this business of irritation which if removed would, I am certain, greatly help production.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
The Parliamentary Secretary has given us a very interesting report on the work of the Ministry of Food, and, looking back over the war years, we have certainly been much better off in regard to the distrition of food than we were in the last war. Therefore, all credit to the Ministry of Food. When I hear people grumbling about rationing I remind them of the unfortunate plight of the peoples on the Continent and of the fact that, in comparison, they have very much for which to be thankful. We cannot be too grateful to our Navy and to our merchant seamen for safeguarding our food supplies from overseas, and the farming community at home, as has been shown by several speakers, have certainly done their bit. Unfortunately, it required a war to bring home the fact that land was meant for use and not abuse. The Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture will certainly have a big job before them when the war is over. One speaker has mentioned the Washington Conference. I believe that we shall be called upon to assist to a considerable extent in feeding the destitute people of Europe. Conditions to-day in the occupied countries are even worse than they were in Germany 861 after the last war, when it was said that 90 per cent. of the children in that country were under-nourished.
I wish, however, to deal with what is happening to-day in the shops. War certainly brings many changes in shop life and there is no denying the fact that assistants in food shops are doing work of national importance. The Parliamentary Secretary in a recent Debate paid a well-deserved tribute to shop workers and said that without their willing co-operation, rationing would fail. At present, I would point out, queues at shops are increasing, and this is due not to any shortage of food but to a shortage of staff. If the calls upon the staffs continue the queues will further increase and there will be more discontent. It is as well to bear in mind that before the war 75 per cent. of the assistants were men, but now all the men of military age, except the physical rejects, have gone. The distributive trades have contributed more men to the Armed Forces than any other occupation in this country. Shops have had to be staffed by women and the women have no sooner been trained than they have been called up also, leaving many shops in a sorry plight. Before the war 20 per cent. of the women in shops were under i8 years of age. To-day over 40 per cent. are under 18 years of age. Many of these girls are leaving of their own accord. I want the Minister to bear in mind that the mental strain involved in the application of food control is too much for many of these younger inexperienced girls, who are worried by the fear of prosecution for small mistakes. I hope there will be fewer inspectors going round trying to find out little mistakes—a thing which terrifies these girls, because they are afraid of having to go into court. Also, I would say get rid of the farthing nuisance; these coins are a nuisance to assistants and to traders themselves. Then there is an extensive and complicated list of prices which causes endless difficulty.
Local officials of the Ministry have not the slightest idea of the work that is necessary in a food shop. They regard the cutting up of bacon or ham as nothing. I often wonder why some of us who are old hands ever had to serve an apprenticeship? In the last war there was a school for training women before they were sent to shops, but there has been nothing like it in this war. Something ought to be 862 done. Young people of 15 or i6 have to take the place of trained girls who have been called up— which is decidedly unfair. The Committee may not know that 14,000,000,000 coupons are cancelled, cut and counted every year by shop assistants. That is a big job. Food distribution is an essential war industry; if it broke down, the effects would be tremendous and the war effort would be seriously impeded. Any further withdrawal will have a serious effect on the capacity of the trade to deal with the distribution of the nation's food and I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to use Ms influence with the powers that be, to see that extreme care is exercised in this matter so as to safeguard food distribution.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I would like to join in paying tribute to the work which the Ministry of Food have done so far in this war. Tributes have been an outstanding feature of the speeches to-day. The Minister of Food, as a result of his policy of wise and thoughtful provision for feeding the nation, so far from having 40,000,000 critics has, I believe, 40,000,000 friends. I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his speech in introducing the Estimates. I think the House of Commons has been very well served by the Ministry's Parliamentary Secretaries. There have been my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) and now there is our present Parliamentary Secretary who is certainly not the least of this brilliant line.
This is a Supply Day when my hon. Friend expects to reply to some criticism. What is the criticism we direct at the Ministry? In the main, it is that over a wide sphere of their activities, the Ministry do not come up to the ideals they establish for themselves; that their administrative actions lag behind their central planning. What are those ideals? They have been stated by the Parliamentary Secretary. They are, first, that there must be preference for those whose needs are greatest and, second, that there must be a fair share for the rest of us. Now, with regard to detailed criticisms, I want to say that British Restaurants are still not coming into being as fast as might be 863 the case. There are still areas where there are no British Restaurants and where the feeding of agricultural labourers, in particular, gives rise to great difficulty. I may be told that this is due to lack of willingness on the part of the local authority. That may be so, but, on the other hand, experience of national feeding has emphasised the importance and value of British Restaurants. What a change there is as compared with the last war. Then we had communal kitchens; now we have taken away the idea of a kitchen and brought in the idea of a restaurant and it is the people's desire that these restaurants should be established throughout the country. I hope that lagging local authorities, if such there be— and I suspect there are— will be spurred and stirred to realise their duties and responsibilities in this matter.
With regard to meals in schools, the number of such meals being served is constantly growing. But many more meals could be served and there are many potential customers who desire to be served but for whom facilities are not available. I hope the Ministry, in looking ahead, will not regard with any complacency the fact that a large number of school meals have already been served, but will regard it as a duty to see that one main meal a day is provided for every child in town or country. If it cannot be provided in one way, let us cut red tape and ask people in the villages to take care of the children in turn. Do not let us tie ourselves to any one method. Let us make sure that all children get a regular meal a day if they desire it.
I have another criticism. My bon. Friend referred to the position of the small trader. Let there be no secret about it; there is a feeling that in the Ministry there is not the keen interest in the welfare of the small trader which should exist. I think it is quite unintentional that this should be so, but I believe the Ministry could take more care of such traders' special needs. What is the position now? At a time when large numbers of young men, who are possible purchasers of milk businesses, are serving their country, milk rounds are being bought up, left and right, at inflated prices by the "Co-ops" and combines. I hope that in preserving a balance between large-scale and small— scale distribution, the Minister will make 864 it clear that these unhealthy combines will be required to supply the nuclei of small businesses to men on their return. Again, look at the preferential treatment the Co-operative Society have received in connection with the rationalisation of milk deliveries. It may be said that there are political reasons why the Society should not be required to join in a general scheme. Nevertheless the purpose of zoning is to economise in transport and in labour and I do not think that any special preference, as to source of supply, should be allowed in one particular form of trading enterprise alone.
Then my hon. Friend referred to the relations of his Noble Friend with farmers, and I was delighted to hear the very generous and genuine tribute which he paid to the work of the farmer and his workers. It follows very properly and suitably the tribute paid by Lord Woolton yesterday at Caxton Hall in which he spoke of agriculture as falling into line with the three Armed Services and completing the square of British defence. The farmers have looked upon Lord Woolton as their friend and also as their best, and indeed their only customer. He has, on the whole, I believe, striven very hard to give them a fair deal and a proper price for their produce, but I should be much happier if he were to trust his own commonsense and the guidance of experience in the business of production and distribution rather than rely, as I am afraid he does a little too much, on his costing experts. I believe that in many things they have misled him. For instance, the price to be paid for the sugar beet crop this year is to be the same as last year. I am not suggesting that that was inadequate but, if it was correct, there is some ground for an increase this year. If, on the other hand, there is no reason for an increase, the costed price was wrong last year. The farmer has to grow what he is required to grow, under the orders given him by the county war agricultural committee acting as the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the price is fixed for him by the Ministry of Food, but piece-work prices for chopping, singling and harvesting have been increased by 10 per cent. under the piece-work agreement negotiated by the workers and the employers' representatives. I urge my hon. Friend not to pay too much attention to his costing accoun- 865 tants but to take into greater consultation the growers' representatives in this matter.
My hon. Friend referred to the national loaf as being the pride of the Ministry of Food. I think the whole country must feel pride and satisfaction in the fact that this is the only country in which bread is not rationed. I think that imposes on the whole country the very serious duty of making quite sure that it is not wasted. I have brought to my hon. Friend's notice cases of bread wasting and, if I see any more, I shall do so again. If the Ministry catch hold of offenders misusing this vital commodity, I hope they will go for such offenders with all the power they possess. It is very interesting to learn the reasons which have led the Minister to urge us to use more potatoes, and so save bread. I come from the area which has the largest production of potatoes and I feel that a special word of thanks is due to the Ministry, and to those at the head of the potato section, for the great skill with which they have handled this very difficult problem. When I was first elected for the Holland Division, a potato to me was just a potato, and I believe it was the same to my hon. Friend, but the importance of this crop to the country is now realised by all. One of the things that we may have to ask him to do in the future is to prescribe whether early potatoes or the main crop varieties are to be asked for. That is too technical a point to go into now, but perhaps he will invite his experts to give attention to it.
I do not think my hon. Friend will complain of the way the Debate has gone. I was delighted to hear what he said about the Conference that is sitting in London and we are glad to know that he is the Chairman of it. We believe that in the difficult days after the war, the work of the Ministry of Food will act as an example and a pattern to the peoples of liberated Europe, as at present it is acting as a great help and as a weapon for victory.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
should like to add my congratulations and my appreciation to those already offered to the Noble Lord who presides over this Ministry, his Parliamentary Secretary and their staff, for their most capable administration of a very intricate and delicate Department. It has constituted a sound home front, and it has built up a contented population who have been able to 866 get down to their work in good health and with the knowledge that the food situation was being dealt with as fairly as possible. I wish to make a point which relates to an enormous transfer of stock that is to take place in my constituency. We have had to yield a large area of land to the military authorities and we are faced with the formidable task of removing, between now and September, 70,000 sheep. It is unfortunate that it has had to come, but war brings all kinds of difficulties and my constituency unfortunately has had to suffer in this way. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food and the Secretary of State for War what they are going to do—
TheDeputy-Chairman(Mr. Charles Williams)
I am afraid we cannot go into this question of the cultivation of land, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot very well ask the Parliamentary Secretary to confer with the Secretary of State for War.
§ Major Braithwaite
I did not realise that it was out of Order to raise this point. These animals are now being sold on to the market. The prices have gone down in the past fortnight by over £2 per head and I am wondering what effect that will have on the general situation.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman had better put his question to the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Major Braithwaite
May I refer to the Fisheries Department of the Ministry. I understand the Parliamentary Secretary has a great deal to do with the distribution and price of fish and the price of the bait that catches the fish?
§ Major Braithwaite
I seem very unfortunate. I cannot make either of my constituency points. I must, therefore, return to the general question of food supplies. I am glad that the question of milk has been raised, because I have observed throughout the agricultural parts of the country a steadily increasing supply of milk. I believe that one of the reasons why the Ministry of Food will be able to count on a larger supply, is because of the activities of the Ministry of Agriculture in draining our land and getting better pasturage. The Ministry of Food has the sale of cattle foods in hand. I 867 believe I am in Order in mentioning that matter. The Minister of Agriculture has been educating the farmers—
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must imagine that the Minister of Agriculture is not here and refrain from referring to his educational system.
§ Major Braithwaite
There is a general desire that the provision of cattle foods over the winter periods should be augmented by every possible method. The method of silage, which is controlled through the supply of molasses by the Ministry of Food, is of great importance to the increased production of milk in the winter.
I am afraid that molasses and silage do not come under the heading of human food. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman can confine himself to the discussion of human food, his speech will be on better terms with the Chair.
§ Major Braithwaite
I feel that the problem of milk production, which is of such great importance to the Ministry of Food, would be greatly assisted in winter time if there were a more generous supply of animal rations. I will leave that question because I see that I may otherwise get into all kinds of difficulties and, if I go on much longer, into a state of confusion.
I observe generally in the country that the rationing system has acted fairly. As regards rationed goods, that is the position but I am a little disturbed about the position with regard to unrationed commodities in some of the shops, particularly in London. It is often impossible for women who queue up to get commodities which are said to be in supply, because of arrangements in some shops whereby people have special privileges. I do not want to make accusations which cannot be fully substantiated, but I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have a real check made on the question Of people going to shops and exercising privileges not possessed by all and sundry. If this question of unrationed commodities gets out of its line, it may create a feeling of unfairness that will operate against the war effort. But, "as I say," I find that generally throughout the country 868 people are satisfied with the distribution of rationed commodities.
The Ministry of Food has done a great deal in the way of demonstrations. There are to be, under the new Ministry of Planning, considerable improvements in the domestic arrangements after the war. I hope that the Ministry of Food will give the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Works the benefit of their advice on the cooking arrangements that could be established in the homes of the future. The Ministry must have learned a great deal during the war and it should be able to contribute a substantial amount of advice from experience with regard to the arrangements in houses and public buildings so as to bring them into line with up to date knowledge. I would like to thank the Ministry for the great work it has done and to express my appreciation of the collaboration that exists between the Ministry of Agriculture and this Department which so much affects the agricultural areas. We believe that this Ministry is giving our farmer, in the main, a very fair deal.
§ Sir Ernest Graham-Little (London University)
In a book by Professor 141arrack of London University called "Food and Planning," published six months ago, tribute was paid to the work of the Ministry of Food with the single exception of their activities in the matter of bread. It is important that the public and the Committee should realise that for two-and-ahalf years, of the wheat imported into this country only 70–75 per cent. of the grain was used for human food. The consequence was that shipping space to the amount of 700,000 tons a year was needlessly used. It ought to be a slogan that no food which is capable of use for human purposes should be diverted to any other purposes. The reason for that is that all animals are uneconomical converters of the foodstuffs they consume. The degree of waste is very high, and I do not think it is widely realised. The most economical converter in the animal world is the cow. In the cow, however, only one-fifth of the calories which it consumes in its food is transferred to the human being. Other groups of animals are even more wasteful. Most wasteful of all are the beef cattle. Only one-sixteenth of the calories in foodstuffs consumed by beef cattle is transferred to those who eat 869 meat. That is the answer to those who say you must feed the cattle and must have a large proportion of grain apportioned to the cattle.
I asked a question at the beginning of this Debate as to the amount of wheat still imported, and the Parliamentary Secretary, quite reasonably, I suppose, refused to give that figure, but it has been given quite publicly as 87 per cent. of the total consumption. I have a little pamphlet issued by the Ministry, I think, of Food, in which the proportion of imported wheat consumed in this country was given as 87 per cent. I can only hope that the position is better now and, if so, that the Minister will take the opportunity of making a correction. If, however, it is not possible to get a figure from any other source, I must leave it at that. The motto has been suggested that "if you take care of the calories, other items of diet will take care of themselves." The main source of calories, for the greater part of the population in any nation, is bread. It is the quality of bread, therefore, which is important for the level of nutrition of any people. The consumption of bread has been worked out quite recently, and in most parts of the country the figure given to me has been that 95 per cent. of the food of the larger part of the population consists of bread.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
Quantity. Bread is eaten at every meal by a large number of people, and so it is important to know that that bread is of the highest possible quality. What is the composition of the loaf at present? I have an answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Martin), who asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Foodwhat are the ingredients at present of the national loaf; and in what proportions they are inserted?The Parliamentary Secretary replied:Apart from yeast salt and the various improvers which are the recognised adjuncts of bread-m:11ring, the permittcd ingredients of national flour for making the present national loaf are wheat flour of 85 per cent. extraction, imported white flour, oats products, barley, rye, milk powder and calcium in the proportions authorised. In addition the baker may use a proportion of white flour as permitted in Article 20 of the Flour Order, 1943, and potatoes and potato flour as permitted in the Bread (Control and Maximum Prices) 870 Order, 1943. The composition of national flour and consequently of national bread is not and will not be standardised over the whole country, but the best possible use is being and. will continue to be made of homegrown cereals having regard to the point of supply and the need for the maximum economy of transport. The proportion of dilutants, although it may vary slightly in different areas, does not, at present, in general exceed 5 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, r943; col. 237, Vol. 386.]I think I can leave it at that. The result is that you have a loaf with a very heterogeneous composition and of no fixed standard. I know of no other foodstuff supplied in large quantities to the public of which the constituents are so unpredictable as the national loaf. Yet the National loaf has been cited to-day as a source of pride to the Ministry of Food. I have described the composition of the bread supplied to 95 per cent. of our people until April, 1942.
§ The Chairman
I think that is going outside the subject. We had better keep to what has happened since.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
I will give an example which I think it is unfortunate was not kept in mind. We had an example at the time of the last war when the extraction was raised from 70 per cent. to 90 per cent. and later to 92 per cent. The shipping space saved by that was estimated at 20 per cent. The present loaf is, as I have pointed out, extremely mixed and it is difficult to find out what is in it.
§ Mr. Francis Beattie (Glasgow, Cathcart)
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he is referring to the loaf in Scotland or in England, or is it the National loaf?
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
The National loaf, for which the Parliamentary Secretary to-day claims very high credit. May I call the attention of the Committee to a statement made by the Minister in the House of Lords in March, 1942, when he first introduced the 85 per cent. National loaf? He promised that white flour should not be added to the National loaf longer than was necessary to use up existing supplies. I put several Questions pointing out that it was quite impossible to predict any date of exhaustion of supplies, because white flour was being constantly imported. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will give the proportion of white flour which is, or may be 871 assumed to be, in the National loaf at present, because that is a very important point.
The Parliamentary Secretary made a long reference to what I may call the trade directorate of the Ministry of Food, the directorate composed of members of the industry. That circumstance has attracted very considerable attention, and I think sometimes some hostile attention. It has been pointed out that the directorate of the Ministry of Food consists very largely of persons connected with the industry. The "Economist" gave a fist of directors and controllers at the Ministry who had interests in the industry concerned, and there were no fewer than 38 persons named in that list.
§ The Chairman
I think that we might spare ourselves from trying to define these words at this point, as there are a large number of Members who would like to take part in the Debate.
§ Sir E. Graham-Little
The real core of this question is that a high degree of extraction conflicts with the interests of the milling industry and the removal of the germ, the more nutritive part of the grain, is a very profitable transaction. Ninety-nine percent. of the germ that is abstracted is supplied to proprietary articles. As long ago as the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure it was pointed out "that in at least one case an important trade official had been simultaneously performing his official duties at the Ministry and engaged as a trade representative in negotiations with the Ministry as regards the operative margin which is to be allowed in his own trade." I should also like to mention that the deputy scientific adviser to the Ministry simultaneously with holding that appointment holds an appointment as director of a trade organisation known as the Millers' Research Association, and makes public statements first in one capacity and then in the other. It would seem a little unfortunate that an officer of the Ministry should be in that position.
I should like to make a final appeal to the Ministry to consider the possibility of raising the extraction percentage from wheat. Recently very important scientific work has been undertaken at the Lister 872 Institute respecting what is the optimum extraction for bread, and a valuable experiment has been carried out which shows that at least 92 per cent. extraction would be possible and would be advantageous. With certain improved processes, for which I must give the millers credit, it may be possible to raise the extraction to 95 per cent. and to secure the removal of the coarser bran which causes the dark colour of the wholemeal loaf which is disagreeable to many people. The removal of the bran, something like 8 per cent., would give a certain modicum of feeding-stuffs for cattle, would produce a loaf which would be agreeable in colour and more nutritive in its quality, and would save at least 400,000 tons of shipping in a year. The Minister has said very properly that it is most important to save shipping space, and the saving of 400,000 tons of shipping could be effected while at the same time we produced a loaf which was more acceptable and certainly more nutritious. I ask the Minister to consider whether it is not possible to follow up that scientific research and to put into operation that very desirable reform.
For a few minutes I should like to consider the question of milk. Several speakers have stressed the value of tuberculin-tested herds. Many people, I think, have the idea that tuberculosis is the only disease which we have to dread arising from an impure milk supply, but that is not the case. There has been an increase of tuberculosis in the war years, arid in some degree that is attributable to milk infected with the bacillus of tuberculosis, but there are at least 10 very important diseases which are constantly carried by milk. The next in frequency of occurrence to tuberculosis is undulant fever—Brucella infection. Last year 500 cases were reported, but the cases reported are a mere fraction of those which occur.
Perhaps I may be excused for relating a personal experience. My own son was sent home one afternoon from his public school with a very high temperature and with an affection which the school doctor had been unable to recognise. I had the advantage of having a number of eminent physicians, colleagues of mine, living in my neighbourhood, and I soon had three or four highly-distinguished doctors to see my son. The diagnosis at first was acute miliary tuberculosis, a disease which is uniformly fatal. It was a natural shock to me, but I had been reading about 873 the symptoms of a then newly observed milk-borne disease which is known as "undulant fever," and I suggested to my bacteriological friend who was looking after the case that he should look for that organism. He scouted the idea but said, "If you insist I will." It was found to be present. The importance of that experience lies in this: My boy was very fond of milk, and I had encouraged that fondness. I procured for him at his school house a daily supply of milk from the Manor Farm Dairy which was run by that very famous pioneer Wilfred Buckley. It was the best milk you could buy at any price. It was beautiful milk, straight from the best cows, but it was infected with Brucella, and it conveyed that infection to my son. He lost II weeks schooling through a long illness.
The prevalence of this complaint is much greater than may be generally realised, because it is very seldom diagnosed. It is a very insidious complaint, often mistaken for tuberculosis, as it was at first in this case. There are also a number of other milk-borne diseases: diphtheria, scarlet fever, paratyphoid, typhoid, septic throat, summer diarrhoea of children, etc. There are something like 10 of these diseases which are not revealed by the tuberculin test. It is quite illusory to suppose that if you get your milk from a T.T. herd you will be entirely free from the danger of these other diseases. If milk could be sent from the farm to the consumer straight away and the farm was properly supervised there would, of course, be no reason for the pasteurisation of milk, but with the present system of distributing milk, where you have a pool into which milk goes from various sources, it is impossible, whatever precautions you may take in single cases, to keep out one infected sample, and that one infected sample will contaminate the whole pool. The pool becomes a mass of milk infected, or possibly infected, by just one sample which has been added.
Until that system of production and distribution can be remedied I say that pasteurisation is necessary and ought to be compulsory. It does not injure the quality of the milk. It does not destroy its nutritive value, and it does not affect the taste of it to any appreciable extent. Also, it is quite false to say that pasteurization 874 makes it easier for a producer to send dirty milk to market. That is a wholly irrelevant suggestion, and there is no reason why it should be introduced in order to prejudice the case for the pasteurisation of milk. Until we can ensure the production of milk which is free from a number of separate infections, I hope the Minister will take note of what is practically the unanimous scientific and medical view, namely, that pasteurisation is absolutely necessary in present circumstances to safeguard the public from milk-borne diseases.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I will not occupy the time of the Committee for more than a few minutes, but I want to say a word or two, and the first sentence I want to utter is that I have been long enough in the House of Commons to become rather suspicious when a Minister receives congratulations from all parts of the Chamber, as has been the case to-day. The hon. Gentleman in charge of this Debate should listen to some of the women doing their shopping—which has become one of the most arduous of the tasks of the housewife—and I am not so sure that he would find the same satisfaction as has been expressed to-day.
§ Mr. Davies
Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman should not be so touchy when hon. Members talk about persons who are employed by his Department being interested in the trade. The Minister of Food himself was interested in retail distribution before he was appointed Minister. He must not be so touchy about these things.
§ Mr. Davies
I was not able to listen to the hon. Gentleman introducing the Vote to-day, but let me say that, within the limits imposed during a period of war, I think that the Ministry of Food has done its work as well as any of the Ministries of this Government. Some hon. Members who have spoken to-day have however alarmed me. One hon. Member on the Liberal benches said that people in this country were better fed during this 875 war than before the war. That is a very tall statement to make. I am an old coalminer. I said to my wife the other day, when I looked at the meat for the week, that when I was a collier I could have eaten the whole week's supply in about two days. The same applies to butter and to egg—one a month. In the district where I live in Manchester we have not seen fish for months, and we should be very interested to know what happens in connection with the fish supply. One hon. Member went on to say that this was the only country where bread is not rationed. I know America fairly well; I have never heard that bread is rationed in America. Is it rationed in any of the South American republics?
§ Mr. Davies
No. Another hon Member made the statement that the health of the people was still good. I would like the Ministry of Food to keep pace with the reports of the Ministry of Health as to the increase of consumption in this country. I am assured by those who are able to speak with authority that the increase of tuberculosis is related to the lack of fats and other proper foodstuffs.
I now want to raise with the hon. Gentleman a point that I have mentioned to him before. I have just come from a conference of the Distributive Workers' Union, where a number of these problems have been discussed. One of them which always crops up is this: The Ministry of Food can be congratulated upon the work it is doing in handling the supply of food from overseas and dealing with it from the wholesaler to the retailer, but the hon. Gentleman and his chief must keep in touch with the Ministry of Labour to ensure that there is proper distribution of this food. I can assure the hon. Gentleman—I do not know that I need to call their attention to it—that the ordinary housewife is tired of shopping. Shopping has become a very arduous task, not because the rations are not there, but because a skilled staff is not present to hand the food over the counters of the shops. Let me add one further point to the hon. Gentleman about food. Of course, we get plenty of food to eat—I am 876 not complaining about that—but some of the plenty is very poor stuff.
§ Mr. Davies
I am not looking so well as the hon. Gentleman himself. I have lost 29 lbs. weight at any rate, since the beginning of the war.
§ Mr. Davies
It would do the hon. Gentleman himself good too. The Minister of Fuel and Power has told the country that the production of coal per man is going down. That is very important, and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Ministry of Food is satisfied with the position. I am pleased that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is here, because he is an old collier like myself. I am concerned whether the miners of this country are properly fed for the arduous tasks that they are doing. I remember reading some years ago—I am sorry that I have not the facts with me at the moment—that the Manchester University conducted some research into the loss of weight among miners employed in a very hot mine in Lancashire. It resulted in the astonishing discovery—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take particular notice of this fact because I represent a very large number of miners some of whom are working in very hot pits—that some of these men lose as much as It) lbs. or 12 lbs. in weight per day, only to make it up again in the evenings and week-ends.
I seriously ask the Ministry of Food once again to keep in touch with the Ministry of Labour as to the staffing of shops for the distribution of food so that women will not be standing for hours on end when the rations are there, because all that is required is more efficient assistance to distribute them. I know something about statistics consequent upon sickness. The hon. Gentleman will probably know that, and the Ministry of Food must take note of the incidence of sickness in this coun- 877 try. It is not sufficient to say that the people of this country are getting enough to eat. I am a little alarmed sometimes at the increase in the percentage rate of sickness among the workpeople in this country. It is not good, either in peace or in war. I leave it there.
I come hack to the two plain questions which are the reason why I got up. One is whether the Ministry of Food, which is doing its work so excellently, can keep in touch with the Ministry of Labour about the proper distribution of food inside the shops, so that women will not be called to stand for hours in doing their shopping, and the other is that the Ministry will follow the vital statistics of the health of the people, in particular relationship to some of the diseases I have mentioned. I am very pleased to have had an opportunity of saying these few things, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be offended at the few rash remarks I made at the beginning of my speech.
§ Mr. Hannah (Bilston)
When I was a student at Cambridge, we had a Greek professor whose lectures were extremely dull. On one occasion, however, he made a real hit by giving us the information:This verb has a middle form, [...] I wash myself', but this is exceedingly rare.In about 10 minutes he realised why he had so electrified his pupils. But to-day we are all agreed, I think, that no Greek verb is more rare than the atmosphere of this Committee, when speech after speech has laid its bouquet of flowers on the threshold of this Government Department. We have had nothing but praise, on the whole, for the Ministry of Food. I want to echo that praise, for I think it is very well deserved. I think we are the best fed nation in Europe, and I doubt whether it would be humanly possible to do very much better than the Ministry is doing at the present time.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us that we hear most about things that go wrong. After all, Members of Parliament are much more likely to hear from constituents who are discontented and unhappy than from those who are perfectly normal. So I think it might be well if I were allowed, as an example, to tell a little story of what went right recently in my division through the Ministry of Health, that it may be an example for many others.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman must keep his illustrations to the Ministry of Food. The Ministry of Health Vote comes another day.
§ Mr. Hannah
I beg your pardon, Mr. Williams; it was a slip, I meant the Ministry of Food. There was, and I am thankful to say there still is, in my division the only food shop or restaurant on the Birmingham new road between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and it was proposed in certain quarters that the person who kept that shop should, instead of keeping the home fires burning —by cooking food for his customers—go to another place altogether and hold himself ready to put out fires which we all hope will remain purely hypothetical. He came to me in a terrible state of mind and told me what the conditions were. I went to investigate, made the best re-, searches I possibly could, and found that things were just as he had said, that his food shop was undoubtedly very badly needed. So I made an appeal to the Ministry of Food, and I am glad to say that the researches which their inspectors or other agents made exactly corresponded with my own, with the result that that store was allowed to remain, to the very great comfort of lorry drivers and other users of the road between Birmingham and Wolverhampton.
The great Diocletian, having reorganised the Empire of Rome, retired into private life. Things did not go very well in the state with his guiding hand taken away, and it was proposed that he should leave his retirement at Spalato and return to the helm at Rome. His answer is a classic:If you could see the magnificent cabbages I am growing in my palace garden, you would never again suggest I should return to politics.We are all now emulating Diocletian in our war gardens, and I think the Ministry must have been extremely satisfied with the large increase of food provided for the nation by these numerous plantations. I want, however, to make an appeal that the Orders applicable to nurserymen who grow both flowers and vegetables should be made uniform throughout the country. A few days ago, going to buy my own onion sets to plant in the war garden—
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member appears to be dealing with a matter which would more properly come under the Ministry of Agriculture Vote.
§ Mr. Hannah
At any rate, the market gardener told me that before the war he had been growing almost entirely flowers. Now he was growing more than 90 per cent. of vegetables. So few flowers are left that I really think his market garden should come under the Ministry of Food. The inspector of the war agricultural cornmittee for Staffordshire told him that it would be perfectly all right if he grew a small quantity of flowers, so he did. I will not specify the names of the flowers that he set out lest I get out of Order again, but he was notified in February this year by the war agricultural committee that no flowers could be grown from seeds after 1st November last year. The result was that he scrapped a large number of plants, and then on 24th April this year one of his old customers came and asked him for bedding out plants.
§ The Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he must really keep his remarks to the Vote, which is that of the Ministry of Food. His remarks are certainly too remote, both chronologically and horticulturally.
§ Mr. Hannah
Perhaps I had better say no more about that market garden, but it does seem unfair that what it was impossible to get in Staffordshire was got in Worcestershire. I hope the rules for growing vegetables and flowers may be made uniform in those two counties. Staffordshire is just as good a county as Worcestershire.
I want to echo what other Members have said about the small trader. I am sure that there is no deliberate attempt to squeeze out the small trader in tea and other commodities, but it certainly is unfortunate that the result of this war has been to put so many out of business. I want to make the strongest appeal I possibly can that at the end of the war these small men shall be helped to get back into businesses that were undoubtedly of great benefit to their customers. The small man takes an interest in the local concerns of the community that it is impossible for the main, large stores to do. Now I must apologise for having wandered off the rails and leave it to somebody else to keep on them.
§ Mr. Francis Beattie (Glasgow, Cathcart)
As one very closely connected with the food industry, I would like to be 880 allowed to pay a compliment to the Parliamentary Secretary for the very businesslike statement he made in introducing the Vote of Supply. Just about a year ago the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said this:The guiding principle of the Ministry of Food is not to restrict but to provide, and that applies no less to its attitude towards the problems of distribution and supply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1942; col. 419, Vol. 382.]I commend the work of the Ministry of Food in successfully carrying out this principle during another year, and the indications that they will continue to do so. In furthering this principle, they should have regard to the type of wheat sown for bread baking. I am encouraged to enter this somewhat dangerous ground by the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary said that his Ministry were customers of the Ministry of Agriculture. If I am out of Order, Major Milner, it will not be with intent. Since the outbreak of war a policy has been pursued of increasing the total volume of foodstuffs grown in this country, and the Ministry of Food has, of course, assisted this policy by utilising the food so produced as far as flour and bread are concerned. Also the Ministry of Food has followed three fairly clearly defined phases, which only to a limited extent have overlapped. The first phase is the increasing extraction at the mill up to the present 85 per cent. Another one is the increasing use of home grown wheat in the grist. Thirdly, and probably the most important one, is the dilution of the grist with other cereals, mainly barley, oats and rye, and though not a cereal, potato flour might come under this heading.
At the beginning of November, 1942, the Deputy Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Food convened a technical panel of the baking trade to discuss and advise on this third phase. The question of wheat quality was raised, and the deputy adviser promised to get in touch with the Minister of Agriculture to try to get some encouragement for farmers to produce wheat of good bread- 881 making wheat—Yeoman, for example—give yields from 8o per cent. to 50 per cent. of those of the more normal varieties grown in this country—say, White Victor and Little Joss. It should be borne in mind, however, that wheat is not human food as such, but must first be converted into bread; and it is well known that when bread quality is at its lowest bread waste is at its highest.
The terms of reference of this technical panel were, (1) to investigate the maximum percentage of diluent which could be used without any significant change in bread quality, and (2) the maximum percentage which could be used allowing a reasonable but not excessive deterioration in bread quality. The panel made a unanimous recommendation based on experiments with a flour containing 50 per cent. Manitoba and 50 per cent. English in the grist. The English wheat used in this grist was described as of average quality, and obviously the pre-dilution standard is determined by the nature of the wheat used in the basic grist. I have had experience of one experimental flour in which the quality of the Manitoba and English wheat used was so poor that it was impossible to bake a satisfactory loaf, even without dilution. It would appear, therefore, that if bread quality is to be maintained with increasing use of domestic cereal the strength of the English wheat in the grist is of increasing importance. It is probable that, by the use of strong wheat varieties, increased dilution with other cereals may be possible while still maintaining the high standard of bread quality which the Minister of Food desires. In fact, it is possible that the decreased yield of strong wheats of the Yeoman type might be more than compensated by the increased dilution possible with other cereals. Another aspect of the question is that of fermentation tolerance of the flour. With the present diluted grists, it is possible to make very good bread if fermentation is at its optimum, but slight over- or under-fermentation can have disastrous results. I am definitely of the opinion that the use of stronger domestic wheat would improve this position by giving greater fermentation tolerance to the flour and would result in better and more uniform bread being produced by the less skilled and less well-equipped bakeries. This in turn would result in less bread being wasted, and this 882 factor also would tend to offset the reduced yield I have already mentioned. From conversations with farmers I find that no directions, or even suggestions, have been issued by the Ministry of Agriculture on the question of wheat varieties; and if any action is to be taken for the next crop year there is not too much time before the autumn sowing season.
I would like to say a word about the industry producing this National loaf, to which tribute has been paid to-day—the loaf in its service dress. The baking industry holds a key position of first importance in the national economy. Should it fail in its function the continued effort of the community, Service and civilian alike, would be in danger. Without the products of the baking industry, the whole war effort would collapse. The complete significance of this must be, and I am sure is, recognised by the Government; but the fact remains that this industry has not been placed in a category equivalent in status to any of the munitions industries. It is suggested that if only for the morale of the workers official recognition of the contribution of this industry to the war effort should be made. The Ministry are inclined to treat this industry as a Cinderella. Although the industry itself would not subscibe to the term Cinderella, that is the feeling I have. I say, in true Cinderella fashion, that if the shoe fits the Ministry might remember the happy conclusion of the fairy tale, where Cinderella met Prince Charming. It is hoped that the Prince Charming will be this official recognition, which would be greatly appreciated.
There is another point I want to make in connection with the baking industry. It relates to the Cake and Biscuit War Time Alliance. This body was set up, I understand, at the instigation of the Ministry of Food, and in its deliberations the Ministry of Food hold 51 per cent. of the voting rights. It is quite true that the War Time Alliance has done very good work in the distribution to the raw materials of the industry, by a levy on the tonnage of the raw materials issued, and that it has relieved the Government of the cost of setting up and operating this organisation. Other aspects of its ramifications, however, are not so happily received by the trade. I wish to refer to one in particular. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary how much has 883 been spent, and how much expenditure is contemplated, in advertising biscuits and cake? This Alliance has undertaken quite an extensive publicity campaign, the need for which many people in the trade cannot appreciate. I have here one advertisement which says, "It pays to buy cake and save time, fuel and labour." The rationed ingredients available for cake manufacture are much below prewar level, and the demand for cake since the outbreak of war has far exceeded the supply. The queues which can be seen in many parts of the country are, as often as not, outside bakers' shops, where people are waiting to purchase cake, and yet this Alliance, of which the Ministry of Food has the majority voting rights, is advertising and asking those people who may still be baking at home to discontinue doing so and to join the queues of people waiting for cakes. I have asked the Parliamentary Secretary the amount of money which has been and will be spent on this advertising. I should like him to examine the position fully, and to say whether he is satisfied that the Treasury should be deprived of this sum of money which it would derive through its assessments for taxation purposes on the baking industry.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I would like to join hon. Friends on all sides of the Committee in the complimentary references that have been made to the Ministry of Food. In every corner of the country appreciation is expressed of the statesmanship, consideration, foresight and quality of administration which have attached to the Ministry of Food since its inception under the direction of the Noble Lord in another place and the Parliamentary Secretary who sits in this House.
But I have a little grievance, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. T. Williams) to put it upon record for consideration by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food when he returns to the Chamber. The distribution of ration cards in the City of Birmingham is one of the most amazing proposals on the part of the Ministry which has yet taken place. We have in the City of Birmingham over 1,000,000 people, and it has been decided, in the wisdom of the Minis- 884 try of Food, that the distribution of ration cards must take place from a central place. On former occasions the distribution of cards took place from the various centres throughout the city, and now under the new food control arrangements these cards are to be distributed from a central organisation. I ask the Committee to conceive of the responsibility which attaches to the officials of the Food Office and the misery likely to be inflicted on people who have to obtain the cards if these cards have to be handed out from a central depot to all people who make application. In the "Birmingham Post," that organ of wisdom and one of the leading papers in the country, it is suggested that we can deal with about 6,000 persons a day. What are the prospects before the people of Birmingham in having to queue up at the rate of 6,000 a day to have these ration cards distributed? This is a serious matter, and 1 hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will submit to his Noble Friend the need for taking immediate steps to modify this arrangement.
Throughout the country there has been general satisfaction with the manner in which the administration of this Department has been carried out. It has been my fortune to speak in various parts of the country and to visit various places, and I find that of all the Departments of His Majesty's Administration, the highest testimonial is paid to the Ministry of Food. Here we are the best fed community in Europe, and if you look around this Chamber and see the condition of hon. Members, what a testimonial we ourselves are to the administration of the Ministry of Food. You always find us bright, cheerful and happy within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, and if you take an occasional visit to their Lordships' House in another place, you see the same bright and cheerful signs of good nutrition. Having made my grouse—and I hope that that matter in Birmingham will be settled without delay, as time is of the essence of the contract and the Order comes into operation next week-I close my observations by saying that I add my complimentary testimonial to everything that has been said about the Ministry of Food.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Glowing tributes have been paid to-day to the work of the Ministry of Food, and I 885 want to add my quota of respect and admiration for this splendid service, which the people of Scotland greatly appreciate. I would like to add, and I believe my hon. Friends will agree, that tribute should be paid to the splendid work of retailers who are so very deeply concerned with the work of this Ministry, and especially I would like to pay a word of tribute and praise to the work of the smaller retailers. They are labouring under the greatest possible disadvantage with regard to the shortage of labour. That may be so in regard to all retailers, but it affects especially the small retailers. Many have come to me almost in despair and said that they could scarcely carry on because of the tremendous load of work thrown upon their shoulders. I would like to take this opportunity of appealing to the Parliamentary Secretary and asking that the influence of the Ministry of Food be brought to bear to see that these small retailers are not crushed out of business by having too much work thrust upon them or having too many of their very scanty staff called up.
One of the complaints that the smaller retailers are making to me in Scotland is that in many cases they are not getting an entirely fair deal from the wholesaler, who, they say, in some instances is inclined to give preference to the wealthier retailer, who has a substantial advantage over the small and poorer retailer inasmuch as relationship with wholesalers is concerned. This is a most important matter. It is very difficult to bring evidence to the Ministry of Food on such an issue, because the small retailers tell me and no doubt other hon. Members may have had similar information—that they are unwilling to mention names or bring forward any concrete instances, because they are afraid that they may suffer at the hands of the wholesaler and get a black mark against them. I hope that every effort will be made by the Minister—I know that it is difficult—to see that the small retailer gets a fair deal from the wholesaler and that the wealthy retailer does not get an undue advantage.
In Scotland the new fish regulations involve the fact that a considerable part of the quota of fish coming into Aberdeen has to be sent across the Border to England. Scotland is delighted to make its quota to the food of the English people, but, on the other hand, they are, in con- 886 sequence of that, suffering very seriously from a shortage of fish. I am reminded that the whole country is short of fish, and to some extent that is so. At Easter in Scotland there was a very serious shortage of fish, of which the whole country was complaining. On many occasions it is extremely hard to get fish in Glasgow, and in the West of Scotland and in many other parts. I believe that to be due to the new regulations, which insist that quite a substantial quota of fish landed at Aberdeen shall be sent to England. It has caused great indignation, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look closely into the matter and see whether the regulations cannot be revised or amended. There is nothing sacrosanct in the policy announced some months ago, and if quotas are really unfair, then let us have them amended.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
I do not intend to make a speech but to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, when he makes a reply, he will deal with a single point. It has been suggested that there is a good deal of division among expert opinion with regard to the introduction of extraneous factors like calcium and so on in the making of bread. These things, especially calcium, are very good for children but not desirable for bread consumers like working men and people about a certain age, and in view of that information will be take opinion either outside the Ministry of Health or from as wide a range as possible as to whether there can be a reasoned justification for these things which many of us think are undesirable?
§ Sir Stanley Reed (Aylesbury)
May I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to take careful note of the paint raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Moseley Division (Sir P. Hannon), namely, the distribution of the new ration cards, which requires further consideration? My hon. Friend spoke of the difficulty in a great and concentrated industrial area like Birmingham. I want to refer to rural areas, in which people will have to travel hundreds of miles in the aggregate in order to get their new cards. However, I do not want to develop the point, because I have already brought it to my hon. Friend's notice privately. I agree with the tributes which have been paid to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to-day, but I do not think we 887 have sufficiently recognised the great debt we owe to the body of men and women who carry out the details of our food administration. They have been drawn from various sources and have been rather flung together in the stress of a great emergency, but they have carried out their work with an ability, a courtesy and an integrity which demand the highest recognition from us and from the State.
I want to emphasise a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie). It concerns the small distributor. My experience, which I think will be borne out by almost every other Member, is that this war has fallen most hardly on the one-man businesses. Many have seen their life's work or their family's work brought to an end under the stress of war, and the most distressing part of it is that at the moment we cannot see how they can be recouped and rehabilitated and what their future may be. That brings me to a point which has an intimate bearing on this matter. My information from my own Division, which is a milk-raising Division, is that T.T. and accredited milk is being thrown into the general pool, with the result that the value of that milk to the community is being lost. That is one of the results of the new distribution scheme. We are at one with the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary in their desire to give the community clean milk, but if that scheme is to be used as a lever for the introduction of compulsory pasteurisation and, through that, to throw out of business many producer-retailers, I must warn my hon. Friend, that we shall part at the cross-roads with him and his chief. I have no opposition to the combines or the Co-operative Society. Both are doing great work, but I do not want to see a great body of upright, conscientious and hard-working producer-retailers crushed out under the steam-roller of combines because of war conditions. These men belong to a class which has been described, not by this side of the House but the other, as a most stable element in our society, and we must strain every nerve to see that they are preserved as an integral part of the social organisation.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I am sorely tempted to follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) in some of the matters he has just raised but I 888 refrain from doing so further than to mention one point. Despite the fact that almost every speaker has paid tribute to the wonderful work of the Ministry, I believe nobody, with the exception of the hon. Member, has referred to the great courtesy displayed by the Ministry's efficient staffs throughout the country. I get my fair share of Questions on the Order Paper, addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary, and some of my criticisms are sometimes thought to be strong, but whether that be so or not, I do sincerely appreciate the unfailing courtesy and earnestness of the Parliamentary Secretary. I wish to thank him and through him the Noble Lord who is his chief, for their handling of the suggestions which we make from time to time. The account which the Parliamentary Secretary rendered to-day of the work of the Ministry will long be remembered by those who 'heard it and I hope it will be read by all Members who are unavoidably absent. It was an excellent account of the stewardship of the Ministry and of a fine, fit and well-fed Britain to hear in the fourth year of the war. Long may its good work continue.
Nevertheless, in recent weeks the Minister has uttered warnings that the food situation will not be easy in the future and I wondered, when listening to Sir John Orr's recent broadcast to the Empire, whether he had been put up by the Ministry to make that broadcast. If he was not, then I can hardly challenge the Ministry upon it. It has been said by many people that however much money you may have to-day, you cannot get more food, no matter how you try, than the average worker. I think the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) suggested that, if anything, workers were better fed to-day than they were before the war—
§ Mr. Walkden
I accept that correction but I submit it is not generally true. It can be accepted that, with British Restaurants, canteen feeding and other methods introduced or propagated by the Ministry, that statement is true of the areas where such feeding obtains. But although the Minister can congratulate himself on the points system as much as he likes, there is in the country at the present time, a definite increase in the number and kinds 889 of food queues. Why is it? People never queued for fish in peace-time. The Minister says that the cause is the shortage of fish. But there is another factor which goes with that. The points system means, in the main, rationing the tasty bits. It means rationing those goods which are in short supply and not all such goods can be brought into the points system. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that you cannot introduce perishable commodities into the points system. But again he assures us that he has the cooperation of the Fish Industry Joint Council.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am not unmindful of that fact, and the commodities that have been rationed have been equitably distributed and have given great satisfaction throughout the land, but there are still commodities which are not available to the mass of the people in the normal way. Consequently we are getting an increase in the food queues. I do not feel at all happy about the assurance that the Fish Industry Council is working in close harmony with the Minister, though I am glad to hear of the spirit of good will that has been engendered. That is a change from the state of affairs a few months ago when they were spending thousands of pounds to sabotage the fish zoning scheme, and Members of Parliament were doing a useful job of work for those who were conducting propaganda for the sabotage.
I congratulate the Minister on winning a grand victory with the fish zoning scheme but it has not helped to abolish the food queues. The Parliamentary Secretary said he had reason to believe that, so far as lay in the power of the Ministry, all the available fish was being equitably distributed. A moment or two later he explained how a disquieting racket was going on in the land, that is the giving and taking of tips in regard to the distribution of foodstuffs that are in short supply. Is that a revelation to him? He referred to fish. Why did he not include poultry? The biggest black market of all still stands—the poultry racket. I have suggested to him and to the Minister, that they have at their disposal the machinery to eliminate this racket. That is the egg collecting machinery. Transport is available to collect eggs. It can still collect 890 poultry and rabbits but there is inequality in the distribution of poultry and fish. The Parliamentary Secretary wants to have a look round at some of the publicans and sinners who are not only distributing tips but bartering commodities, and probably distributing commodities otherwise than through the normal channels.
I know a village fish shop which receives its supplies through the normal channels, but more fish is sold through a neighbouring public-house than is sold over the shop counter, If, to-morrow morning, a normal allocation of fish comes into the London zone I could telephone to three public houses which are near the fish shop and guarantee to get—not that they favour me any more than anyone else—a supply of fish delivered in two or three hours. I hope the Noble Lord is taking cognizance of an article in a Sunday newspaper last week, on the growth of this practice. He has at his disposal a scheme which has been tried out, particularly with regard to fish, by a well established firm in North London. We have recommended the registration of consumers with fishmongers. I know it will be said there may be 8 ozs. one week and 12 another, but the fishmonger is, I believe, tied to a wholesaler, and the wholesaler is tied to a port, and the supplies naturally come through those channels. Consumers, if they were tied to a fishmonger, would feel far happier in being assured that they would get their supply on a ration-book basis, than they feel to-day, when they see "under-the-counter" practices, or parcels set aside for telephone customers, or packages set aside for favourite customers, meaning less for the general consumer. These are examples of inequality which have to be dealt with by the Minister during the next month or two. I believe he is seriously examining the question of poultry. rabbit and fish distribution. I wish him success and I hope he will be able to make an announcement in the course of a month or two. Lord Woolton, when he took office, said he wanted to provide food for all, at prices which all could afford. Does the Minister seriously feel that all can get the food now that they can afford to buy? I have a letter from a woman who works in a small factory tucked away in a corner of Yorkshire. She says:The local food office will not let us have enough tea and sugar. We have no canteen. We do not mind the cold, if only we could have some tea and sugar. I, for one, cannot 891 take any as my 2 ozs. is as much as I can get, and it has to last me the week, and my 2 ozs. of butter as well. Owing to our work we cannot go round the shops for any extra stuff like those who stay at home. Could not something be done to improve the works, if only to give us a tea urn and some tea?Will the Minister please look at this problem of the small factory? I know he could present a good case and show what has been done during recent months as the result of the Order prepared by the Ministry of Labour in regard to factories which directed employers employing more than 250 persons to provide canteens and hot meals. He would be able to tells us, when the returns are in, that in May over 4,500 factories are able to provide hot meals. He could say also, if he were to reveal the figures, that over 95 per cent. of the employers on whom that obligation was imposed by the Order, have done the job in a spirited fashion and that the workers are able to obtain hot meals. If one were to inquire how many meals it involves, I believe the maximum figure at which they could be assessed would be 2,500,000.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Does that figure include all the canteens in munition factories, and also British Restaurants?
§ Mr. Walkden
I am dealing only with canteens in works. The workers who can obtain hot meals are in 4,500 factories. I admit that there may be another 4,500 which employ fewer than 25o workers and in which canteens are provided. There are, however, 120,000 factories employing fewer than 25o persons, so that more than 100,000 are without canteens. Many employ only a handful of people. There has been a growth of small factories, garages and sheds having been opened up for this purpose. Instead of sending people all over the country, the work and the machines have been taken to the workers. We have not, however, fed the workers. Why have we not done it? My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley may accept this as a tribute to his city. So far as the small factories in Birmingham are concerned, and in some parts of Lancashire, too, there have been collaboration, co-operation and co-ordination of effort on the part of the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of War Transport and the local authority. In selecting sites for British Restaurants the City of Birmingham and one or two 892 other towns have, on several occasions, consulted employers of labour and workers' representatives. That is not generally true of the rest of the country. There is an example in the street where I live. I admire the local authority for their enthusiasm in providing a British Restaurant, but there is not a factory within two miles of it. They have been able to open five British Restaurants in that area, but there are very few war factories within the borough of Sutton and Cheam. I would like to take many of the British Restaurants into areas where they are needed.
I would like the Minister to look at some of the figures I have. I make this challenge to him, that more than 50 per cent. of the industrial workers have no access to a canteen unless it is a British Restaurant provided by a local authority. Part-time workers, married women workers, and all the people who are being switched over to wartime jobs and have to travel long distances from their homes, are suffering from every form of inconvenience as a result of this scramble for food. It is no use just congratulating the Ministry and thinking that it has solved all the problems. The Ministry cannot solve all these problems by itself, and I beg the Minister to make representations to the War Cabinet, so that there can be a new form of collaboration in dealing with the feeding of the workers in small factories. I would go further and point out the need for propaganda. It is safe to say that we have food in abundance and that one can get in luxury hotels a supply of food which is much in excess of what one needs, but that is not the general experience in industrial towns.
§ Mr. Walkden
In most of the West End places my hon. Friend can get a lunch—a good substantial meal—and a good dinner so long as he has the money to pay for it. If he can afford to buy a meal, he can get it. There are not many hotels or restaurants in London which will refuse him a meal, unless there are too many people queueing up. He then has an opportunity of going next door and he will be sure of getting one.
§ Sir H. Webbe
I can say without any shred of doubt, that the biggest meals I have had in the last 12 months have been 893 in British Restaurants and canteens and certainly not in West End hotels.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am not arguing that the food in canteens and British Restaurants is poor in quality or quantity, although it sometimes leaves much to be desired in the way of cooking. In miners' canteens in Yorkshire they serve a much better meal than in the average West End hotel, and they offer a colonel's banquet for is. It is not a question of the amount of food, but of the ratio of food to the number of people requiring it in one area and the ratio obtained through communal feeding in another. I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary, in looking at the canteen problem, would examine the figures, because certain things are being said with regard to miners. I am anxious about it because the Ministry has been criticised severely during the last day or two. The miners' leaders are saying that their men are suffering from fatigue because of insufficient food. In some cases it is true, but it is because of bad organisation, probably because of a conservative outlook on the part of some, or because of inadequate or insufficient transport, or it may be because of lack of vision and enterprise on the part of those who are criticising. The Parliamentary Secretary would do well to reexamine the question of communal feeding and see whether he cannot get better cooperation from the other Departments so as to make sure that our war workers, miners and railway workers are properly catered for. If he will display the kind of courage which his Noble Friend has displayed in handling the black market, he will get better results than he has been getting in recent months and the workers will be most grateful for the organisation which, I feel sure, his Noble Friend is determined to act up.
§ Mr. Mabane
I am bound to thank the Committee for the way in which it has treated me and my Department in this Debate. The Committee has not refrained from criticism, but I feel it has bent its effort to help us to improve wherever improvement seems to be possible. I think therefore I can best return my thanks by endeavouring to deal as briefly as I can with the many varying points that the Members who have been able to speak in this Debate have raised. I may begin with my hon. Friend the 894 Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes). I should like to thank him particularly for what he said about the policy of price stabilisation. I felt that he was speaking in an official capacity, and I take it that we may be encouraged to continue with this policy with the full support of himself and his friends. I myself saw the article to which heed when subsidies were written about as a loss. I feel something of the same sentiment that he felt, but in fairness to the newspaper I must say that I turned to the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and I found that the Comptroller and Auditor-General himself used the word "loss." No doubt that is a proper technical term to apply to a deficiency on a trading account, but I think we are all agreed that it is misleading, and we do not want the country to regard this in any way as a loss, but as a proper contribution to food policy.
My hon. Friend referred specifically to tea, and raised the question of a national tea. I must confess that I found myself in agreement with him to some extent, and undoubtedly, if you look at the matter theoretically, there is a great deal to be said for blending all tea into one pool brand. The possibility of abuse to which he referred certainly exists, but the view has been taken that tea has a curious psychological effect on the minds of the people of this country. The women of this country like the tea they know, and my noble Friend has taken the view that it is not a good thing to impose a restriction merely for the sake of imposing a restriction. You might get a gain but perhaps lose something in morale. I know full well that it is possible for dishonest traders to meet a demand for a higher quality tea by getting some of the lower quality and mixing it in with the higher quality, but if they do that, they are committing an offence. He also said that some traders offer for sale tea at one price. Every trader receives an allocation of lower grade tea, and if he can make an arrangement to exchange with other firms, he may get another quality and so maintain a single price.
§ Mr. Barnes
This opens up a rather interesting situation. If the Ministry lays down an allocation of various grades of 895 tea and then traders are permitted to swap their quantities, what is the purpose of the allocation?
§ Mr. Mabane
The exchange is made because some firms desire to be able to put on the market a single-price branded tea. It does open up an interesting question, which I would be glad to explore afterwards.
My hon. Friend also referred to milk and raised an objection to the alteration in points value, particularly in regard to condensed milk. The purpose of the points system is to make it possible to move stocks by up or down adjustment of the points values. It is an advantage to the trader who perhaps has stocks on his shelves to move the points values. It is better to sell for less points than to have goods remaining on the shelves. He may lose points capital, but if any trader gets into difficulties, we are glad to discuss his particular difficulties with him. He referred also to national household milk and thought the price might be reduced. The price of national household milk is not fixed. There is a maximum price, but nobody is prevented from selling at a lower price if he so desires. He referred also to cheese products and the closing of cheese plants in the North-Western area. The reason for that is that the North-Western area is a deficiency area for milk. All the milk that can be produced in that area is needed for liquid consumption. We have had to move milk into that area. Cheese production was not on a great scale, and we had to concentrate on liquid milk in that area. The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major York) also referred to milk and as on previous occasions showed his dislike for the rationalisation scheme of retail milk deliveries.
§ Mr. Mabane
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend misunderstands his own language, but he certainly conveyed the impression that he does not like the rationalisation of retail milk delivery scheme on the ground that it hits the small man who can deliver more cheaply.
§ Mr. Mabane
I am delighted to hear that, and to know that in future I may regard the hon. and gallant Member as a supporter of the rationalisation of delivery. He objected to the price structure, but these prices are determined by the most accurate costings, by accountants whose names command the confidence of this House. He complained that economies in costs did not go to the consumer. They do not go to the consumer at the present time; they go to the Treasury in reduction of the subsidy. I am afraid I must correct some of the things said by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed). He suggested that the bulking of T.T. milk was the result of the scheme for rationalisation of deliveries. T.T milk has always been bulked, because it sells at a higher price, and the demand is not adequate to enable all T.T. milk to be sold as T.T. milk. Let me ask my hon. Friend to disabuse his mind of any notion that the bulking of T.T. milk is due to the rationalisation of delivery scheme.
§ Sir S. Reed
Will my hon. Friend look at the details I have given him in private correspondence? He will then see that T.T. milk, instead of being sold as T.T. milk, is bulked.
§ Mr. Mabane
I am talking about the thing in total, and there is no doubt it was always bulked. We desire in the Ministry to do all we can to encourage the demand for T.T. milk. There is certainly plenty of T.T. milk and more than plenty to meet the demand in general. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams) spoke of pasteurisation, and on one point I must correct him. He suggested that medical officers of health had had taken from them some right to reject milk which previously resided in them. That is not the case.
§ Mr. Mabane
If I am to be interrupted at every point, I cannot answer all the points raised. Some Members have spoken of preference to co-operative societies in the scheme for the rationalisation of deliveries. If I can in a minute or two explain the position, I think they will appreciated that there is no preference. The co-operative societies elected not to come within the scheme for rationalising retail deliveries, because it is 897 a tact, and let us face it, that there are a great many co-operators who put a high value on the right to trade with the cooperative societies, and, equally, there are a number of people who have a rooted, a "conscientious," as they put it, dislike of trading with co-operative societies. We wanted to secure economy in transport. Here was a problem to be tackled. We secured the assent of the trade—and the co-operative societies agreed—that the cooperative societies should continue to be allowed to distribute to their own customers but that the registrations of all their customers should be frozen that is to say, the co-operative distributors would be allowed to retain their customers but that not a single one more should be added, and that other distributors should have their customers frozen to them in the areas allotted and should not be able to add to their numbers. We got a standstill order. I think the co-operative societies could argue that the progress they were making has thereby been stopped.
It has been suggested, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher), that the small man is being hit by this scheme. But he said rounds are being sold at a high price. Of course. Before this scheme came into force a small distributor had nothing to sell. Any large organisation could make inroads into his customers, get this one and that one, until he had virtually no round left, and perhaps would go bankrupt. Now that he has his registrations frozen he has acquired a good will, and if he wants to sell his business he can sell it with those registrations frozen to him. No wonder he is in a better position from the point of view of selling his business than ever before. Certainly the last of our intentions is to do anything to damage the very large number of small men in all sections of the food trade in this country.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), in his interesting speech, said the country was indeed interested in what I described as the weekly miracle of securing that the correct amount of rationed foods—meat, hotter and so on—were at the various distributing points weekly. I should like to examine further the suggestion that we should produce some document that would, without giving assistance to the enemy, indicate how that is achieved. I can tell hon. Members that the interest in 898 our rationing system spreads over the world. There is certainly evidence that that interest is very considerable in enemy countries. There are some things we are doing the machinery of which is unknown to them, and they are anxious to get hold of some of that information, but if we can avoid giving them information I think it will be valuable to follow up the suggestion of the hon. Member.
The hon. hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree) referred to the food conference which is about to assemble at Hot Springs in Virginia and asked whether I could say something more about it. I am in difficulties there, because that is an international conference, and I should prefer that the information in the possession of the Committee should be confined to the reply given by the Leader of the House on 6th May. But I can say that it is not, in the least, the intention of those who have assembled at that conference to arrange for the restriction of production. As I said in my opening remarks, for some period after the war food is likely to be in short supply. Our problem will be a problem of production, and we want to secure that production is stepped up to meet what will be the very considerable needs of the world. It was encouraging to hear from him what he had to say about the feeding of children. He said it was to be hoped that after the war we should regard a proper nutritional standard as a necessary element in our social structure. Let us hope that that will be so, and that we shall be able to discover the machinery for doing it.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie), who has such a close knowledge of the food distributing trades, speak of the mental strain on the assistants of operating food control, particularly the many young girls now employed in food shops. I took an opportunity of making a tour of retail food shops in London to see how the system worked. It seemed to me that it would be very difficult for those assistants to follow all the complicated processes which we require them to follow. the little girl behind the counter know how many points she was to ask for this tin and how many for that? I found my tour most interesting, and particularly interesting were the answers given to my question "What were you doing before the war?" They had been in the most 899 diverse occupations before they found their way into the food trade, and I was astonished at the intimacy of their knowledge of the various commodities with which they had to deal and with the food orders relating to them. Nothing is more surprising than the rapid way in which the people of this country are able to assimilate themselves to new conditions. It is a tribute to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. The hon. Member remarked that it was sometimes said that the assistants in food shops do not know how to handle a side of bacon, and I had no knowledge that so much skill was required in handling these various commodities. I shall pursue the interesting point he made that there should be some more careful form of training.
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston said that, in his experience, administration in the Department lags behind central planning. There may be something in that. After all, it is a vast administrative machine. Every local authority, down to the rural district council, has.a food officer, and we have a number of part-time officers and a number of people specially brought in. I am certain, however, that this local machinery has been of advantage. It has been better that we should use this local machinery rather than try to centralise, to keep under central control, the whole of this vast machinery of the Ministry of Food. We will do our best to follow the desires of the hon. Member and persuade our administration to catch up with our central planning. The hon. Member spoke of sugar beet prices, and complained that the price to be paid was not higher than last year. This price was based, first of all, on costings, and was then made in agreement with the other Government Departments concerned, and the costings showed that the price this year was quite properly determined at the same figure as last year.
The hon. Member has always shown an interest in the waste of bread, and on one occasion when he managed to find a whole loaf in some bin in his constituency he very kindly sent it to me. I know that a certain amount of bread is wasted, but I feel certain that in total the amount is not dangerously large. Such examination its we have been able to make has 900 shown that the percentage is not really alarming. Apparently the, hon. Member thinks a good deal of the bread, but I Bathe: that my hon. Friend the Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little) does not think so much of it. He, again, has been heard before on this topic. I should like to correct one thing he said. He conveyed the idea that we had published some document in which we gave information to the effect that 87 per cent. of the wheat in our bread was imported. That statement related to pre-war years and not to war years at all. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture makes a much more substantial contribution now. But, as I have said before, it is not in the national interest to say exactly what proportion of the grain we use is imported and what proportion is home produced.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and one or two other hon. Members referred to the difficulties of shopping, and this was particularly mentioned by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden). I know perfectly well what those difficulties are, and we make arrangements for the holding of conferences, mainly under the aegis of the Ministry of Labour and those concerned with war production factories, to discover means whereby those engaged in war factories shall not be deprived of their proper opportunities of shopping, particularly for unrationed commodities. In towns where these conferences have taken place the result has been a great improvement. If hon. Members have any difficulties in their constituencies in this respect, I shall be very glad if they will bring those difficulties to our notice in order that, in consultation with the Ministry of Labour, we may try to obtain a substantial improvement.
The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) is concerned about the distribution of ration hooks in Birmingham. As hon. Members are, no doubt, aware, we are about to undertake the distribution of new ration books. They include other things. They are tied up with the clothing and identity cards. We are very concerned that this time, and through this machinery, we may be able to get a proper check. Basically, there is nothing which enables us to know so much about the movement of people in this country as the ration books. Therefore, we want to 901 take the opportunity to make the thing as watertight as possible this year. The Ministry of War Transport has promised to give special help in Birmingham. The matter has been personally examined by my Noble Friend the Minister, and I think he has written a letter to the Lord Mayor giving an explanation of our reasons for doing what at first sight appears to be a rather undesirable thing I am just about to send a letter to the hon. Member for Moseley. I assure him that I do not in the least want to be instrumental in creating the kind of difficulty to which he has referred, and I hope that we shall be able to overcome it.
§ Sir P. Hannon
How is the Ministry to provide for a population of i,000,000? Will the Minister look further into the matter?
§ Mr. Mabane
Certainly. I shall be glad, if there are any difficulties which have not yet become apparent, to examine the matter again. To the hon. Member who asked me how much we spent on advertising cakes and biscuits I can give an exact answer. It is "nothing."
§ Mr. Mabane
The Ministry of Food has spent nothing on advertisements of cake and biscuits. To the hon. Member who supposed that too much fish was going from Scotland to England, I would say that very little of England is included in the Scottish zone, but I will have a look at the facts. In the early days of zoning Scotland was certainly better off than the rest of the country. If there is any reason for complaint, I shall be very glad to see if I can put matters right. I was asked about calcium in bread and whether we took the fullest possible advice. Certainly we do. I am not an expert in these things, but I am told that calcium is an important and necessary element in the diet of all of us, and that we are apt to be short of calcium. The best scientific assistance we could get advised us to take the action that we have done to secure that all of us get the proper amount of calcium. I am sure that we must all feel the better for it.
902 The hon. Member for Doncaster, who always brings helpful criticism to bear, has made an effort to understand our difficulties as well as our deficiencies. He very rightly said that the purpose of the points system was to enable everybody to get a share of the tasty bits. He also rightly said that tasty bits that are perishable tend to go into the wrong hands. I can assure the hon. Member that the officers of the Department have racked their brains to secure that perishable un-rationed commodities should be directed more evenly into the channels of public consumption. It is easier, in considering these schemes, to hit upon a cure that is worse than the disease but I want to say that we have by no means given up yet. We are concerned that fish, flesh and fowl should be evenly distributed and if we can do anything better we shall be glad to do it. With regard to the hon. Member's capacity to purchase fish in public houses, if he will give me the information in his possession I shall be glad to make inquiries.
§ Mr. Mabane
In the latter part of his speech the hon. Member spoke of very important questions of feeding in factories employing fewer than 250 workers. As hon. Members know, the Ministry of Labour recently made an Order requiring all factories employing 250 people to instal a canteen. The hon. Member is concerned with what happens to people employed in smaller factories. British Restaurants are particularly intended to fill that need, but that is not the end of the matter. The hon. Member will also have observed that the figure is going down. There is no reason to suppose that 250 should be the final figure, but there is a limit to the amount of equipment we can make available and to the necessary work which can be done in setting up the canteens. Subject to that limitation, I can assure the hon. Member that it is the object of my Noble Friend the Minister of Food and of the Minister of Labour to do all they can to secure that workers are fed on the job.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Are the 250 provided for wherever they work? I am thinking of a mine for example. Would that come under the same arrangement?
§ Mr. Mabane
I would not like to give a reply to that without notice.
I have done my best to deal with all the points that hon. Members have raised in the course of the Debate. It seems to me that hon. Members in general feel that the object of the Department has been to be fair. Indeed, it might not be an exaggeration to say that, in so far as the Department has acquired good will, it has acquired it not for food but for fairness. Further, the Department sets out not to be doctrinaire but to be empirical, to try experiments and to be ready to do new things all the time. We do not move on a set theory. I hope, too, that we shall always be ready to admit it when we have been wrong. I would say one word about the officers of the Department. Some reference has been made to the fact that we have in the organisation those who were concerned in peace time in directing trade and industry. I feel it is my duty to tell hon. Members what a great service they have rendered to the country. If anybody wants to attack them, let the attack be in the open and by name, and not by implication. Hon. Members know as well as I do what has been done by the local food officials throughout the country. In every local authority area these officers have made the machinery of food distribution possible, and in most cases easy. I only hope that, as this year passes, we shall be able fully to implement our hope that the country shall continue to be as well fed as it has been in the past.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," [Major Sir James Edmondson] put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.