HC Deb 21 March 1945 vol 409 cc817-20
Captain McEwen

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether there is any security reason why the figure of food stocks under the control of the 'Ministry of Food should not be disclosed; and, if there is no objection, whether he will state what is the quantity of those stocks?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

In the earlier years of the war there was very good reason, on security grounds, against disclosing our food stock figures. In view of the present military position that objection no longer holds. I read in the newspapers that there is an impression in some quarters in the United States that our stocks in Great Britain amount to 700,000,000 tons. Actually they are now rather less than 6,000,000 tons. They are in process of being reduced, by aid to the liberated countries, to about 4,750,000 tons by the end of June. This latter figure is no more than is necessary to maintain a regular flow of distribution under present conditions. I thought it was worth while mentioning these facts about our stocks of food, which have been built up by foresight and self-denial over five years of strict rationing and frequent bombardment.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the American Government—I am not speaking of American public opinion, which may have been responsible for creating a false impression about our position—have been fully informed all along, through action taken by the British Government, of the actual food position in this country, and whether continual liaison has been in operation on these matters?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The American Government have been continually informed. The statement I was quoting did not emanate from the American Government, but I think it is a mistake to get widespread misunderstanding in these matters, which are going to be settled in the most friendly and considerate manner by both sides.

Mr. A. Bevan

As there is going to be a Debate on this matter next week, and as we understand that there has been prepared by the Government a very com- plete comparison of the consumption per head of the population in this country, as compared with the United States, in the various categories of foodstuffs, will the right hon. Gentleman have that statement made available to us before the Debate so that we can consider it?

The Prime Minister

No. I should deprecate the Debate being carried on on the basis of invidious comparisons. I believe that the usual processes of patience, good will and interchange of fair argument will have the effect of enabling us to reach a full agreement about what is best to do in the common cause.

Mr. Bevan

Why should an objective statement of the statistics that are vital to this matter be regarded as necessarily invidious?

The Prime Minister

I hope myself that we shall remember the old saying that "comparisons are odious."

Mr. Pritt

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether, in the figure of 6,000,000 tons which he gave, there is any figure representing an estimate of the substantial food stocks held in private hands all through the country, or whether these have been left out?

The Prime Minister

It does not include retail stocks, but it does comprise the wholesale ones.

Captain Pluģģe

May I ask my right hon. Friend if, after victory in the West has been won, we can expect an immediate increase in the amount of these rations?

Mr. Rhys Davies

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would agree with the suggestion that, so long as about half the human race continue to kill each other, and in view of all the destruction that is now proceeding, some countries may be faced with famine very shortly?

The Prime Minister

That is quite true, and large portions of Europe may be faced with varying degrees of famine—in some cases, total famine—in this forthcoming winter. That is a reason for accelerating the military operations to the utmost of our intensity.

Mr. Petherick

Will the Prime Minister reconsider the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), in view of the fact that, although com- parisons may be odious, there is a lot of misapprehension and misinformation abroad? We are not so well off as others, but much better off than some of our Allies; and will the right hon. Gentleman remember that, so that we, as well as our Allies abroad, may have full data?

The Prime Minister

I have no intention of succumbing to this ill-suited alliance.

Mr. Bevan

Men of good will, of all parties.

Commander Kinģ-Hall

Will the right hon. Gentleman make known what this figure of 4,750,000 tons means in terms of weekly supplies?

The Prime Minister

I really think that that may be left to the intelligent organs of public guidance and opinion which are such a feature of our national life.

Mr. Edģar Granville

May I ask the Prime Minister whether the figure printed in the American Press of food stocks in this country was the result of guidance given to the American Press by the British Bureau of Information in Washington, or whether they printed it on their own initiative?

The Prime Minister

I do not know why this slur should be put on our British Bureau of Information. That they should put out such an ignorant and absurd statement, calculated to damage their own country, I cannot believe, and I do not know why my hon. Friend jumps so hastily to such a melancholy conclusion.