HC Deb 11 April 1946 vol 421 cc2205-16

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Robens (Wansbeck)

The matter I want to bring to the attention of the House this evening—that of food supplies for holiday resorts—is one which not merely concerns hon. Members who have seaside resorts in their constituencies, but is of public interest and of great importance to those Members who represent industrial constituencies.

It being a Quarter past Nine o' Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

Mr. Robens

This year we shall see, for the first time since 1939, a greater movement of people to holiday resorts, and it will mean that seaside resorts will probably double and even treble their populations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other clay, in winding up his Budget speech, in very picturesque language, described the beauty of our land. One appreciates that, and so will those people who have been denied holidays for so long appreciate their holidays this year. But, no matter how beautiful the vista, or how nice a holiday resort might be, if the people who go there for their holidays are not fed and have to wait endlessly in queues, their holidays will, unless some action is taken, become just one long queueing session after another, and I am afraid those beauties will be seen through quite a different pair of spectacles. It is, therefore, to present this particular aspect of the problem which will be upon us in the coming months, that I take this opportunity of speaking tonight. I understand there are other hon. Members representing seaside resorts who will want to speak, and, therefore, I wish to direct my remarks particularly to the North-East coast and leave those other parts of the country to other hon. Members who will speak later.

I wish to make a special appeal to the Minister of Food in relation to the North-East coast, because it is on that coast that the impact of food shortage is likely to be felt most. On the West coast, which was a comparatively trouble-free coast during the war, a place like Blackpool—and I am pleased to see the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) in his place—was filled with troops and with people able to get away. As a consequence, caterers generally have maintained their allocations, and will be able to obtain allocations of food based on a good period of trade which they have had during the war years. On the North-East coast 'the reverse has happened. People had to leave their homes. Some areas, in fact, were denied to the public because of the military position, and as a consequence catering establishments have not the advantage such as that which I have indicated in the case of Blackpool.

To add weight to those observations, I would like to draw the attention of the House to a small paragraph in the "Manchester Guardian" of Wednesday this week, when Councillor J. Parker, the Secretary of the Blackpool Hotels and Apartments Association, said that the threefold problem they had to face was that of replacements, renovations and staff which would make the landladies' heads ache, and he went on to say that no difficulty was expected with food supplies. Landladies on the North-East coast will have those three problems to provide them with a headache, and they will have the problem of lack of food to provide them with a very severe hangover. I recognise, as does every hon. Member, that there is only a certain amount of food in this country, and it must be allocated in the best possible way; there is no magical way in which that pool can be increased. Nevertheless, I think some special efforts will have to be made by the Ministry to provide places on the North-East coast with adequate allocations of food.

I would like to cite the case of Whitley Bay, which is in my constituency. It is the largest seaside resort in Northumberland and, although it is true it has a population of only 28,000 people, it is the playground of the Tyneside. It is also the natural place to which the great mining communities of Northumberland go for holidays and weekend outings. There is nothing so disastrous as to have a small place inundated with large numbers of people and no food to provide them with the essentials for the main part of a decent holiday. I hope that tonight the Minister will tell us something of what they will be able to do.

I want to emphasise that the North-East generally has been very much worse off than other parts of the country, particularly the South. in relation to such things as fruit. For example, last year in London it was perfectly easy to go simply anywhere in the season and buy fresh fruit, plums and things of that nature. In Whitley Bay and the North-East generally—and I was travelling in those places—it was impossible for people to get any fresh fruit except in very small quantities, and for certain favoured customers. I agree there may be a problem in regard to transport in this respect, but that should be eased considerably during the coming months. Something else must be done, namely the reallocation of things like meat for manufacturers, in order that supplies of cooked meat, pies, polonies, sausages and things of that nature that are unrationed, can be obtained. I have no fear about rationed commodities, because one recognises that the system operates to cater for a temporary enlargement of the population by the production of emergency cards, and by the steps which the Ministry have indicated they are taking in trying to get an ascertainment of the increase in population. It is the unrationed supplies, the goods that are in short supply, that are needed. They ought to be sent to resorts such as Whitley Bay and others on the North-East coast that have not been able, because of wartime conditions, to build up a trade which will give them an allocation to meet the visitors trade.

The residents themselves will be in a very difficult position inasmuch as the supplies they need for their own homes are in very short supply at the present time, and they, having their domestic duties, will be unable to get to the shops. As a consequence, the visitors, because they will have the time, will be able to take supplies which normally would be for the residents' use. It has been suggested that that could he met by local traders serving only residents until 11 o'clock in the morning. I understand that has been done quite successfully in Blackpool. However, Blackpool is a very different proposition from the small type of seaside resort about which I am talking, particularly on the North-East coast, where transport is not quite as good as it is on the West Coast and in the Blackpool area. Thus it may be after 11 o'clock when goods in short supply are available, and as a consequence the serving of registered residents by a certain time would not be as effective as might have been thought when the suggestion was first made. Therefore, I hope the Ministry of Food will be able to do something about this very urgent matter. I cannot over-emphasise its urgency. Only those people who have had to go into the small seaside resorts, and people who have had to try to live off the ration, know how urgent it is.

I was in that locality myself for a month last year, in connection with the Election. Because of the shortage of supplies there was no possibility of obtaining a substantial evening meal in my hotel; nothing was served after about five o'clock. I would come hack from meetings in the constituency at about a) 0'clock at night, wanting something to eat, as other hon. Members will know quite well. What was there to do? Only to go round to the local fish and chip shop. What did I find there? A long queue. On two occasions I stood in the queue, and it took from three quarters of an hour to an hour and a quarter to get served. Because I was not a resident I was in a somewhat difficult position in not knowing what to do with the fish and chips when I got them, whether to eat them in the street and be seen by my prospective voters who would say to themselves, "There is a low type of man, eating fish and chips in the street," or whether to take them to the hotel and possibly earn the odium of my landlady. I decided to earn the odium of my landlady and took them into the hotel, but I do not think she liked it, although she did not say anything about it. It is a problem which ought to be met. If it is not met, then hundreds of thousands of people who deserve holidays are going to have their holidays completely spoilt by this very great problem of food shortage.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I am emboldened by the eloquent plea which the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens) made for his constituency to repeat a request which I have often made in this House, and to ask for the special consideration of the Government in regard to East Anglian coastal resorts. As has been said, the East coast has suffered as much as, and in some respects more than, any other part of this country. It is absolutely essential that that industry, which was cut off at one fell blow at the beginning of the war, should be rehabilitated. We have made strenuous efforts to get our resorts on the East coast and in Suffolk fit to receive visitors. It is essential that we should receive sympathetic consideration and help from the Minister of Food in supplying those visitors whom we hope to attract to that part of the coast.

I wonder whether it is possible to effect a more efficient coordination between the regional food office and the food overseers in those areas. It should be possible to estimate the number of visitors there, and it should be possible for the local and regional food offices to be in such close contact with the coastal resorts as to know their necessities and to be able, in some way, to supply them, particularly with the unrationed goods which the hon. Member for Wansbeck mentioned. It is a very grave disability that the catering industry in these places has to start in from zero. I hope something will be done to help the people of these places to get this very important and seasonal part of their livelihood. It is a very short season. The holiday season on the East coast lasts only for six weeks. They look to that period to tide them over the very difficult times of the winter, when the fishing in dustry and other ancillary trades decline. One of our difficulties is the day tripper, who is unable to get food. All the amenities of the resorts have to be placed at his disposal. We have to spend a tremendous amount of money in keeping up our fronts and entertainments. Day trippers come into the towns without making any contribution to the cost of those amenities, which are there for them to enjoy. This has always been a great difficulty for seaside resorts. It is desirable these people should be encouraged to help the catering industry. We can do that only with the help of the Minister of Food. I hope that my constituency, Lowestoft, and Southwold and other small towns in East Suffolk, will receive the consideration to which their services during the war entitle them.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)

I am thankful to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food for offering to curtail her remarks in order that I may briefly support the case made so admirably by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens) about the hardships suffered on the North-East coast. I only hope the extent of her promise will be compensation to us for the brevity of her remarks. I am the more grateful to have this chance because I have had a long correspondence with the hon. Lady on this matter, which arose from the clamour—I think, the justifiable clamour—of representative interests in my constituency concerning the acute shortages of food in the season. I asked the hon. Lady if she would send me a letter which I could publish. I received one which I was going to put in the local newspaper, until I read in the second paragraph: It is proposed that this year similar action should be taken to that which proved successful last year. In view of the clamour to which I have referred I think it would be adding insult to injury, and my constituents might, indeed, think that I needed a lesson in tact, if I put that letter into the paper. I am going to ask the hon. Lady now for something much more substantial than that. I realise, as we all must do, the terribly serious position in regard to food, and I am not asking for any increase in supplies, which is impossible. But I am concerned about the distribution of supplies. Inland resorts have an efflux of visitors; the seaside resorts have an influx. In the case of Scarborough the influx in the season is sometimes as much as 40,000 to 120,000 people. But the basis of these estimates is 1940, when visitors were banned. Consequently they really are having a very difficult time. Representative interests in my constituency tell me they visited inland resorts in the season, and found there supplies of food which could not be disposed of, owing to the fact that a large proportion of the population of those resorts had gone to seaside resorts. I realise the difficulty in administration which is involved, but I suggest it ill becomes a Government who think they can interfere in other people's business in every direction not to carry out their own affairs efficiently. I am sure the hon. Lady will agree with me that, after many years of war, we want the workers in all sections of the community to have every possible facility for holidays. In the seaside resorts we cannot provide those facilities if her Ministry will not co-operate by the efficient sharing out of what food is available.

9.32 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

I should like to add the voice of Great Yarmouth to the protestations which have been made to the hon. Lady. In my constituency also we have the problem of the great body of day trippers. They come into a town of 50,000 inhabitants and bring the population up to 250,000. This year we have a great deal of clearing up to do now that the Army, Navy and Air Force have been withdrawn. May I put in a claim for a little bit of soap with which to clean up the place for our visitors? Last year the situation was pretty bad, and it will be the same this year, if we are to have large numbers of people coming in and presenting little dockets given to them by the Ministry of Food in their native places, and expecting their claims to be satisfied. They expect, for instance, milk, and find that there is no milk; and, perhaps, the poor inhabitants have to sacrifice some of their small supply of milk. This year is the first peace year, and we must, especially through this House, do what we cart to urge that our people in this country should have a holiday as nearly as possible like the normal holiday that they had before 1939 as they can.

9.34 P.m.

Captain Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

I want to support wholeheartedly the plea of the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens). I am grateful to him for having initiated this Debate. We have heard so far voices only from the North and East coasts. I think it is time somebody said something for the South of England, where we are confronted with the same problem but, probably, in greater force, because our experience is that people from the North come to the South when they want a holiday. Therefore, we are confronted in my constituency, for instance—and this applies to the South coast resorts generally—-with an enormous influx of visitors from the North. We also have our permanent residents to look after, and they are the people who, probably, will suffer most. We have the threefold problem of the permanent residents, the genuine summer-holidaymakers, whom we want to look after, and the daily influx of trippers, who come in thousands to the Isle of Wight, wanting food and purchasing in the shops. We welcome them as far as we can, but it makes a great claim upon the limited supplies of food and the consumer goods which are in the shops. I have communicated on the subject with the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, and she has been very sympathetic. I hope today she will be able to tell us that this year she is going to meet the demands of the seaside resorts for those three classes.

9.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summerskill)

I feel that I should apologise to hon. Members representing holiday resorts who have been unable to speak, but if I waited any longer for the West coast to make its voice heard, I should not have an opportunity to make any remarks at all. I assure hon. Members that my Department welcomes this opportunity to tell them that we are going to do our best in the coming holiday season. We want to ease the burden of seaside landladies. We recognise that they and the owners of catering establishments are this summer going to render a great service to the nation by promoting the health, happiness and efficiency of hundreds of thousands of workers who, for the first time in many years, will be taking a holiday. Of course, the House will recognise that our stocks are limited. After the announcement made yesterday, the House will realise that I cannot come here tonight and say that hon. Members will have everything for which they ask. However, we hope, within the limitations which I have indicated, to deal as equitably as possible with every holiday resort, whether in the North, South, East or West.

I must confess that once more I have been surprised to find that the North states it is worse off than the South, and then the South comes along and tells me it is being treated worse than the North. It is exactly the same in the Ministry. There we find hon. Members from the North, saying London has all sorts of delicacies, whereas Members who go out of London to make political speeches come back and tell me the North has everything they want to eat. It makes it a little difficult to solve this problem. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Spearman) did not publish my letter, because I took a great deal of trouble over it. He might have omitted the second paragraph—such things are done by politicians. The hon. Member objected to my statement that we are going to adopt the same arrangements this summer as we did for last summer, but I can assure him that the caterers experienced no delays last summer in obtaining supplementary rationed goods. Our reports show that these arrangements proved satisfactory, and hon. Members who have spoken would be surprised if they saw the reports, to discover how few have expressed complaint. Wholesalers and manufacturers again will be asked to do everything in their power to see that the seasonal needs of holiday towns for unrationed goods are met as far as is possible. To give effect to this arrangement, catering establishments have been requested to furnish to local offices their estimated additional requirements for rationed foods.

I may say to the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Robens), that I think he is under a misapprehension. He is under the impression that the amount of food which will be allocated this summer will be related to a datum period. That is not so. The catering establishments in his constituency will be asked to estimate how much food they require, and we shall try, so far as possible, to meet their requirements. I want to make clear that the necessary authorisation will be given in advance of the holiday season. If it should subsequently be found that the estimated quantities were not sufficient, caterers would be at liberty to apply for supplementary permits. I think that, in the past, holiday traffic has been very accurately estimated. It seems that seaside landladies have a pretty good idea of the number of lodgers they will be asked to accommodate. I think they recognise that, this year, it is possible, if the weather and other circumstances are favourable, there will be record crowds. We know that the crowds who come to the hon. Member's constituency and to other places, either daily or for a longer period, will tax the capacity of the catering establishments to the utmost. I, therefore, want to say this, and it is a very important warning, of which I hope the country will take heed: I would urge people who are starting their holidays at the weekend, or who are only going away for the weekend, to take with them sufficient food for their needs from Saturday to Monday unless they have made arrangements in advance for all their meals. This is particularly important at the Bank Holiday period, at Easter, when the shops are closed on Monday.

Hon. Members have asked me for certain details, about soap for instance. I cannot promise that we shall give extra soap. I am afraid that we must tell visitors to seaside resorts this summer, that they must take their soap with them. I will answer other questions which have been raised by letter, but I think that I have covered the chief matters—rationed food and unrationed food—and how we hope to deal with them. I hope I have been able to convince hon. Members that we are giving this matter very careful thought.

Sir P. Macdonald

The hon. Lady has referred to supplementary rations. Are the caterers to have them in arrears, or are they allowed to estimate beforehand for what they require?

Dr. Summerskill

They can put in an estimate, and they will be given eight weeks' rations in advance so that, supposing a large crowd descends on the Isle of Wight, and the caterers find that they have used up their eight weeks' supply in a fortnight, they can then apply for a supplementary permit and, particularly, if it is rationed food, it will be honoured immediately. We are doing our best to ensure that the great holiday of the people this year will not be marred by lack of adequate food. I cannot guarantee that the food position will not worsen, but I want to assure hon. Members that we are giving our very special attention to a problem which we consider we are called upon to solve.

Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)

The hon. Lady has referred to the holiday season. Can she say what her Ministry estimates as the holiday season?

Dr. Summerskill

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as the representative of a holiday centre, should be able to tell me that.

Brigadier Low

It is important. The holiday season this year is likely to be bigger than ever before. Will the hon. Lady give us an assurance that she is allowing for that in her budget?

Dr. Summerskill

I want to emphasise that it is not in our hands, but in the hands of the caterers. The caterers say, "It looks as though the holiday season is going to last two or three weeks longer; can we have more food?" We give them an authorisation, but that authorisation has no relation to any prewar entitlement.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Sixteen Minutes to Ten o'clock.