HC Deb 04 March 1946 vol 420 cc146-52

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

9.12 p.m.

Captain Marsden (Chantey)

I wish to bring before the House tonight the question of the provision and distribution of food, and, indeed, I can think of no moment in our Debates when such a discussion was more necessary. The particular sort of food about which I wish to speak is frozen cooked food, and I hope hon. Members will clearly understand that I am not talking about frozen carcasses of food, or frosted food, or canned or tinned or pressed food, or even dehydrated food, but frozen cooked food. The process by which one arrives at this result is simple. First of all, there are the supplies, which are either caught, killed, gathered or harvested, or whatever the appropriate term may be. Then the supplies must be taken to kitchens, as close to the source of supply as possible, cooked and converted into palatable dishes by chefs of the highest degree of skill in very hygienic kitchens. After cooking, it is immediately frozen hard, then wrapped up in paper and stored in appropriate refrigerated places. It can then be eaten, not only a week or a month, but years, afterwards. It really has to be cooked in a very hot oven, not slowly, but very rapidly, and, afterwards, it does not need to be cooked again, but only to be thawed out and warmed up to the desired degree of heat.

I should like to say a word or two about a meal of this kind I once had, because I am not talking in the air about this subject. All this has been tried out, and, in fact, I think the hon. Lady opposite has had some experience of it. I was asked to an experimental meal, and found, on the table, what looked like blocks of granite wrapped up in cellophane paper. While we were waiting before lunch, with conversation and suitable refreshment, all these blocks were put into a hot electric oven which was on the table. When we were ready, each course was taken out and was perfectly ready to at. One could hardly believe that it had not been cooked a few minutes before. We had soup, fish, roast chicken, bread sauce, gravy, vegetables, and finished up with an apple pie. It was almost incredible. In fact it was so satisfactory that I was importuned to go further into the subject, and bring it to the attention of the Ministry of Food.

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." — [Captain Blenkinsop.]

Captain Marsden

I bring this matter forward because I think the Ministry are losing sight of a great opportunity. I asked the Minister on 13th February: What steps he is taking to encourage the importation, production and distribution of frozen cooked food in the United Kingdom. He replied: I am interested in the production of frozen cooked food as part of the long-term food policy, but I am afraid that, in view of the general shortage of supplies, it is not possible to encourage this development in present circumstances." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 97.] I fear he has not thoroughly explored the situation. Of course supplies are short as things are, but must they always be as they are? There is a great deal of wastage at the present time. I could mention a great many foods, but I propose to refer only to one. It should not be forgotten that under this system supplies can be bought when they are plentiful, and during harvest time when there is a bounteous supply of all sorts. Nothing need be wasted provided it is cooked, frozen and stored. There is one type of food which the Minister must have overlooked — herring. Round our shores there are plenty of fish. On Friday we had a very interesting Debate and arguments were brought forward which I had intended to bring up tonight. Hon. Members wanted the raw herring frozen and kept in refrigerating space, distributed, and finally thawed out and cooked. I say the process should be to cook the herring first, freeze them and then store them. They can then be used at any time afterwards and nothing is wasted. If this system were adopted there would be a great reaction on the fishing industry.

Trawlers would not come in full of fish to find there was no demand for their catches. The whole supply could be bought by the Ministry, cooked, frozen and stored, and it would stop any up and down in prices. The fisherman would not be worried about whether he would get this or that price. He would know he would get a certain price provided he landed his fish. There would be no such thing as a glut. Everything could be used, and nothing would be wasted.

Hon. Members on this side of the House asked about refrigerating space. Certainly there should be refrigerating space, but not for bringing food down in refrigerating tanks in railway transports and then thawing it out. It should be done by this more modern and less wasteful method and not by canning fish or, as I have said, by bringing it down frozen and thawing it out. Fish deteriorates more than any other food by being thawed out and then cooked. Nobody in London has ever tasted a fresh herring. How could they? It is never fresh by the time it gets here. If it were cooked immediately on being landed it certainly would be fresh, and I believe there are more vitamins or calories or whatever the hon. Lady gauges the food by, in a fresh herring than in any other sort of food. We require to make the fullest use of this process which involves what in America are called deep freezes. There is not much difference between the deep freeze and the Frigidaire, or whatever one uses here. In a deep freeze the temperature has to be brought down to freezing point. With private enterprise, whenever there was a demand the supply would catch up, and if the supply were greater than the demand the price would not be too bad; the price would be kept fairly low. Whatever is done, I hope the Ministry will encourage whichever is the best method, and encourage the production of enormous numbers of deep freezes so that each catering establishment and each house-wife can have a deep freeze in which to keep food. By that means, whatever one's financial capacity, one can buy for a week or a month or a year; one can buy all the food one wants. It can then be put in the deep freeze and used when wanted. Indeed, the whole subject lends itself to such pleasant and agreeable imagination, that I invite hon. Members to think it out for themselves and, in par- ticular, to tell their wives all about it when they get home. I know the hon. Lady knows all about this, but I repeat it for the benefit of hon. Members who have not had time to study the subject.

I wish to make one more point, about waste. There has been reference to waste with regard to fish, harvests and fruit. Under this system nothing need be wasted. No longer need we read in the papers, "Today supplies are short," "Today supplies are plentiful," "The price is up," "The price is down." There will be a continuous supply at a steady price. Last week the Minister of Food pointed out the wastage of bread. I have forgotten his figures, but the waste was tremendous. He made what I thought was a very good suggestion, that bread should be baked in 1 lb. loaves so that the housewife need not ask for any more bread than her household were able to consume. I go one better than that because at the lunch to which I have referred and which, as I say, I shall never forget, one of the most successful items was bread — small loaves or large rolls, whichever one may care to call them. That, together with the other food, had been cooked six months previously and it came out as fresh as anything. With that system there is no wastage of bread such as the tremendous wastage which goes on now, particularly in large establishments. It is pitiful to see it wasted, and it need never be wasted if this process were adopted.

I remember that a very respected Member of the party opposite — Mr. Banfield — who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, was always trying to bring about the stoppage of night baking. I would have had a supporter in him had he been nere because under this system there need be no night baking. Bakers could work suitable hours; the bread would be frozen, and that would be an end to night baking. I feel Mr. Banfield would have supported me had he been with us. I ask the Ministry to help; I think they will — but how? There are many difficulties to be met. I ask the hon. Lady not to introduce any form of nationalization — that would be fatal — but to enter into close co-operation with the industry. There are so many ways in which the Ministry and private enterprise can work together, and one of the greatest problems of our time will be solved. I say to the hon. Lady that if she will make a success of this, it may go a long way towards restoring some of the popularity of her Ministry which recently has been steadily falling.

9.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summer-skill)

I feel sure the House is grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) for raising this matter which, as far as I know, has never been raised in the House before. As he quite rightly said, I am not unacquainted with it. I am not sure how he knows that I also have tasted frozen food. I must confess that the me all had was a little more democratic than his and consisted of three courses. If, as I understood the hon. and gallant Member to say, he had four courses, that is an infringement of our Regulations and I shall have to see him about it afterwards and report him to the enforcement officer.

This matter interested me tremendously. As the hon. and gallant Member has said, I think there is a great future for frozen food. He has not emphasised that aspect of it which attracts me particularly. I feel that it will be a means of relieving the lot of that harassed and overworked creature, the housewife. I must confess that my own interest in this process was stimulated for that reason. A woman is rather loath to leave the family to manage for themselves for a meal, because she thinks it will be badly cooked or not cooked at all. This frozen food does provide a meal which tastes as though it had been cooked by the best chef, and, as the hon. and gallant Member quite rightly said, it is fresh. As far as I could tell, the meal which I had had been cooked immediately before it was served at table. When this service is available at a low cost it will have a great future. I must remind the hon. and gallant Member that the people he wants to help and the people the Ministry want to help today are the great masses, who rely upon cheap food. When the time comes when this food can be produced cheaply for the people I am sure there will be a great demand for it.

Although we are interested in this process — and the Ministry always investigates any new process of this kind — the hon. and gallant Member is asking us to give it our blessing at a very difficult time. He knows as well as I do that a development on any large scale is quite impossible owing to the stringency of the food situation. He must realise that it would be impossible for us to undertake to allocate large amounts of food for experimental purposes. As he knows — and I do not want him to be under any misapprehension in this — any existing catering firm is entitled to adopt this process for the treatment of food if it uses the food which it obtains under buying permits as licensed caterers. However, we cannot possibly give additional facilities for the specific purpose of developing the sale of frozen food. If a firm decided it would like to experiment in this way, it could apply to the local food control committee and they would consider the application, but the firm would have to prove in the first place a consumer need. If that was proved to the satisfaction of the food control committee, I am sure a licence would be given. If it was considered that this food would be used in such a way that perhaps only a relatively small part of the population could enjoy it, then possibly the food control committee would not view the application favourably.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Half past Nine o'Clock.