HC Deb 24 October 1946 vol 428 cc44-50
The Minister of Food (Mr. Strachey)

With the permission of the House, I should like to make a short statement about imports of fresh fruit and vegetables in 1947. The Ministry of Food will continue to be the sole importer of apples, oranges (other than the small tangerine types), lemons, grapefruit and bananas. As I have already told the House, I am expecting greatly increased quantities of all these commodities though not as many as we should like to have. We shall still be short of prewar quantities, partly because the supplies are not there and partly because the ships are not yet available to bring them. Apart from these major imported fruits we shall be able to take practically all the other fruit which overseas countries can send us at reasonable prices. In agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, therefore, I am asking the Board of Trade to issue an open general licence coming into force on 1st November which will cover almost all fruits except those of which the Ministry will be the sole importer.

As regards vegetables, we intend to do our best to give the consumer a full supply at all times at reasonable prices without glutting the market to the detriment of the home producer. Most vegetables, like most fruits, will now be admitted from all countries under an open general licence, but at certain seasons of the year, in the case of some of them, such as lettuce and tomatoes, the open general licence will cease to operate and, in agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, we shall ask the Board of Trade to issue specific licences for limited quantities to make up what is needed in the markets here. In other words we shall try to anticipate gluts and shortages, where these commodities are concerned. The detailed arrangements which come into force on 1st November, are set out in a paper which will be printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Is the Minister aware that the statement about classification of controls will be welcomed by market gardeners throughout the country; and can he give an assurance that, in addition to controlling gluts and shortages, he will take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the bottom of the price structure is not affected by those imports?

Mr. Strachey

That is the intention of limiting the open general licence to specific licences in particular cases, so that an undue reduction of price, sudden and temporary, shall not have adverse effects on the home producers, but we have also to think of the consumers.

Mr. James Hudson

In the general lists of fruits mentioned by the Minister, did he include grapes? If not, why not?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir. Those are the list of fruits other than the big staple fruits, which the Ministry will continue to import. All the other fruits will come under an open general licence, including grapes. Considerable quantities of grapes have been coming in during recent weeks.

Mr. Boothby

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the open general licence will cover new potatoes next spring, because if so that will be something to which we can look forward?

Mr. Strachey

I should have to have notice of that question.

Captain Chetwynd

In making his distribution of imported fruits, will the Minister try to get higher allocations to those areas which cannot obtain a fair allocation of home-grown fruits?

Mr. Strachey

That is a very important point and one which is under consideration at the moment. I hope to make a statement at an early date.

Lord William Scott

Can the Minister say whether a greater quantity of bananas will be available under this scheme?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir. We trust that next year we shall be able to get 210,000 tons. In 1945 we imported no bananas, but by the end of 1946 we shall have imported 100,000 tons.

Mrs. Jean Mann

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it will be possible to make a supply of bananas available to the "over 18's;" and does he realise the many uses to which this fruit can be put by housewives in making up children's, and even miners', sandwiches of crushed bananas, and so on, and how excellent it would be if we could have a supply of bananas made available to the adult population?

Mr. Strachey

We could, of course, distribute the 210,000 tons of bananas on the adult ration books, as well as on those of the "under 18's." It would mean a much smaller distribution per ration book, but now that we have come up to the figure of 210,000 tons it might be worth considering whether we should do that.

Mrs. Castle

Can my right hon. Friend say what steps will be taken by the Ministry of Food to see that the more exotic fruits, imported privately, are not sold at exorbitant prices outside the range of the normal household?

Mr. Strachey

My hon. Friend's point is a difficult one to meet. In general, we feel that we must do one of two things. In the case of the big staple fruits, such as oranges, apples, bananas, grapefruits and even lemons, we shall continue to import them through the Ministry of Food, who will be responsible for their distribution at a controlled price. In the case of grapes, apricots, peaches and melons, the fruits that have been coming in under open general licence, we can, in some cases, have a measure of price control. On the whole, we think it better to bring in all we can of these fruits and to let a high price attract an increased supply.

Mrs. Castle

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that shipping space which could be used for the controlled price goods, such as bananas and oranges, will not be diverted to the uncontrolled price goods like grapes and peaches?

Mr. Strachey

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The fruits coming in under open general licence come almost entirely from Europe, and do not compete for refrigerated tonnage with the big staple fruits. But there may be particular cases such as my hon. Friend mentioned, and we are taking very careful steps to see that such fruits do not exclude bananas.

Mr. David Renton

In view of the importance of home producers being able to make their plans well in advance, can the right hon. Gentleman say what period ahead each of the detailed reports that are going to be issued will cover?

Mr. Strachey

I am not quite clear what the hon. Member has in mind.

Mr. Renton

The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that detailed statements will be issued by the Government from time to time saying exactly for what period and for what commodities there will be a control in regard to imports. He has told the House that detailed statements will be published saying when those controls are to operate. Can he say what period ahead these reports will cover?

Mr. Strachey

The hon. Gentleman must have misheard my statement. What I said was that detailed arrangements which will come into force on 1st November are set out in a Paper which will be printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT. This is a statement covering the particular decontrol of certain items and the rearrange- ment of control of others. We shall, of course, always announce in advance any further changes in our system of controls, but we have not in mind any periodic statement of that sort. However, I will bear carefully in mind the hon. Gentleman's request, and will give the longest possible notice.

Mr. Collins

How will those fruits which are the direct responsibility of the Ministry be distributed as from the importer to the consumer? Will care be taken to ensure that the fruit passes through the minimum number of hands; and can my right hon. Friend say if those fruits, when they reach the consumer, will be distributed on ration books?

Mr. Strachey

I do not know that I could launch on a comprehensive statement in answer to that important question. I would rather discuss it with the hon. Member, as I have already done. I am well aware of the importance of the consideration that he has in mind.

Mr. Spence

Could I ask the Minister for clarification on one point? Does this announcement mean that those fruits and vegetables which are not supplied through the Ministry, are now free from price control for importers?

Mr. Strachey

In general, yes. There are certain exceptions.

Mr. Murray

Could my right hon. Friend say whether there is enough shipping for the conveyance of fruit that is available at present?

Mr. Strachey

Up to now that has not been the case. Refrigerated tonnage particularly has been a serious limiting factor, but that is fairly rapidly improving, and it is the main fact which enables me to say that we shall be getting next year, for example, over one million tons of fruit altogether, as compared with about 650,000 tons this year, and under 400,000 tons last year. The main factor in that increase is not availability of supply, but availability of shipping.

Mr. Baldwin

Can the Minister say whether plums and damsons come under control, in view of the fact that in certain seasons there is a glut of those fruits?

Mr. Strachey

They will not be bought by the Ministry on the Ministry account. They will be under open licence. I do not exclude the possibility of special licences at special times.

Mr. Rankin

Reverting to the banana position, could the Minister ensure, by certificate or otherwise, that banana spread will contain some trace of banana?

Mr. Strachey

I will look into that.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

In the interests of vegetarians particularly, can my right hon. Friend state the position with regard to nuts?

Mr. Strachey

They are coming in under general licence.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

In view of the serious effect which this change may have upon home producers, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the new proposals have the full support of the Minister of Agriculture?

Mr. Strachey

Oh, yes. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it has been most carefully discussed and agreed upon between our two Ministries.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I must remind the House that we have had nearly two hours of Questions today, and that we have another Debate coming on. I think we ought to get on to the next Business.

Following are the detailed arrangements:

The Ministry of Food announces that in agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries it proposes to ask the Board of Trade to grant an Open General Licence with effect as from 1st November, 1946, for the import of fresh fruit and vegetables (not including quick-frozen, dried, preserved and dehydrated fruit and vegetables, dates, herbs, nuts, seeds, grain and dried pulses). As far as possible the arrangements now to be made will continue during 1947, though traders must realise that some changes may be necessary.

The Open General Licence, which will take the place of the existing open general licence for these goods, will be subject to the following limitations:

(i) The following fruit and vegetables will not be permitted to be imported under the Open General Licence:

Apples, including cider apples.




Oranges, sweet (other than mandarins. tangerines and clementines).

Oranges bitter.


Carrots (other than new carrots with foliage, packed in containers, not being bags or nets).

Onions, green




Turnips (other than new early turnips). Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbages and cauliflowers.


(ii) The following fruit and vegetables will be permitted to be imported under the Open General Licence only between the inclusive dates shown hereunder:

Beans, green—

1st January to 31st May.

1st November to 31st December.

Carrots (new, with foliage attached. packed in containers other than bags or nets)—

1st January to 30th April

Lettuce, endive, batavia and chicory—1st January to 15th May.

1st November to 31st December.

Onions (dry bulb)—

1st January to 15th August.

15th November to 31st December.

Peas, green—

1st January to 31st May.

1st November to 31st December.


1st January to 15th April.


1st January to 28th February.

1st December to 31st December.


1st May to 31st July.

Turnips (new early)—

1st January to 30th April.

1st November to 31st December.

(iii) Grapes will be permitted to be imported under the Open General Licence only from the Netherlands, France, French Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Greece and Italy.

In addition to the above the Ministry of Food proposes to arrange with the Board of Trade for licences to be issued to importers to import limited quantities of the following commodities during the periods stated:

Carrots (new, with foliage, packed in containers other than bags or nets)—1st May to 7th June. (Quantities equal to pre-war quantities in this period.)

Grapes (from countries other than those mentioned above)—The whole year.

Potatoes (Early)—rst January to 3oth April, Tomatoes—rst November to 30th April.

Under certain conditions the Ministry of Food in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture will arrange with the Board of Trade to issue licences to importers to import limited quantities of the following commodities:

Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbages, leeks—The whole year.

Lettuce, endive, batavia and chicory—16th May to 31st October.

Tomatoes—rst August to 3rst October

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