HC Deb 27 November 1947 vol 444 cc2239-61

10.0 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That the Meals (Service at Social Functions) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 1953), dated 9th September, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 21st October, be annulled. There seems to be an impression in the Ministry of Food that a collection of men and women sitting down to eat the sort of austere meal which we get these days—because of the regulations and the rationing restrictions of the Ministry of Food—must necessarily be considered to be at a banquet, or a feast, and that in consequence those people are going to eat more than they otherwise would. I remember there was in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera—I cannot remember which one—the following lines: Now to the banquet we press, Now for the eggs and the ham; Now for the mustard and cress, Now for the strawberry jam. Now for the tea of our host, Now for the rollicking bun, Now for the muffins and toast. Now for the gay Sally Lunn. The only line that I can think of which applies today in this lyric of W. S. Gilbert is: "Now for the rollicking bun." Of course, Gilbert cannot be said to be very up to date—having passed on some years ago—because he also wrote the lines: Every boy and every girl born into this world alive,…

Hon. Members

"—is either a little Liberal or a little Conservative."

Mr. Taylor

Not only his interpretation of the banquet but his interpretation of politicians is rather out of date. We can imagine, however, the visions that are conjured up in the minds of the officials of the Ministry of Food when one talks about a "banquet." Remembering the foodstuffs that were available in prewar days, and what we had at banquets, or meals, in those days, I suppose the word "banquet" will make hon. Members present lick their lips in anticipation of good things to eat. But although we use the word "banquet" in these days to denote a gathering, or an important occasion, it does not mean to say that the food we are to eat at any particular meal is going to be a banquet. No longer does "to banquet" mean to feast luxuriously. It means to eat whatever we are allowed to eat under the regulations and restrictions. Under the present Order 1955, the Minister—and I quote from his memorandum— … prohibits … the supply or service of luncheons, dinners, suppers, and similar meals, at social functions or meetings to parties of persons exceeding one hundred in number. I should like to ask him the reason for this order. Are we trying to save food?

With the greatest respect I will try to explain why I do not believe any more food is going to be saved if we prohibit 100 people meeting and eating together than if we permit them to do so. If the intention is to save food, may I draw the attention of the Minister to a circular issued by his own Department on 18th October, 1947? It is headed, "Catering Trade Letter, No. 461." The purpose of this letter, it says is to let associations have details of the manner in which the above mentioned order, S.1955, is being administered. Paragraph 6 says: The order does not prevent the service of light refreshments which, when desired, take the place of a main meal. I suggest that light refreshments, unless they are substantial, will not take the place of a main meal. It means that if light refreshments are served, unless they are substantial, the people having them are then going somewhere else to have something which will fill them up and get rid of their hunger. Surely, that paragraph must be interpreted to mean that it is possible for more than 100 people to meet together at lunch time or dinner time and eat first what I have heard described as little things that look as if they had died before they were born, served on pieces of soggy toast or bread or biscuits, which are termed dainties, hors d'oeuvres or whatever one likes to call them. Most of those little horrors which we have all seen come out of tins and out of points. They are put on little bits of bread, which is rationed, or biscuits, which are on points. Then we come to the so-called second course, which may consist of sausage rolls. I understand that in the making of pastry for sausage rolls it is necessary to have quite a quantity of fats. Then we have sandwiches, which means that much more bread is consumed than would be consumed at a normal sit-down meal. Then there are sweets, which we also have at a sit-down meal.

I suggest that a buffet supplying these light refreshments does not save food at all compared with an ordinary sit-down meal. In one case we have soup, which is not rationed, against these dainties which are either on points or of rationed material. Then we have sandwiches which are surrounded by bread, which is rationed, and probably the stuff inside is on points, as against something like fish as a main dish, which is not rationed, and we have sweets anyhow. Maybe I am wrong in assuming that the Minister is hoping to save food by this order. I am trying to find out why the order is necessary. Maybe it is a question of staff. I do not see that any fewer staff will be required for serving these dainties, sandwiches and sweets, even if it is done at a buffet, and even if the people are made to stand up all the time, than would be necessary at a lunch where there is a big table and waiters are serving the people sitting down at that table.

Let me turn to the terms of the letter, which gives the exceptions to the general rule, and says that licences will be granted for meals served at functions: (1) clearly connected with the interests and the promotion of the export trade of the country— That is all right— (2) connected with international conferences and gatherings of overseas visitors which would definitely help to promote the purpose for which the conference or gathering is assembled. (3) involving international relationships in addition to those mentioned in (2) above or British prestige, for example, the launching of a liner or a large merchant ship or an international chamber of commerce.

Mr. Solley (Thurrock)

On a point of Order. There is no reference in the Statutory Rule and Order, 1947, No. 1955, which is the subject of this Prayer, to the memorandum and order to which the hon. Member is referring. Is it in Order for him, not merely to refer to the other document, but to read extensive passages from it, and in fact, to devote the greater part of his speech so far to something which is not before the House?

Mr. Taylor

Before you give your Ruling on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I may quote this letter again it says—[An HON. MEMBER: "What letter? "] The letter I have been quoting from the Catering Division of the Ministry of Food. It says this: At the last meeting of the Catering Trade Conference, I promised to let associations have details of the manner in which the above mentioned order"— That is the one we are discussing tonight— is being administered. Therefore, I submit that this letter is a very relevant document.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

From what the hon. Gentleman says, that would appear to be so.

Mr. Solley

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it is the first time the hon. Gentleman has intimated that he is reading a letter.

Mr. Taylor

With the greatest respect, I started by reading that particular sentence. If I may start paragraph 3 again it says: Involving international relationships … or British prestige, for example, the launching of a liner or large merchant ship or an international chamber of commerce where the latter functions are of a periodically recurring nature, the number of the functions should, if possible, be reduced. Paragraph 4 says: For disabled or blinded men and women or for the old folk and children"— I want the House to take particular note of that sentence, because the hon. Member who will second this Motion wishes to refer particularly to the case of old people, and I will leave it to him to develop his own point— for instance, an annual supper to St. Dunstan's blinded men, the Not Forgotten Association at Buckingham Palace, or kindred associations' functions elsewhere at Christmas or once a year treats to old age pensioners, aged miners, etc. I can understand why the blind, poor fellows, should be allowed these functions—at any rate, they are not able to see what they are eating anyhow—but why should aged miners be given this special facility? Do they need pepping up? Do they need their morale built up by a social function of this kind? I suggest that if it is a morale builder that is required, the younger miners might have a few of these social functions.

It will be seen from the instances I have mentioned that no trade or other associations are to be allowed to hold their annual conferences; or, rather, they will be allowed to hold them, but not the winding-up dinner, where members of the various associations meet and discuss matters, generally and particularly affecting their own trade, as a social function unless it is a stand-up buffet. Even it in my constituency, which entertains a great many of these associations at their annual conferences, they split up after their final conference and do not have their so-called banquet—which is just an ordinary sit-down, three-course meal which can be got in many hotels and restaurants throughout the country—is it to be assumed that because they go to restaurants here and there, and eating houses here and somewhere else, they will consume less food because they are not eating together?

I cannot see what is the purpose of the order. I understand that a great many federations, like the Federation of Master Builders, desired to meet together and were denied a licence. So was the Coal Merchants' Federation, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Institute of Transport, and the National Union of Manufacturers. It seems rather sad, in spite of the advice given by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, that these persons, gathered together once a year, should not have the opportunity of meeting together socially over a sit-down meal.

I wish to refer to some of the ridiculous things which arise out of the order. One has heard of functions of 103 or 104 people where three or four people, because they turned up unexpectedly, have had to go to eat elsewhere, or in the next room, where they ate the same food in the same hotel. Can the Minister say that those four people would eat less because they were in a different room, or because they went to a different hotel? Why was the number of 100 chosen? Why can 99 meet together, but 101 cannot? If we are to prohibit functions of this kind because they are bad for us, why allow functions of up to 100 people? There is a rumour that if a gathering is to be addressed by a Cabinet Minister this order will not apply. I do not know if that is a fact, or not, but it is very strongly rumoured that if a Cabinet Minister is attending a function and is going to make a statement—

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

It is very important.

Mr. Taylor

It is very important, but it means that the Socialist Party Con- ference will be able to have a banquet—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—while the Conservative Party will have a stand-up buffet. As was said in "Love's Labour's Lost": The mind shall banquet, though the body pine.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

That would be a change for hon Members of the Opposition.

Mr. Taylor

I have also heard it said that a luncheon becomes a luncheon if a knife and fork are both used, but that at a buffet one may only use a knife or fork, and must not use both. Otherwise it becomes what a well-known comedian calls "a real meal." I would like a little explanation of paragraph 4 of the order. I have read it several times. Hon. Members have the order with them, I see, and have, no doubt, read the paragraph. They will see the reason why I refer to it. I am not certain what it means. If we might have some explanation of it, I shall be most grateful.

My hon. Friends and I feel that this order has been made because some Ministry of Food officials feel it is bad in these days for people to meet together at social functions. But, in trying to clamp down on social functions, they have also clamped down on a great many meetings which would be of great benefit to industry, and would help industry by free discussion of people meeting together. Some explanation of this order is necessary, otherwise we feel we must vote for its annulment.

10.19 p.m

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am particularly happy to have the opportunity of seconding this Prayer as there has been an example in my constituency of the singularly unfair working of the Order. The Broadheath Old Folks Union were hoping to hold their usual annual dinner for the old folks at Christmastime this year. As a result of the introduction of this order, the governing committee made an application to the local food office for permission to run the dinner, which would be for a number of persons in excess of 100. The request was turned down by the local food office, whereupon the secretary wrote to me and asked me if I would take it up with the Minister of Food. A few days later, after I had written to the Parliamentary Secretary, she replied to me in the courteous way for which she is well known—[Interruption]—well, she replied courteously to me, and said that in regard to the application for a licence on the occasion of the annual party of the Broadheath old folks reunion, she had every sympathy with the objects of the organisers of the party, and could assure me that if it were possible to agree to their request she would be most happy to do so. However, she felt that she was not able to do so, in view of the circumstances, one of which was that she had received so many requests that it was impossible to make concessions of any kind.

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

Could the hon. Member tell me the date of the letter?

Mr. Erroll

It was 14th November. It is particularly interesting to find that this was the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to a request about an old folks' reunion dinner, when her Catering Division had previously circulated a letter to all divisional food offices, dated 18th October, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), in which, in paragraph 3, (4), it was stated that exemptions from the application of the order would be specifically granted for disabled and blinded men and women, or for old folk and children. There is no doubt about the genuineness of this old folks' reunion party. I would refer briefly to the programme of events last year, when the opening item in the celebration was, at 1 p.m. the assembly of the old folk themselves. At 1.30 p.m. dinner was served, followed by a free distribution of tobacco and cocoa. After an interval, there were remarks and the introduction of the mayor and mayoress to the old folk. Below it was stated: "N.B.—Only the President and the Mayor to speak, and then only for five minutes each." Finally, at 4 p.m., after a thoroughly good afternoon—and how these old folk deserve a good afternoon these days—there was a distribution of 5s. each to the three oldest ladies and the three oldest gentlemen.

That cannot take place this year because of the muddle in the Ministry of Food. A remote office in Denbighshire said that permission might be granted, but their letter did not reach the divisional food officer in Altrincham, or, if it did, he had not had the time to see it. I understand that he receives so many letters daily that he scarcely has time to refer to them. The letter from Denbighshire did not get down to head office, or it was not in mind when that reply was sent to me on 14th November.

Old folk are surely entitled to their little humble function, even if it means a small expenditure of rationed foods. It is ridiculous to suggest that these functions should be banned. The interesting point is that the meal which was originally projected for this party would consume far less in rationed and scarce commodities than the meal which the Parliamentary Secretary has herself suggested should be substituted. The meal as arranged was to consist of thick nourishing soup, followed by baked fish with brussels sprouts and potatoes. Potatoes are now rationed, but at the time the menu was prepared they were not rationed, though everyone except the Minister of Food knew that they were to be rationed. The Foreign Secretary knew, too. Following the main dish there was to be a heartening sweet of stewed fruit and custard, rounded off with black coffee.

Now, however, the Parliamentary Secretary suggests in her letter that the organisers will be able to make suitable alternative arrangements of a less ambitious kind, and that the party will prove to be both enjoyable and successful. I can assure the hon. Lady that parties in Altrincham and Sale are always enjoyable and successful. They are now going to have a buffet meal consisting merely of meat paste sandwiches, sausage rolls, meat pies and cakes. That will be followed by jam tarts, every ingredient of which is now rationed and in short supply, and tea With milk and sugar, all three items being rationed. Then there will be ice cream, apple tart, and biscuits, butter and cheese. The hon. Lady should be very popular in Altrincham for suggesting a way to keep within the law and yet enjoy ourselves.

On a more serious note, I beg of her to look at the order and see what nonsense it really amounts to in its present form. The essential feature of the matter is that not much food will be saved by the order. Let us hear what is the true intention. It is obviously not very seriously or very genuinely conceived, because it contains in paragraph 4 a sentence which must be unique. The sentence merely suggests that wangling will go on. It is a commonplace that no legislation can be satisfactory unless it has the majority of the people behind it. We have come to a sorry state in this country if legislation, whether by Act or by order under an Act, has to be introduced which makes provision for the prevention of "any artificial or fictitious transaction." That statement is made in paragraph 4. The Parliamentary Secretary signed this order herself.

Obviously, all manner of ways round this thoroughly bad and stupid order are anticipated, or a blanket phrase of this sort would never have been put in. I challenge her to reveal what constitutes an "artificial or fictitious transaction" under this order. The example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) of the three guests over the 100 who had to be accommodated at the last minute in another room—was that an artificial or fictitious transaction? Certainly, by prewar standards it would be regarded as such, but nowadays we are accustomed to many unusual things. This provision merely proves how completely stupid and false the whole order is, and the sooner it is withdrawn the better for all.

The plain fact of the matter is that this is just another sordid example of the class warfare in which hon. Members opposite are indulging. They are trying to maintain the absurd fiction that the rich go guzzling at banquets. We know who does the guzzling. By maintaining that fiction, they hope to maintain themselves on a precarious pinnacle of power. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take this horrid little order away and to forget it.

10.29 p.m.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

I have read this order carefully, and I hope that when the hon. Lady replies to the Debate she will answer one or two questions. If she can prove that this order will save food, then a good many of us will feel much more sympathetic in regard to it. But I do not believe for one moment that any food will be saved. What is the object of the order? I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary—and I do not mean this unkindly—if she thinks conviviality or cheery parties should be stopped, because that is really what it amounts to if food is not going to be saved. The only effect is that large numbers of people will not be able to get together and have what is commonly known as a good time. I entirely disagree with that point of view.

The second point I want to make has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend. I do not believe this order will work. I do not believe for a moment that any court could possibly interpret such a law, if, for example, 104 people were to turn up for dinner and five of them went for a meal on the opposite side of the road. Therefore, I cannot see how this order, if it does become the law of the land, will in actual practice be put into operation. I very seriously object to words being used of such a loose nature as "artificial and fictitious transactions," without having it clearly shown to this House what is an artificial and fictitious transaction. A phrase like this embodied in law could well be impossible of interpretation not only by a layman, but by a lawyer versed and skilled in legal practice. I also object to the Minister having this arbitrary power to authorise a party to be held or not, unless this House is clearly told what considerations the Minister is going to bear in mind when she gives that authorisation. I think we ought to be told here what kind of party of over a hundred should be legal and what kind should not be. It should not be left to the discretion of the Minister to decide just on her own whether a particular party is to be licensed or not. I have my own opinion, but I do not want to take up the time of the House. I think that this order will be completely useless, and that its powers are taken for power's sake and the restrictions made for restriction's sake. I do not think that in actual interpretation it means anything at all. This order is, to use a word which can be found in the Oxford Dictionary, a subject for "Flocci-nauci-nihili-pilification," which means that it is useless, stupid and superfluous.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I cannot believe that the hon. Lady, whose duty, after all, is to conserve food, can possibly defend this order after the revelations to- night of its effect in stimulating a greater consumption of food than if this order had not existed. But I want to say a word about the arbitrary way in which this order is administered. My hon. Friend who moved this Motion read an extract from a letter written by the Ministry of Food on 18th October defining the conditions on which licences to have these meals for over 100 persons would or would not be given. The letter says licences will be granted for dinners, etc., of disabled and blind men and women, children, and of aged miners, but licences will not be granted for Service gatherings of any kind. That seems to me to be an exceedingly invidious distinction.

I have a personal interest in this matter and so has my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor), because we have a habit of going on the last Saturday of April to the annual dinner of the survivors of the Garrison of Kut. Seventy-one per cent. of the British rank and file who were led into captivity at the end of that siege died in captivity. Those who are left—a diminishing number—make it a habit to dine together. There are still considerably more than 100 left. Why should not ex-Service men, who have all rendered not less service to their country than miners, be allowed to dine together, when miners and the other classes whom I have mentioned are allowed to do so? There is no other convenient way in which these ex-Service men, who come from all parts of England, can meet together, except at a meal. I might suggest also that the time will come at no distant date when 200 at least of the supporters of the Government will find themselves ex-Members of this House and they might like to dine together to exchange their experiences. Why should they be unable to dine together, when, as already pointed out, the effect of this order will not be to save food?

10.36 p.m.

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

I think if I speak at this stage I might be able to satisfy Members, particularly those representing the seaside resorts who would otherwise wish to speak. The House will remember that it was in August of this year—6th August, I believe—that the Prime Minister announced that the time had come to restrict catering establishments during the period of the economic crisis. The Government considered, quite rightly, that during this time of austerity it was not in the public interest for lavish banquets to be held.—[An HON. MEMBER: "You cannot get lavish banquets."]—Will hon. Members be quiet. The hon. Members who pray against this order entirely ignore its psychological value.

Colonel Dower

Misery for misery's sake.

Dr. Summerskill

I understand that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) is the President of the Residential Hotels Association and he has tonight put an excellent case for the hotels. But he has ignored a very important section of the community—the consumers.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

I want to make this quite clear. I was not speaking as President of the Residential Hotels Association—certainly not; and if I may say so I have not even discussed it with the council of the Residential Hotels Association. I was speaking as a Member of Parliament.

Dr. Summerskill

I do not charge the hon. Gentleman with doing anything wrong. What I am saying to him is that he has put one point of view and I want to put another. He and other Members opposite have asked what is the value of this order. They must not think only in terms of those organised groups in the community who—and quite naturally—wish to celebrate some occasion. I appreciate the point of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and we fully realise that ex-Service men like to get together. But they must at this stage also appreciate the reactions of the ordinary housewife, who cannot partake of these meals—the housewife who is harried, who finds life very difficult, planning for her family, and who finds these meals, often given in restaurants to large numbers of people, an added irritation. We must take that into account and I am quite sure that if hon. Members made the speeches that were heard tonight to the housewives in their constituencies—I invite the hon. Member to try it—they would find, I think, that the housewives of this country support this order. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]

Hon. Members have quite rightly asked me why we have been somewhat lenient and then, perhaps, more harsh in the administration of this Order. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Mr. Erroll) asked why these old age pensioners were denied their meal. It just happened that during that period we had not made a final decision that all old age pensioners in the country should be allowed to enjoy these annual little jaunts, and he is quite right in saying that local officers were told originally that this was under consideration, and that individual applications would be considered. In this case the application was turned down. The reason I asked for the date was because since 19th November, I assure him, no application from any Member of this House for permission for old age pensioners to hold a party has been refused.

Mr. Erroll

Exemption was specifically granted in the hon. Lady's own Department's circular letter on 16th October, a month previously.

Dr. Summerskill

The officials were allowed in October to exercise their discretion. It may have been that there was a larger number of applications later on, for on 19th November we said that all these annual functions for old age pensioners should be allowed.

At the outset, we were lenient with applications generally because the order came into operation in September and we realised that many people had already made arrangements for parties of one kind or another, so we let these parties take place up to, I think, 31st October. After that, we made it clear that only certain entertainments of this character could be held. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) tries to ridicule some of our regulations.

Colonel Dower


Dr. Summerskill

Certainly the hon. Gentleman read the regulations out and endeavoured to ridicule them. I think in the circumstances they can be fully justified. We have allowed those people engaged in the export trade of this country who think it necessary to entertain visitors, to have this kind of entertainment. We have also allowed people who are engaged in international conferences. Would the hon. Member deny those people who are engaged in very important international conferences in London today a dinner of this kind? I think hon. Members opposite will agree that it would be a good investment.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

I agree. I never ridiculed it. I merely said that if you are allowing it, why cannot you extend it to other people.

Dr. Summerskill

The hon. Member's attitude is a little curious and perhaps I misinterpreted it. Hon. Members opposite have asked why we are not more generous, why we did not permit these other organisations to hold dinners—I will not call them banquets—on a more lavish scale, Let me read out some of the people who have applied during the first month: sports clubs and associations generally throughout the country—[An Hon. MEMBER: "Why not?"]—regimental and other Service gatherings, the British Legion throughout the country, in every town and, perhaps, in villages as well. And, perhaps, I may recall this one—Masonic Ladies' nights. I am sorry to have to deny the Masonic Ladies' night, because it is the only night in the year which the ladies are given in return for allowing their husbands to attend the Masonic functions during the rest of the year. Then we have had applications from business organisations and associations, from trade unions and staff associations throughout the country, from charity organisations and those having charitable objects in every town, every village, and for every cause. Applications have also come from local authorities, who want, of course, to celebrate the inauguration of their mayors, and so on. We have had to refuse them all. An hon. Member opposite, I think, mentioned the Rotarians. The Rotarians, and organisations of a similar character, may feel that they are making a special contribution to the community, and so, perhaps, feel a little aggrieved that we have refused them. But hon. Members opposite must realise that this does not mean giving one permit for one meal, but for a meal every week in towns throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne, who moved the Prayer, referred in a jocular manner to light refreshments. As it is quite obvious to me that representatives of seaside resorts are very anxious to take their part in this Debate, I do ask them to consider the question of entertainment in a new light. We are anxious for people to get together, and enjoy themselves. But our experience leads us to believe that this is quite possible with a buffet—not one of the kind which the hon. Member for Eastbourne indicated—and that a buffet meal can be most palatable. I am surprised that representatives of seaside resorts have not come here to-night to advertise their constituencies, and to say that those engaged in professional entertainments in their hotels, and so on, are now devising new ways and means of entertaining people within the limits of the order. In this they could show that initiative and that imagination, which they have always expected people to show who are engaged in more arduous work.

I want to remind hon. Members opposite of the numbers who have made application to us for permits. During the initial period, that is about the first' month of the operation of the order, there were about 4,000 applications. Since then I am very glad to be able to say that the wishes of the Government, in general, have been very well received and loyally carried out. The applications have fallen almost to zero. Therefore, I think I am right in saying that when the hon. Member for Eastbourne comes here and tries to annul this order, he is speaking for the industry in which he is interested, and he is not representing the consumers of this country. He has advanced no evidence tonight that the people want the order annulled. We have evidence that the people are very satisfied with it.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

May I ask the hon. Lady what she means when she speaks of the industry in which I am interested?

Dr. Summerskill

I understood that the hon. Gentleman was the President of the Residential Hotels Association.

Mr. Taylor

I admit having the honour to be President of the Residential Hotels Association of Great Britain, but it is in purely an honorary capacity. I am not representing the industry in this House. I am here representing my constituency of Eastbourne. I have no financial interest in any single hotel or a single hotel share.

Hon. Members


Dr. Summerskill

Certainly not. The hon. Member for Eastbourne reminds us that he is the President of the Residential Hotels Association. Surely, he is not ashamed of it.

Mr. Taylor

I am proud of it.

Dr. Summerskill

Then if the hon. Member is proud of it, why does he expect me to withdraw? All I said was "the industry in which he is interested"—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite have asked me about the various categories who are now entitled to permits for meals for not more than 100 people. I do not apologise for the fact that we have included certain people in these categories. We have carefully chosen them from people who, I think, warrant special consideration—the blind, yes, always, and I was shocked at the hon. Member's cheap gibe about them.

Mr. Taylor

I was not making a cheap gibe.

Dr. Summerskill

The blind must have special consideration. They cannot go out for themselves and look after themselves. They always have to be cared for and guided and they look forward to this kind of entertainment. We have chosen deliberately old folk and children and on 19th November we had decided that annual parties given for old people and children should be eligible for permits.

Mr. Erroll

Will the Broadheath Old Folks Reunion now have its dinner?

Dr. Summerskill

Certainly—so long as the equivalent of the dinner has not already been eaten.

Mr. Keeling

Why should aged miners be allowed to dine together but not ex-Service men?

Dr. Summerskill

I am told that in the mining valleys it is quite customary for the aged miners to have these dinners and the hon. Member will realise that there are fewer aged miners than ex-Service men. There are ex-Service men of the first World War and also the second World War holding these gatherings in towns and villages of the whole country, whereas that is not the case with the aged miners, and the expectation of life of a miner is not very high, My hon. Friend behind me tells me that it is really a tea party which the aged miners have. Therefore, we desire that this should continue because these gatherings cannot be regarded as junketings; therefore, we will not stop them.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne referred to concessions tonight because he has prayed against the order. I am making concessions tonight and they happen to coincide with the Prayer against the order.

Mr. Taylor

Most unusual.

Dr. Summerskill

We have thought about this very carefully. We are very gratified to find very few applications made throughout the country and we now consider that certain other functions should be excluded from the order. These are: entertainments connected with some really important non-recurring event, either in the life of the individual or the community, such as the conferment of honours—I am sure that will please ex-Service men—golden weddings or contenary celebrations of important institutions and also annual functions of a traditional character. All these will be eligible for licences.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

Does that include the British Legion?

Dr. Summerskill

These licences will only be given by my Department if they are satisfied that the arrangements for any particular function of this kind are not unduly lavish and the price not too high. I, therefore, do feel that this concession will satisfy many people in the country who want to celebrate some event. We cannot yet meet all the applications, which I am sure would be made if we adopted the suggestion of hon. Members opposite. I am surprised that at this time when hon. Members know full well that there are shortages of every kind of food in this country, they should come to the House to seek to annul this order. I hope that they will think it over and refrain from dividing the House.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

I hope that I may ingratiate myself with the hon. Lady when I tell her that I have no interest whatsoever in the hotel business, and that I have hitherto on this particular matter regarded her very much as my benefactor because as a result of this order two dinners were cancelled at which I should have had to speak. But I was rather surprised in the course of the hon. Lady's reply that she had no answer to what, to me, is the one really important question of the Debate, and certainly the answer which would guide entirely my attitude to this question. And that is: How much food is now being saved by this regulation? If she can tell us that in fact large quantities of food at a time of admittedly great shortage are being saved, then, indeed, it would be very difficult to oppose it, but she obviously must have passed over her notes on that particular question and for the moment overlooked it. I am sure now that she will get up and tell us how much food is being saved.

Dr. Summerskill

Certainly, I will reply to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is impossible to assess that amount unless one can assess the number of potential applications.

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Lady, in other words, does not know.


Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)

I must apologise to the House for not being here when I should have been here to second this Prayer, but I had to go down to my constituency at Brighton. The hon. Lady resents that there should be seaside resorts which have hotels, and I found them greatly encouraged by the vast drop in the Socialist majority at Gravesend [Interruption.] Does any hon. Gentleman opposite deny that there has been a vast drop?

When applying one's mind to regulations of this kind I think two or three objective tests should be applied. One is, is it necessary? The hon. Lady, I am surprised to find, made no attempt to justify this as being necessary—none whatsoever. I am sorry to have to say this, but she sunk to the low depths of falling back on the Left Wing arguments of her party that these are specially lavish banquets. This whole thing is conceived in prejudice and born in stupidity. Hon. Gentlemen opposite for years have been under the impression that Tory Members spend their lives having lavish banquets. Since hon. Gentlemen opposite became Members of this House they find they have to go to functions of this kind and I very much doubt whether they find them lavish at the present time. Let the hon. Lady consider what a meal nowadays means. We all know that we begin with hot water coloured, and end with cold water frozen. In between is a tired bit of chicken they have been trying to get rid of for years. Now the hon. Lady is trying to stop them. But is it imagined that as a result of this regulation anyone will eat less. I can assure the hon. Lady that it is not so. I know the stock objection that, if they do not eat out, they will have to eat at home and get their rations there. That argument does not hold at all. People are going to eat somewhere, and she will not cause one less calorie—which is the way she likes to measure food—to be consumed by this regulation.

The next test is—does it serve any useful purpose? I challenge the hon. Lady to say whether she has the faintest idea whether any food is saved by this, or not. If she has no idea whether any food is saved, then she has no justification at all for this regulation. Perhaps I should make it clear—since she likes to deal in personalities—that although I represent a seaside resort, I have not the slightest interest in the Hotels and Restaurants Association, or any other association of the kind. I am merely interested in seeing that people's liberties are not taken from them.

The next test is—is it enforceable? I can assure the hon. Lady that it is not. I am not going into the legal difficulties. I have not a copy of the order with me, but I think a meal is defined as a lunch, dinner, supper, or similar service. No court has yet defined what those words mean. Some time, I suppose, a court will be called on to do so. But the thing is capable of such evasion that she will achieve nothing by it. I will give a practical example of what will take place. I know an association that has an annual function attended by about 500 people, who dine and dance together. Normally, they have their dinner under one roof, and a dance follows. A London hotel provides for this. What are they going to do this year? They are going to five separate hotels for their dinner and meeting afterwards for the dance—99 at each hotel, and 495, under this regulation, for the dance afterwards. The only result of the order is that there will be considerable consumption of petrol by taxis and cars in getting from the various hotels to the place where these people are to dance. The same amount of food will be consumed, or probably a little more since communal feeding is more economical.

Hon. Members opposite cry "sabotage" on such occasions when they think the organisation is hostile to this Government. But this is a non-political association, the members of which I should say are mainly in sympathy with the Government, or were until this order came into force. That is the sort of ridiculous result the hon. Lady is achieving by this order. I do ask her to think it over again. It achieves nothing except a great sense of frustration, and makes people think that this Government are acting merely out of prejudice because they are pushed by the extreme Left wing into preventing people from gathering together, under the impression, as I said before, that all Tories are lavish eaters and, therefore, something ought to be done to stop them.

11.5 p.m.

Captain John Crowder (Finchley)

Having listened to the Debate I cannot discover what the Ministry of Food want to do by this order. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it is for psychological purposes. Well, they had better set up a Ministry of Psychology, then, because no one understands why this order is made or what is being done. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) said, there are no banquets these days, just little meals with a little cold soup and a bit of chicken and a bit of ice. The hon. Lady objects to 300 or 400 people getting together at a meal. But the object of these dinners these days is to bring people together to hear addresses by some prominent person, as she knows very well—a Member of His Majesty's Government or a prominent member of the Opposition, for instance. The meal eaten, the speech of the prominent person is delivered, and it is to hear that speech that the gathering is held. Very often luncheons instead of dinners are held for that purpose. We do not have to starve without luncheon now, although, perhaps, we may soon have to. However, people must have their luncheon somewhere. Why should they not have luncheon together, for the purpose afterwards of hearing an address by a prominent person? These gatherings are held not for the purpose of getting a meal, but to hear speeches. More food is not consumed because of these gatherings.

It is not the hon. Lady's fault, but the fault of the Minister, who is not here, that this order was made. The Minister just produces these orders because, from the psychological point of view, he thinks they will be good. The only object of these luncheons and dinners, however, is to hear speeches by prominent people or to have reunions of ex-Service men or the British Legion, or of politicians, perhaps, and people engaged in the export trade, and so forth, and to have prominent people to address them. The Minister of Food wants to stop these gatherings because he, for some extraordinary reason suggested to him, perhaps, by his officials, fears that more food is being consumed because of them. That is not so, I can assure the hon. Lady. I cannot see why 300 or 400 people should not be allowed to meet at a luncheon. If the Minister likes to limit the number of courses to two, we should not mind, because we could do without that watery soup: it does not matter very much. I do not see why 400 should not be allowed to meet together at a luncheon or dinner to hear the point of view of prominent persons, perhaps members of His Majesty's Government or of His Majesty's Opposition. I do hope that the hon. Lady will ask her right hon. Friend to look at this matter again, because this order is ridiculous.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

The hon. Lady's defence of this indefensible order dwelt on the irritation the man or woman in the street would feel if lavish banquets were taking place in restaurants. I can tell the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends

that British Legion and similar gatherings do not always take place in restaurants. I should like to point out one type of gathering that will be affected by this order—gatherings also not held in restaurants. I mean the parties in Territorial drill halls up and down the country. Here I must say, I have an interest in this, because I am an officer in the Territorial Army. A great deal of importance today is attached to having a well run recreational and social side to every Territorial regiment. It is not every regiment that can do its own catering from its own resources; and so the catering may be done by outside caterers in the drill halls for Territorial regiments. This, I consider, is a very important issue. I hope the hon. Lady will be able to clear it up, because if we are to have a successful recruiting drive, and if we are to have well-run units, we must have well-run social organisations in our Territorial units. The hon. Lady has talked about British prestige. I do not know whether it is the case, but I should like an assurance from her tonight, that parties in drill halls, run by serving soldiers or regimental associations for soldiers', wives and children at Christmas time, which are by no means uncommon, are not going to be stopped by this order. I assure here that if they are stopped recruiting will be adversely affected. The recruiting picture on the hoardings, of a man putting on his boots, is going to be no substitute for properly run recreational organisations in our Territorial units.

Question put, That the Meals (Service at Social Functions) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 1955) dated 9th September, 1947, a copy of which was presented on 21st October, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 40; Noes, 129

Division No. 34.] AYES. [11.11 p.m.
Baldwin, A. E. Grimston, R. V. Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.
Baxter, A. B. Hollis, M. C. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Boles, Lt.-Col D. C. (Wells) Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Boothby, R. Keeling, E. H. Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Bossom, A. C. Kendall, W. D. Studholme, H G.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Lindsay, M (Solihull) Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Carson, E. Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.) Vane, W. M. F.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Lloyd, Selywn (Wirral) Wadsworth, G
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E Low, A. R. W. Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Marlowe, A. A H. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Marsden, Capt. A.
Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness) Medlicott, F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Drewe, C. Mellor, Sir J Mr. Charles Taylor and
Foster, J. G (Northwich) Neven-Spence, Sir B. Mr. Erroll.
Gage, C. Nicholson, G.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Hastings, Dr. Somerville Simmons, C. J.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Herbison, Miss M. Skeffington, A. M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hewitson, Capt. M Skinnard, F. W.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Hobson, C. R. Smith, C. (Colchester)
Bacon, Miss A. Holman, P. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Baird, J. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Snow, J. W
Balfour, A. Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme) Solley, L. J.
Barton, C. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Soskice, Maj. Sir F.
Battley, J. R. Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool) Sparks, J. A.
Bechervaise, A. E Janner, B. Stamford, W.
Berry, H. Jeger, G. (Winchester) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Blackburn, A R Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Stross, Dr. B
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Keenan, W. Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Brook, D. (Halifax) Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E Swingler, S.
Chamberlain, R. A Lindgren, G. S. Sylvester, G. O.
Champion, A. J Longden, F. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Cooks, F. S. Lyne, A. W Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Collindridge, F McLeavy, F. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Collins, V. J. Middleton, Mrs L Thomas, D. E, (Aberdare)
Colman, Miss G. M Mitchison, G. R. Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Comyns, Dr. L, Moody, A. S Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Morley, R. Titterington, M. F.
Corlett, Dr. J. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Tolley, L.
Crossman, R. H. S. Nally, W. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Ungoed-Thomas. L.
Deer, G. Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford) Usborne, Henry
de Freitas, Geoffrey Orbach, M Viant, S P.
Delargy, H. J. Paget, R. T. Walker, G. H.
Diamond, J. Palmer, A. M. F. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Pargiter, G. A. Watkins, T. E.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Pearson, A. Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Platts-Mills, J. F. F. West, D. G.
Evans, A. (Islington, W.) Popplewell, E. White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Evans, John (Ogmore) Porter, G. (Leeds) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Farthing, W. J. Pursey, Cmdr. H. Wigg, George
Ganley, Mrs C. S. Reid, T. (Swindon) Wilkins, W. A.
Gibson, C. W. Rhodes, H. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Willis, E.
Guy, W. H. Royle, C. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Segal, Dr. S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil Silverman, J. (Erdington) Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Hardy, E. A. Silverman, S. S. (Nelson) Mr. George Wallace.