§ 48. Mr. Harrison
asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that the illegal commercialised import of food parcels from Eire have increased substantially during the last month, and is estimated now to total 15,000 parcels a week; and in these circumstances what does he propose to do in regard to this matter.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summer-skill)
As the answer is rather long, I will, with permission, give it at the end of Questions.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes, Sir, His Majesty's Government have become increasingly concerned about this illegal traffic in high priced foods, which, under the pretence of being private gifts is in fact a means whereby wealthier people can acquire rationed goods off the ration and so defeat our basic policy of fair shares. The traffic is now running at a rate of £1½ million a year and, despite publicity given to its illegality and a number of prosecutions, shows every sign of growing to the point where it would seriously undermine our basic policy of fair shares in food. These foods have in some cases been bought with dollars, and contain ingredients in respect of which our own food manufacturers are necessarily strictly rationed. It would, therefore, be unfair to our people generally, and to those who honourably comply with the import regulations, and to British food 1144 manufacturers as well as detrimental to the balance of payments position of the sterling area if we were to allow this importation to continue on what is becoming an appreciable scale.
It has accordingly been decided that as from 1st January, 1950, private imports from the Irish Republic of certain categories of goods which are imported into the Irish Republic or are made there mainly from imported materials will be prohibited, whether labelled as gifts or otherwise. The present list of such goods will consist of canned fruits, dried fruit, table jellies, and chocolate and sugar confectionery. Any package containing such goods arriving in the United Kingdom from the Irish Republic after that date will be seized, and no import licence for them will be issued in any circumstances.
§ Mr. Harrison
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the answer which she has just given will be of great satisfaction to many people in the British Isles?
§ Mr. Henry Strauss
Can the right hon. Lady say what significance is to be attached to her use of the phrase "Irish Republic" in her answer, because when a recent Act was before this House and we endeavoured to change "Republic of Ireland" into "Irish Republic" the Amendment was resisted by the Government as being an insult to that country?
§ Mr. Collins
Can my right hon. Friend say why we have to wait until 1st January when such a large quantity of goods is expected to be imported in December? Cannot this be started earlier?
§ Dr. Summerskill
We considered that, of course, and we decided that it would be unfair to deprive those people who were expecting genuine gifts.
§ Captain Crookshank
Can the right hon. Lady say what proportion the goods which she has specified in her answer bear to the £1,500,000 to which she referred?
§ Mrs. Middleton
Can my right hon. Friend say why it is proposed to limit this restriction to food parcels coming from the Irish Republic only and not from other States? There is a certain trade, though a more limited trade, in other parts of the world besides Ireland.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes, but I am very glad to say that our Dominions are not abusing the right they have to send gift parcels.