HC Deb 13 November 1950 vol 480 cc1379-83

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


—To ask the Minister of Food whether he is now in a position to make an announcement regarding the Christmas sugar bonus.

91. Mr. HARE

—To ask the Minister of Food whether, in view of the record sugar beet harvest, he will be prepared to issue a bonus allowance of sugar over the Christmas ration period.

92. Mr. GREY

—TO ask the Minister of Food if he is in a position to make a statement on Christmas bonuses for this year.

At the end of Questions—

Mr. Webb

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I desire to give the information asked for in Questions No. 89, 91 and 92, concerning Christmas bonuses of food.

In doing so, may I say I prefer not to use the word "bonus" myself, nor to give the impression that I, or the Government, are making some sort of seasonal concession. But, whilst certain foods remain rationed, it is our duty to see whether the prevailing supplies will permit some extra allowances for special enjoyment at Christmas time.

This year, our stocks permit the following Christmas allowances to be made on top of the existing rations:

  • Six ounces of sweets.
  • One and a half pounds of sugar.
  • Four ounces of cooking fats.
There should also be some extra bacon, but until I know the rate of shipments, I cannot make this a definite announcement, or say whether it will be an extra Christmas allowance or, better still, an increase in the bacon ration.

Every holder of a ration book will have these extra allowances, and I shall be advising the Press later today of the arrangements for their distribution.

In addition, it will also be possible for an extra allowance of 4 oz. of tea for Christmas to be made to all people over 70 years of age. I wish this could have been a general allowance, but our stocks of tea just now are too low to permit me to do that.

The 1½ lb. bonus of sugar will be provided by bringing forward the 1 lb. bonus which we should normally release in January for marmalade, and we are adding to this another ½ lb. in the form of Demerara sugar.

May I also add that the supplies of most Christmas fare, other than rationed foods, should be quite adequate to satisfy public demand. Extras like mincemeat, crystallised fruit, dried fruits, nuts and Christmas puddings, will certainly be as plentiful as last year, and in some cases there will be more.

The most worrying shortage is that of poultry—especially turkeys. For a variety of reasons, available supplies are well below last year's levels, and consequently prices now being asked by the trade are grievously high. In view of the public concern with this situation—which the Government fully share—I am urgently looking into the possibility of getting some extra supplies, and will report any success in due course. Meanwhile, I would urge buyers in their own interests to refrain from paying some of the inflated prices now being asked.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

May I ask the Minister if he realises that the statement which he has just made about the meat trade, in connection with imported poultry, does contain, whether he meant it or not, a slur on the trade itself? May I ask the Minister, in fairness, to make it quite clear to the House that the normal sources of supplies of imported turkeys are not open to the trade this year, because of matters of Government policy and through no fault of the trade itself; and will the Minister say what he can do to increase the supplies of imported turkeys?

Mr. Webb

In reply to that question, it is true that some of the natural conditions have imperilled some increase in supplies, but I am convinced that some of the prices now being asked are quite unjustified. I am not intending to cast any slur on anybody, but trying to do what is best for all buyers of turkeys.

Miss Florence Horsbrugh

Does the statement mean that there will be no sugar allowance for marmalade this season?

Mr. Webb

It does not mean that at all. We still have to deal with next year's supplies, and I hope that they will be better than this year's supplies.

Mr. Marlowe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Board of Trade have refused an import licence for 1,700 tons of turkeys, which has created a scarcity and sent up the prices?

Mr. Webb

That is not the only factor, but we are looking into the whole situation.

Mr. Chetwynd

Could not my right hon. Friend re-impose price control to prevent the consumer being exploited?

Mr. Webb

Well, it sounds attractive, but I do not know where to fix the price. If it is fixed too low, it would drive away the turkeys that have to come in from outside, but we have not excluded the possibility—if we succeed in securing supplies from other sources of at least sufficient turkeys to justify the market bringing prices down—of introducing some form of price control.

Mr. Churchill

is not the right hon. Gentleman entitled to general gratitude, because, after having taken all our affairs into his own control, he so graciously doles out these few favours at Christmas time?

Mr. Remnant

When will these orders come into operation?

Mr. Webb

Some begin on 3rd December, and some later, but I am explaining the details to the Press today. They are rather complicated.

Air Commodore Harvey

In view of the difficulty regarding poultry supplies, can the Minister say if more pork will be available for the workers—something which they can afford to buy? May I have an answer?

Mr. Speaker

If the Minister does not want to answer, he need not do so. It is his affair, not mine.

Air Commodore Harvey

On a point of order. As my Question is one of some importance, may I have the courtesy of a reply?

Mr. N. Macpherson

May I ask whether, among the delicacies that will be available, there will be an ample supply of currants and sultanas?

Mr. Webb

Of the three dried fruits generally required, two will be in full supply, and one will not. I cannot remember, off hand, which one will not.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Reverting to the subject of turkeys, may I ask the Minister what normal sources of supply are not now available abroad, and what is the reason for this change?

Mr. Webb

One is the Dominion of Canada, and the cause is dollars.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Apart from that, is there any European source of supply which has now been cut off by the Government's actions, and, if so, why?

Mr. Webb

I have already said that we are looking into the question of Hungarian supplies.

Mr. Marlowe

Why did the Board of Trade refuse a licence for the importation of turkeys?

Mr. Webb

I really must not enter into questions concerning other Departments, but I do recollect a few weeks ago the Opposition resisting any attempt to get inside the Iron Curtain.

Mr. H. Hynd

If it is not possible to fix reasonable prices for turkeys, can my right hon. Friend deal with cases of gross profiteering?

Mr. Nabarro

Will the Minister now kindly answer my earlier supplementary as to why no bonus of meat can be provided this Christmas in view of the shortage of turkeys?

Mr. Webb

Because of the situation in the Argentine, and I hope that, if we are going to be public-spirited, none of us will make any comment on that matter at the moment.

Mr. Henry Hopkinson

Will the Minister consider making an approach to Italy and Yugoslavia, neither of which is technically regarded as being behind the Iron Curtain and both of which, I understand, are in a position to supply turkeys?

Mr. Webb

I think that, in both cases, supplies are rather small, but we are in touch with them.