HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc192-202

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

11.44 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

Because we are not always able to forecast how long our Parliamentary business will take, I have been sitting here almost solidly since 2.30 p.m. fearful to leave the Chamber because of the chance that I might be called in my absence and thus miss my Adjournment debate. Consequently, I have learned much today about merchant shipping, about judicial salaries, about Income Tax and Customs and Excise law, about miners' welfare and Z reservists. I add to this diversity the subject of this Adjournment debate, which I hope may have the support of the whole House.

It is a truism that the present grave economic crisis means that in this country we have to plan our national resources to see that we get maximum value from them. Especial care must be taken to see that we extract every bit of use from material and products which hitherto have been waste. Local authorities have been doing this since the time of the war and have salvaged much waste paper and waste metal.

But there are other products at present wasting which can and should be used at little or no extra cost to the nation. I am concerned at this late stage of our proceedings to deal with one such proposal—the right use of the apples at present going to waste. Apples contain much natural sugar and have as by-products pectin and, from the residue, a certain amount of animal feedingstuffs. Without dilating unduly on the properties of the apple, it is significant that the calorific value of the apple is higher than that of beer and almost as high as that of milk.

Despite the big crop of English apples, in the 11 months ended 30th November last, imports of apples amounted to 184,000 tons—about 8.6 lb. per head of the population. Permitted imports between 1st December, 1951, and 30th June next will total 70,000 tons—approximately 3.1 lb. per head of the population. But it has been estimated that if last year's average crop is maintained in the coming year, and the public consumption remains at average, there will be a surplus on home production alone. There will be absolutely no need for the importation of any apples.

The National Farmers' Union have given figures showing the estimated surplus of apples last year from certain parts of the country. These do not cover the whole of the country, but the figures available suggest that in the counties of Kent, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire the total wastage last year was in the neighbourhood of 30,000 tons of apples.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

What about Worcestershire?

Wing Commander Bullus

I am inclined to believe that the wastage was higher than that, because I believe these figures deal with apples at the packing stations and I do not think they include the apples which were allowed to rot on the trees for the want of picking. Local estimates for the Wisbech area suggest that over 14,000 tons were wasted in the season, and for the year 1951—although it was not a glut year—I think it might reasonably be estimated—and it is almost certainly an under-estimate—that the total wastage of apples in this country was over 50,000 tons. I think that is an under-estimate; in a good year the figure would be considerably larger.

Generally, apples cannot be kept long in storage, and so the home industry has been considered a seasonal one, and that is one of the excuses given for the importation of apples. But it has been possible since 1936—and this is not generally known—to turn the apples into pure fruit juice, retaining all the natural sugar. I say this is not generally known. It it were, there would not be the need for so great an importation of apples, we should not have such flagrant waste and we should get the maximum value from our own crops—and the British apple is the finest in the world.

The pure unfermented apple juice industry—in which I have no vested interest—commenced in this country in 1936 as a direct outcome of the very considerable wastage of apples, as a result both of glut crops and of the development of the grading of apples for market. The consumption of the product grew very slowly, but at the beginning of the last war consumption had reached about 200,000 gallons a year, and the Minister of Food froze the production at that figure for the duration of the war.

At the end of the war two other firms began production, but the total sales have now fallen below 100,000 gallons, and there is a real possibility of the industry ceasing to function. Indeed, at a meeting of the Apple Juice Producers' Association in November last all member firms agreed regretfully that this season might be the last one for the Association. And yet the industry could take a large part, if not all, of the present surplus of English apples without further capital cost. The capacity of the industry is well over four times its present production.

Let us look at what the utilisation of the waste apples by this industry might mean. Assuming that the waste last year was in the region of 50,000 tons, then it is estimated that this would have produced over 7 million gallons of pure, unfermented apple juice, which would have had a content of 3,500 tons of sugar from natural sources. If this quantity of 50,000 tons of apples had been processed into juice and the pomace dried at least 3,000 tons of product with a high pectin value would have been obtained. This would have been a most valuable addition to our supplies of dried apple pomace for the pectin industry. And we import pectin, be it remembered. Dried apple pomace contains approximately 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. by weight of pectin. Therefore, it is fair to assume that the utilisation of this 50,000 tons of waste apples would provide about 250 tons of dried pectin, an extremely valuable commodity at the present time, when pectin from dollar sources is difficult to come by. The Government figures show that we spent £52,700 on the import of pectin in 1950. So it will be seen what a valuable contribution in pectin can be made if our waste apples are used.

Again, the dried pomace, after extraction of pectin, can be redried, and then it still has some considerable value as a feedingstuff, although, admittedly, it is very low in protein content. Approximately 1,500 tons of this material would be available from the use of 50,000 tons of apples. Though I do not seek to compare the total nutritive value of apple juice with that of other products it is a good source of calories. Apple juice contains 300 calories per pint compared with 184 in a pint of beer and 375 in a pint of milk.

The sugars present in apple juice are nearly all composed of glucose and laevulose which are said to be very easily assimilated by the system. It has been shown by independent analysis to contain approximately 9 per cent. of invert sugar and.5 per cent. of cane sugar. This point should be of real interest to the Ministry of Health in connection with the hospitals service. It would appear that very large quantities of apple juice would be re- quired if it were given only to those people who are in need of taking a considerable volume of liquid containing some nutritive materials such as sugars. The juice also contains minerals of which the chief is potassium, and on the Continent this product is very widely used, I understand, in hospital practice for diseases of the heart, kidney, and liver. On the Continent, it is said, mineral constituents are of prime importance.

Should the pure, unfermented fruit juice industry become defunct it would be extremely difficult in an emergency, in case of possible war, to resuscitate the various organisations. The Ministry of Food announced last November that very severe cuts in import licences for fruit juices were to be made this year. These cuts are of such an order as to embarrass the soft-drinks trade, and it would seem to be an entirely wrong time to allow the home fruit juice industry—an industry requiring no sugar—to lapse.

The Ministry of Agriculture is engaged in the final stage of considering a marketing scheme for apples, which may be placed before the fruit growing industry in the near future. The ultimate success of such a scheme with the grading of fruit as one of its main provisions must depend very largely on providing a suitable outlet for the cull apples at a price which enables the processer to show a profit. Removal of the apple juice industry from active participation in fruit utilisation would be a serious blow to the organisers of the scheme. The present shortage of sugar and the impending cuts in imported fruit juices throws into relief the fact that the processing of surplus apples would produce a volume of juice that would contain thousands of tons of natural sugar.

Now may I make a few suggestions about how the Ministry could help this industry? During the past 15 years the Apple Juice Producers Association has on various occasions approached the Ministries of Food, Health and Agriculture with its problems, and though received with sympathy there has not been any form of practical support. In Germany, France and Switzerland the Governments have given continuous assistance; and the United States Government is heavily subsidising its apple exports. The British Apple Juice Producers Association does not ask for any form of subsidy or financial help. Obviously the Government could not sponsor any individual industry, but the Minister of Health could be of the greatest possible help by encouraging the further production of a valuable food from fruit that would otherwise be wasted.

I suggest that the Minister of Food could collaborate with the Minister of Health to ensure the maximum possible use of apple juice, primarily as a special issue in the hospitals and nursing homes in the Minister's control. I am given to understand that the juice is acceptable and liked in hospitals, though the present price may mitigate against its wide use at the moment; but a greater production from the industry means, of course, a cheaper product. It is thought that the beverage, with its completely unfermented character, and with its high content of natural fruit sugars, could be usefully served in Service canteens such as the N.A.A.F.I., and especially to flying men in the Air Force who are not permitted for some hours before flying to drink beverages of an alcoholic nature.

Not all schoolchildren like the milk given in schools, and I suggest that this fruit juice might prove an admirable alternative, if not a nutritive substitute, in our schools. Certain importations would not be necessary, or could be materially reduced. There would be no need for the importation of apples if we used all the apples in this country; and we should save on some of the imports of pectin and supply animal feedingstuffs. I do not know whether the Minister of Food still has his "Food Facts" publicity, but I think that such publicity might be given to the value of fruit juices produced from our own English apples.

These are only a few suggestions to help a British industry, to use a waste product to advantage, and to assist us in our efforts to balance the nation's budget. The suggestions I have made are by no means exhaustive. I suggest that what I have attempted to say tonight is of interest to other Ministries than the Ministry of Food, for the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Education and the Service Ministries are concerned; and, not least, in view of the possibility of using waste products and saving dollar imports, and possibly building up a useful export trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have a healthy interest in my proposals.

Already the pure fruit industry does a certain export trade, but there are immense possibilities, especially to Empire countries, such as India and Pakistan, and to South America for dollars. I should presume to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what I have said.

Finally, though representatives of the industry recently saw Ministry of Food officials, nothing tangible has yet resulted. I hope the Minister will, as a result of what I have said tonight, give sympathetic consideration to it to see if something can be done to extract full value from the apple crops of this country. The general advantages are enormous, and I think they are obvious.

12.1 a.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) has raised the matter, because it is something which merits the attention of the Minister.

I have in my constituency an industry which has recently come there, and it has, been engaged in the very process of converting surplus apples into a useful juice for public consumption. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has rightly said, there are many difficulties in the way. The apple business is altogether a very complicated one. He has not covered all of it—he could not do so in the time at his disposal—and neither can I in the few remarks which I wish to make.

There is undoubtedly a big surplus of apples today. It is largely because there is now coming into bearing a large number of specialist orchards in Kent and parts of the Midlands, and they are now largely dominating the market for dessert and culinary apples. The old grass orchards, many of them cider but many of them culinary, are now having to meet not so much foreign competition but competition from the specialist orchards of this country, and the consequence is that there is a very great deal of rather second quality fruit which is not wanted in the home market for cooking and dessert.

It is quite useful for other purposes. Jam takes quite a lot of it, and cider some of it, although that requires rather a special type of apple, and lastly, but by no means least, there is this new industry which has grown up recently, thanks to chemical science, for the production of unfermented apple juice. That is one of the ways in which this surplus could be tapped and taken off the wholesale market and used for consumption.

I know that there are difficulties. The costs of the process are rather high. The Government cannot, of course, deal with a problem of that kind, but if they could use their influence in different ways—the hon. and gallant Member has suggested some ways—where they have the means of doing so, such as in the case of hospitals, I certainly hope that they will do so, because it would be a contribution towards dealing with this surplus apple crop which is undoubtedly a drug on the market at the present time.

12.4 a.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I intervene in the debate because one of the most important apple growing areas of the United Kingdom is that situated in western Worcestershire which is very largely within my constituency.

The apple growers in Worcestershire suffered last year a very dire distress as a result of the importation of no less than £1½ million worth of American apples, which were paid for in dollars, in spite of the fact that our output of apples in the United Kingdom last year, at approximately 670,000 tons, was the highest in our history.

The surplus of apples to which the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), has referred is due in the most part to the importation of American apples on top of an unduly large crop in this country.

Mr Philips Price

It is far less than it used to be.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member forgets that, in response to the pleas of the Minister of Agriculture in the last few years, our home production has been very much higher than it has ever been before.

I wish to reinforce the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) for two important reasons. First, there is, in my view, likely to be a surplus of apples for several years ahead as a result of the increased acreage which is now being grown, and supplemental in- dustries such as the cyder industry are urgently wanted; but the second point which is economic in character, and equally important, is that the Ministry of Food should stop spending the nation's valuable dollars buying foodstuffs and fruit which we can very well grow here ourselves.

12.6 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)

I shall not follow the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), for that is a theme in itself, and I think the House would wish me to reply to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus). I would say this, though. The imports of apples to this country are relatively small and have been well graded high quality apples, and they have come at a time when the surplus has consisted for the most part of cooking apples.

I agree with many of the things that my hon. and gallant Friend has said tonight. I share his desire that we should do everything to avoid food wastage, though it will be appreciated that production of apple juice needs undamaged healthy small apples, and this does not afford a convenient way of using other types of apples. Apple juice production would afford a useful outlet for these cull apples. I accept that if all the cull apples were used there would be a saving in our imports. It would probably mean a saving of £150,000.

I accept that unfermented apple juice is a healthy and attractive drink. I am referring to my own appetite for it. I cannot speak for those who prefer other types of drink without the preliminary word "unfermented." The essence of this matter is whether there should be Departmental action in order to encourage the production and sale of this unfermented apple juice. The claim, as I understand it, is that it is a nutritious health-giving drink and that therefore we should encourage it officially.

Let me say at once that the apple is a very valuable fruit, but do not let us begin to compare it in nutritional quality with milk. Do not let us exaggerate the position. The apple is a source of valuable vitamin C. It contains anything from one to five milligrams per ounce, whereas the blackcurrant contains 57 milligrams per ounce. It is a modest source of vitamin C. Taking the varieties of apple, almost one-half of them contain no vitamin C at all. The Bramley Seedling is the only one which contains it in any quantity, except, I think, for the Woolbrook Russet apple, of which I believe there are only two trees in this country.

Reference has been made to other constituents such as potassium, sodium, and so forth, but these are present in more plentiful quantity in other fruit juices. Reference has also been made to apple juice as a source of sugar. I accept that. As to its caloric strength, I would only say that its nutritional value as a food depends in relatively small part on this.

But the real value of apples and the real value of apple juice is not that it gives some nutritional satisfaction but that it meets with the wishes of those who like it. What the hon. and gallant Member is really saying is that we should select this drink, that we should place on it a high value and as a Department persuade more people to drink more of it. I suggest that is not something we can properly do. It costs 1s. 6d. a pint as compared with other drinks: I will not proceed with that comparison. I suggest that one of the reasons why sales have gone down is because of the price and because it is so much more expensive than the fruit squashes which contain a much smaller proportion of natural juices.

The Department quite clearly does sponsor some fluids; it sponsors milk, the strongest drink bar none—it is no good comparing the nutritional virtues of apple juice with milk—it sponsors orange juice. When we have a liquid, which is useful to some extent as a food more because it delights the palate than fills the tissues, it is too much to ask that the Department should press the virtues of that liquid against other liquids and dip into this field of human preference, which is just as important in the field of drinks as in the field of foods.

The Ministry of Health has made it known that hospitals are free and indeed are encouraged to take advantage of these natural juices, but it is for the individual hospital, the individual doctor and, most important of all, the individual patient, to decide the amount of this liquid that he desires to drink. I say nothing about the prospects of its sale in N.A.A.F.I. canteens. That must be a question of persuasion by the proprietors of these products. If, as I am sure they do, they believe they have something of great public value to put before the people of this country, I suggest, without being critical of the apple, without being critical of unfermented apple juice—despite the unattractive character of the description—that this is the task of the individual organisation or firm which seeks help and which will profit by the appetite it creates. It is for the individual organisation and not a task to be laid on a Government Department, for once we begin to advocate a particular food or drink on the ground of some modest dietetic value, where would that policy of advocacy end? How much time would be left to the Department to devote to other uses and even more important sources of human nutriment?

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes past Twelve o'Clock a.m.