HL Deb 19 February 1918 vol 29 cc73-5

VISCOUNT CHAPLIN rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give approximately the total cost of the Ministry of Food from the time of its establishment up to the present time. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have not the slightest intention of raising any debate on this Question, but there are two things I want to say. The first is to express my regret to the noble Lord the Food Controller that I should have selected to-day quite inadvertently, because, owing to my lack of knowledge of the practice of your Lordships' house. I was under the impression that the Question would be reached at half-past four. If I had known that it was to be delayed I would certainly have sought some other opportunity of raising the matter instead of keeping the noble Lord here all this time. The other thing is that I have received numbers of communications from all parts of the country from people who were under the impression that I was going to raise the whole question of our food supply to-day. Many have reached me since I came to the House, and two more since I left for a few moments a short time ago. I swish to state publicly to-night that a Motion on this subject of which I have given notice is on the Paper for Wednesday, February 27, when I hope to move the Resolution which appears in my name. All I have now to do is to ask the Question as it stands on the Paper, on which I desire to have the information if I can get it. Again, I say that I regret that I should have unfortunately selected this opportunity of asking the Question.


My Lords, the Question on the Notice Paper asks the Government if they can give approximately the total cost of the Ministry of Food from the time of its establishment up to the present time. The cost from December, 1916, when the Ministry was formed, to the end of December, 1917, including both months, is practically £153,000. But if I left it at that I think I should give the House an entirely wrong impression as to the cost of the Department at the present time. This is a new Department. Naturally, at the outset, before our activities really came into anything like full operation—they have not done that vet, I may say—the cost was small, but it has been growing ever since. I think, perhaps, it would be more in accordance with the wishes of the noble Viscount if I tell him the cost for December last. The expenditure during that month was £42,000. That includes salaries, the cost of investigation, incidental expenses, and the Food Campaign. The cost has naturally been gradually increasing over the whole of the past twelve months since the Ministry was first established, and it will certainly continue to increase for some little time to come.


Likely to increase?


It is likely to continue to increase for some time. Increasing expenditure will be incurred for instance in connection with the rationing scheme. It is impossible to estimate the increased cost until we know how far the organisations set up with local authorities will have to be increased. It is hoped—and I trust this is not merely the expression of a pious wish—that all direct and indirect administrative costs will be covered by margins received in connection with the sale of commodities. The cost may appear to noble Lords to be high, and as I say it is a growing cost, but it is small on the immense business that we do—on turnover if I may so describe it—in obtaining supplies and in distributing the food for 45,000,000 people, which involve an enormous sum. I have no close estimate of what the food consumption would amount to in value for the whole country, but it probably exceeds £700,000,000, or at the rate of over £60,000,000 a month, and, having regard to that, the expenditure on the administrative expenses of the Food Ministry is considerably less than one-tenth of one per cent. It must be remembered that the expenditure of the Ministry covers not only the case of commodities purchased for retail, but also the controlling of maximum prices and distribution, in addition to the enforcement of orders and propaganda. It may interest the noble Lord to know that the cost would have been considerably larger were it not for the fact that a number of business men give their services to the Department free of remuneration. The staff is, of course, a very large one at present. The headquarters staff of the Ministry of Food amounts to 3,500, of whom 2,500 are women. Of the 560 responsible positions at headquarters, 65, or 11 per cent., are filled by Civil Servants, and about 45 per cent. by business men. Sixty of these business men receive no remuneration; they are voluntary. Eighty, or about 14 per cent. of the positions are filled by women, one of whom is a Civil Servant. The noble Viscount has just stated that he proposes to-morrow week to raise the whole question of the policy of food administration, and if there is any further information he requires on that occasion, with regard to the expenditure and the constitution of the staff, I shall be very happy to give it.


I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord.