§ LORD ABERCONWAY has the following Questions on the Paper—
§ To ask His Majesty's Government whether the Food Controller has taken into consideration the position of private hospitals, in which two-thirds of the wounded officers now in England are being cared for, under the new Food Regulations; whether he is aware that the amount of meat and butter rations officially specified is totally inadequate to supply the necessary amount of nourishment to the wounded, and what special allowances he is prepared to give them in the way of food; whether, having regard to the difficulty of procuring such supplies under food cards as 166 are already allowed, he will devise a means of supplying private hospitals direct from the source of Army supplies with such quantities of meat, butter, and cheese its may be required by the patients.
§ To ask His Majesty's Government whether it is the case that all home produce, including pork, bacon, poultry, game, butter, cheese, fruit, and vegetables may be cold-stored or otherwise preserved and retained for gradual consumption by the producer without subjecting him to accusations of hoarding; whether the Food Control Department will distinctly prescribe conditions and also a reasonable period against which supplies of food may be acquired in bulk for domestic consumption so as to prevent the waste of time and labour involved by continual small purchases; whether game, venison, and wild fowl may be used in addition to the ordinary food rations prescribed in the London area; and whether he will allow persons owning a farm or garden or a small holding in the country the full use of their home-grown produce in any town or place in which they may actually reside.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to say that I do not suggest that the Orders for which the Food Controller is responsible are in any way unfair, bat he must know that the multiplicity of those Orders, and the complexity of the language in which they are couched, are affording great difficulty to large numbers of people. We are all anxious to keep within the law, but at the same time we feel certain difficulties in doing so, and in view of those difficulties I ask the noble Lord if he will deal with the points which I have raised. In the first place I understand that hospitals are allowed to have meat and butter in excess of the actual ration allowance of the inmates of the house. There are about two-thirds of the wounded officers at present being cared for in private hospitals, and it is most important that those who conduct those hospitals should not only feel that they are acting within the law in giving those wounded men what they require, but it is also important that the tradesmen with whom they deal should feel that they can supply what is wanted without contravening the law. The noble Lord will see that the butcher and the cheesemonger are by no means anxious to find themselves summoned for giving a larger allowance 167 than the food ration would appear to warrant. It is always difficult, even if you have a right to get the food, to get it, and many shops are unable to supply the quantities that are required; and I would therefore suggest that something might be done in the case of hospitals of every kind, and of homes in which soldiers are being cared for, to enable those who run such hospitals and homes to get supplies from Army sources, of course, paying the usual price.
§ Then I want to know whether it is the case that all home produce of every kind may be stored or otherwise preserved and retained by the producer for gradual consumption, without submitting himself to penalties as a hoarder. I believe that is the intention of my noble friend, but I do not know whether it is actually so stated in any definite Order. Of course, people will not fatten pigs or grow poultry or other articles of food if they are either forced to consume them on the spot or sell them where there is no convenient market; but if it is clear to their minds that they may cold store or otherwise preserve those articles for future consumption, I believe there would be a very sustained effort by people owning small holdings to do something to increase the food products of the country. Therefore I hope my noble friend will make that perfectly clear.
§ Then with regard to the hoarding question. A great many people are in complete doubt as to what is meant by hoarding. Benches of magistrates apparently act upon no definite principle. In one case a savage penalty is inflicted, because a man has a large amount of tea. In other cases, merely nominal penalties are inflicted, and I think the public have the right to know whether the old thrifty methods, by which you generally bought a month's supplies and kept them for consumption during the month, are to be treated as an offence against the law, and whether you are to be obliged to go out day by day and buy your groceries and other things in dribblets. I sumbit to the Government that it is by no means an advantage to the country that people should in all cases buy their food in small quantities, but that a great deal of time and labour would be saved if it were clearly understood you might have a considerable amount of tea or cheese, or sugar, or a few simple things of that kind, provided you could show that you were actually consuming those articles week by week, and so long as the supplies lasted were not buying 168 day by day from the cheesemonger or the grocer. I think a great deal might be said for a reasonable storage of food such as I have mentioned, and if my noble friend takes that view I hope he will make it clear
§ There is another point which I know people think pretty strongly about. It has been stated that if you raise produce in the garden of your country house or farm or cottage you may eat that produce in addition to the amount of the ration to which you would otherwise be confined, but that if you live part of your time in London you are not allowed, even if you sent it up to London, to use any portion of it to supplement the ration to which you are entitled under the Order. I submit that there is no justice in a distinction of that kind. Why should a man be penalised if he lives in London, or why, if he lives in the country, should he have greater latitude in the consumption of what he himself grows? It is not a question as between rich and poor. There are thousands of small people in London who live in flats and have a small country cottage, with a few acres of ground, or a small farm, and who, if it were made worth their while, would grow food fit for fattening pigs and poultry and thus increase our food supplies; but they will not do that and go to that expense if they are not allowed to eat the supplies of food so produced. They do not want to sell it in the market, and in many cases they would merely grow vegetables which are only available for food at certain times of the year, when there is a glut and when they do not want to eat them, and when it is impossible to sell them. I suggest that in every case where a man is willing to dig up his garden and grow such things as potatoes, or Jerusalem artichokes, or sunflowers, or anything on which you can feed pigs and poultry, he should be encouraged to do it, and the best encouragement is to allow him to send up his produce to London, if he lives in London, and to consume it in addition to his rations. I also suggest that in the case of wild fowl and game there should be greater latitude allowed. People do not want in most cases to spend money on shooting wild fowl or game if they are not allowed to eat it. I think that, considering the scarcity that there now appears to be and the difficulty of getting it, greater liberty might be shown by the Government in that direction. I submit this to my noble friend, and I should be glad if he 169 could see his way to fall in with the suggestions I have made.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, it may be convenient that I should add a question which relates to one put by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I desire to know—we ought, to have it clear what is the position of the man who has taken in, we will say, four months' supply of tea or of cheese? That is good housekeeping. He has done it with perfect good faith, and he has done it according to his usual practice, and not contrary, as I understand, to any Order which has come from the Controller's Office. I have to confess that the Orders are so difficult to understand and they come out so very frequently, one Order repealing another, that I am not certain whether I am right or not, but understand that that man is now bound to get rid of all his stock except that which is sufficient for a fortnight's or three weeks' supply, and that the rest is to be sold and he is to be given one half the worth of it. I cannot understand that part of the Regulation. It is disadvantage enough to a man to have to sacrifice four months' supply and to live from hand to mouth. It is of course, more expensive to live from hand to mouth, and it is inconvenient in many ways. Still, I can understand that the necessities of the country may demand that sacrifice from him. But why on earth he should get only one half the value of the stock that he has in hand I cannot conceive. Why should he be penalised? I should like to ask what becomes of the half of the value? Does it go to the grocer who buys the stock?
The only other remark I have to make is with regard to what fell from the noble Lord just now as to cold storage. I cannot conceive the reason why cold storage should not be practised. I can understand the objection to the articles in store being taken out in greater quantities at a time than is expedient, and that might be checked by requiring licences to be obtained before the articles are removed. But why those who have game should not be encouraged to live upon that game instead of competing with the ordinary population by going into the town to buy butcher's meat. I cannot imagine. I confess—I do not, mind admitting it—I have come stored game, and I had fondly hoped to avoid competing with the ordinary market at all. I thought I was doing a virtuous act, but 170 I am very doubtful now whether the Controller's Department, regards it in that light. There is it case which is particularly hard. I know if person who has let, a shooting on the understanding that part of the rent is to be paid in game, and that game is stored. If you prevent that game being used you are taking part of the rent of the shooting out of the individuals hands. What right have you to do that? I should not ask what right, because all rights are in abeyance under the present system. But what object is there in doing anything of that sort? I apologise if I have read amiss any of the Orders, but I can assure the House I have not intended to raise a trivial matter, and I should like to be told if I have done so, and, if not, what the explanation is.
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I allude to the first Question that Lord Aberconway has asked? I should like to say a word on behalf of the much-abused Food Controller. As regards hospitals he has behaved, for a wonder, extremely fairly. He has appointed a Committee composed of the leading experts in London to control the question of the supply of food to the patients. There are three leading medical men on it, and the leading officials of all the four great London hospitals, and to that Committee, which acts as an advisory Committee, all questions concerning the food of patients are referred. I am sure that Lord Aberconway must have been misled when he says that the food supplied to the hospitals for officers is totally inadequate.
I am sure that is because it is not given a fair trial. Does he know that the ration allowed for officers' hospitals is twice as much as is allowed to civilian patients? We are quite content to try the ration which the Food Controller has allowed us of one lb. per week for civilian patients, provided that it is spread over all the patients, but at the officers' hospital—and officers and men are treated the same—the allowance is two and one-fifth lbs. per week. Of course, people who have been used to getting dinner for nothing are very much alarmed when they think they are likely to get nothing for dinner. We all suffer much 171 more from what does not happen than from what does, and if those whom Lord Aberconway can influence will just try this ration fairy I am quite sure they will be able to manage upon it. I am not satisfied myself with the ration which has been allowed for nurses, but we intend to give it a fair trial. To say that it is totally inadequate is really, if I may say so, to mislead the public, because it is not.
§ LORD RHONDDA
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked me two series of Questions. Before answering them I should like to express my warm appreciation of the kind words used towards myself by Lord Knutsford. It is really something to be very proud of, that after nine months in the position of Food Controller I have at any rate one friend left.
The first series of Questions asked by Lord Aberconway relates to hospitals. These questions really concern my noble friend the Secretary of State for War, rather than myself. It is from Instructions issued by him that such information as I can give has been derived. I will hand the noble Lord a copy of these Instructions, and will confine my observations to the comparatively small part played by my Department in their preparation. The noble Lord suggests that the prescribed and maximum scale of dietary for auxiliary hospitals is inadequate. I am advised that the amount of meat, bacon, and fish allowed on this scale is liberal, that the amount of margarine and suet is sufficient, and that the total dietary compares favourably with the actual consumption in civilian hospitals, from which statistics have recently been collected. It does not, therefore, seem necessary to make provision for special allowances in addition to the prescribed quantities of rationed foods. There should be no difficulty in obtaining supplies when the card system is in operation, and therefore no need to draw from Army supplies. If the noble Lord will read that part of the War Office Instructions which refers to Supply of Foodstuffs, he will, I think, agree that provision has been made for every contingency which is likely to arise.
With regard to the other Question, the provisions of the Food Hoarding Order relating to home produce are perfectly clear. Clause 4 (b) provides that the Order shall not apply to any home-made or home-produced article of food in the possession 172 of the producer or maker; and it makes no difference whether such home produce is kept in larder or delivered into a cold store. There are, however, two points to be borne in mind first, that the producer must not acquire by purchase any further supplies of similar articles so as to render the amount held excessive; secondly, that the Poultry and Game (Cold Storage) Order imposes restrictions on the delivery of poultry and game out of any cold store where the store has a total refrigerated space of 5,000 cubic feet or upward.
§ LORD RHONDDA
The noble Duke asks whether a four months' supply of tea would be regarded as excessive.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I was not referring to that. In the Order you have just read it says that there may be a store provided similar articles were not purchased so as to make the amount stored excessive.
§ LORD RHONDDA
The clause says that the producer "must not acquire by purchase any further supplies of similar articles so as to render the amount held excessive." Each case would have to be considered on its merits. I am afraid I cannot give the noble. Duke, and I would rather not try, any precise definition of the word "excessive." I think he must be guided by his own circumstances.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
May I point out that it is rather hard to issue Orders to individuals all over the country which cannot be interpreted except with regard to the circumstances in each case. And who is to interpret them? How is the individual, the small country gentleman in county areas, to find out whether he has an excessive amount of game or not, unless there is some definition of the word?
§ LORD RHONDDA
I think it is a common practice not to give a definition. In the case of the Food Hoarding Order the word "reasonable" is used, and is not defined. I am advised by my legal friends—I am not a lawyer myself—that it would be very unwise indeed for me to give any precise definition. I think I should know whether I had stored an excessive quantity, 173 and a quantity entirely beyond my needs. I am certainly not able to comply with the request of the noble Duke and give him a precise definition of the word "excessive.
With regard to the purchase of a four months' supply of tea, I should regard that amount as excessive and unreasonable. As the noble Duke says, Orders are frequently changed. Once having given a decision as to the issue of an Order, to some extent it passes from me. I think the position to-day is that if the noble Duke had, before April 9, when the Food Hoarding Order was issued, acquired a four months' supply he would be not guilty of hoarding by keeping it; but he must not afterwards, with that supply in stock, purchase fresh supplies. With regard to the sale of excessive quantities of food which a person may have acquired since April 9, his opportunity of selling it at half-price has gone. The instruction of the Ministry of Food only enabled him to do that during "Conscience Week," which has expired.
§ LORD RHONDDA
It is a compromise. The matter was considered very carefully, and it was suggested that no price at all should be given. But we came to the conclusion that to sell at half-price was not an unreasonable compromise. I have already stated that it would be inadvisable to attempt any general definition of food hoarding in view of the difference of circumstances affecting town and country life. Each individual case must be judged on its merits. I did, however, indicate for the guidance of householders, in connection with the recent Amnesty Order, that a fortnight to three weeks' supply of any of the staple articles of food need not be regarded as excessive, but that stocks for longer periods should only be held by people living in districts remote from any source of supply. It is, of course; a saving of time and labour to purchase a sack of flour or a chest of tea. But there are other considerations in a period of scarcity of even greater importance than the saving of time and labour.
The third Question asked by the noble Lord is whether game, venison, and wild fowl may be used in addition to the ordinary food rations prescribed in the London area. It has been provisionally arranged in connection with the London and Home Counties rationing scheme, and an announc- 174 ment has been made in the Press, that rabbits, hares, and birds (other than poultry and game birds) kept by members of a household or caught or killed by them may be consumed in addition to the ration, while the meat of any other animal (including poultry, venison, and game) kept, caught, or killed in the neighbourhood by any member of the household or any employee of the householder may for the purpose of the ration be reckoned at two-thirds of its actual weight.
Complaint has been made that under the provisional arrangements a person receiving produce from his home at a distance will not be allowed the benefit of the concession granted to the home producer, and it is suggested that this will discourage production. I recognise that this is a difficult point, and that there is much to be said both for and against the rule at the moment in force. But I would remind your Lordships that I have definitely described the present arrangements as provisional only. I have appointed a small but representative Committee under the chairmanship of a member of this House (Lord Somerleyton) to deal with this among the many difficult questions which arise in connection with the self-supplier, and I have asked that Committee to report in good time before the general rationing of meat comes into force on March 25. I believe the House will agree with me that a final decision on this particular point, should await their report.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
My Lords, on the point last mentioned by the noble Lord he knows I feel strongly because I have troubled him about it more than once within the last ten days. I think the Food Controller should direct his attention to the encouragement of an increased production of food. There are an enormous number of small men, self-suppliers, all over the country, who for patriotic reasons have come to London and to the other large towns to do war work, and if they are not allowed to have the advantages which they would be able to secure by living in their own homes and small farms, it is a discouragement to them to do this patriotic work and also a distinct discouragement to the production of food. If a man is to be limited to his compulsory ration he will say, "It is troublesome to produce these things at home, and I shall get little advantage out of it. If I have to come to London I shall take my ration from the butcher in London." He will go to that 175 depleted market, and you are, therefore, going straight towards a decreased production all over the home counties and the other parts of the country. I think the Food Controller should not only reconsider this very carefully but should reconsider it immediately, because rapid results come from some of these Orders, as we saw in the way the lean beasts were rushed into the market. I had an experience of that myself in September of last year. Lots of things can be produced by these home-suppliers. They can produce pigs from the waste of their own little bit of land, also poultry, and above all geese, which live mainly on grass. You may have a good production of these articles with very little encouragement. Let me say a word or two about rabbits. The Food Controller will, I think, admit that, he has not had one of his greatest successes with rabbits. But it is important to bring the rabbit out of his hole again. Since the proclamation of the 1s. 9d. he has gone to ground and disappeared. The Food Controller is not too proud to learn a lesson from experience. I think that if he raised the price slightly, say up to 2s., it might have a good effect.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
I beg the noble Lord's pardon—to 2s. 6d., if that is necessary. Above all, if he wants to produce rabbits for the market let him put them outside the ration altogether, and say that rabbits caught, produced, and sold may be consumed outside the ration. Do that, and you will have plenty of rabbits produced, and you will at the same time rid the country of a dangerous pest.
§ LORD RHONDDA
My Lords, I think that I must ask the noble Viscount to be content with the answer that I gave just now. But in regard to the matter of the supply in London, referred to by the noble Viscount, that is now before a Committee, and I trust that they will make their report as quickly as possible. I have said already that I think there is much to be said for the arguments used by the noble Viscount, but that matter having been referred to a Committee and being a difficult one, for there are other sides to the question, I would ask him to be good enough to exercise patience and wait till the Committee has reported.
With regard to rabbits, I am afraid I 176 cannot hold out any encouragement that I shall be willing to raise the price to half-a-crown. The price of 2s. is at least double the price of rabbits before the war, and that ought to be a sufficient inducement. It is not a case of growing and breeding them; it is simply a case of killing them. There were, I think, several reasons to account for the disappearing rabbit. There was a shortage of cartridges, and the weather was bad immediately after the Order was issued, for we had a snow-storm. Further, rabbits do not breed in certain months of the year, and the high price of 4s. which was ruling before the Order was issued gave a stimulus to the catching of rabbits, and that necessarily lessened the supply available when the Order came into force. You cannot have your rabbits twice over. If anybody tells me that the British farmer is so unwise an individual as not to have rabbits killed whenever he can, whether the price be 2s. or 4s., I should beg leave to doubt it very much, especially having regard to the effect even in ordinary times of the rabbit pest. The rabbit is about the worst enemy that the farmer has, and considering the high prices now ruling for corn—two and a-half to three times what they were twenty years ago, and certainly more than double what they were before the war—if any one tells me that the farmer is so unwise, merely because I have fixed the price of rabbits at 2s. instead of 3s. or 4s., the price ruling before the Order, as to allow rabbits to eat their own value three or four times in the cornfield, then I must say that I cannot believe it.