HL Deb 07 July 1942 vol 123 cc713-22

LORD FARINGDON rose to call attention to Government policy in relation to small poultry keepers, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like at once to assure the noble Duke that it is no spirit of carping or criticism that I move this Motion; indeed, I think and hope that he will be glad to have an opportunity of explaining publicly, and in a way which I hope will receive the maximum of publicity, the Ministry of Agriculture's new scheme for poultry. I am sorry to have received from the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, a courteous message regretting that owing to illness he is unable to be present. I am sure your Lordships will join with me in hoping that we may have the pleasure of his genial presence among us with the shortest possible delay. It was in any case no part of my intention to go over ground to-day which I have repeatedly covered in your Lordships' House, much as I wish that the Ministry of Food had a higher appreciation of the value of eggs from a culinary point of view than they have of eggs from a dietetic point of view. I have repeatedly said that I think that the Ministry of Food have taken too purely scientific a view of the dietetic value of eggs, and have not paid sufficient attention to the importance of eggs to the housewife at a time like the present, when supplies of foodstuffs are so short and food is liable to be monotonous. It is not my intention, however, to emphasize that point to-day, although I hope that the Ministry of Food will in the future take a more generous view of the importance of eggs in the national kitchen.

My object to-day is to elicit from the noble Duke a statement in clear terms of the new arrangements for poultry breeders and egg producers. I have no quarrel at all with the new system; indeed, it is consistent with what I have urged upon the Ministry on other occasions in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that what the Ministry is saying is this: "We have calculated that the scraps left by one person, with a certain amount of balancer meal added, will support one hen." They have also said—and I do not think that anyone can deny the justice of this—that if anyone receives this balancer meal with which, plus his scraps, he can feed a hen, he must necessarily give up the coupon which entitles him to obtain shall eggs. That seems to me to be the purest justice.

I should like to point out in passing, however, that the case has to be considered of those, such as children, who receive preferential treatment in the matter of eggs. There is a difference in their treatment under the old and the new schemes. If the calculation here is based, as it clearly is, on the amount of scraps which one person leaves, then the child has no more scraps than the adult, and therefore no more claim to balancer meal than the adult; but it is possibly right that the child should not be forced to give up all its egg coupons in order to obtain balancer meal for one hen, but should be entitled still to receive three ration eggs, while giving up the coupon for one egg to obtain meal for the hen. I realize that the hen produces more eggs than will be obtained for the egg coupons, but, once the principle of differential treatment in certain cases has been admitted, it is not strictly fair or just, or perhaps even wise, to give up that position entirely.

I have received a very considerable correspondence on this matter, and I have seen a great many letters and articles in the Press complaining about this new Order. I have no doubt that the Ministry have been inundated with abuse. I do not know whether their experience has been the same as mine, but the vast majority of the complaints which I have received have been to the effect that the keepers of poultry have now been ordered by the Ministry to destroy all but one hen per person in any household. The noble Duke will no doubt be able to say, more clearly and eloquently than I can, that that is not the case. The fact is that if you can persuade your neighbour to give his egg coupon and his scraps you may keep a hen for him. I do suggest, however, that it might be helpful to the general public if the Ministry would give some indication of exactly what proportion of eggs should be given to a neighbour in exchange for his ration coupon and his scraps.

I can foresee considerable difficulties in working out the proportion, and I am sure that the experts at the Ministry could lay down some rule which would save a good deal of possibly acrimonious agrument. Mrs. Brown may give up three ration coupons to Mrs. Jones next door, who has hens, and who has had all the expense of the paraphernalia necessary for keeping them. If Mrs. Jones had only three coupons, Mrs. Brown might consider that she was entitled to half the eggs, or she might consider that she was at any rate entitled to one egg a week; but Mrs. Jones's hens may not produce one egg a week—I have known hens, alas! that did not. On the other hand, Mrs. Jones, who has borne all the capital expenditure involved in keeping hens, may feel that she is entitled to a higher proportion of the eggs than half. I think that if the Ministry could give a lead on that point it would save considerable trouble, and incidentally would serve the purpose of indicating to people how the Ministry intend that the present scheme should work. By the way, I would also suggest that the Ministry should make the general public aware that during the last year they have received something like sixty-five eggs per person.




What have you been doing?


What have I been doing? I produce my own eggs. The noble Duke says forty, but I imagine that that figure of forty may be very seriously reduced in the future. The fact that people who keep their own poultry will be giving up their shell egg ration card may help to some extent, but I think that the backyard poultry keeper would be considerably encouraged if he realized that his neighbour who did not keep poultry would receive even less than forty eggs a year. Moreover, the neighbour who might not otherwise feel inclined to save her scraps and give them to the backyard poultry keeper, might thereby be encouraged to do so. I would therefore suggest that the Ministry should give some indication to the public that in the future the ration of shell egg is likely to be even less than it has been in the past.

There is another point which, I think, arises. From now on those having fewer than twenty-five hens—instead of those having fewer than fifty—will be allowed to dispose of their eggs privately. Those having over twenty-five will be in the same position as commercial poultry keepers. I would like the noble Duke to give me some indication as to whether the Ministry have considered the matter of collection. Already collection from the commercial poultry keepers is liable to be irregular and, I would suggest, is not entirely satisfactory. The collection of eggs from the very considerably increased number of smallish poultry keepers seems to me to pose a very considerable problem, which no doubt has been considered by the Ministry, but which I think it would be comforting to these people to know has been considered, and to know how it will be dealt with. It is the rule that any poultry keeper is entitled to keep back for his own use a reasonable quantity of eggs. A great number of institutions—hospitals, schools, and the like—keep on their own scraps a considerable number of poultry, and will now come under the rule affecting those having more than twenty-five hens. I feel pretty certain that the Ministry will give me a satisfactory reply in this matter because it seems so clearly sensible, but it would be, I know, a great comfort to these institutions to know that, like the individual producer, they will be allowed to keep for their own use a reasonable number of the eggs which they produce.

There is one aspect of this question about which I think poultry keepers never have been satisfied, and are still dissatisfied—namely, the collection of waste. It has been shown what amazing results can be obtained by the use of waste for feeding poultry, but still many of us do not feel that the collection is carried on as efficiently as it might be. I hope that this will not be lost sight of, and that door-to-door collections in the large urban areas will be carried out far more efficiently than they are at present. The noble Lord who moved the previous Motion spoke very movingly of the loss of the capital assets of the people engaged in the industry of which he was speaking. I too, in your Lordships' House, have spoken of the position of the commercial poultry farmers, an enormous number of whom are ex-Service men from the last war who put their gratuities into this industry. The noble Earl, Lord Darnley, seemed to sug-gest that the horticulturists should be compensated for their loss of capital, and the noble Duke replied—quite correctly, of course—that the Government could not undertake to compensate industry. But I would suggest that they should consider some system of, say, easy credit, to enable poultry farmers after the war to re-establish themselves. This is a trade which can be, and is by nature, a protected trade, and can be one fairly free from competition, and one which we can concentrate upon here in our own country. It is, moreover, one of the greatest possible importance for national health. I should be glad if the noble Duke when he replies could at least say that he would be prepared to consider the evolution of a scheme for the re-establishment of this industry after the war.

I think that the greatest part of the present outcry has come really from the inadequacies of the present system. It has been possible in the past, owing to the balancer meal ration that people were receiving, for them to keep considerably more hens than the number to which their home scraps really entitled them. I think, in fairness to the Ministry of Agriculture, that it must be admitted that they have not urged people to keep excessive numbers of hens, but the general drive in favour of backyard poultry keeping has, I am afraid, had that effect. Moreover, there are one or two other aspects of the matter which make the present Order somewhat onerous. One of these has relation to the Ministry of Food. I am afraid it must be admitted that the distribution of shell egg has been perhaps the most unsatisfactory feature of our rationing system. I am sure all your Lordships know, as I do, very considerable numbers of people who have not been able to obtain even their 40 eggs a year. The allocation may be all right, but the distribution is undoubtedly unsatisfactory, and many people throughout the country would have received no eggs at all had they not been able to obtain them from neighbours having a certain number of backyard poultry. For this reason I think that the cutting down of backyard poultry, should it be necessary—because I hope that it may not be necessary—may have an effect going much beyond the owners of the poultry themselves, since so many people have been receiving their supplies from these sources. I hope—and I trust the noble Duke will encourage me in the hope—that there is no reason to expect any very great reduction in the number of backyard poultry. I believe that if during the period of grace which has been given people in the next few months, they get to work to organize neighbours to give them their scraps and to allow them to have their shell egg ration coupons, they may find it possible to carry on on a not very reduced scale. I beg to move.


My Lords, I welcome the Motion that the noble Lord has brought forward, and I also welcome very warmly the manner in which he has introduced it. The situation in regard to these poultry has given rise to a certain amount of anxiety. That I would not deny, and it will be my endeavour to make the position as clear as I can. In case there should remain any points which I do not clear up I may state that it is hoped towards the end of this week to produce a Paper which will answer a considerable number of questions connected with the matter. The changes in the scheme of rationing for domestic poultry keepers have not been made without great reluctance and not until we had discussed very fully the various alternatives which might have been introduced. We must naturally commend domestic poultry keepers for the way in which they endeavour to keep their hens and produce eggs, but the situation has now greatly altered since last December, owing to the extension of the war, the gravity of the shipping position, and, above all, the increase in the extraction of wheat to 85 per cent., which alone in one full year will cost us several hundred thousand tons of feeding stuffs.

These are hard facts. That is why we have to make up our minds to produce some alternative scheme. The amount of feeding stuffs imported for live stock today is practically non-existent. As your Lordships know, the farmers have grown a great increase both in crops for human consumption and for live stock, but even their prodigious efforts have not produced enough to meet more than a small portion of the demand for feeding stuffs for these animals. The farmers need their own crops, when they have grown them, for their dairy cows, horses, pigs, and poultry, and therefore there is not a great deal left to go round. Some cut had to be made, and next winter the dairy farmer will not be receiving the rations which he received last year. The pig and poultry commercial breeders have started with a cut of one-third, and that cut will be increased from September I by one-eighth, and over and above that they will lose on an average one cwt. per month for each ten acres. These are very meagre allowances, and it is extremely hard for some of these people to keep going. It would not be possible to keep them going if we did not make some cut in the ration to the domestic poultry keepers. The Government therefore came to the conclusion that they had to make some cut.

There were two alternatives. One which is fairly obvious would have been to halve the number of hens which anyone might keep, and thereby halve the ration of balancer meal which anyone might receive. This would have allowed no outlet for the hens so curtailed except slaughter, because we could not have allowed any new people to own hens. It would also have left large houses and small houses in the same position, with six hens. We must, if we can, introduce a fair and equitable scheme. So the alternative scheme which has been introduced is one which relates the number of hens to the number of persons. Two people have frequently kept twelve hens. We commend their enterprise, but it is quite certain that they received a far larger number of eggs than the people who had to go to the grocer. The household waste of two persons, if reasonable economy is carried out in the home, is not considered to be enough to provide scraps for two hens, so most of these people have had some form of outside feeding stuffs, either from their gardens or possibly from their neighbours.

The new proposal will not seriously affect that type of household. It will merely put it on a more solid basis whereby the householder may ask his next-door neighbour to give him some scraps and his egg ration book for which in return he will surrender a proportion of eggs. As the noble Lord who introduced the Motion said, no serious criticism could fairly be suggested of the fact that those who receive a balancer meal should surrender their shell egg ration, because it is only fair that people should either receive the eggs from the Ministry of Food or receive the food to keep the hens. Of course we still come back to the fact that the poultry-keeper is best off. In one year a hen should certainly produce at least 150 eggs. Last year, on the egg ration scheme, the individual ration was forty, and it is quite possible that that figure may not be maintained through the next few months. I know it will be said that the hens cannot be expected to lay all the year round, but then the scheme of rationing is not uniform month by month. We recognize in my Department that small families may have some difficulty in reducing their flocks. We therefore suggest that there might be a joint flock, whereby one person keeps the hens and neighbours surrender their ration cards. In such a case it is possible that the person who keeps the hens will, in return for the labour and time involved, expect to keep a slightly larger proportion of the eggs than those which go to his neighbours.

The noble Lord asks me what our view of this matter is. It is possible that if every person in the country should now surrender his shell egg ration and keep one hen, the scheme would become top heavy, and that we should not save the feeding stuffs which we anticipate. That would necessitate another form of interference, but we do not anticipate that that will happen. The poultry keeper who had up to fifty hens must now reduce the number, for no one may keep more than twenty-five hens unless he registers with the packing station in his area—that is to say, no one domestic poultry keeper may keep more than twenty-five hens. There is no doubt more waste in some areas than in others, whether in towns or rural districts, and if people are careful with the waste they collect and the way they feed their scraps to poultry, it may be possible for them to keep more than the one hen. There is nothing against that, but having taken into consideration the very grave situation regarding food and regarding shipping and the other consequences of war, we had to produce a new scheme. This we believe to be the fairest in the circumstances that could be produced, and in all the sacrifices which have to be made by the country, we ask the domestic poultry keeper to approve the scheme as being the best way in which to deal with the matter.


My Lords, I am sure we are all veny grateful to the noble Duke for his clear exposition of the Government's scheme. I hope that it may serve to allay certain anxieties that are felt throughout the country. Clearly there is nothing more that one can say when it is a matter of shortage of supply, when it is a question of lack of shipping in which to bring the supplies. Those of us who are dependent for the upkeep of our industries, whatever they may be, on those supplies, must face the grim necessity of cutting down the scale of our endeavours and make the best of the situation. I believe that the scheme which His Majesty's Government have now put out, if properly worked and if properly explained—and I look forward with anticipation to the publication of the Ministry of Agriculture's book of questions and answers—will result in a far more complete use of waste in households than is now the case. If that is the case we may not suffer so seriously as we otherwise are bound to do from the shortage of feeding-stuffs. I thank the noble Duke for his reply and with your Lordships' permission I withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


Reported, without amendment.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificates from the Examiners that no Standing Orders are applicable to the following Bills:

Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Caernarvon),

Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Mold Gas and Water).