HL Deb 21 June 1951 vol 172 cc271-95

3.30 p.m.

LORD HAWKE rose to call attention to the need for the allocation of more sugar to housewives and manufacturers and more tinplate to canners in order to make full use of the British fruit crop; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must first declare what interest I have in this matter, though it is small. I grow a very small quantity of fruit for the market, just sufficient to realise the difficulties of those who have to earn their living by so doing. This is not a very exciting Motion but if, as a consequence of my moving it, His Majesty's Government are able to do anything to meet our requests, we shall have fulfilled a definite public service to the housewife and will have done something vital for horticulture.

The British climate grows some of the best fruit in the world. But we lack sunshine, and therefore our fruit tends to be rather sour. Even some of the dessert fruit, the fruit eaten raw, we require to eat with sugar. As for cooking fruit, and for preserving, in nearly every case we need quite substantial quantities of sugar. That means that we cannot make the best use of our fruit crop unless we are able to lay our hands on the appropriate amount of sugar. We all know that at certain times of the year our fruit goes to waste, particularly in private gardens. In the autumn, it is almost impossible to give away cooking apples, and in the earlier part of the year most of the rhubarb in the country is never eaten. If you ask any housewife the reason for that, the answer is always: "We just have not the sugar." I was hoping to produce the testimony of a member of your Lordships' House, who supplies the hotels in the Lake District with fruit. He would have told your Lordships that, in the season of the sourer fruits, he finds difficulty in persuading hotels to take his produce if they can possibly buy something full of sugar syrup in a tin from the grocer.

Do we want to encourage fruit eating? I should have thought the answer to that question was obvious. After all, the medical profession has been going round for years telling us that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." They would hardly have told us that unless the evidence was overwhelming. They could, of course, change to the more modern saying, equally applicable, which is "Black currants daily, and you take life gaily." Still, the medical evidence is all on my side. Then, do we want to encourage people to plant more fruit? Undoubtedly we do, and His Majesty's Government have taken great steps in that direction. My noble friend Lord O'Hagan will be producing the evidence. What sort of quantities of fruit are we talking about? To discuss anything intelligently, one must have some vague idea of the figures involved. Figures of fruit crops are even more speculative than those of most other commodities nowadays. Last year, the official figures ran something like this: apples, 560,000 tons; pears, 25,000 tons; plums, 65,000 tons (a very bad year); cherries, 15,000 tons. Then we get on to the soft fruits: strawberries, 33,000 tons; raspberries, 15,000 tons; black currants, 17,000 tons; gooseberries, 8,000 tons, and the others, 5,000 tons. So that the apples are overwhelmingly the largest group, followed by the plums, which, at 65,000 tons, were a very bad crop last year.

How is the consumption of fruit affected by sugar? In other words, what is the incidence of sugar upon fruit? What is the sugar-fruit ratio? First of all, in the factory. The jam manufacturers turn out jam with a considerably lower fruit content than does the housewife. For instance, the fruit content of black currant jam is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 22 per cent. That, of course, is a matter which must be looked into as more of our fruit-bearing land comes into crop, so that the more fruit we have, the higher will be the fruit content of our jam. However, that is not the subject of our Motion this afternoon. Therefore, one can say that the jam manufacturer uses less than one pound of fruit for each pound of sugar that he is given. The canner achieves a much better ratio. For every pound of sugar he is given, he uses about 3 lb. of fruit; but, of course, he is subject to a far greater restriction than the sugar—that is, the tinplate. My noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney will be pointing out the difficulties regarding the tinplate position for canners.

Then there is a small body of people, who sprang up during the war, who make a sort of black currant syrup which was at one time, I believe, distributed free to the mothers of England to give to their offspring. The offspring were very fond of this stuff. Moreover, it was full of vitamin C, the vitamin which we import from overseas in oranges. These people no longer have their products distributed free by the Ministry, but have found a very wholesome and expanding market. From the horticultural point of view, they are most worthy people, because they enter into long contracts with growers to take all their produce and pay a respectable price. Up to date, these people, as the trees of their contractor growers get older and thus grow more fruit, have been needing more sugar to deal with the resulting increases in crop. This year, this was not to he and I understand that supplies are "frozen" at last year's figure, which is less than they require and less than they could use. The result will be that some of their contractor growers will have to throw their fruit on to the market, and these particular manufacturers may have to manufacture at their subsidiary factories on the Continent. They are not among the large users of fruit, but they are very useful ones.

We come next to the lady who carries the burdens of the Empire on her shoulders—the housewife. If she can be persuaded to use her sugar for the consumption of fruit she achieves the best ratio of the lot. When she makes jam she generally uses a pound for a pound; occasionally she even puts a little more fruit in on top of that. When she goes in for bottling, depending upon the variety of fruit, if she bottles with sugar she will use a quarter to half a pound of sugar for each pound of fruit. When she stews she uses the same proportion. But if you ask any housewife from one of the poorer families in the country whether she serves stewed fruit often, she says: "No, it is too hard on the sugar." She never has the sugar to spare. Why is that? I think it is largely the result of the change of habit amongst the people of this country in what they eat and drink. The lack of food substantial enough to make the foundation for a hard day's work means that people are always going in for snacks, They feel they want something to recuperate their energy, and there is no finer and quicker recuperator than glucose or sugar. They even sell packets of glucose to golfers, in order that the eighteenth hole may not seem too far away when they are at the ninth. To-day, the British working man is drinking innumerable cups of tea, flavoured very strongly with sugar, because he needs the energy given out by the sugar. That is the reason why the ordinary sugar ration does not permit the working-class housewife of this country to supply her family with much in the way of stewed fruit. That applies particularly to the sourer of fruits.

What is the crop position this year? My noble friends will go into it in more detail, but one can say that there has been a very late spring and no late frosts; crops look good, with the exception of cherries, which do not use much sugar anyway, and the season is expected to be a late one and a short one. Now we come to the sugar position. I purposely do not want to turn this into a sugar debate, because if I did we should soon invoke a smoke screen of statistics. We should be throwing at each other irreconcilable figures. I personally am quite convinced that if the Minister to-morrow ordered his statisticians to prove that sugar could be de-rationed they would do it. I am equally certain that if he told them to prove that it could not be de-rationed they would find no difficulty in doing that. But the position, very roughly, is that the refineries here turn out 2,700,000 tons of sugar a year from imported and homegrown raws. Out of that we in this country consume roughly 2,000,000 tons, and we export about 700,000 tons. My noble friend Lord Llewellin may be enlarging slightly upon those figures.

Now we come to the two great archenemies of higher consumption of food in this country—our old enemies, the cost-of-living index and subsidies. So far as I can make out, there is nothing in either of these to deter us greatly from increasing the quantity of sugar available for the domestic consumer. In the index "sugar plus syrup" is given a weight of 11 points in 1,000, or just over 1 per cent. A modest addition to that would make practically no difference to the cost-of-living index figure. Jam, which is hardly relevant, comes in with a multiple of other groceries, in a portmanteau heading weighting at 24 points in 1,000. The subsidy has some relevance, because on domestic sugar there is a subsidy, in very round figures, running at the rate of £9 to £10 a ton. I believe that on manufacturing sugar there is either no subsidy or even, possibly, the reverse of a subsidy—whatever that may be called.

How is the sugar applied at this moment? There is a domestic ration of 10 oz, a week, which uses up about 750.000 tons. In addition to that there is a so-called bonus, which is doled out in six-monthly allocations of 1 lb. each, with, probably, 1½ lb. at Christmas. If we include the caterers—and frankly I do not know how much they use—it accounts for a consumption of roughly half of our total. The balance is used in various forms of manufacture. The preservers as they are called (I presume they are the jam manufacturers), are the biggest of these, and the amount used by them is given by the Minister as 194,000 tons. The canners use 15,000 tons. Quite frankly, I do not know what the black currant syrup manufacturers use, but at a guess it is only one or two thousand tons. Of course there are many other manufacturers, such as brewers and so on, who receive sugar; but that sugar does not have any great effect upon our fruit consumption. At the moment the bonus is being given in six-monthly 1 lb, lots, from March to September, omitting the month of April, and there is a Christmas bonus in December. From the point of view of horticulture this is an extremely bad method, because, instead of being used for jam making or bottling, the sugar tends to go into ordinary current consumption. I know people will say that the prudent housewife pops it all at the back of the shelf. Well, she may do; but then when "little Willie's" birthday party comes along she has not the heart to refuse him a sugar cake. The result is that out comes the bonus that used to be called "jam sugar," and bang goes the chance of using that amount of fruit. I am sorry to say that the March allocation, which in my own household I expected to find in the cupboard, has gone the way of the rest.

How should we deal with the matter in another year, when we have time to think about it? I believe that we ought to make the domestic bonus drawable in either one or two lots, strategically placed in the fruit season, the first lot to deal with the soft fruit, and the second lot to deal with the plums. And we ought to call it "Jam sugar." That, psychologically, is most important. If we do that, and issue it in good large lumps, we shall find that those who do not intend to make jam will not draw it at all, whereas those who have the jam-making mentality will draw it and turn it into jam. It is fatal to dribble it out month by month and call it a "bonus." Secondly, the jam makers, clearly, should be given as much as they think they can use, provided that they increase the fruit content of their jam. I think the vitamin C black currant syrup people ought to have all that they can reasonably expect to use. In war time they provide our strategic reserve of vitamin C baby food. Canners should, obviously, have as much sugar as they need to match the amount of tinplate available for them. It is a piece of fine business to put our enormous plum crop into cans in this country instead of importing canned fruit.

What can we do now? It is very late. I suggest that there is no time at all to have long, inter-departmental wrangles. There is no time for the tribal warfare of Whitehall. Nor is there time for lengthy talks with the trade; particularly is there no time for lengthy talks with those people in the trade who would not be receiving an allocation, inasmuch as their consumption of fruit is not significant. If every little bit extra that can be squeezed has to be parcelled round to everyone, from the horticultural point of view it will be absolutely useless.

I have given the noble Earl notice of certain suggestions which I desire to make. I notified him that I was going to ask whether it would not be possible that the bonuses due on July 15, August 12 and September 9 should be obtainable now, or in the very near future. Further, I desire to ask that those bonuses should be replaced by a 3 lb. allocation as soon afterwards as it could be made available, so that the plum crop might be dealt with. I would also suggest that the Minister, if he sees fit to do these things, should announce that he is doing them specifically in order to deal with the bounteous fruit crops which appear to be in prospect, and that he should pay attention to the psychology of the matter and definitely call this sugar "fruit sugar" or "jam sugar." That is very important. The 3 lb. per ration book which would be involved, as I work it out, would amount to a total of approximately 69.000 tons. Then he should give the jam makers some more sugar. I am informed that they could sell more jam if they had more. Therefore, I suggest they should be given 10 per cent. more, which comes altogether to something of the order of 19,000 tons. And they should be told to use it for English fruit, and not for turning imported oranges into marmalade. As to the small black currant syrup people, I think they might well be given what they want. In any event, the amount involved is quite small.

With regard to canners, the whole position depends on what tinplate they can get. Clearly, any tinplate they get must be matched with sugar, and I have suggested 5.000 tons as a tentative figure in this connection. That would make a total of 94,000 tons, which is under 3 per cent. of the output of refineries. In other words, I am asking His Majesty's Government to squeeze out less than 3 lb. of every 100 lb. which is already being manufactured in this country. Those allocations would deal with the soft fruit crop and the plum crop which, so far as anyone can put an estimate on them, may be somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000 tons. With regard to cooking apples, I am afraid that the figures are so large, and the fruit comes on so much later in the year, that nothing short of de-rationing of sugar would be much good for them. But I maintain that this comparatively small quantity of sugar, strategically disposed at the right time, would make a very great difference, both to the consumers and to the growers. Without it, a great deal of fruit may well be wasted, as it has beer wasted at times in the past, or, alternatively, sold well below the cost of production. This is not in the least a Party Motion. I believe that I shall probably have the full sympathy of the noble Earl who is to reply. I think we are allies in this matter in fact. Even if we have lo be sparing with sugar, let us see that sugar is employed to the best advantage in using up our own crops which have often been wasted. It is common sense to try to save the crops which the Almighty has given us, and in doing so we should confer a boon not only on the consumer but also on the grower. I beg to move for Papers.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Hawke and I do so because feel that from the point of view of the horticultural industry there is an extremely strong case for particular attention to be paid to this subject at the present moment. The suggestions which Lord Hawke has put forward are eminently practical ones, and I should imagine they are quite possible of implementation. I very much hope that the noble Earl, in his reply, will give us some hope of steps which will remove the sense of disquiet that is felt by so many horticulturists at the present time, in view of the condition of affairs that obtains with regard to these questions of sugar, containers and so forth.

Your Lordships will recollect that a little time ago my noble friend Lord Carrington initiated a discussion with regard to the horticultural industry and horticulture generally. He was able to show clearly the great importance of this industry to our country—its importance from the point of view of health and also its importance having regard to the considerable interests involved in that particular branch of the agricultural industry, if I may call it so. We had brought out in this House what I understood was the policy of His Majesty's Government, which was to put forward a four-year plan calling for the development of horticulture in many respects in this country. That plan was ambitious, but I do not think it can be described as too ambitious. It was one which appealed to those engaged in the industry and has had encouraging results. I do not propose to go into the figures at any length or to go deeply into the question of how much more could be done than is being done at present; but considerable disquiet exists in the industry.

The target for soft-fruit growing put forward by the Government was an increase to 60,000 acres by 1951. That target has not yet been reached, but the acreage for England and Wales is around 51,500. The Government also called for an increase of 10,000 acres of dessert apple orchards and for an increase of 5,000 acres of pear orchards. These targets have not been reached, but have also been approximated. The target for tomatoes was an increase of production from 60,000 tons to 125,000 tons. There is no doubt that in spite of our uncertain climate we have the soil to grow a good deal more agricultural and horticultural crops. The plum crop, to which my noble friend Lord Hawke alluded, was bad last year, but the yield is expected to be about 120,000 tons this year.

The allocation of sugar for the making of jam and the growing of fruit are intimately connected. The disquiet amongst horticulturists is caused by the uncertainty they feel about being able to sell a high proportion of their crops. Hitherto, their prosperity has been affected by the importatipn of fruit from abroad and now it is being affected also by the allocation of sugar, which my noble friend has described as ludicrous, and by the difficulty in obtaining tin for containers. If the Government are sincere, as I feel sure they are, in pressing forward the four-year programme for the horticultural industry, it will be of the greatest help in promoting the industry on the lines they wish if some definite announcement is made about the allocation of sugar. This is not an easy subject with which to deal, but I suspect that most of your Lordships realise that the condition of horticulture is not satisfactory and that the industry has not reached that degree of productivity which we all seek to ensure for this not unimportant side of agriculture.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for raising this important subject. It is our duty to see that the fruits of our soil are not wasted. It is not only in the interests of the producer, who has been encouraged by the Government to increase his acreage and will suffer severe financial loss in the event of a glut, but it is also in the national interest that in these days of scarcity we should make full use of our produce, both in season and out of season. I wish to speak of one particular method of conserving our crops for use out of season—namely, canning. Between 1946 and 1949 there was a rise in the production of canned fruit and vegetables from about 260,000 tons to 390,000 tons—an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in four years. In fruit alone the increase was from 22,000 to 89,000 tons—an increase of over 300 per cent. I should have thought that the Government would be delighted at the progress of this industry. It is conserving valuable fruit. It is using home-grown produce. It is taking comparatively little sugar, which is in short supply—about I ton to every 2½ tons of fruit—and at the same time is adding variety to the nation's diet and saving foreign exchange.

But what do the Government do to encourage it? They cut the tinplate allowance by 14 per cent. in 1950, so that whereas in 1949 the industry had produced the equivalent of 900,000,000 1-lb. cans, in 1950 it produced 800,000,000 cans—a drop of 100,000,000 cans. Speaking in another place on February 27, the Minister of Food promised that the allocation for 1951 would not be less than that for 1950, and went on to say: But we got by last year, and I have no reason to suppose that, given the good will of the industry and the close, detailed consultations that we now have with it, we cannot get by this year as well, without undue disturbance. To be fair, he went on to give many reasons why he could not increase the allocation. But surely the object of the industry is not to get by without undue disturbance, but to preserve the maximum possible amount of our crops, and, in particular, the fruit crop, much of which may otherwise be wasted. It is true that last year we got by. There was an increase in the production of canned soft fruit from 9,000 tons to 16,000 tons, which took about 16 per cent. of the soft fruit crop. But this was made possible by a reduction of 9,500 tons in the production of canned plums. As your Lordships will recollect, last year was not, on the whole, a good fruit year, and there was, in particular, a failure of the plum crop, which is by far the largest fruit crop which is canned. This year, as we have heard, the prospects are much different, and we are faced with increased yields from increased acreages of almost all our fruit crops. If we are to avoid a glut, with all the consequent losses and waste, we must increase the amount of tinplate allotted to the canning industry. Although there are supplies of produce available, and there is the demand for an increase of about 10 per cent. over the 1949 production, I think that the most the producers and canners hope for is for the cuts made in 1950 to be restored. This would mean about 12,000 tons of tinplate for fruit and vegetables, and would enable about 36,000 extra tons of produce to be canned.

There seems to be no hope of any appreciable increase in the production of tinplate until the new factory comes into operation in the late autumn, which is far too late to help with this year's crop. Therefore, it seems that the only possibility of obtaining the 12,000 tons is from tinplate which is going for export. The estimated production for this year is, I believe, 760,000 tons. Of this about 270,000 tons is to be allocated to the fruit and vegetable canners. Exports for the first four months of this year have been 86,000 tom, of which about 50,000 tons have gone to the Commonwealth, which means that about 36,000 tons—or an annual rate of about 108,000 tons—have gone to foreign countries. It is from this amount that I am sure we must find the 12,000 tons that we need. It is, of course, for the Government to decide where the cuts should be made, but I think the noble Earl should give us some details of how the amount exported is made up, and the reasons for exporting it. Over 2,000 tons have gone this year to the Netherlands, and 3,000 tons to Denmark. Is some of this to pack the soft fruit of which we imported over 5,000 tons last year from Europe? Then 11,000 tons have gone to the Argentine. I thought that this was to be cut, but the figure seems to remain fairly constant. Further, there is 1,400 tons to Egypt, and a figure of over 10,000 tons, so far this year, to other foreign countries. I am not criticising in particular any of these allocations, but asking for information about them. As the Minister of Food said, we must earn dollars; but I cannot help feeling that because tinplate is easy to sell anti everyone wants it, the Government are prepared to sell to obtain foreign exchange and so improve the look of the balance of trade, at the expense of the home producer.

I am sure that the noble Earl will say that we cannot afford to make any cuts. The point is, can we afford not to? I hope that the noble Earl will consider seriously whether an increased allotment cannot be made to the canning industry. Since the debate in another place in February the situation has altered. Then, all the normal hazards of spring were to come; but now the picture is clearer, and unless there is an unforeseen calamity there is the prospect of heavy crops and the possibility of a glut. The canning industry can help to mitigate the effect. If my calculations are correct, the average value of the tinplate sold abroad is about £70 a ton. To export one ton of tinplate, which we need here, for £70. and thereby waste £160 worth of our own fruit, taking it at about 6d. per lb., may be sound planning and good economics, but to me, in my ignorance, it sounds crazy. There are times when the fruit in the cans is worth mere than the dollars in the bank. I beg the noble Earl to treat this plea sympathetically and to do what he can to increase the allotment, realising that every extra ton of tinplate means three extra tons of fruit in the can.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to take up much of your Lordships' time, but I felt that I might add a few words to the excellent speeches to which we have listened this afternoon. One always remembers that before the war there was a great campaign to persuade people to "Eat more fruit." That campaign, I am sure, had medical support behind it; in fact, I know of no expert on nutrition who would not include a good proportion of fruit in the proper diet for every person. It is obviously right to use as much of our home-grown fruit as we possibly can. I fully realise that if more fruit is grown, or if it is a good fruit year, almost inevitably there is a demand for more sugar; and, if the fruit is going to be canned—which is a good way of preserving it—a demand for more cans. I remember well the demand for sugar when I was at the Ministry of Food. I secured a couple of shipments of oranges from Spain, because I thought people would like some home-made marmalade. In my ignorance, and that of some of my advisers, I sent practically all of them to Scotland, in the belief that the Scots were the people who liked marmalade most, and in view of the fact that they had had less fresh fruit in Scotland that year than we in the south of England. There was an immediate demand from practically every Scottish Member in another place that, having sent the oranges, I should increase the sugar ration of the Scots people as against the English, in order that the oranges should not be wasted. Naturally, an increased fruit crop always brings with it a demand for more sugar.

Before I come to the question: Is it possible to give any more sugar? I should like to make one comment which my noble friend Lord Hawke also made. I believe that the present way of giving the sugar bonus is not so good as giving it in the way it was originally given, as "jam sugar." If they are given a little extra sugar over six months, people do not look upon it as sugar for jam: it goes into the sugar for normal consumption. And so, for psychological reasons, I should like the Ministry of Food to reconsider whether it would not be better to give that bonus as definite jam bonuses, one to catch the summer soft fruits and the other to catch the plum crop later in the year. I know that the trade like it done the present way, because it is easier for them if there is not a big rush on sugar at one particular time. I remember that we were, quite properly, informed by the trade that we should not alter the ration in such a way that their sugar packing filling machines would not work; that it is not practicable, for instance, to add a couple of ounces to the ration each week, because the machines are not set up for filling that type of sugar bag. But the trade can do it if they are told, and they will do it if they are asked, because I know that in my time we never asked the sugar industry to do anything which they did not immediately try to do.

So far as I understood the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Hawke, he thought it would be well to give 69,000 tons more to the domestic consumer this year; 19,000 tons to the jam makers; 5,000 tons to the canners and a small amount, say about 1,000 tons, to the people who provide these special fruit juices, so beneficial for infants and young children. That adds up to 94,000 tons. What is the background for this? Our sugar consumption in the United Kingdom is still only 79 per cent. of what it was in pre-war years. World production, however, has increased by nearly 50 per cent. since the war, and there is now no shortage of sugar in the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, in the Empire, I am glad to say, we have increased our sugar production over the last four years by 580,000 tons. If we look at ourselves in relation to the rest of the world, we are the only large Power which has sugar rationing. I come to the very modest request of my noble friend, and put forward a suggestion as to where this extra 94,000 tons can be found. Everybody has to do his best to increase our export trade, but as I was looking through the list the name of one country caught my eye. Last year we exported 117,243 tons of sugar to Persia. I suggest a simple swap: that our people here should get this extra amount of sugar, and that as the Persians are not being too tender to us we should not be too tender to them in this matter, and for once help to consume our own fruit crop and help to give more satisfaction and pleasure to the housewives of this country. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Motion so ably proposed by my noble friend.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for giving us the chance of discussing this important subject, and of listening to the extremely interesting and well-informed speeches which we have heard this afternoon. The subject is important both to growers and to consumers, and the noble Lord is to be congratulated on timing his Motion so well. Our fruit crop is now ripening. It has not been harvested, and this surely is the moment to discuss what we should do with it, and how we can take the best advantage of the crop we are expecting. I think this discussion has been all the more interesting because several noble Lords have an intimate knowledge of fruit growing, and take a very keen interest in horticulture.

Let me say at once that I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said when he referred to me as an ally in the campaign for supporting the fruit grower. Of course, it is one of my duties in the Ministry of Agriculture to do what I can to help the fruit growers. I always have a special sympathy for the fruit growers because, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said, they have a very uncertain and hazardous life. We are unable to give them a guaranteed price for their products, and they do not share this advantage with so many of their colleagues in the agricultural industry.


They do not receive subsidies, either.


That is another disadvantage for the fruit grower. I think we should all agree that the fruit grower is a person who deserves our special consideration and sympathy, because he leads this very risky and hazardous life. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said. We are expecting a larger fruit crop this year in many varieties of fruit, as compared with a year ago, and we naturally want to make the best of this crop and see that as little fruit as possible is wasted. The noble Lord will agree that some of our larger fruit crop will be disposed of by a larger consumption of fresh fruit. That is what we all want, and it is quite probable, if fruit is abundant and reasonably cheap in the shops, that people will buy more fruit and more varieties of fruit than they have hitherto been accustomed to buy. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, quoted the old saying about the beneficial effect of an apple a day, so I know he will agree that that is one desirable way of disposing of a larger quantity of fruit this summer and autumn.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, referred at some length to the subject of black currant syrup. He was good enough to give me notice of the fact that he would raise this subject, and I should like to reply to that immediately. The noble Lord suggested that we should provide more sugar for more black currant syrup, in order to make good use of our black currant crop—and we are expecting a very heavy black currant crop this summer. Of course, we appreciate the food value of black currant syrup and, as the noble Lord himself pointed out, this led to its use during the war; and its value as a foodstuff has not in any way diminished. But since 1947 there has in fact been a steady increase in the allocation of sugar to manufacturers of this product. The allocation in 1947 was 840 tons of sugar; last year it was 717 tons, and this year it is 900 tons. I am glad that the noble Lord, otherwise so accurate, has been misinformed on this point, because I think he was under the impression that we were refusing an allocation of sugar this year for black currant syrup.


Freezing it.


Not at all. The firm which produces this syrup received 650 tons in 1949, as compared with 900 tons which it will receive this year; it is getting full allocations. I understand that the other two firms which produced the black currant syrup are now out of business. We have a respectable record. At the same time I will give the noble Lord this assurance. My right honourable friend the Minister of Food will be willing to examine any further suggestion that may be made with regard to ways in which the disposal of this year's crop would be assisted by a further allocation of sugar. I will, of course, direct his attention to the noble Lord's remarks.


When the noble Earl speaks of "crop," is he referring to black currants?


Yes, I am talking of black currants. The noble Lord opposite was good enough to give me full notice of what he wanted to ask the Government for. I think I shall not be misrepresenting him if I say that what he is asking for is that the sugar bonus for home jam making for the next four months should be brougat forward and all released at about the same time with the least possible delay. His intention in making that suggestion, I think, is that this would take care of a large part of the soft fruit crop. The noble Lord also suggested that there should be an additional sugar bonus for August, and that a larger allowance of tinplate should be made to jam manufacturers and fruit canners. I am informed that the bonus issues are described as special issues for home jam, and they are labelled "home jam" It is hoped that housewives will appreciate that that is the purpose for which the bonus has been made.

Let me deal now with the noble Lord's suggestion that we should bring forward the balance of this year's sugar bonus for jam making. I am sure he will agree that, even if we did this, there would be no guarantee that the public would take up the extra quantity of sugar or use it, as he hopes, for jam making. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, seemed to want the bonuses distributed in a lump.


I did not say that, though I thought that that would be more likely. They were given in a lump for jam.


It is possible to argue either way, but I think the noble Lord's view is a perfectly fair view to take, and I am not basing my reply on the assumption that it is not a legitimate one. Let us assume that it is desirable to advance this year's bonus. If we make that assumption, we have to consider the very great difficulties that would arise. They are practical difficulties, which Lord Llewellin particularly will appreciate, because he was once in charge of the Ministry of Food.

In the first place, I am informed that we have not sufficient stocks of refined sugar to be able to distribute an additional 104,000 tons in such a short time. That would bring the level of stocks well below the danger level. We have to keep a minimum level of stocks to ensure a regular flow of distribution. Secondly, it would be exceedingly difficult to find transport to handle an additional load of from 70 to 80 per cent. above the normal during a short period of four or five weeks. It is also doubtful whether the grocers themselves would have storage space for the extra sugar.

I will turn from that subject to the noble Lord's request that we should bring forward the present bonus for home jam making and increase the allocation of sugar to industry. The first suggestion would not involve any increased allocation of sugar to consumers or to industry, but merely a rearrangement of the existing allocation. The second suggestion would involve more sugar for the consumer and for industry. It would mean larger quantities of sugar for making jam this year than we have decided to provide at present for the housewife and the manufacturer. But where is the extra sugar to come from? Where can we find the additional amount? If the problem is to be tackled in a realistic way we have to ascertain whether there is more sugar available or whether there is not; and we shall have to base our line of action on the answer to this question. Here, I must give a few figures. I feel sure that they will be accepted as perfectly fair figures, and that the noble Lord will find himself able to agree with them.

Our total supply of raw sugar for the current year has been estimated at 2,226,000 tons. This has already been earmarked for a number of different uses which are equally essential from the standpoint of domestic requirements. It has to meet the needs of the domestic ration and rations for the Services, the catering trade, jam manufacturers and all other users, as well as the bonus issue.


I think the noble Earl is referring to raw sugar, translated into refined sugar for the United Kingdom market. Will he make it clear that it is not the total output of all our refineries?


I am referring to the home market. I do not think anyone would suggest that we should divert sugar from one of the uses I have mentioned to another. It would mean "robbing Peter to pay Paul." The additional quantity of sugar asked for by the noble Lord opposite amounted to approximately 100,000 tons for the year. But we have no reserves of this size upon which we can draw. The estimated consumption for 1951 will amount to 2,174,000 tons of raw sugar as compared with our total supply for the year of 2,226,000 tons, a figure which I have already mentioned. This leaves only a small margin of 52,000 tons of raw sugar, which, of course, in refined sugar means a still smaller quantity, as a margin between supply and demand.


This 52,000 tons of raw sugar which, translated into refined, means perhaps 45,000 or 46,000 tons, would be an increase in the closing stock, would it not?


This is the balance of supply over demand calculated over the whole year.


Yes, in addition to stock.


The demand varies from time to time, and this is a figure which tries to average out supply and demand over the whole year. I do not want to dwell on this narrow margin because, as your Lordships will appreciate, a margin of this kind must be maintained. Cane sugar is exposed to many hazards of climate and labour relations. Although the supply figure makes allowance for losses due to these hazards, it is not possible to estimate such losses to the last ton, and a margin of 50,000 tons seems none too large, from that point of view. In addition to the quantity of 1,636,000 tons of imported sugar from the Commonwealth, we are expecting 590,000 tons of sugar from our home beet crop this year. That is how it is made up—partly from home beet sugar and partly from imported cane sugar. Here again, although we have made allowance for a fair crop, it will be less good than last year's. Owing to the late sowing, it is even more difficult than usual to forecast exactly what we shall get. The estimate I have given in precise figures may not he reached. It is possible that there may be a slight falling off in the a mount of sugar that we get from our own beet crop.

It may be suggested that we should buy more sugar from overseas. Your Lordships will remember that we have already agreed to purchase the entire exportable surplus from Commonwealth countries until 1952. We can, therefore, import more sugar only by paying dollars for sugar from Cuba, and paying an extremely high price. But our share of the dollar pool is already earmarked for more essential foodstuffs and raw materials, and we have none to spare for extra sugar. Another difficulty is this. I am told that stocks in Cuba have been considerably reduced by recent purchases by the United States and other countries, and it is doubtful whether much extra sugar would be available even if we were in a position to pay for it. I think, therefore, it is fair to say that our total supply figure for this calendar year of 2,226,000 tons is a figure that may have to be reduced, but cannot possibly be increased.

We are, of course, doing our best gradually to provide the housewife and the manufacturer with more sugar, and we want to return, as soon as supply permits, to the pre-war level of sugar consumption in this country, which is an aim shared. I am sure, by both sides of this House. The position is steadily improving. Both industry and the domestic consumer will get more sugar this year than they had last year. The jam manufacturers will receive 206,000 tons of refined sugar in 1951 as compared with 197,250 tons in 1950. So the jam manufacturers are already getting a bit more. The fruit and vegetable canners will have 18,050 tons of sugar as compared with 17,145 tons last year. I understand that the jam manufacturers are in fact receiving almost all the sugar they can use for the time being. Again, my information does not tally completely with the information provided for the use of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. Nevertheless, I can assure noble Lords opposite that, as and when a more plentiful supply of sugar becomes available, the fruit-using industries will get a fair share of whatever additional quantity we are able to obtain. The domestic consumer, too, is already doing better than he did a year ago. The recent increase in the sugar ration will give him 4 lb. a year more sugar in 1951, and if there is another Christmas bonus the increase will be correspondingly larger.

Noble Lords—and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, whose speech. I am sure will be read in Hansard with great interest by the Minister of Supply—also want us to provide more tinplate for canning home-grown fruit and vegetables, and for other means of making good use of our fruit and vegetable products. But here, unfortunately, we are faced by the present shortage in the supply of tinplate. We can give fruit and vegetable packers more tins only in one of three ways; one, by cutting down our exports of tinplate; two, by diverting from other canned foods; or, three, by increasing home production. Diversion will not help, because the other tinned foodstuffs, such as meat and milk, are just as important as fruit and vegetables.

The objections to reducing our exports of tinplate seem to me, I must confess, extremely strong. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst, thought we should make a cut, but, when I have given him the particulars for which he has asked, I hope he will agree with me that we cannot reduce our exports. We are faced by the present position of our balance of payments. Our balance of payments is already in danger owing to the rising price of our imports, and we cannot afford to export less than we are now doing. As your Lordships are aware, it is a most acute economic problem of the moment and, far from being able to reduce our level of exports, we have to increase our exports if we are to be able to maintain the present level of our imports. In the second place, about 58 per cent. of our whole export trade in tinplate goes to the Commonwealth and the British Colonies. If we were to stop sending tinplate to Australia and South Africa, there is little doubt that many canning factories would be obliged to close down, thus causing serious unemployment. There is no other means of getting tinplate for these Commonwealth countries.


Is the noble Earl suggesting that it would be very wicked for an Australian factory to close down and cause unemployment because we cannot supply it with tinplate, but it is perfectly all right for our factories to close down for the lack of tinplate?


I am not suggesting for a moment that our factories should close down. It is, in fact, a question of adequacy of supplies, and we are hoping to start fresh production of tinplate. However that may be, I am certain that, if we can possibly avoid it, we do not want to cause unemployment in a Commonwealth country. Obviously, that is something that we all want to avoid. So far as the Colonies are concerned, we could not stop the export of tinplate for them without making nonsense of our plans for their economic development. There are, indeed, many tropical and sub-tropical Colonies who depend on our tinplate for the processing of their citrus and other fruit crops which often represent a basic industry in the Colony concerned. Those of your Lordships who have been to the West Indies, as I have had the privilege of doing recently, will realise how dependent some of these West Indian Islands are on their citrus fruit crop.

The biggest share of the balance of our tinplate exports, the 42 per cent. left over which goes to foreign countries, will go to Argentina. We have agreed to try to make available 27,000 tons of tinplate during the twelve months from April, 1951. This was part of the recent trade agreement with Argentina, which among other advantages, assured us of a renewed supply of Argentine meat, including canned meat. Your Lordships will appreciate that that involves an advantage sufficiently great to warrant the sacrifice of so large a quantity of tinplate. Many of our exports to foreign countries are bound up in this way with trade agreements which give us essential foodstuffs and raw materials in return. When your Lordships refer to European countries to whom we are sending tinplate, and ask why we are sending them tinplate with apparently no corresponding advantage, as a rule the quantity of tinplate exported to those countries is bound up with trade agreements. Furthermore, about one-fifth of our total exports of tinplate comes back to us in the form of tinned food.

Of course, if we cannot cut down our exports of tinplate (and we really do not feel that this is possible), there is the other alternative of producing more tinplate at home. The position at the moment is that we are not producing as much as we produced before the war, but we are doing what we can to overcome the very real difficulties of increased production. The lower output after the war was entirely due to the loss of skilled labour, and unfortunately, since the war we have not been able to recruit the skilled men we need for this industry The present shortage of raw material for steel making may prove another obstacle to tinplate production. We do not yet know, and we cannot estimate, its effect upon the production of tinplate, but we do know that there is this general shortage of raw material. In spite of all these difficulties, we intend to start a new continuous mill at Trostre in South Wales in October. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst, referred to this new and up-to-date tinplate mill; but, as he rightly said, whatever increase we may get from this source will not affect the supply of tinplate for fruit and vegetable canning this summer and autumn. I mention that only to show that we are doing our best to produce more tinplate. We have been doing what we can to obtain a better allocation of tinplate for the home user as compared with the amount that is allocated to export, and we shall continue to help the home user as much as we can.

I should like to give some figures to show how much the position of the home user has improved since the war. Just before the war the average yearly exports of tinplate amounted to 388,000 tons, while 385,000 tons were retained for the home market. In 1950, 267,000 tons of tinplate were exported, while 479,000 tons were delivered to the home market. So noble Lords will see that home users are already getting more tinplate than they had before the war, as well as a much higher proportion of our total production, although the amount we are producing is, of course, less than the pre-war figure. I am sorry to have been so discouraging. I am sure noble Lords opposite will not attribute it to any lack of good will. I can only say that I will certainly ask my right honourable friend the Minister of Food, and the other Ministers concerned, to reconsider their present views very carefully, in the light of the thoughtful speeches which we have heard from the Benches opposite this afternoon.


May I ask the noble Earl one question? Up to Christmas of last year, I think, 750,000 tons of home-produced sugar was harvested. The noble Earl put the figure for this year at a very much lower one than that: his estimate was 590,000 tons. He said that last year was an exceptionally good year. Is the figure for this year's harvest going to be as low as he has said?


The reason that we are estimating for a lower crop is mainly owing to the late sowing. Last year all the factors were favourable. This year we knew that the bad weather in the spring held up the sowing, and therefore there will not be such a good crop as there was a year ago.


Will the noble Earl particularly ask the Minister of Food whether it is really necessary to send this sugar to the destination I indicated?


Yes, I will.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I must first thank those of your Lordships who have supported me in this Motion and the noble Earl for his detailed reply, though I admit that it was rather less helpful than I had hoped for. I should like first to say just one thing. By inadvertence, I slightly misrepresented the case of the black currant juice manufacturers. They have been in the habit of getting enough sugar to match the yield from their various plantations, and this is the first year when they have not been able to get the amount of sugar to match their yield.

When we were given so many detailed reasons why what I have asked for cannot be done, it reminded me very much of Lord Ogmore's story yesterday about the gentleman with the duck in his pocket and seven defences. I should very much like to know upon which defence the Minister really relies. I just do not believe the transport difficulty. It is absurd to say that 100,000 tons of sugar cannot be transported in this country. I also just do not believe that between them the grocers and wholesalers cannot stock up a little extra. From the experience of my noble friend Lord Llewellin during the war, they were always able to stock a pound or two extra per ration book when they were asked to do so. When the noble Earl backs his case with the availability of sugar, then, of course, we get into the fog of statistics that I have already mentioned. It is quite impossible to disentangle what the sugar situation really is. I understood the noble Lord to say that during the coming year there is in sight a bigger supply of raws than will be consumed. He presumably starts with a stock in the pipeline, and therefore he is going to close the year with a larger stock in the pipeline. The experts are always extremely cautious in their figures, and I should have thought it quite possible to squeeze some little extra. Even if they cannot do that, would it not be possible to bring forward these bonuses, so that the total amount to the consumer remains the same as at present, but is more strategically located, from the point of view of the fruit coming on the market? However, the point on which I pin the greatest hope and faith is the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Llewellin, that if certain people take our oil we should see that they get no sugar in their tea.

I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Amherst to remind the House that he made no suggestion whatsoever about cutting the Commonwealth tinplate supplies. He wanted to cut only the supplies to foreigners—the supplies to the Continent which come back to us as tinned fruit and various other tinned Products. In the matter of tinplate, I know that a lot of these exports are tied up with inter-State bargains, but surely the proper answer is to give the fellow who bargains on our side the right figure with which to bargain. We should not tell him that he has the world to play with, but that he has very little to play with after our own canning factories have got what they want. I hope that very soon we shall hear that we have been able to achieve some success for the consumer and the horticulturist, based on the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Llewellin. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.