A few days ago I asked my right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food
whether he will reconsider his decision to reject the application for membership of the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association, which was not made timeously, of 16 south of Scotland mutton exporters, 14 of whom exclusively supplied Smithfield Market with about 700,000 carcases per annum, having regard to the financial hardship imposed on them, and to the inadequate advertisement of the date on which applications closed?
My right hon. and gallant Friend replied, stating that
the application for membership of the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association by the firms in question has been very carefully considered and the decision to reject the application was reached only after exhaustive inquiry. I myself have personally investigated the facts and am satisfied that the decision reached was justified and that the failure to make timeous application cannot be ascribed to inadequate advertisement of the date on which applications closed. In these circumstances, I am not prepared to reconsider the decision.
Is it not the case that these men are entitled to membership of the London association, and is it not also a fact that the only newspaper in which the closing date was advertised was the "Daily Telegraph,' and that does not circulate in Scotland?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food went on to say:
The original notice which warned wholesale butchers that these Meat Supply Associations would be set up appeared widely in July, 1939, again in September, 1939, and, I believe, in. January, 1940. The closing date for London was February, 1941, so they had well over a year, nearly 18 months, during which they should have been aware that application was necessary. The fact that the closing date for the London Association was only in the 'Daily Telegraph' does not affect the case, because two members of the Scottish Meat Exporters' Association applied to a Scottish Association and were admitted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1942, cols. 1744–45, Vol. 379.]
I expressed dissatisfaction with that answer, and I am raising the matter now at the first opportunity. Fourteen of the 16 men exclusively supplied the London market, and two of them supplied the Glasgow market as well. They were very highly skilled men, and this trade in shipping lamb and mutton to London had been built up over a number of years. The men travelled the markets, picking selected livestock suitable for the specialised
London trade and, as I stated in the Question, they actually sent, in the two years before the war, 700,000 carcases out of a total of 1,200,000 carcases sent to the wholesale market in London. These 16 men supplied seven-twelfths of the total mutton and lamb that went into London from Scotland. They were not merely buyers of livestock, passing it on as they got it. They worked at it. They skinned it and passed on the skins and pelts to the fellmongers, who in turn dealt with them. They dressed the carcases, removing offal, heads and trotters and packing them separately and shipping them in refrigerated containers on night trains to London. Each had a private slaughter house, with a staff of trained men. That was the trade they did before the war and the goodwill that they built up
When war broke out the Food Ministry took over the trade and controlled prices, but they did not take over livestock control. They closed Smithfield Market and set up a number of meat depots, and at the same time created the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association, a company limited by guarantee. They admitted all the salesmen in the London market to membership of that company. They gave the company an income by allowing it a commission on the meat sold by these meat depots, and, after payment of the expenses, they divided the difference among those salesmen in the London markets who had been dispossessed of their private trading. I have no fault to find with that. That position went on until January, 1940, and during that period, from the outbreak of war, these 16 South of Scotland senders, whose case I am putting, shipped their mutton and lamb to these depots situated on the perimeter of London, controlled and staffed by the members of the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association. Round about January, 1940, when this Order came in, the Ministry of Food were doing the work hitherto done by the 16 exporters. They were automatically put out of business. They were not alone in that. About that time many people were being put out of business. The Ministry threw them a few crumbs in the form of a slaughtering contract, which was not adequate compensation for the loss of the trade which they had built up.
Incidentally, I understand that their commission upon the mutton and lamb
which they sent to the London market between September, 1939, and January, 1940, amounted to £50,000. At some later date they learned from the Ministry of Food area livestock agent in Scotland—an official of the Ministry of Food—that they were entitled to membership of the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association. It is very easy to understand that a change had taken place, because on the outbreak of war, when the businesses of the salesmen in the London market were interfered with, the 16 men and all the other mutton and lamb shippers were allowed to carry on as they always had done. But when the mutton and lamb shipping businesses were taken over, these men were put out of business, and they should be compensated. My right hon. and gallant Friend said that they should have applied to the Scottish Association. What right had they to apply to the Scottish Association? Their trade was with London. Two men who did have some trade in Glasgow applied for membership in September, 1939, because of the advertisement in September, 1939, to which my right hon. and gallant Friend referred, and they were refused. In October, 1941, well over a year later, without having made any application at all, they were suddenly admitted. It seems to me that this is a most wrongful situation. It was brought last November to the notice of the Minister of Food, whose attention was drawn to an article of association of this company which reads:
No individual or Company shall be eligible for membership, either as a full member or as an associate member, unless such individual or Company has made a formal application for membership at a date not later than 22nd February, 1941, provided that the Minister may in any case direct the Asssociation by notice in writing that an applicant shall be deemed to be eligible for membership notwithstanding "that such applicant has not made a formal application for membership before that date.
In other words, although the closing date was fixed for applications to be made for membership to this London Wholesale Meat Supply Association, it was advertised in only one newspaper, the "Daily Telegraph"—a great journal, but no one would suggest that it circulates in Scotland. The men whom I represent did not see it. It was also in the "Meat Trades Journal" and the "Farmer and Stockbreeder," but these, also, do not circulate
in Scotland. We have great journals in Scotland like the "Glasgow Herald" and the "Scotsman." The "Scottish Farmer" is our agricultural paper, but in none of them did this advertisement appear. Yet, when application was made to Lord Woolton, the amazing reply was given that if these 16 men were admitted, many others would have to be admitted. But if they have just claims, why should not they be let in? Would it not have been right for these 16 men, who had carried on this extensive trade—the largest in Great Britain—to expect the Ministry of Food or its agents, the London Wholesale Meat Supply Association, to write to each one of them and say, "Now we have put you out of business we have created a machine in this company to provide you with an income"? In this connection these London agents, who are so freely admitted into membership are earning £800 or £900 a year for sitting at home, or, if they are working for the Wholesale Meat Supply Association, are receiving salaries in addition to this out of the moneys earned by the men for whom I am speaking to-day. It is an absolutely outrageous situation. I have been pressed for time. I had hoped that I should have been able to raise this matter an hour earlier. I have had to rush my statement of the case in an impossible way; but I hope I have conveyed to the House a situation which will call for their immediate support. The House is the highest court in the land, and it will be most regrettable if these men are compelled to go into a court of law to get the justice which undoubtedly they deserve.
I am extremely sorry that we have not more time in which to discuss this important matter, which is one over which I, personally, have taken a very great deal of trouble. I have gone into all the facts of the case, and I will briefly state the reasons why we have not been able to admit these wholesalers to membership. There is no question—it is admitted—that their applications were late, and as far as I can gather, the only reason given for that is that certain newspapers do not circulate in Scotland. It is an interesting fact that two of the 16 did apply for membership of the Scottish Association, and therefore, there cannot have been ignorance of the necessity for all wholesalers to apply for membership of wholesale associations. As I told my hon. Friend in answer to his Question, in July, 1939, it was stated that, as part of the defence plans of this country, the Department were anxious to obtain lists of all meat wholesalers who might be eligible for membership of such associations, and accordingly invited all wholesalers of meat to submit their names to one or more Area Wholesale Meat Supply (Defence) Committees. The addresses of these Committees were given, and if there was any doubt in anybody's mind as to which association to apply for membership, he was to apply to the head office of the Ministry of Food. This announcement appeared in every large newspaper in Scotland, and in some of the weekly farmers' newspapers as well.
Major Lloyd George:
As an announcement. Again, in September, 1939, the announcement was repeated, referring to the original Press notice, and saying:
In order that the association may be formed without delay, it is essential that the names of all wholesalers should be included in the lists now.
That was in September, 1939. In January, 1940, the following extremely important statement appeared:
After midnight of 15th January, individual meat wholesalers will cease for the present to trade on their own account.
Will hon. Members observe the date of that—15th January, 1940? The closing date for the London Association was 22nd February, 1941, so that there was a period of about 13 months in which they could apply after the notice stating that they would cease to act as individual wholesalers from that time. I am asked to believe that these gentlemen are peculiarly ignorant of the conditions that obtained in London. I find it extremely difficult to believe that anybody doing the business which they were doing—and if I may say so without offence, coming from that side of the Border—and having a turnover of over £700,000 a year, with
their own agents in London getting a commission of £50,000, knowing that after 15th January, 1940, they could not deal as individuals in this particular trade, did not take some steps, even if they had not seen any announcement, which I find it hard to believe, because two of them did apply. And if the others had applied to the Scottish Association, it would not have made the slightest difference, because either they would have been accepted or told to make application to the London Association.
Major Lloyd George:
Yes, if they had applied, either to the Scottish Association or the London Association. But they cannot plead ignorance—because that is the only reason for their not applying in time—of whether they should apply to London or Scotland. There can be no question of opening the matter again, because if we did so we would have to open it for every person who has given the same reason for not applying. We cannot get the associations on to a proper basis unless there is some finality.
Major Lloyd George:
There is no "close corporation" when there is 18 months' notice for every individual who cares to come in. You have to decide at some time. Even in the case of nomination day you cannot go beyond that. You have to decide on some date, and this date was widely advertised. Eighteen months' notice was given, and they could quite easily have put in applications if they had wished.