Food Supplies.

Oral Answers to Questions — West Indies. – in the House of Commons on 29th July 1942.

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Photo of Mr David Adams Mr David Adams , Consett

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the serious situation as to nutrition and food supplies in the West Indies, he has a statement to make as to the active measures to be taken to combat the same; and whether plans for the storage of food have been made?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

I welcome the opportunity of informing the House of the steps which have been and are being taken in this matter, but as the statement involved is lengthy, I propose to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the Statement:

Since the spread of warlike operations to the Western hemisphere, constant attention has been given to the problem of maintaining supplies to the British Colonies in the Caribbean area. Many of them are very densely populated, and since their economic activities are largely devoted to producing for export sugar, oil, bauxite and other products very urgently in demand by other countries of the United Nations, they are to a large extent dependent on imported food supplies. The practical problems involved are very largely common to British and United States territories in this area, and they accordingly occupied a great deal of the attention of the Anglo-American Carib- bean Commission at its first meeting held in Trinidad in March this year. That Commission made a number of recommendations which have since been followed up. In accordance with one of them, representatives of the Supply Offices in all the British and American territories in the area and of the British, American and Canadian authorities concerned in Washington and Ottawa were invited to a Conference in Jamaica in May. This Conference enabled further progress to be made in the organisation of supplies in the new conditions. Attention has been concentrated on—

  1. (1) The most economic organisation of available shipping facilities.
  2. (2) The reorganisation of methods of importation so as to provide full control.
  3. (3) The increase of local production of foodstuffs and other necessities, and
  4. (4) The control of prices and of the cost of living, and the introduction of rationing schemes where practicable.

(1) Shipping.

  1. (a) As the great bulk of supplies involved are drawn from the North American continent, the British West Indian Colonies are mainly dependent upon United States and Canadian shipping. Progress has been made in devising joint arrangements to see that such shipping as is available is used most economically and that there is full co-ordination between United States, Canadian and Colonial shipping lines. Certain ships on the Jamaica register which were being partly employed for other purposes are now devoted solely to the provisioning of the Colonies.
  2. (b) In order to secure the most effective use of schooners and other small sailing vessels which operate between the Colonies, a schooner pool under centralised control is being organised and His Majesty's Government have promised any financial support that may be needed in this. This local tonnage, including some small steamers, will be used for the distribution of supplies from central depots.
  3. (c) Detailed arrangements have been made for the preparation of programmes and the allocation of priorities in order to secure that ships are loaded with the supplies most urgently required.

(2)Import organisation.

The importation of essential foodstuffs has been, or is being, taken over by the Colonial Governments so that orders may be placed in bulk. Such a system has been in operation in Jamaica since shortly after the beginning of the war. Orders in the United States are placed through the Colonial Supply Liaison Office which was established there last year, acting in cooperation with the British Food Mission and the United States Department of Agriculture. Orders in Canada are placed with commercial firms there, but arrangements have been made for the full coordination of Colonial orders. Within the Colonies, bulk supplies are distributed through established trade channels on lines broadly similar to those in this country.

(3)Increase of local production.

It has been the basic policy urged upon Colonial Governments from the very beginning of the war to increase local production of food to the maximum possible extent. In the West Indies, the possibilities have been limited because of the necessity of continuing the production of crops for export as determined by United Kingdom needs, and in some Colonies by shortage of labour owing to the diversion of labour to work on the United States bases. Nevertheless, a good deal has already been done. For example, in Barbados it has been made obligatory on sugar estate proprietors to cultivate a fixed proportion of their acreage in food crops; early this year that proportion was increased to 25 per cent., and a further increase is now in contemplation. In Jamaica considerable progress had already been made in the increase of local production of maize, beans and peas and other crops and in the local manufacture of margarine and edible fats and of condensed milk, with resultant economies in import requirements. Recent developments have resulted in further intensification of the drive towards increased local production, and the Minister of Food, while naturally anxious to maintain the very important supplies of sugar drawn by this country from the British West Indies, has agreed that if local circumstances demand it, the cultivation of food crops must have precedence over the cultivation of sugar. Action similar to that already taken in Barbados has therefore been authorised in the Windward and Leeward Islands. In both Trinidad and British Guiana urgent consideration has been given to the extension of acreage under rice. In Jamaica, in addition to the measures already taken, the Governor has been directed to encourage as much as possible the diversion of land and labour previously devoted to the production of bananas to the production of other crops either for local consumption or export to the neighbouring islands. His Majesty's Government is already under obligation to finance the purchase of the banana crop at an estimated total liability of £1,400,000 per annum. The Governor has been given discretion to use this money to the maximum extent possible in the financing of schemes of production of other crops while continuing support of the banana industry to the extent necessary to prevent distress, provided that the total expenditure involved does not exceed the figure of £1,400,000 per annum.

(4) Price control, etc.

In all the Colonies concerned, the Governments control the prices of necessities, and in order to prevent further increases in the cost of living, they have been authorised, where necessary, to subsidise the prices of necessities by selling goods imported in bulk at a loss; where local resources are insufficient to meet the expense so involved, His Majesty's Government will be prepared to consider any necessary assistance, Individual rationing of foodstuffs has not so far been found practicable, as the administrative difficulties are much greater than in this country, but simple forms of rationing through retailers are already being adopted where local circumstances necessitate. Colonial Governments are being encouraged wherever possible to arrange for the storage of the maximum quantity of foodstuffs which they can manage, but in tropical conditions the period for which foods can be stored without deterioration is often comparatively short and at the present time shipping facilities do not in practice permit of the importation of much more than is necessary to meet current requirements, so that the building up of reserve stocks will take some time.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies to what extent food production committees have been set up in the West Indian Colonies; how many such committees are now functioning; the foodstuffs which are being dealt with; and to what extent West Indian Colonial Governments are taking part in schemes for the increased production of rice?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

I have no exact information as to whether food production committees have been appointed in all the West Indian Colonies or precisely what foodstuffs are being dealt with by such committees, but all the Governments concerned are taking very vigorous steps to promote better food production. The products to which attention is being paid are principally peas and beans, green vegetables, yams and sweet potatoes, maize and rice. The Governments of British Guiana and Trinidad have definite schemes in hand for the increase of rice production and the Government of Jamaica have been asked to consider the production of rice in that Colony. As regards British Guiana, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams) on 24th June.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

May we be quite sure that the Government in the respective Colonies are now initiating rice cultivation schemes?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

Yes, Sir. As I stated in my answer, we are pressing them forward. In Trinidad and British Guiana there are Government schemes, and there is one under consideration in Jamaica.

Photo of Mr Reginald Sorensen Mr Reginald Sorensen , Leyton West

Is any report likely to be made as to progress in this direction?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Stockton-on-Tees

I will do my best to provide a report if the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question or give me some other opportunity; but, of course, we are dealing with these matters from day to day and there are telegrams all the time, so that it is difficult to know the particular moment up to which to make a report. I will look into the matter.