Christmas Food Supplies

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1951.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mrs Jean Mann Mrs Jean Mann , Coatbridge and Airdrie 12:00 am, 29th November 1951

The question of a Christmas bonus is not new. We are not asking for something we did not have before. I find, going back to 1945 when my hon. Friends took over the Government of this country, that with a deficit of £860 million, with 9 million men and women in the Forces, Civil Defence and the armament industry all to be rehabilitated and with our export trade gone, yet the Christmas bonus came up year after year. I find that even in 1947, the year of the financial crisis, there was an extra 6d. worth of meat, 11 lb. of sugar and 4 oz. of sweets. In 1949 we had 6 oz. of sweets, 4 oz. of fat; the tea ration was increased to 21 oz. and the bacon increased to 4 oz. Last year we had 6 oz. of sweets, 11 lb. of sugar, 4 oz. of cooking fat and an extra 4 oz. of tea to all over 70 years of age.

Hon. Members opposite insisted that that should be so. No less a person than one whom we used to know as the Radio Doctor in a party political broadcast decried and deplored the miserable equality, the equal shares of misery that the Labour Government distributed. Hon. Members opposite are at some pains now to reconcile their audience with these statements that we were always too extravagant.

In a broadcast last year we had Mr. J. B. Priestley referring to the happy Christmas he had witnessed in 1949. The Radio Doctor in his broadcast said: Did you hear that great writer of fiction. J. B. Priestley, supertax payer—and good luck to him—did you hear him tell us that last Christmas was the best ever? Oh! Chuck it Priestley. Anybody would think that we had no memories. My mother bought better toys for a few shillings than you can get for a couple of pounds today.But we're getting 30 per cent. less meat, 60 per cent. less bacon, 20 per cent. less eggs. Indeed we are getting less meat and bacon and cheese than we were in 1945. You can't have steak but you can have a nice piece of boiled cod.The essence of a good meal, as distinct from a plate of calories and proteins, is that it should be something you like, something you have an appetite for. There's no need to tell us that, the experts are satisfied that we are having what's good for us. "Our diet is dull and dreary and we know it. Now the House is strange indeed, and time marches on, but the basic rations are still insufficient; and it is because these rations are insufficient that we feel we require extra at Christmas. There are 3 oz. of butter—a little piece of butter about two inches square—4 oz. of margarine and 2 oz. of cooking fat. There are mothers who have to manage with the entire family at home. Indeed if I may say so, if all the M.P.s were at home they would understand how poor, how miserable that ration is.

We have to use margarine, and if we use margarine to supplement our butter there is nothing at all for home baking or for frying fish or for browning stews and so on. Therefore, we expect that at Christmas we should have something extra. But there is a supply in existence all the time which supplements and augments the ordinary ration. Many workers, for example, eat in canteens and many people eat in cafés. I have already said that hon. Members of the House eat in the Dining Room. Many children have school meals.

This is the rub. We housewives have the necessity before us at Christmastime of having all our family at home and having to cater for visitors and for sitting up late, as we all do at Christmas, when perhaps we want an extra cup of tea in the early hours. We have the family gatherings we all love and to which we all look forward. In addition to this the members of the family throw their full weight upon the housewife by the closure of the canteens and so on.

I have been taking some quotations from the Ministry of Food Bulletin of 3rd November. I find there are 180,614,000 meals served weekly, on the average, and 254,000,000 hot beverages. I have excluded places that are likely to remain open at Christmas. I have included restaurants, cafés and teashops to a total of 45,853, civic restaurants numbering 350, and 32,899 residential catering establishments and hotels. I have had to include hotels because they are lumped with residential catering establishments. But as far as the residential catering establishments are concerned, I think we can reasonably assume that they include boarding houses and that the boarders will be home for Christmas.

Incidentally, I rather deplore that hotels will remain open. So many gentlemen—perhaps those who make these decisions at Cabinet level—will be all right while the hotels are open to them.

There are 8,333 Class A industrial canteens and hostels and 23,259 Class B—I think that must be the heavy category—industrial canteens and hostels, 8,337 staff dining rooms and luncheon clubs and 24,910 day schools and nursery schools. I have excluded clubs, snack bars, railway buffets, and fish and chip shops. The total number of establishments is 143,971 providing 400,000,000 meals and beverages. They have a special licence and a supply of food to relieve the housewife's difficulties. These will close and the housewives will have to face the entire burden alone and unaided with no catering licence and nothing extra for the home.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food what justification he has for this. Is he really plundering these supplies given in the ordinary way to the catering establishments and the canteens and the schools? If he is not doing that, I submit it is indefensible to rob the housewives of these supplies that are to his hand and which necessarily must benefit his Department by reason of the fact that they are not being used at these establishments.

When I asked questions in the House about the failure to provide a Christmas bonus the reasons given for the failure were the food supply position and general economic difficulties. Let us take the food supply position. It is not denied that the stocks are there. Indeed, later on in the same reply the fright hon. Gentleman said his intentions were to build up the rations by means of these stocks. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, Central will have something to say about this.

The Minister actually suggested that he would be able to maintain this present meagre ration only by poaching and plundering the housewives' jam sugar for next year. I should like him to tell us how much he is going to take. There does not seem to be any attempt on the part of the Minister to divert these supplies from the catering establishments to the housewives. Am I right in saying that there is a reserve, that provision was made for a Christmas bonus and that the right hon. Gentleman is dependent on Labour's foresight in providing that bonus to cover up Tory ineptitude and lack of policy?

As to the other reason—the general economic difficulties—is this something which has just been discovered? I understood from every Tory booklet and leaflet that I have read that this country was bankrupt, that it had been bankrupt ever since Labour got into power. Hon. Members opposite should drop the pretence about the skeletons and about discovering the skeletons only when they reached Whitehall. They were bringing the skeletons out of their brief cases and dangling them before every audience. According to them, the country was bankrupt; we were down and out, and with tearful voices they said they did not know what was going to happen when Marshall Aid came to an end. Strange to relate, never were there so many people tumbling over each other to take over a bankrupt concern. Never so many sending cash contributions to the noble Lord for this purpose.

It is the noble Lord in the Cabinet who is responsible for this shocking decision. He knew there was a deficit. He based his promises on a deficit. I have his broadcast speech. There was no dubiety about it. Before making the promises he said: You saw it only this morning in the papers, didn't you? We are down by something like £927,500,000 in nine months on the balance of our imports over our exports. We cannot think he made his promises in ignorance. He wooed the women with false promises. Never since the episode in the Garden of Eden were women so assiduously wooed and courted. One recalls the blandishments and the cooing, dove-like notes with which the noble Lord spoke to the women by the fireside—