HL Deb 02 December 1941 vol 121 cc145-54

LORDSTRABOLGI rose to ask His Majesty's Government for information about the progress in providing canteens for industrial workers; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend has asked me to raise the important matter embodied in my Motion relating to industrial canteens, and it certainly has an added importance, as your Lordships will agree, in view of the Government's proposal to extend conscription to National Service. This Motion is not put forward in any critical spirit. I think I am right in saying that my noble friend Lord Woolton has taken a very great interest in this matter, and a great deal of progress has been made, although no doubt he will admit that a lot of progress still requires to be made. The first thing I was taught as a young officer was: "Feed the troops; see that your men are well fed and nothing much wrong will happen." I am sure that is a very good motto indeed. The system of canteens for workers seems to me a form of communal catering which will allow, without many other complications, for a greater share of the available food being given to the war workers. For that reason alone, I suggest, it should be extended as widely as possible.

I refer in my Motion to industrial canteens, but of course it includes canteens for railways workers, dockers and coal miners as well. Pit canteens are increasing in number, as your Lordships probably know, but I understand there is still some complaint because not all of them provide hot meals. Some provide only cold snacks and I understand that the miners prefer a hot meal, either before or after working in the pit. I shall be glad if my noble friend can say that that matter is being attended to. May I also ask him what steps are being taken to train communal cooks and caterers? One suggestion I would make is this. The seaside resorts of the country have been very hard hit by the war, especially on the south and east coasts, and thousands of hard-working and estimable landladies and their helpers are almost ruined. They are the very people to run canteens. Some of them are excellent cooks. This is a case in which age does not matter. An aged landlady who is experienced could do this work quite well, especially if she was not looking for immediate profit for herself.

There are some specific questions which I would like to put to my noble friend. The first is, how many canteens are in operation for munitions workers, etc., and how many have still to be provided? If it is undesirable to give this information in numerical form, because it might disclose the number of munition works in the country, could my noble friend say what percentage of munition works have canteens in operation? I should like to have the same information, if it can be given, about docks and seaports, and if it is possible I should like to be given the numbers of workers already catered for at docks and harbours. I believe the number is considerable and I think that should be known. Then I should like to ask my noble friend for similar information with regard to coal and iron mines. My last question is, what is proposed to be done in regard to works and factories employing fewer than 250 workpeople? Your Lordships are aware that the law at present only compels an employer, or the Government manager of an ordnance factory, who has in his works more than 250 workpeople, to provide a canteen. There are a great many factories employing fewer than 250 workers which are of very great importance to the country Is it proposed to extend the law to them, or what is being done?

I am aware that a great many employers employing smaller numbers of workers have provided these canteens, sometimes at very considerable expense, because obviously the smaller the number to be catered for, the more expensive it is relatively. But from my own experience, even if one does lose money on a canteen, if the canteen is well run and provides palatable food, especially for those engaged on night shifts, it pays in the long run in the greater contentment and health of the workpeople. I am aware also that my noble friend has met with a good deal of conservatism on the part of that extremely conservative individual, the British workman. Where he is used to taking his own dinner in a pail to his place of employment he prefers still to do so, and where he can leave his work and go to his near-by house for his meals he prefers to do that. All ideas of communal feeding, with the great economies and greater variety of food at less cost which they combine, do not appeal to him so much as his ingrained habits. As I say, I am aware of these difficulties, but I must add that I think we should all congratulate my noble friend on having got over them to a very great extent. At the same time I am sure he will be the first to admit that there is a good deal still to be done to ensure that good, suitable and well-cooked meals shall be available for all those who are working so hard in the national effort and the national cause.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has drawn the attention of the House to this problem, which has, indeed, engaged the attention of His Majesty's Government quite considerably. I hope I shall be able to satisfy your Lordships that we have been able to do something to meet the problems to which the noble Lord has referred. I have been asked to reply to this Motion because the problem is one so closely associated with the organization of food control. Your Lordships are aware that there are very great differences between the way in which this problem has been handled in this war and the way in which it was handled in the last war. I think, perhaps, many people have not understood what was behind these differences. I am constantly being urged to insist on people surrendering coupons for meals in restaurants because we did it in the last war. My own experience was that we did it in the last war at very great inconvenience to ourselves and to our wives, and I do not know why people should be so anxious to repeat the inconvenience. I have adopted a different system this time.

Our system of rationing now is based on the average domestic need of the average household. During the last twenty-five years one of the great changes that has taken place in this country has been the development of the system of eating out. Well-to-do people have always practised this, but the great change which has taken place is that it has now become the common practice of people who are not well-to-do. It was for this reason that we have based our food control on the assumption that it was necessary to provide food not only for domestic consumption in the home but for consumption in catering establishments. We found, however, that these catering establishments were quite inadequate for the provision of meals for working-class people on the very large scale. They were inadequate in number, and they were inadequate to provide those meals at prices that the people of whom we were talking could afford to pay. They were also inadequate in point of position, in so far as very many of them were a long way away from the places at which people work.

It was on this account that, with my right honourable friend Mr. Bevin, I entered some months ago into a joint campaign to increase the provision of works canteens. We took very seriously the old idea that you should feed your troops well, and we said we must see that the munition workers in this country were also fed well if we were going to get munitions. Lord Strabolgi has quite rightly referred to the innate conservatism of the people of this country. I received much discouragement, in the beginning, from people who told me that it had always been their practice to go home to their mid-day meal, and they were going home, and it was quite unnecessary for me to expend public money on building canteens. I just went ahead, and I very soon found that the people who told me that in no circumstances would they ever have their meals in a canteen were being driven by their wives into the canteens because there we were providing extra food for them off the domestic ration book.

The most progressive firms which had welfare schemes in operation before the war needed no encouragement, and certainly no compulsion, from the Government to undertake this work. Perhaps your Lordships would like me to tell you something of the sort of powers under which we have acted. Obviously it was not necessary to take these powers in respect of those people who were prepared to do what was necessary, but steps had to be taken in respect of those who were not. These, then, were the powers. We had the Factories (Canteen) Order, 1940, which places on all factories engaged on work for the Government and employing; 250 people or more the obligation to provide canteens where hot meals can be served. Then we had another Order called the Building Operations and Works Engineering Construction (Welfare and Safety Provisions) Order, 1941, which places similar obligations on people engaged in works of construction. Later we brought in the Docks (Provision of Canteens) Order, 1941, which extends this liability to dock authorities The division as between the Government Departments was quite simply this. The Ministry of Food said to the other Government Departments—the Ministry of Supply, the Mines Department, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Transport—" If you will provide the necessary facilities, we will provide the food."

Of course there are many canteens where meals are provided for workers who, whilst not working directly on Government contracts, are doing work essential to the life of the nation, and these also must come within any survey, although they may not be under the direct control of one of the Orders to which I have referred. There are pit-head canteens, transport workers' canteens, and "mess rooms," even those in which only sandwiches, meat pies, hot coffee and tea are served. Then there are many privately-owned eating houses which provide meals for workers, and which have been established for a very long time. We are inclined to forget these when we talk about the provision of canteen facilities for workers. I have no desire to sec. these people driven out of existence by the competition of newly-established canteens and the British Restaurants, and it has been my policy to give privately-owned establishments of this kind the same access to food supplies as we give to canteens more recently established.

I have rather elaborated the field of this reply, because I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, that I cannot give him the precise figures for which he asks, because in truth we have not got the information that would tell us just where munition workers feed; but, if I cover the whole ground, I hope that I may give him some satisfaction by this reply. The figures which I obtained from the Ministry of Food have some precision in this matter, because the Ministry is responsible for the food being issued. They show that there are 11,269 registered canteens in this country, and that over 3,000 of these are in large factories working directly for the Crown; there are 460 of them on building sites, and there are 107 on dock estates. The House will appreciate that there are vast numbers of factories which are wholly or partly engaged on the production of munitions, but as sub-contractors, and therefore not scheduled directly as working for the Crown or included in the figure of 3,000 which I have just given for large factories. However, the vast majority of the workers in the large factories—that is, in factories large enough to maintain a canteen—have facilities now for obtaining hot meals at their work, and new canteens are coming into operation at the rate of over 100 a month.

With regard to dockside canteens, the place of refreshment along the dock road has been common to the life of riverside people for a long time. I take a very special interest in this problem, because I was well acquainted with the docks in Liverpool, where I lived in my youth for a few years. We came to the conclusion that it was necessary to have a very considerable extension of the facilities at docks, and I am glad to say that we have this now. In addition to the places which are private catering establishments, eating houses, and the like, we have now erected a large number of new canteens. The total figure, which I have already given you, is 107. They are capable of feeding people by day and by night. I have seen the canteens, and I have been among the dock labourers, and men whom I know have told me of the very great advantage that they are getting as a result of the excellent meals which are being served to them at what are really very low prices. In fact, I was more than a little amused to find some of these men complaining bitterly because, so they said, they were having to wait for their meals. The reason is that they are flocking to these places, so indicating quite clearly that there was need for further provision; and we have made that further provision already.

I think it would be appropriate if your Lordships would here allow me to pay tribute to the work of some of the voluntary organizations in this matter. When we first became aware of the necessity of increasing these dockside canteens, there was obviously going to be delay before we could bring the new machinery into existence, and a number of voluntary bodies, many of them women's bodies, and including the Women's Voluntary Service and the Y.M.C.A., came along with their mobile canteens and went to the dockside day after day, regularly providing meals for the dock workers. That was a very valuable piece of war work, for which I am very grateful.

With regard to the miners, in February of this year the Miners' Welfare Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir Frederick Sykes, accepted the responsibility for this work. My noble friend Lord Templemore a few weeks ago gave in this House some figures and some prospects. The Commission's canteen programme for the next twelve months will involve an expenditure of £1,250,000. We are trying to provide the miners with what they want. It is indeed true that we shall find that their wants will change, that as they experience better conditions they will want still better conditions; and we shall be mobile enough in our minds to keep up with them. At the present time, however, we have three sorts of provision. There is the full, sit-down meal at the surface, there is the snack bar, and there is an organization which enables what the miner calls his "snappings" to be collected and taken down into the pit. This last generally consists of a rather thick sandwich of bacon, cheese or meat. I have undertaken that we will meet all demands that the miners make upon us for that sort of provision. On November 15—to reply to a specific question of which the noble Lord was good enough to give me notice—there were 582 canteens, dealing with 520,000 miners. When the present programme is completed there will be 856 canteens, dealing with 680,500 miners; 93 per cent. of the miners of the country will be catered for; and by the end of this month we shall have catered for 85 per cent. of the miners.


Does that include the snack bars? My noble friend does not differentiate?


That is so. Improvements are going on all the time in the nature of the provisions which we are making, and I have been very interested in the recent experiments, which Mr. David Robertson has been dealing with in another place, for bringing hot meals from the surface right down into the pit, so that the miners can have them at the coal face. I started with that idea myself, but did not find it very practicable. Mr. Robertson, who has been working in a Scottish colliery, has had the opportunity of bringing this into existence, and I do congratulate him on the results which he has achieved.

The last question which the noble Lord addressed to me was with regard to what we are doing in the case of factories where there are fewer than 250 people. There are at least 1,440 of these, in which we are providing canteens. Canteens now exist inside the factories, but the general provision is not for canteens inside factories. The unit is too small for a canteen. We have a number of arrangements for dealing with those people. The obvious one is to get a number of factories to join together and form a common canteen. That is being done to some extent, and it is a voluntary effort. Then I thought it advisable to establish British Restaurants in areas where there were a large number of small factories—factories too small probably to be able to afford to run a canteen—and the establishment of these British Restaurants has been a great asset to the people. It has worked in two ways. In some cases people have come from the factories to the British Restaurant and just had their meal there in the ordinary way; but, particularly in Birmingham, I noticed that some of the factories had made an arrangement whereby they sent to the British Restaurant and bought food in bulk, sending their own transport for it, and taking it back to the factory where, in the mess room that the firm provided, they were having quite a good meal. I have not, of course, dealt with the problem of feeding the workers in so far as it is left to private enterprise entirely, because that is being done without any Government action at all; all that I have done is to encourage such organizations to continue in being.

I hope that I have covered the whole of the ground about which the noble Lord inquired. I should like to think that your Lordships are satisfied that the Government have made great strides in this task of feeding the worker at his work. I have known something about industrial condition; in this country over a number of years, and when I remember the conditions under which the working people of this country used to eat their midday meals, in dull and often dirty mess rooms, or sitting on the window ledges of the works eating cold sandwiches from paper packages, and when I look now at the vast extension of canteens, clean and bright, managed by trained and competent women and providing food that gives pleasure as well as sustenance, I do not hesitate to say that a great industrial revolution has silently taken place without our noticing that it was happening. The work that has been done already in the mines is of inestimable value to the health and the happiness of the miners. We have made great: and permanent progress in our industrial outlook and in our industrial practice, and when peace comes we must never go back on this standard. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity of telling your Lordships of this aspect of the Government's work. I hope that I have satisfied him that this is a question that has indeed exercised both the mind and the imagination of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, the noble Lord did not say whether he had any Papers to lay, and I presume there are no Papers that can be conveniently laid at the present time. I did move for Papers, but I do not propose to press for them, and I rise only to thank the noble Lord for his very interesting and wide survey, which I personally thought encouraging and satisfactory. If I might venture on one small comment, I cannot understand why it is laid down that 250 is too small a. number to cater for. I am speaking from experience of an important factory employing much fewer than that number where we have a canteen and it has been of the greatest benefit. We started long before my noble friend took office and the reason why we started was this. There was great competition for a certain type of skilled labour, and we found that one way of attracting skilled labour was to have a good canteen. We were doing good by stealth, because all our competitors proceeded to get their own canteens. I hope this matter is being considered with a view to amending the Orders, or the law, so as to compel the small establishments to have canteens. Your Lordships will be aware that there are hundreds of ships sailing the seas with far smaller crews than 250, who have to be catered for. That is really the only adverse impression I formed of the noble Lord's very interesting statement. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.



(AMENDMENT No. 2) ORDER, 1941.



MENT) ORDER, 1941.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Paper.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that Orders be made in the form of the drafts approved by the House on Wednesday last.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.