HC Deb 16 February 1899 vol 66 cc1128-78

Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words— And we humbly venture to express the hope that your Majesty will direct inquiry to be made into the present large and increasing dependence of the United Kingdom on foreign imports for the necessaries of life, and the circumstances that might arise therefrom in the event of your Majesty becoming involved in war with some foreign Power or Powers, with the view of ascertaining what measures (if any) can be taken to lessen such dependence.


I have placed this Amendment on the Paper in no hostile spirit to the policy of the great Party to which I have the honour to belong. In answer to the right honourable Gentleman, with regard to this Amendment, I can only say that I feel very grateful that I have been able to secure this opportunity of bringing forward a very important matter. I feel perfectly certain that, if I had not been afforded this opportunity, I should not have had any other opportunity this Session. Throughout the whole of last Session I tried to bring this subject forward, but I was unable to get an opportunity. This question is not a personal fad of my own, but it is a subject which has been largely discussed in the public press, and upon which some very important resolutions have been passed by some very important bodies in the United Kingdom. I may say that last year the Workmen's Federation, not being themselves a party organisation in the least, on two occasions passed two resolutions pressing upon Her Majesty's Government the necessity of taking some steps in this matter; and a resolution in favour of the application of such a remedy was passed by the Agricultural Union only a very short time ago. Therefore, I venture to think that it is a subject well worthy of the attention of this House. I propose to deal as shortly as possible with the facts of the case, which, as a matter of fact, are all admitted. I think the fact is admitted that we are almost entirely dependent on our foreign imports. ["No, no."] The honourable Member opposite says "No," but I submit again that it is admitted that we are almost absolutely and entirely dependent upon foreign exports in this country for our food supply, and I do not propose to weary the House by labouring that point at all. Out of every six loaves consumed in this country five are brought here over our long ocean trade routes, and four out of the five come from possibly hostile countries, over whose fiscal policy we have absolutely no control. The same argument may be applied to other agricultural produce, and almost to all articles of food consumed in this country. Why, Sir, let any honourable Member go into a grocer's shop in the City of London, and I defy him to find there a common article of food which is entirely produced in this country. A large proportion, if not every article, is, he will find, to a very large extent, brought from foreign countries. Foreign producers receive more than 160 millions sterling for the necessaries of life brought into this country. There is only one more phase of the question, and that is the uniqueness of our position. It is unique in the history of the world, and is unique in the history of our own country. There is no other country in the world which is so vulnerable in this respect as the United Kingdom is at the present moment. The countries of the Triple Alliance are practically self-supporting: France is self-supporting, and Russia and the United States are not only self-supporting, but they are the greatest wheat-producing countries in the world. In this country we never have more than three months' supply of wheat, and generally not more than one month's supply, and we are absolutely dependent upon foreign countries to feed our population of 40 millions, including a large surplus population of 14 or 15 millions. Now, we have never been in such a position before, and 40 years ago, in Cobden's time, we were practically self-supporting. Sir, I desire to argue my case upon the hypothesis of war. Of course, if the Government are prepared to guarantee universal peace, why, I have no case, and I should not trouble the House with this Amendment. But I think I am justified in arguing this case on the hypothesis of war in spite of the Peace Conference which we all hope will succeed. I want to put this point to Her Majesty's Government: I think, as reasonable business men, they are bound to consider all the risks entailed by a possible war with some great naval Power or Powers; and, on the same principle that any prudent householder insures his house against the risk by fire, so, as business men, the Government are bound to ensure the safety of our food supply against the risk of war. I can only add upon that point that, if any war comes upon this country, it will come suddenly, and when it does come it will be a very severe war, and it is absolutely necessary that the consequences should be forecast, and that we should insure beforehand against the risks of war. I should like to trouble the House with on very short quotation on the point that foreign countries are perfectly well alive to our condition. I read an extract from the "Daily Graphic" of two years ago, dated 15th April 1897. The naval correspondent of the "Daily Graphic" states:— Said M. de Kerjegu, the reporter on the French Estimates: 'The cause of England's greatness will be a cause of weakness to her in war. Her daily life, her essential interests, are subordinated to the arrival and departure of her merchant shipping. At the simple menace of a conflict with a great maritime Power the rates of insurance would rise to enormous figures.' The fact that we (England) import £150,000,000 worth of food annually, besides raw material, which is the food of our manufactories, is also noted by him. Sir, we may be perfectly certain, therefore, that every great Power in the world is perfectly well aware of our position in this respect. I should like, for a moment, to refer to the position of the Government on this question. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, in a Debate which took place on the Motion which I moved on this subject nearly two years ago, accepted the Motion which I moved simply as a Navy matter, but it was not worded quite the same as this Motion, because it was urging that this question required the attention of Her Majesty's Government. Sir, the right honourable Gentleman accepted that Motion, but did it, I venture to think, upon totally inadequate grounds. He accepted it simply as the Navy question alone. I assume, therefore, that that is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, and I am strengthened in the belief, because smother Cabinet Minister, the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, made a speech the other day at Newcastle, and I allude to it because he is the only Minister who has alluded to this subject. I wish to do the right honourable Gentleman justice, but, from the conversation I have had with him in the Lobby, I understand the report of his speech accurately represents his sober reflections. I understand from that speech that he is opposed to national granaries or wheat reserves of any sort, and that we must trust entirely to the Navy for the protection of our ocean trade routes. The right honourable Gentleman also said that if we admitted the possibility of starvation we must admit the possibility of the defeat of our Navy. I may take it, then, that these are the views of Her Majesty's Government at the present time. Sir, I venture to think that that, in my humble opinion, is an additional reason why we should discuss this question. What is the logical meaning of that view? It means that the British Navy must be in a position, or is in a position, to compel all marine insurance people, all grain shippers, in time of war, to accept the ordinary rates of insurance, or else it means that we are to take no notice of war risks. It means that the British Government can compel foreign nations to send wheat and other foreign produce into this country whether they like to do so or not. It means that the British Government can control foreign nations, and prevent them reaping a tremendous financial harvest out of the necessities of the British people. That is what I take to be the logical outcome of this position, namely, that this is considered by Her Majesty's Government as a Navy question and a Navy question alone. Now, I have every faith in the British Navy, and I believe it is the best Navy the world has ever seen. I believe we have a splendid First Lord of the Admiralty, and I have absolutely implicit confidence in the right honourable Gentleman and the Government as regards the Navy. But the Navy cannot work miracles. It can only discharge its proper function, and our case is that this is not solely a naval question. It is very largely not a Navy question at all. I go further, and say that it is perfectly possible, as I shall attempt to show to the House, that famine prices and starvation might prevail in the United Kingdom although the Navy might be absolutely supreme at sea, I submit that there are many practical considerations involved in this question over which the Navy has absolutely no control. Accordingly, let me very shortly—and I desire to deal very briefly with the question—and as effectively as I can, put some instances to the House. Sir, I wish to ask Her Majesty's Government how the Navy can compel possibly hostile foreign countries to export to us wheat or any other necessaries of life of which we may stand in need? Take the case of Russia. Russia supplies us with something like one-fifth of our daily bread, which comes to us in slow sailing ships and ocean steamers. For the sake of argument, assume that we were at war with Russia. Is it reasonable to suppose that Russia, who would have absolute control of the Black Sea, so far as out- going ships are concerned, would allow her grain dealers and shippers to minister, for the time being, to the necessities of a country with which, at that time, she was engaged in war? In 1891 Russia prohibited the exportation of wheat, and it is extremely probable, and not an, unreasonable supposition at all, to suppose that, for State reasons, in case of war, she would prohibit the exportation of food supplies to this country.


That prohibition in 1891 was the result of famine.


I admit that that was so, but my argument is that there is no reason why she should not prohibit the exportation of wheat again. I confess that, putting myself in the position of a Russian Minister, I should strongly oppose the sending of the necessaries if life to a country with which I was at war. Here, at all events, it is quite an impossible case, and it is a case over which our Navy, strong as it is, has absolutely no control. Then I come to what I venture to think is an extremely important consideration, and that is the question of wheat speculation. Sir, I draw particular attention to our cousins across the Atlantic. If there is one thing clear it is this, that the probable outbreak of a war would be regarded by the great American capitalists as a magnificent opportunity for "cornering" the wheat market. I know something about America, and I am only stating that this one thing is dear to the heart of American commercial men, and that is a desire, if he possibly can, to "corner" a market. A single individual has handed his name down to history as a man who endeavoured to "corner" the wheat market of the world. He failed, however, but the result of his operation was to send up the price of wheat to 45s. a quarter, and I believe it went up to over 50s. a quarter once. I will put this case to the House, and I do ask the serious consideration of honourable Members to this point. Supposing again, for the sake of argument, we were involved with some great European Power in war, and our European food supplies were cut off. What an opportunity that would be for a group of American capitalists to "corner" the wheat market in order to make a gigantic profit out of our necessities! The Americans know how to create a monopoly. All they want is to get hold of an article of necessity, because they cannot do it with an article of luxury. That does not pay, because if you put the price of luxuries up people won't buy them, for they can wait till the price comes down. They know that if they can "corner" an article of common necessity the riches of the world are at their feet. Everybody knows the wheat market in America is the great market which they try to speculate in. All they want to do is to measure and gauge the supplies of wheat to the world, and if they knew the difficulties which we might be placed in in Europe they would try and "corner" the wheat market in order to make a gigantic profit out of our necessities. The Standard Oil Company is one of the most gigantic monopolies in the world, and it is controlled by some of the wealthiest individuals the world has ever seen. They command the sale of petroleum oil; they sell it to the Irish peasant and the Scotch labourer, and they have the absolute control of the oil trade of the world, because its production is limited to the wells in America, and they saw that there was a chance of obtaining a monopoly in this necessary article. Sir, I submit, and I do urge this point upon the serious attention of the House, that in the event of a European war we give ourselves away to this operation, and we offer to the American capitalists the best chance they ever had in the world of "cornering," if they chose, the American wheat supply. We have in this country 40,000,000 of wage earners, and they must have bread; and in the case of war we should have to give that group of American capitalists any price they liked for two or three months while we were engaged in a European war. I only point this out as an hypothetical case which Her Majesty's Government are bound to consider, and over which the First Lord of the Admiralty and the British Navy have absolutely no control at all. You can cover the Atlantic with ironclads and armed cruisers from Queenstown to Sandy Hook, or from the North Pole to Gibraltar, but you could not induce American capitalists to sell their grain to us unless they chose to do it. I come now to the third point over which Her Majesty's Government has no con- trol, and that is the question of marine insurance. Sir, the shipping of grain and agricultural produce to this country is a private commercial enterprise, and to imagine that grain shippers and marine insurers are going to ship grain to this country, in time of war, at moderate rates is hardly reasonable, for they do not carry on this trade for philanthropic purposes. They send the grain over here because they can make money out of it, and they will ask us the higher price, if they can get it out of us, for the necessities we want. Marine insurers, in time of war, will estimate the risk they run in pounds, shillings, and pence. Grain is sent here from Argentina and other Colonies, over long sea routes thousands of miles in length, and it comes here in slow sailing ships and steamers. I have no doubt the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty has considered this question, and I have no desire to give away the exact rate we have made for convoying our mercantile marine. Now, applying the ordinary rules of common sense to this operation—I am not a sailor, and I do not speak with any authority as a sailor—we all know that it is not an easy thing for an ironclad to convoy slow sailing ships over a long sea journey, and the Atlantic Ocean is a big place. There might be some ships that would not show lights, who are on the look-out, and who could show their heels to our ironclads and snap up a convoy. Well, now, all these things are translated by the marine insurance agent into pounds, shillings, and pence, and we shall have to pay the bill. The question of marine insurance is outside the control of the Navy altogether, and it is a question which we must consider, for it is part of the risk involved. Sir, let me give to the House a very simple instance. During the Spanish-American War the Spanish fleet sailed across the Atlantic. They were lost for something like a fortnight, and nobody knew where they were. The American fleet were on the look-out for the Spanish Navy, but they never found them, and the Spanish ships managed to get into the harbour of Santiago without anybody seeing them, and without anybody knowing where they were. If a Navy can conceal itself on the Atlantic Ocean with another Navy looking out for it, how much easier would it be for commerce destroyers to conceal themselves and elude our Navy at sea, and so run up the rates of marine insurance. Sir, what does it mean to run up marine insurance very high? Of course, I do not suppose there has ever been such a blockade. Take the blockade of the Southern ports by the North fleet. I believe articles such as salt went up during the blockade to fabulous prices, such as £40 for a ton of salt. I only mention that as an instance of a way in which marine rates of insurance are estimated, and how high they can run up. I venture to think that this question of marine insurance is a subject on which we ought to have some understanding or assurance from Her Majesty's Government, because we cannot do this thing in a hurry when we are engaged in a naval war. The war will come upon us suddenly, and we have absolutely no machinery by which these rates can be paid, and they will have to be paid by the State. If they are not provided for by Her Majesty's Government out of the Imperial Exchequer they will have to be paid for by the consumers in this country. I should like to quote a statement by the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place. In his speech made two years ago on my Motion he said— I ought now to touch on the dangers, real or supposed—and I do not minimise them—from which those remedies are intended to protect us. What are they? First, there is the danger arising from bread riots and general disorder prevailing among the wage-earning classes of the community when they found the pinch of starvation in consequence of war. I do not think there is any distinction in this matter to be drawn between one class of the community and another. Now allow me to show him the logic of that statement. I submit that this is most certainly a class question. I do not care two straws about the well-to-do class in this situation, because they can afford to pay 10s., or even 20s., for a loaf of bread, or they can go abroad and live there until the war is over; they are not so much affected by a large rise in the price of food. But take the case of the artisan. Take the case of the 40,000,000 people to whom I have referred. If enormous prices are asked to convey food from these foreign countries, the inevitable result is that up goes the price of bread and all the other necessaries of life. I submit that it is a class question, because the poor man cannot afford to pay high prices for his food, whereas the well-to-do man can afford it. And then the right honourable Gentleman goes on to say— If this country goes to war, depend upon it it will only go to war if the Government of the day feels it has behind it the sentiment of the people; and if this people are resolved to go to war, I am confident that they are prepared to undergo the hardships entailed upon them by war. I do not believe that the immediate result of raising the price of grain would be to induce the general disorder which the honourable Gentleman anticipates. Well, Sir, I quite understand how much sentiment you are going to get out of a starving man. If I had nothing to eat for three days I do not think I should have much of that sentiment about me. What did the First Lord of the Treasury say? I imagine him addressing a meeting of London artisans or Lancashire colliers, and saying to them— We are in a little difficulty with France and Russia, or in the East, or in Africa, and we have gone to war, and I am afraid you will have to pay very high prices for your bread and other food for two or three months. I am sure you will not mind that when you remember how righteous our cause is. I can imagine what the London artisan would reply to that. These remarks are supposed to be addressed to a man living on £1 a week, with a wife and five children to support. That man cannot go abroad, for his work would be interfered with, and he must keep body and soul together. As regards the Lancashire collier, I should like to tell the right honourable Gentleman that I know perfectly well what he would reply. He would say— You may go somewhere and make as much war as you like, but you must guarantee the payment of my wages. I wish to put this as plainly as I can, that if the Government propose to depend entirely on our Navy to keep down the price of food, I want to know how they are going to meet the commercial risks, and continue to supply the working population of this country with cheap food. What machinery or what plan have they got to meet this important practical question of administration? Sir, the Navy cannot do everything and I submit that it cannot keep down the price of marine insurance. Our working classes for the past generation have been accustomed to have food of all kinds, and of the best quality, sent from all parts of the universe at the lowest possible rate, and in the quickest possible manner, so that at the present moment we are absolutely, and entirely dependent on these sources from day to day, from week to week, and from month to month, in order to keep our industrial population in a fairly prosperous condition. I think we ought to have some guarantee that the bodies and souls of these people shall be kept together by the adequate provision of food during the continuance of the war. Sir, it may be asked what remedies do I suggest. Well, I have no Government office under my control, and I cannot summon expert witnesses to come and tell me all the ins and outs of, this important question. I desire, first and foremost, that the Government, should satisfy us, or at all events satisfy themselves, that they are fully armed against these contingencies. We have asked—I myself have suggested it before—that there should be an inquiry into this question. Sir, what has been the reply? The Government fall back on the usual formula that this is a question for the Navy, and for the Navy alone. ("No.") That is what they have said. That is the point which I have all along been endeavouring to prove, viz., that there are many directions in which the Navy has no control whatever. The price of food may go up. I would suggest to my right honourable Friends on the Front Bench that they should make inquiries on these points that I have endeavoured—I fear very inadequately—to put before them. I am quite prepared to suggest various directions in which I think those inquiries should go, because I do not believe that this, country will ever be kept in a satisfactory condition until we produce on our own soil more of the necessaries of life than we do at the present moment. Sir, I have not the vanity to dogmatise. I am not egotistical enough to think that an ordinary individual like myself is prepared with a ready-made, cut-and-dried solution of what I conceive to be a most important problem, but, Sir, I would very humbly suggest to Her Majesty's Government one or two remedies as to which I should like to hear their views, and the extent to which they are prepared to make some inquiry into them. In the first place I should like to see—and I believe a great many more would like to see—the Empire self-supporting in its own produce. Why should we buy wheat in Russia and the United States if we can get it equally well from Canada and other wheat-producing colonies? Of course, the only way to attain that end is by some perferential treatment of colonial produce. I would therefore ask the Government if something in this direction cannot be done, simply on the ground that our present position is a very dangerous one. Then, Sir, I should like to go further and see this country far more self-supporting at home within the confines of the United Kingdom than we are at the present moment. The House is probably aware that in Cobden's time, 40 or 50 years ago, we produced in this country about 20 million quarters of wheat, and there were over four million acres of wheat land in this country. At that time we had 14 millions population less than we have at the present moment. The four million acres of wheat land has gone down to two—it was only a million and a half a few years ago—and the amount of wheat we produce has sunk from 20 million quarters to five or six million quarters. Sir, I should like to see some endeavour made to return to the state of things which existed in Cobden's time. I may, en passant, remind the House that one of Cobden's fallacies was that by repealing the Corn Laws you would not reduce the wheat area of this country. As a matter of fact, we all know that Cobden was absolutely and entirely wrong. It has been said that we buy our wheat from abroad because we get it cheaper, i.e., we save 5s. a quarter. Suppose we increase our present rate of production of five million quarters up to 20 million quarters, we should largely reduce the danger which I have endeavoured to put before the House, and benefit to the amount of something like four millions sterling. I confess that I should like to see that amount of money spent in endeavouring to bring back to this soil the production of a greater proportion of our wheat supply. And you would have two or three other enormous advantages. In the first place, you would bring back to the land something like 240,000 more labourers, and you would add 10 millions sterling to the wages fund at home. I submit that these are material questions which are well worthy of the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. Then, Sir, I come, just briefly, to the question of the national granary. My honourable Friend the Member for Chester has gone very largely into this question. I believe that this, again, is a question which is well worthy of the inquiries which have been commenced. National granaries are a means for the encouragement of our home-grown wheat. I would earnestly suggest to the Government that this question ought to be inquired into by them, and tentatively tried. Why not put up a small national granary in one of our garrison towns, and see how it works, and what the cost is likely to be? Can you imagine a greater security for the national defences of this country than to feel that whatever happens, whatever American capitalists may do, whatever Russia may do, or the Argentine, or other foreign countries, we have six months' wheat safely stored in this country? Sir, my last point is the question of marine insurance in time of war. I do think that Her Majesty's Government ought to have some machinery erected beforehand to insure the consumer of this country against a high rate of marine insurance. This question is at the present moment entirely confined to merchant enterprise; the Government has nothing whatever to do with it. I submit that in time of war it might come suddenly upon us, but it cannot come suddenly upon this country without creating an extraordinary financial revolution. Let the Government consider it, therefore, beforehand, and provide some machinery by which they can guarantee the payment of the war rates on our food supply. I am afraid I have trenched too much upon the time of the House, but I venture to think that I have made out some kind of case in support of the terms of my Amendment. It is not a hostile Amendment. I earnestly desire that the House should discuss this question, and I earnestly desire to press it upon the attention of Her Majesty's Government, because the contention that it is a question for the Navy does not satisfactorily meet our point. Sir, I have only one thing more to say. I do not think that any Government could ever have a better time to make an inquiry into this subject than the present Government at the present time. They are a strong and united Government. We are enjoying a period of peace and prosperity. The Government have a strong, a united, and a loyal Party behind them. I do not want to hurt the feelings of the honourable Gentlemen opposite, but I venture to think that the Opposition are somewhat pre-occupied with their own affairs, and are not in a position to seriously embarrass Her Majesty's Government at the present time. That being so, I think this is the best possible opportunity for the Government, who have no first-class legislation to bring before this House—there is plenty of very good second-class legislation—to devote their time to what I venture to think is a very important inquiry. I therefore venture to urge it upon them, because I think it is well worthy of the attention of this country.


Mr. Speaker, one of the advantages to be derived from Members on the opposite side of the House seconding a Motion that is made from the other side is that it is possible to advance totally different arguments in support of the Gentleman opposite. Sir, in the first place, I may be permitted to observe that while I agree with the Amendment of my honourable Friend, I am afraid that I find myself incapable of reconciling my mind to the means by which he desires to attain the lawful end he has in view. There is one matter upon which we agree, and that is that the food supply of this country is in the main dependent upon foreign sources. That is a proposition upon which there can be no conflict of opinion on this side of the House more than on the other side. Now the question upon which there is a doubt is whether, in the event of war taking place between us and any one of the great Powers, our food supply would be jeopardised, and the means of obtaining food at reasonable prices materially interfered with. The opinion of the honourable Member who has just spoken is that it would be very greatly jeopardised. The opinion represented by the First Lord of the Treasury on the occasion of the former Debate in this House, and the opinion also represented by a very large number of other Gentle- men, is that in view of the existence of the very powerful Navy which we now enjoy, there is no reason to fear any danger arising as to the continuity or the abundance of our food supply, and that the fear entertained by the honourable Gentleman opposite may therefore be dismissed. I think it is admitted on all hands that if the view of the honourable Member be correct, i.e., that our food supply would be materially interfered with, then it would become the duty of the Government to give its attention to the solution of this problem. Now, Sir, we have no data—or no adequate data—as to what would be the effect of a war upon our commerce. The only data that we have in favour of the proposition of my honourable Friend is that of the war of the American Independence, and then our fleet was in a position of less efficiency than it is at the present moment. In that war it was proved beyond doubt that our commerce decreased no less than 37 per cent. A second instance we have was the unhappy conflict which took place from 1812 to 1814 between the United States of America and this country. At the time of the commencement of the war the United States trade was equal to the value of 50 millions. At the termination of the war the value of the United States trade fell to £4,400,000. These are two practical instances showing that a naval war strikes at the very root of the commerce of a country. Of course, the naval position was totally different then from what it is at the present moment. But there are more recent instances. The trade of Spain and the United States has been injured during the recent war between those countries, the number of American vessels which were in harbour, unable to leave port on account of the war, have been detailed to us in various public journals, and represent a very considerable percentage of their mercantile marine. Now, Sir, if it be the fact that war with a naval power is, other things being equal, calculated to interfere with our commerce, what precautions for the purpose of protection can be taken? Of course, there are such things as bringing our commodities to this country in neutral bottoms, but on the other hand, there are such things as contraband of war. It is, however, said that if there were a war with Russia, we should have our goods carried in American vessels, and no country would venture to incur the hostility of a great Power like America. Yet there are historical instances where a nation has not shrunk from entering into conflict with the combined powers of the world. I am not now contemplating the possibility of an effective blockade of the British Isles, that is absurd. I believe that even although the Federated States possessed no naval force, the United States of America were incapable of maintaining an effective blockade against the supply of the Federated States; and there is a more recent instance of the same kind of thing in the ineffectual blockade of Cuba during the Spanish and American war. But it is not a question of maintaining a blockade; it is a question of interfering with our commerce by means of fast cruisers such as those which have been advocated by Captain Mahan, and are being built by France in great numbers; vessels which sail at the rate of some 25 knots an hour, and which would undoubtedly be a source of considerable damage to our commerce. Now, Sir, how is it proposed to meet this contingency? My honourable Friend has suggested a remedy with which I am not in the smallest degree in sympathy, and that is the remedy of differential rates to our colonial possessions in contradistinction to the rates which are paid by foreign countries. I submit that that is an argument which, from the point of view of a Free Trader, cannot be entertained. My honourable Friend suggested the establishment of granaries. Now, I, for my part, am in sympathy with the proposal for the establishment of granaries, supposing it be feasible; but I feel that the honourable Member overlooks the fact that it would be very little good, from an economic point of view, establishing granaries for securing food for the people, for the political derangement which prevented you from getting food would also prevent you from getting raw material for your manufacturers. I would venture to point out to my honourable Friend that it would not only be necessary to establish granaries or emporia for corn, but also emporia for raw material. The population of the country would be in the unfortunate position of not being able to purchase corn, although there was plenty of corn to be had, because they, would not have the means to obtain it. That seems to me to be a very sufficient answer to the proposal that we should establish granaries. But, Sir, of course, there are other difficulties connected with the establishment of granaries, namely, the immense cost of building and maintaining stores, the creation of a Government monopoly with all the possibilities of corruption associated therewith. Now, Sir, it seems to me that we ought to bear in mind that there is at the present moment a lamentable condition of things in relation to agriculture in this country. It is astonishing to me that no serious attempt has been made by either side of the House to deal with this great agricultural difficulty. I do not think that the increase of allotments—and there has been a considerable increase—has been of material advantage from an economic point of view. All that has been done has been to provide cheap and permanent labour for farms, and to somewhat improve the condition of the agricultural labourer. But so far from solving the agricultural question, you have not touched the fringe of it. What is the true position with regard to agriculture from the point of view we are looking at it now? We find at the present time that the amount of corn produced in this country is on the decrease year by year, and that from 1876 to 1896 the amount of arable land decreased by two million acres. I do not venture to suggest a remedy, but I do venture to suggest, as my honourable Friend says, that it is a matter well worthy of inquiry as to whether it is not possible to check this decay of agriculture by some legislative or administrative means. I cannot help thinking that what Napoleon was attributed to have done in France might to a large extent be done in this country, and it is not impossible, I think by legislation—I do not say at once —to create, but to foster the creation of, an agricultural population. I believe that this land is not less fertile than any other European country. I believe, as has been testified to by almost every agriculturist who has written upon the subject, that the soil of this country will bear comparison with that of any other country, and therefore it seems to me that there is no reason why we should not do something, not merely to arrest the decrease of our agricultural population, but to encourage the increase of that population. There is no question that that population has been decreasing year by year, and there is no question whatever that it would be possible by judicial treatment, as has been proved by the experience of Germany and Prance, to increase the number of people deriving their livelihood from agriculture. And, Sir, if that were done by every additional person deriving his livelihood from agriculture it would be doing something to help the home market; and it is from that point of view that I do cordially second the Motion of my honourable Friend, and press upon the Government the desirability of acceding to his proposal.


I think it is a little inconvenient that this matter has come on for discussion this afternoon, though it is clearly not one of those matters which come within the description given by the First Lord of matters which might conveniently be discussed on some portion of the Estimates. Only this afternoon I asked the First Lord a question with regard to one very important branch of this inquiry. I asked him to what Member of the Government we ought to address ourselves if we desired information with regard to the insurance of maritime war risks in time of war, and he informed me that no Member of the Government, no individual Member, was responsible, but that the Government at large was charged, if anybody was charged, with that question. Now, of course, that may no doubt be an answer, but I confess it does not carry the matter very much farther, and I can hardly conceive the conditions of a discussion of the Estimates in which we should be unable to discover the Minister in connection with whose salary we could raise this important point. And I do respectively submit that we deserve—I do not say I deserve, but those who are interested in this matter deserve—a different answer from that which we have received. I should like to recall the history of this question—a very important question, as some of us believe—of the insurance of war risks in time of war. It is not the first time, nor the second time, that this question has been raised. I asked a question more than one Session ago, and was told it was not a matter within the department of the Admiralty. I addressed myself to the First Lord of the Treasury, who was good enough to say that the matter was one of great importance, and he referred me to the noble Duke, the President of the Committee on Naval Defence. In pursuance of his recommendation I approached the noble Duke, who was good enough to communicate with me, and who saw me upon this matter. I sent him the whole of the information I was able to collect respecting it, and waited upon him, when he could only inform me that the Admiralty had disclaimed all connection with this matter. The War Office had also disclaimed it, but it was possible that the Board of Trade might take it under consideration, but he did not believe it. And now I am met by the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that there is absolutely no department of the Government which is responsible for the consideration of this question. I do not consider that this is a satisfactory state of things, nor do I consider it altogether a fair answer that I have received. This is not, if I may say so, a fad of my own—I should not have troubled the House with anything of the kind if it were; it is a matter which has been much discussed, on which there is a large literature already existing—there are arguments which may be good or bad, both for and against—and I think it is really reducing the position of the House of Commons almost to an absurdity to say that a matter of that kind cannot be reasonably attributed to any department of the State. Therefore, Sir, I take the opportunity which has been given by this discussion to appeal—as I cannot appeal to the Minister, I must appeal to the House. The suggestions which had been made by my honourable Friend who proposed the Amendment were varied, and I do not propose to dwell upon two or three of the suggestions that he made; but I believe that the practical difficulties of carrying out the institution of granaries are very great. I do not see the theoretical difficulty, I do not see the theoretical danger; but I do see a practical difficulty. With regard to the question of differential tariffs respecting the Colonies, I confess I am not with the honourable Member. I believe the objections to that course, plausible as it may seem, in the present state of public feeling are overwhelming, and I am not at all convinced that the plan would succeed in producing the results which the honourable Member believes it would produce. But I see none of these objections to the proposal to which I myself attach most importance—that is, the insurance by the Government in some form or another of maritime risks in time of war. I am not unaware that this question has been discussed by bodies outside this House. It has recently been discussed by a number of Gentlemen, who took an adverse view, but when I remember that these Gentlemen were all concerned in the underwriting of ships, I think that was not altogether a remarkable fact. I find that there have been discussions in the papers connected with shipping, with the carrying trade, and with the corn trade, and there is a very strong expression on the part of men who have through the whole of their lives been studying this matter, in favour of the proposal for which I now appeal for support. Let me remind the House precisely where we stand. There is information to guide us which is absolutely precise. We have a very large number of documents on the matter. We have the statement made by Captain Mahan, of the United States Navy, who, as everyone knows, has made a very close study of the commercial history of this country in time of war—no one has more closely studied it. He pointed out the danger to which this country was exposed during a period of maritime war; not the danger from the destruction of our ships in large numbers by the enemy, but danger which arises from alarm and panic among shipowners, owing to the fact that their individual ships were always liable to the chances of war. He pointed out that during the great war with France only three per cent, of our mercantile marine were actually taken prizes—two and a half an honourable Member reminds me; I thought the figure was three. That is itself an insignificant proportion of the whole mercantile marine of this country. There was not a very large mercantile fleet in those days, of course, and there would be a very large residue now supposing three per cent. were destroyed. But the circumstances were different at the beginning of the century. We were not dependent then as we are now, except only to a very small extent, on the import of our food from foreign countries. There was a state of things existing for years in which competition on the sea, except by enemy's ships which had escaped from our cruisers, was absolutely unknown. No foreign country stood there ready to take up the trade that we had dropped. It was impossible. The European blockade extended over the whole of the territory which for a time was under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte, and whatever country declared itself' hostile to this, country, either by act or expression, immediately became our enemy, and was attacked by our fleet. We know now that the circumstances are very different. We know that there are great mercantile marines rising on every side, all ready and anxious to take what we lose. We know also that there are, side by side with those commercial marines, great military marines, which have risen to a strength and increased to a number absolutely unknown, even in times when this country was exposed to its greatest risks. We know, and nobody knows better, except perhaps the First Lord of the Admiralty, than I, what is the literature which is being produced day after day in other countries, the whole of which is devoted to a scientific and careful study of the means by which this opportunity may be taken advantage of when occasion arises. I do not want to go into the literature at all. I only want to say that its character constitutes a formidable threat. I go further. I say that if the language which is contained in that literature were used by this country of any other country it would be considered an unjustifiable thing. But the threat exists, and my view is this, that if you are to leave every individual shipper with the fear that his particular consignment of goods or particular ship will be or nay be liable to be captured by the cruisers of the enemy, you will immediately produce a feeling of panic which will result in an enormous enhancement of insurance premiums. There can be no doubt about it. If the honourable Member will imagine what would occur at Lloyd's at the news of an outbreak of war, if he will apply his imagination to the scene which would then arise, I am sure he could hardly exaggerate the reality which I believe would follow. I believe that matters would eventually brighten, that they would settle down; and we should have—as we ought to have, and I believe we have—a preeminent Navy. A time would come when the balance would be, to a certain extent, restored, and our ships would be able to navigate the seas, if not undisturbed, at any rate, with a certain amount of security for certain craft under certain conditions. But on the outbreak of war there would be this sudden enhancement of insurance rates, and there is, as I believe, one way, and one way only, to guard against it, and that is by making some arrangement in time of peace, whereby people may be assured that they can continue their business, exposed, no doubt, to some risk—some risk is inevitable—but exposed to a risk which they can measure, and which, if they have enterprise, many of them, I am certain, would be prepared to face. I do not bring this matter before the House without having given it some attention. I know the proposals which have been made, and I think they divide themselves into three classes, any one of which may perhaps have something to be said for it—all of which, I believe, must have something to be said for them. The first proposal is that there should be a national insurance of all war risks, that is to say that the Government in time of peace should give the promise to shipowners that in times of war they will reimburse them the value of ship and cargo in any case where a ship is lost by act of the enemy, providing that ship has conformed to Admiralty rules and obeyed the regulations laid down for convoy and protection. The second proposal is that there should be a contribution on the part of the Government in aid of the premiums paid at Lloyd's by shippers themselves, there being, of course, a range of difference between the ordinary premium and the war premium; that the Government should make themselves responsible for the payment of additional war premium. I believe there is a good deal to be said for that, because I find that among insurers there is a reluctance to accept any plan which will put all ships, good and bad, upon the same footing, and procure the same advantage for ships that are ill-fitted and not of great commercial value as for ships of the very first class, which are well fitted and have enormous advantage in speed. The third proposal is that there should be a percentage paid by all British shipowners, and something by other shipowners also, to a fund which should be used for the purpose of reinsurance in times of war. I do not pretend to express a strong view as to the merits of any one of these proposals, but they all exist, and I think they are all serious and sufficiently definite to be made the subject of some investigation. I am not content to accept this non possumus on the part of the Government. The reply generally given is that some hole can be picked in every scheme that is proposed. That is very usual. I do not suppose that anyone in this House or out of it can come down here and propose any scheme which no other Member of the House could not pick a hole in. You can get no scheme which would cover the whole of the ground, but you can get a scheme which will closely abate the evils complained of. The Government, I know, have a position of advantage in this matter. They say—perhaps they have a right to say—that the responsibility for the safety of this country in time of war lies with them, and that they are prepared to meet that responsibility. Well, Sir, I think that that statement ought to be received with boundless caution. I will not weary the House with example after example of things which have been done now, at this moment and in a hurry, for the protection of the country in time of war, which have been advocated year after year in this House, and though the Government was, I suppose, equally responsible for, equally cognisant of, these duties, these things were not done. I could name other matters which by almost universal consent ought to be done which are not being done, and yet which are being advocated, and which I hope some day will be done; and, therefore, though no one feels more than I do that we have at the present moment a Government which is showing more readiness to face these problems, and to deal with them, than any that we have had for a long time, I do not subscribe altogether to the doctrine that we can leave this matter entirely to their decision. I think they have often told us that public opinion is necessary to them in order to carry out great changes. That is quite true; but there are some changes which they can carry out very easily by giving a little encouragement, a little help to public opinion. I hope the House will take a serious view of this matter. Much that has been said by the honourable Member that was unnecessary, and was felt by honourable Members to be unnecessary. We all of us know that there is no royal road in this matter, but we do think it would be to the advantage of the country if Ministers would frankly admit that there is a problem to be solved, and if they would give us some little encouragement to believe that they are really intent upon solving it, by something more than mere generalities or mere references to the undeniable spirit of Her Majesty's Government.

* MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)

Mr. Speaker, on reading the terms of this Amendment, I find that they are directed to requesting or directing an inquiry to be made into the present large and increasing dependence of the United Kingdom on foreign imports for the necessities of life, and the circumstances that might arise therefrom in the event of Her Majesty becoming involved in war with some foreign Power or Powers. Well, I think the House has departed a great deal from the terms of that Motion by discussing marine insurance. Such an undertaking as is suggested by the argument of the honourable Member who has just spoken, that marine insurance should be undertaken by the Government of this country, involves, in the first place, a very great expenditure, which naturally brings the question, Where is the money to come from to meet it? Secondly, it practically produces an underwriting department of the Government, which I do not think any Government would be quite willing 10 undertake, seeing that it would require such a large staff of assessors to value ships, and such a large staff of accountants to apply the percentages upon the value. I fail to see that any Government could undertake marine insurance in time of war. To my way of thinking, the true marine insurance of war risks in time of war lies simply in the fact that the Government of the day will give the best protection possible to the commerce of this country by having a first-class fleet and plenty of ships. It is not for me to say in what way ships should be insured in time of war. There are various plans proposed for doing that; but I think, from my knowledge of ships and steamers, that if the shipowners of this country wanted to protect their fleets or their vessels in time of war, they could raise or contribute to a shipowners' war fund. I fail to see how any Government could undertake such work. I, therefore, dismiss that ideal, a very nice and very pretty ideal, no doubt, of a Government undertaking marine insurance in time of war. I come now to the proposals which this Motion warrants; and I listened with great interest to all that has been said about home-grown wheats and the number of acres that were going out of cultivation. But what are the facts? Why cannot we grow wheat in this country to supply the inhabitants? Why cannot we do that?


Foreign competition.


Foreign competition, I hear said by the right honourable Gentleman opposite. No, Sir, it is not foreign competition at all; it is cheap lands versus dear lands. Go to Western America, and what do you get your land there for? Go to the Lothians in Scotland, and what do you pay for it there? You cannot compete. It is not foreign competition at all; it is one man producing his grain cheap, and another producing it dear. I am not a landlord, but that is my view of the matter, and I happen to have some friends who are farmers, and they cannot grow wheat, simply because they have to pay £2 to £2 10s. an acre for the land. Now, that being the case, you are brought face to face with this. We are building in this country at the present time a great many steamers called ocean tramps. These vessels carry from 5,000 to 10,000 tons of cargo. They go over to America and buy wheat there, and they land it in the market here at a price at which you cannot produce it. Very well; you have, therefore, in one instance, cheap lands, cheap grown wheat, and low freights. Great quantities of grain are brought into this country, and what is the result? We have, thanks to that, the cheap loaf, and otherwise it would be dearer. The proposer of this Motion talked, about some machinery being required, or an inquiry being made as to the provision of some machinery for the purposes of the Motion. I look at it in this way, Mr. Speaker. In a country like ours, whore we have practically no rural population of small farmers, what we have got to depend upon for our food supply is simply the keeping open of the highways of the sea for our cargo steamers by a powerful fleet. If we were under the same conditions as in France, where there are seven and a half millions of peasant proprietors, we could stand a blockade and feed ourselves as France can do at this moment. Blockade us! Why, we could not feed ourselves for six weeks, simply from the fact that we have no peasant proprietors, and all the old English yeomen have been swept off the land. There is another thing which is against us—namely, the preferential rates in this country, a point that has not been touched upon at all. You get your foreign goods brought into Liverpool, and you get them taken across to Newcastle for far less than I can get goods sent from Newcastle to Hartlepool, simply by reason of these preferential rates, and that, again, militates against our national progress. Then, again, we have the seconder of the Motion saying that if we had peasant proprietors the population would in crease, and we should have a greater supply of men for our Army and Navy. What do we find in France? There is a peasant proprietorship numbering seven and a half millions; but the population is not increasing, it is decreasing, which I think goes to prove conclusively that the mere fact of living on the soil does not tend to the increase of population. However, I look at this matter from a very serious aspect. Unquestionably, a time will come when this question will have to be forced upon some Government—how to feed the people of this country in a time of war. The mover of this Motion has moved a Motion which to my way of thinking is of paramount importance to the life and stability of the country. Whatever the result may be, whether the Government will undertake inquiry or not, I do not know—I do not care—but I say a day will come when this question, how the people of this country are to feed themselves, will be a serious question, and at the present time I can only see one way for solving it, and that is by the Government keeping open our highways by having the most powerful fleet on the face of the earth, by having the fastest ships, so that food may be brought to the people. If not, what will be the result? The result will be something terrible the moment the people of this country want food. We know what a starving people have done before, and they will do the same again. Therefore, I am in entire accord with the principle of the mover of this Motion, and with his sentiments. I think that the stronger the Navy we can keep up, the better it will be for this country.

* ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)

I desire to take a small part in this discussion, and I may remind the House with great respect that when the Estimates for the Navy were brought forward in 1896 and 1897, I had a Motion down, and I was first in the ballot, dealing with the whole of this question in, as I thought, a comprehensive form, but you, Mr. Speaker, very properly ruled me out of order. So I dropped the question from that time to this, and I rejoice that my honourable Friend has taken it up. It is far better that men like my honourable Friend, who are disassociated with the Services, should bring this matter forward, and that we, as humble individuals representing the Services perhaps should say a word or two in support. At all events, the question is not new; but it is very important, and I fail to perceive that the Government can offer opposition to this most reasonable Motion, and I do hope they will accept it con amore, and promise the House that they will cause an inquiry to be made into this very serious and important and difficult subject. It is no new question, as my honourable Friend the Member for West Belfast said just now; even the proposals for a national insurance of ships' cargoes are not new. May I remind the First Lord of the Admiralty of what will surely happen if a war should come—which God forbid—during the time he should be First Lord of the Admiralty; as to what happened in the case of his predecessor, Lord Northbrook, in 1885? A deputation of shipowners then waited upon the First Lord, pressing this very question upon the Government of the day, and I am very well informed—the information is more or less confidential; I have seen correspondence on this subject—that the Government were very much exercised upon it, and they did not meet it with a direct negative; they did not attempt to ridicule the proposal. I do know they did seriously entertain it, but whether they came to any decision I do not say; but I do say that what happened to Lord Northbrook in 1885 may yet happen to any Government that is in power in these days. The position now is accentuated, and the difficulty is not less. When I was preparing to discuss this matter some years ago I was at uncommon pains to get the best information upon the subject. I am mindful of the fact that one of our most accomplished naval officers of that time, Admiral Sir George Tryon, now gone to his rest, was a very great authority upon this very difficult problem and the way in which it could be solved. I have been told by many distinguished Admirals that they could hardly sleep at nights for thinking of what might happen in regard to this matter of food supplies, and the way in which food might safely be brought to this country in time of war. The fighting of the battles is a simple matter, so long as you support a strong Navy, if the fortress is victualled. But no Government has yet seriously thought of how to victual the fortress. That is the moderate Motion which my honourable Friend now submits to the House. This is not a Party question; there is a universal consensus of opinion that this matter ought to be faced by the Government, and faced without delay. It has never yet been faced by any of the successive Governments of this country, I believe; no doubt it has been talked about, and no doubt harmonious action has been agreed upon between the Board of Trade and the Admiralty for defending certain points of the sea; and, in the event of war, co-operating squadrons will be sent to meet cargoes expected at certain points of latitude and longitude; and no doubt warning will be given by the Board of Trade to the various shipowners to rendezvous at those points from Australia and other parts from which our food supplies may arrive. All that goes without saying. I have risen to support my honourable Friend the Member for Belfast who, however, I think, went further than is reasonable on this subject of maritime insurance. I cannot go so far with him in this matter. But I do believe that the country, instead of insuring all ships' cargoes, ought to prohibit certain vessels, steam vessels of a slow speed and sailing vessels of all kinds, from leaving their ports at all in time of war. Although they may be a private source of wealth, they are at the same time a source of wealth to the nation at large, and if they are allowed to go from their ports there is bound to be a heavy loss of national wealth. I do not support a system of insuring the whole of our ships, but I do think you might legitimately entertain the proposal to insure vessels with a minimum speed of 12 to 15 knots, because, unless you do something of that kind as a guarantee against loss, I do not see how shipowners can be expected to run their ships. There are no rates to guide shipowners in the matter of insurance. We only know what was actually paid so recently as the time of the American Civil War. We know, then, that the "risk" went up to 30s. per cent, for non-blockade runners under neutral flags; but in other cases it went up from 30 per cent.; and God knows what figure it would meet the shipowners in such a way that they should safely send their vessels to sea, then you would encourage a spirit of enterprise which would tend to keep the rates of insurance down, otherwise it might mount up to 100 per cent; and God knows what figure it might not arrive at in the end. Whatever rates are paid, the expense must naturally fall upon the consumer, and therefore it is necessary that they should be kept down. My honourable Friend the Member for Gateshead believes in a strong Navy, but he did not give adequate consideration to the other part of the question. I do not want to weary the House with statistics, but we did suffer very heavy loss when we were supreme on the sea in the wars of old times. What would the loss be now, when our commerce has grown to so many millions? Nineteen hundred vessels leave our ports every day. The mind of man is unable to grasp what these figures mean, and although a strong Navy would enable you to keep certain routes open, looking forward, as I do, to the impossibility of any danger or trouble with America, I do not think there would be any serious danger of an excessive rise in the prices of food stuffs. I believe that supplies would come from America, and, I think, with a sufficient number of cruisers there would be no difficulty in guarding the Atlantic highway, and making it as safe as a turnpike road. My honourable Friend talks of convoying cargoes, but we have other work for our cruisers to do than to convoy cargoes across the high seas. Whether we have sufficient cruisers is a question to be discussed within the four walls of the Admiralty, but I do not think we have sufficient cruisers nor do I believe you think so yourselves. I do know that you will lay down more cruisers in your forthcoming naval programme, and that, to my mind, is a clear answer that the number of cruisers that we possess is not adequate in time of war. All we ask is that the Government should give an assurance to the country and the House that this matter shall receive their grave consideration. We do not expect them to lay down a policy in favour of the erection of national granaries such as was proposed in the House of Lords. When that proposal was brought forward by the late Lord Winchilsea he was admirably answered by Lord Playfair on that subject. To my mind, the proposal to establish national granaries would, if carried out, be most disastrous. In the first place, you would spend many millions in erecting these great brick edifices, and the immediate effect would be to derange the market, because when you were buying in up would go the prices, and when in a month's time you sold out, as you would have to do, the prices would come down with a run, and you would open the door to speculation of the very worst character. Many millions would have been wasted in the building of these granaries, and, in my opinion, without any good result. I would rather spend those millions on building more cruisers than in putting up these immense brick establishments for the storage of grain; besides which, if you store one thing you would necessarily have to store another, and if you erect granaries you would also have to erect places in which to store raw material in order to keep the cotton and other mills going. The problem now is infinitely worse than it was at the time of the Crimea. And it would be well to remember that fact. During the time of the Crimean war, from 1854 to 1856, the population of this country was about 28,000,000 of people, and the produce of corn grown at home was 16,000,000 of quarters on four and a half million acres. Now we have a population of 38,000,000 of people—I am giving the figures of 1895, and I am willing to admit that they are the best to go upon—and the home production of grain is only 4,500,000 of quarters on 1,500,000 acres of land; 38,000,000 of people and 4,500,000 of corn now, as against 28,000,000 of people and 16,000,000 of quarters of corn then. Therefore, Sir, it is patent to any man's mind, whether he has studied the question or not, that it is a matter to us of great importance and I think the Government would do wisely to show their sympathy with this Motion. I do not care in what form they answer the honourable Gentleman, who proposed the Amendment, but I do hope that, at all events, they will not answer him with a direct negative. The admonition of going to the ants to learn a lesson from their energy applies equally to the Government, as well as it did to the person to whom that advice was given. You can learn not only from the ants, but from the bees and the rats. Governments have been asleep over this matter. All I ask is that you shall not be asleep anylonger. The Government are in sympathy with a strong Navy; and, in the event of war, it is certain that very heavy losses must ensue, and in order to encourage the steamship owners to run the necessary risks and to keep down the rates of insurance, you will have to give your minds to this subject, either to entertain the proposal for the insurance of all ships, or the more moderate proposal of insuring every ship above a certain speed, and prohibiting every steam vessel below that rate of speed and every sailing vessel from leaving the ports.

* SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

This has been a most singular Debate; a great number of honourable Gentlemen have spoken upon the matter, and they have all stated that in their opinion it is a most valuable subject to bring before the House; but no two of them have agreed as to the manner in which the question should be dealt with. If any good is to be done to the country by raising the question at all, it should be raised after honourable Members have come to some sort of understanding between themselves as to the scheme which they propose to press upon the Government for dealing with it.


By a Royal Commission.


The whole business of the Board of Admiralty is to inquire into it, and if successive Boards of Admiralty have not inquired into this subject years ago, then all I can say upon the matter is, that they ought to be hanged on the outbreak of war. Indeed, the speech of the honourable and gallant Admiral shows that former Governments have inquired into the subject, and I am perfectly certain that the speech of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty last year showed that the present Government had inquired into it. There is a little difficulty in discussing this question in the House, and I am not sure that the public raising of the question at the present moment is altogether wise. There does exist at the present moment in a particular country an idea that we are going to force them into war during the present year, and I cannot but fear that discussing this question, as to what is to be done for the protection of our food supply, may have some small bearing on that idea. It may make people continue in the foolish idea that it is our intention to force them into war. But, if we are discussing the question, we ought to discuss it with certain proposals before the House, and I submit it is useless for it to be discussed in this way, and I think it very unwise. But, the question having been raised, it does appear to me that some of us who do not agree with any of the particular remedies that are proposed, except with the general notion of a strong fleet, should say something with regard to the different proposals that have been made. The first honourable Member who brought this Amendment before the House, and who made two or three suggestions last year, should limit the question before us to a particular form. As it stands, we have all the questions affecting the internal food supply of this country raised, and if that is to be allowed, some of us might ask what is to be done with the lands which are out of cultivation, and how those lands are to be cultivated. What is to be done with the deer forests, for example? When these questions arise upon Motions of this kind, I do not think it is possible to go into them, and that we ought to confine ourselves to the more definite matters. The honourable Gentleman who seconded the Motion threw over all the arguments proposed to the House by the honourable Gentleman moving the Amendment; he made a very clever speech, but overstated altogether the facts. Then it was said by an honourable Gentleman that our case was that there would be no interference with the continuity and plentifulness of our food supply. No man in his senses would make any suggestion of that kind. There would be an interference in case of a war with another country, and still more in case of a war against a coalition; and, starting with the fact that there must be an interference with our food supply, the best method of affording protection against such interference must be a matter of opinion. The honourable Gentleman has proved at some length that it was possible for food to be made contraband in case of war. But, I am bound to say, I think the First Lord of the Treasury was right last year, when he said that this matter would be ruled by the law of strength. The honourable and gallant Admiral, though favouring the Motion, said he thought that America would feed us in times of war, and that it would do so I have no doubt. My honourable Friend the Member for Belfast brought into the Debate the question of national insurance; but it appears to me that the one thing that has been overlooked is, that in the time of war there is a transference of ships from our flag. You have to assume that there will be no transferring in our case, and that the British ships will continue to be British, in order to bring insurance into the terms of the Motion. Now, the proposal which was made by the honourable Member for Chester two years ago, and in the House of Lords by the late Lord Winchilsea, was a proposal for national granaries, and if that is the proposal which is in the minds of the honourable Members who bring forward this proposal to-night, they ought to be prepared with facts and figures in support of their contention, or else adopt some practical suggestion for the production of wheat in this country. If they want national granaries, let them say so, and if it is so, let them arm themselves with facts and figures as to the minimum food supply of this country at any one time, and not bring the question before the House in this general way. Now the honourable Gentleman the Member for St. Helens confined himself, in talking of food supplies, to wheat and flour, and the statements which he made are absolutely at variance with all the facts which I have been able to gather together from all sources in reference to this subject, and I think that we ought to have evidence as to the minimum food supply. The right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is here, and as he will probably take part in this Debate, I should just like him to answer this question, if he does speak on this subject: Was Lord Playfair correct in the facts which were stated by him in 1894 in the House of Lords, and are those facts still substantially true? At the time Lord Winchilsea stated that in some portions of the year there was only one month's supply of wheat in this country, and leaflets were issued on behalf of the national granaries scheme, stating that there was only a fortnight's supply. Now, in reply to that statement Lord Playfair said that he had official information from the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Board of Trade, upon the subject, and he informed the House of Lords that the minimum supply of this country occurred in the month of June, and in that month there was in this country a supply of wheat and flour sufficient for three months and a half. Lord Playfair pointed out that those figures only referred to wheat and flour, and did not take into consideration such cereals as barley, oats, and maize, or potatoes. Four years after that date the honourable Member for St. Helens tells us that the wheat supply of this country is only sufficient for three weeks. There is a great discrepancy there, and we certainly ought to be told whether Lord Playfair was right or wrong in his figures. It does not affect absolute starvation, but it does make this difference, that the sharpness of the pinch will be very different in the one case to what it would be in the other. If this country was going to begin a war with only three weeks' supply of wheat and flour, speculation would be rife, and prices would rise, and there would be a very much greater pinch than there would be if the supply was sufficient for three months and a half. We ought to know whether Lord Playfair was right when he said that besides the enormous amount of other food stuffs which would supplement flour at such a time, there was a three and a half months' supply, or whether the honourable Gentleman is right who says there is only a three weeks' supply of wheat and flour. The honourable Gentleman who spoke in support of a national granary scheme ought to have told us something of the cost of the system proposed to be established. The honourable Member for St. Helens talked of making an experimental trial, and this was almost the only point in which the Seconder agreed with the Mover of the Amendment. They both agreed that we ought to make some small experimental trial of this national granary scheme. But private enterprise has made experiments as to what kinds of wheat will keep, and we know something of that already. The difficulties of the scheme are that its necessity has not been proved; and, in the second place, the interference with trade involved. What the cost would be could only be arrived at when it was tried on a large scale, and I am afraid that it is impossible to make an experiment which would be of any use to the Department of the Board of Trade. When Lord Winchilsea brought forward his scheme he estimated that the cost would be 33 millions sterling at first, and afterwards that the annual expenditure would be £950,000—equal to a shilling duty per quarter on corn. I am sure that the honourable and gallant Admiral opposite could get many of the additional cruisers he wants for that 33 millions sterling and the additional expenditure of a million a year. Therefore, these honourable Members have not only to give us certain facts and figures to show the feasibility of the scheme, but calculations as to its cost, and when they have done both things they will find that it would be far better to spend the money on the fleet. Now, the general view that some of us take on this subject is that, in the event of any very grave crisis, any great war which you could contemplate, it would be enormously to the interest of the United States to feed this country. We believe that colourable transfers from the British to a neutral flag would be promoted immediately, and, although theoretically the belligerent Power would have grounds for protesting, and even for seizing the ships so transferred to a neutral flag, we do not believe that any country would at that moment take action which would bring the United States on their flank. We believe that it would be the policy not only of the United States to protect our food supplies, but that other countries that were in a similar case would take similar action. It has been said that we get large supplies of grain from Russia, but the supply from Russia is not always very large, and varies greatly in amount. The great food supply for this country must be drawn from North and South America, and, if we can get that, we need not alarm ourselves about the possibility of absolute starvation. Of course, it is the duty of the Government to consider beforehand what they shall do in certain eventualities, but I have no doubt that, as Lord Playfair said, these considerations have been present to the mind of successive Governments. Generally speaking, the objection I have to all these schemes is that they are to be considered, not as peace schemes, but as war schemes, and that they all savour of the heresy of a passive defence, that we are going to lock ourselves up as within walls, lay in a stock of food and munitions, and then defy our enemies outside. But that is not the way in which this country, if ever we are driven into war, will carry the war on. Our policy may be as pacific as may be in ordinary times, but, however pacific, when we are driven into war our policy would be an offensive one. And unless we can use our great natural advantages for the purpose of attacking and destroying our enemies, we shall never be able to force on a peace, or to conclude an honourable peace. We do not want, as a great commercial nation, to drag on a war indefinitely, but to finish it as soon as possible, and the notion of soon finishing a war by locking ourselves up is ridiculous. That will not bring the war to a close; the only way is by striking strongly at the enemy. I am entirely averse, from the war point of view, to the suggestions that have been made. I am, therefore, opposed to the Amendment, and I hope that the only effect of the discussion will be to strengthen the hands of the Admiralty.


The subject which my honourable Friend has brought before the House is a highly important one. But it is not, of course, a new one, for my honourable Friend has upon more than one occasion endeavoured to draw public attention in the House of Commons and in the country to the position of things in regard to our food supply. While I agree with the honourable Baronet opposite, that the Gentleman who seconded the Amendment and those who supported it have nearly all differed with regard to the remedies, I am not disposed to make any reflection upon the honourable Gentlemen who have so differed, because undoubtedly the matter is not only important, but full of difficulty, and one can readily understand that honourable Gentlemen may be uneasy and distressed about what they consider an unsatisfactory condition of things, and yet very largely differ as to the methods to be adopted to put an end to that state of things. My honourable Friend asks for an inquiry into this important matter, and into the various methods which have been suggested with the view of remedying what he considers the present unfortunate state of things. But, as the right honourable Baronet opposite says, although there has been no Select Committee, although there has been no Royal Commission appointed to inquire into this matter, it must not be supposed by my Friend and the House that the Government have been indifferent on the matter, and that it has not been before us and made the subject of inquiry both by the Board of Admiralty and the Board of Trade, as well as by the Board of Agriculture. There has been full official inquiry into the existing state of things, and I am glad to think that these inquiries have not led to the conclusion that the fears of my honourable Friends as to the disastrous consequences to the people of this country in case of war are at all likely to be realised. My honourable Friend who brought forward this Motion and his honourable Seconder were distressed at the fact that so small a quantity of land was under grain cultivation in this country. Well, it is true that the quantity of land cropped with grain in this country has of late years considerably decreased, but that does not at all mean that the land not under grain is not producing food. On the contrary, I am informed by the Minister for Agriculture that the land of this country was never more cultivated than it is at the present time.


No! no!


Although the rents have gone down, and the landlords may not be satisfied, and although the price of produce may not be satisfactory to the farmers, yet, as a matter of fact, the land is still producing food as plentifully as any other land in any part of Europe.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

Is the right honourable Gentleman aware how much land has gone out of cultivation?


Well, that is the in formation given to me by my right honourable Friend the Minister for Agriculture. My honourable Friend also says—and it is an opinion in which we all agree—that he would be very glad if by some arrangement we could increase the supply of food stuffs to this country from the Colonies, instead of from foreign countries. But I am afraid, if in order to obtain it anything in the nature of protection were proposed, that it would be a serious departure from the policy of this country—a policy now adopted by the great bulk of the people of the country and by nearly all politicians. I am afraid that the result he desires is not likely to be attained, but if it could be effected in any other way we all would be glad. The truth is, that a strong and powerful Navy is the prime factor in the supply of food for the people of this country, and no Government would be worthy of the confidence of the people of this country that did not make the preservation of the trade routes of our food supply the principal object of its care. When it is said that a cruiser here or there belonging to a foreign enemy might interfere with the carrying trade in time of war, I acknowledge that that might be so, and the Government has recognised that there is such a danger, and that it is our duty to be so supplied with cruisers as to reduce that risk to a minimum. It must also be remembered that foreign cruisers would not be so well furnished with coal as ours would be. The honourable Gentleman said that starvation may come upon us, however supreme our Navy may be, and then in a following sentence he said that this country could never be blockaded in time of war—that even if the country could not be blockaded, it is not only possible, but extremely likely, that the price of corn would rise considerably. I admit that the price of corn would rise considerably, although I very much doubt whether that high price would be long maintained, but, so long as our country is not blockaded, we are not at all likely to meet with starvation. It must be remembered that we get corn and food supplies from every quarter of the globe, and that the high prices would attract these supplies from all parts. It must also be remembered that so long as corn is not made contraband of war it would come in neutral bottoms as freely as it ever came before. I entirely agree with the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean that if any attempt were made by any belligerent foreign country to prevent the shipment of corn to this country and to make it contraband of war, that would meet with the hostility of the United States, and possibly of other neutral countries also. Between 50 and 60 per cent, of the whole of the exports of corn and flour from the United States come to this country, and is it to be supposed for a moment that the United States would remain quiescent in time of war if our enemy declared corn to be contraband of war? If, then, we start with the fact, with the assumption that corn is not contraband of war, what chance is there that we should be reduced to starvation when the corn can come in to us as freely as in time of peace so long as it comes in in neutral bottoms. Now, the remedies which the honourable Gentleman and others have proposed for a state of things which I do not believe is ever likely to arise, but if it ever did arise, are threefold. The question touched upon by my honourable Friend, who moved the Motion—of increasing the growth of corn here by means of bounties, and by a resort to protection—I do not think is within the range of practical politics. I may be excused, therefore, if I do not enter upon the well-worn arguments of my honourable Friend in regard to a protective policy. And I am sure that the House of Commons would never for a moment consent, nor would any Government consent, to inquire whether free trade is or is not good for this country. So I dismiss that remedy of my honourable Friend, although I hope he will not think it is from any want of respect for him. Then there is the proposal for a national insurance. I do not think that he has very fully explained what he means by national insurance. He has not said if the country is to bear the whole cost of the vessels and cargoes seized by the enemy, or only part of it. He has not told us whether we are to insure wheat and food supplies only. He has not told us why it should not also be applied to raw material, for it is quite certain that the ingress of raw material is as important to the country as the wheat supply. It is of vast importance that our working classes should be employed, and that they should be able to earn money to buy the food they require, and more than ever so when the food supply is likely to be raised above normal prices. Again, he has not told us whether this national insurance is to be an insurance for cargoes outwards as well as inwards. Clearly, if the nation takes upon itself the burden of insurance of cargoes inwards it must also take it for cargoes outwards. I need hardly insist on the stupendous cost which this would entail. It is estimated that the value of British vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards, and their cargoes, in 1879, came to no less than 1,090 millions sterling. The risk of loss would be enormous. My honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne said that the risk of loss in time of war might come to as much as 100 per cent. My honourable and gallant Friend takes the extreme limit, and I am not going to work out the cost of insurance at that rate. But I will take what I think is a high rate, having regard to the facts. Assuming that we possess a large and a strong Navy, that we are able to keep our shores free from blockade, and able to protect our commerce, I would put the rate at five per cent. That would come to something like 60 millions sterling. But that is not all. Who is to manage this stupendous business? Who is to secure us from risk of fraud? Who is to take care that the sea is not covered with old rotten, worn-out ships, with comparatively valueless cargoes? My honourable Friend must know that the business of an underwriter of marine insurance is one of the most intricate, most delicate, and most difficult in the world, that it is highly paid in this country, and that the risks vary from day to day and from hour to hour. My honourable Friend seemed to think that a partial insurance might be sufficient, but how are the shares to be appropriated, and how are you to appropriate the premiums to the risk, seeing that the risk in time of war varies from day to day and from hour to hour? It is a business which the Government would be hopelessly unable to undertake; they would be liable to fraud and swindling of all kinds. I am satisfied that everyone who understands the ins-and-outs of this question of insurance must come to the conclusion that no Government in its senses would ever undertake such a gigantic business. Well, another remedy has been proposed—the remedy of storing grain in granaries. Here again there would be another addition to the responsibility of Ministers of State. This would be another gigantic burden put upon the shoulders of the Government—a burden which would lay them open to fraud of all sorts and kinds. There are difficulties of detail also which it would be impossible to overcome. How, for instance, could my honourable Friend confine the storage to wheat alone? I have enlarged on the importance of raw material. If we are going to keep our people clothed and fed, we must devise some method by which the raw material should be supplied to them to work upon. That is another large addition to the scheme, for you have not only to provide granaries, but must have warehouses filled with cotton and wool and jute, and all the other raw materials which our people need. And have you calculated how much grain would be necessary? I have seen estimates made, varying from 8 to 20 millions of quarters.


Twenty million quarters.


Well, the first outlay on 20 million quarters would be no light matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to undertake, and the storing of it and the changing of it. Moreover, there are so many different qualities of grain, and there must be some arrangement for supplying the people with the qualities they want. But there is another question I should like to ask my honourable Friend. I presume he will acknowledge that it is quite possible that in a time of general dearth, it is indeed probable, that the price of grain and wheat would rise even to a greater height than in time of war. What would you do then? Would you unload if there came a period of dearth, and the loaf went up to 8d. or 9d., or 10d. or 1s.? Would you unload that grain? And, if not, how could you defend keeping the grain stored up in the coffers of the country and the people clamouring for bread? I undertake to say that there is no Government, however independent they might desire to be politically, which could possibly resist the pressure brought to bear upon them to distribute grain, not in a time of war, but in a time of dearth. Again, at what price is the grain to be distributed? Is it to be at cost price or the market price? Clearly, if at market price, no Government would do it, for the market price would be too high. It must, then, be cost price, or, at any rate, at a moderate price. Well, what would your farmers, your dealers, who have grown grain and have got grain to sell, say if you were to compete with them in the market, and with money taken out of their own pockets, and so prevent them from getting the price they would otherwise obtain? The cost, as I have said, of either of the two operations would be enormous. It would be far better and cheaper for the country, should they be driven to it when a time of pressure came, to go into the market and buy grain dear and sell cheap, rather than attempt to set up such a gigantic business, involving such an enormous sum of money, as national insurance agents and holders of grain. I end as I began. I end as the right honourable Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean began and ended. I do not believe that if our Navy is kept up in a sufficiently strong and powerful state to protect the trade routes of the country, and if we secure our shores from being blockaded, I do not believe there is the remotest chance of starvation, although there may be a chance of high prices, which would not last for any length of time. It is, under these circumstances, that I am afraid the Government are unable to accept the Motion of my honourable Friend. I repeat, this is not a matter which has escaped the attention of the Government. It has been carefully inquired into, and I have given the results of the inquiry.


What about Lord Playfair's figures regarding the available grain supply in the country?


The right honourable Baronet asks me about Lord Playfair's figures. I will endeavour to verify the figures quoted by my honourable and gallant Friend. I have no reason to suppose that Lord Playfair was incorrect when he said he obtained his figures from the authorities and heads of the Department. Nor have I reason to suppose that if these figures were right then they are wrong now. If the right honourable Baronet desires fuller information on the subject I shall be glad to obtain it for him.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

Mr. Speaker, everyone must agree that the food supply of this country is a matter of very great interest generally, but that is the only point on which there has been any agreement during the Debate. The Seconder of the Amendment expressly disclaimed any agreement with the Mover, except that the question was of importance, and that it was a matter for inquiry. But if an inquiry is to be set up, what line will it take? What is to be its obejct, and what suggestions are to be considered? I was struck, as the President of the Board of Trade was struck, with the fact that no two speakers agreed as to the lines on which the suggested inquiry should be conducted. A number of suggestions were put forward, but each successive speaker occupied himself in trampling down the suggestions of the speaker who preceded him, and all the suggestions were torn to pieces with laudable unanimity and impartiality by the President of the Board of Trade. The general result, therefore, is that, in the opinion of the Government, not one of these suggestions deserves any further consideration. I am not surprised at that conclusion. What were the suggestions? I will not discuss them, but will just run through them in order to show their futility. There was the idea of protective duties, but the Mover of the Amendment must know that any protective duties would fall, first of all, on the poorer classes of the community. Then there was the suggestion of preferential tariffs between ourselves and our Colonies. But Canada is already developing her wheat fields, and the imposition of a preferential tariff would not substantially increase that development. We now receive a large quantity of wheat from Canada, and there is no reason to suppose that if we were to give a preferential tariff it would meet the difficulties which the honourable Gentlemen apprehend. Then there was the question of granaries, which has been so demolished by the President of the Board of Trade that I will not refer to it further; and, lastly, there was the suggestion that the State should undertake a scheme of national marine insurance. I need not add anything to the arguments used by the President of the Board of Trade in order to show the total impracticablity of such a proposal, which would involve us in enormous risks, for the carrying out of which we have no preparation, and which would utterly destroy all those active agencies now at work, and which would continue at work even after the outbreak of war, in order to meet the changing circumstances and difficulties of the time. Most of us at one time or another have discussed this question with working men, and I think I may say that among working men conversant with the subject there is a consensus of opinion that it is utterly untenable. That being so, I ask myself whether there is the least use in entertaining the Motion. I cannot see anything to be gained by it. If there is to be an inquiry, we ought to have some idea of the lines it should take if it is to be profitable. Surely, if it is a question of such importance and danger as honourable Members assume, it ought to have engaged the attention of the last four or five Governments. I have no doubt it has obtained the attention of every Government, and that every Government will continue to consider it. It is, of course, very difficult to say what would be the effect on trade of an outbreak of war. I believe, myself, it is impossible to usefully indulge in any predictions on that subject, because everything depends on the Power with which we are at war, and the attitude of the Powers which remain neutral. It is impossible to predict all the eventualities that might arise. With reference to one principal source of our food supply, there is no doubt that the United States would continue to send us a large part of the wheat we would require. At present they send us more than half our total supply. In 1897 they sent us 61 per cent, of our wheat and flour, and we know it is one of the most important elements in the exports of the United States, and we may, therefore, assume that it would be the cardinal interest of the United States to give us every possible support that a neutral Power could give to keep that trade open. We know also that the Atlantic route is now so much reduced in time that it is comparatively easy to defend. Therefore, I share the sanguine view which I am glad the Government have taken, that there is not any great danger of famine even in the event of an outbreak of war. The question is, above all things, a naval question, and if there was to be an inquiry it ought to be conducted in private, not in public. This is the kind of inquiry which, in one form or another, has been going on for years. Of course, every branch of the Government has considered it, and I cannot see that we can advance a single step by accepting the honourable Member's Amendment, or that we can add in the least to the responsibilities which the Government acknowledge lie upon them now, and of which I am sure no British Government will ever be unmindful.

MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)

The President of the Board of Trade has made the astounding statement that land was now better cultivated and produced better crops than ever it did. I cannot understand such a statement from a Minister of the Crown. Why, what about the legislation in aid of agriculture passed by the present Government? I am sure the right honourable Gentleman has obtained information on the subject which is not reliable. Neither can I agree with the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, that this is a question which we ought to leave to chance. Cold water has been thrown on it by the speech of the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, and I wish to direct the attention of the House to the fact that in the discussion of this most important question, which deals with the well-being and future supplies of the greatest industrial population in the world, we get most excellent advice upon this side of the House, and nothing but cold water thrown on it on the other side. The right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean finds fault with the figures brought forward by my honourable Friend the Member for St. Helens, who stated that our food supply would only last three weeks. I believe that is about the time, and I have heard it stated that it is less. Then the right honourable Baronet refers to Lord Playfair's estimate of three and a half months. On what figures was that estimate based? Although I have great respect for Lord Playfair; I look with some sort of suspicion on that estimate. Will the right honourable Baronet, when war breaks out, and when the pinch of poverty and hunger reaches the mob, and when they are clamouring at his door, will he send them to Lord Playfair? This question has been treated throughout as a naval question, but I doubt if it should be regarded as a naval question altogether. After all, the elements of chance enters into naval warfare—tempests and broken boilers, for example—and is it right that the food supply of this country should be left to chance? I happened to be the proposer of a resolution at the first Lancashire and Cheshire Federation meeting, at which 200 working men were present, to the effect that the Government should be asked to put a bounty on growing wheat, or some such measure. We are told that that would be Protection, but I think the bogey of Protection in this matter should not be considered quite as much as it is. We have got a large and a very expensive fleet, which the nation has to pay for, and yet if you are asked to keep the price of wheat at a certain price—say, 40s.—we are told it is Protection, and that we would make the food of the working classes dearer. We had wheat a short time ago at 50s. a quarter, and the quartern loaf went up, and I say that if you keep wheat at 40s. you would be able to keep the quartern loaf at 4½d. My honourable Friend made some very interesting investigations, and found out the system by which the French keep wheat at about 40s., and the quartern loaf about 4½d. After all, this is a definite statement to make as to how this question should be solved, but I do not think that it should be left to chance that a great nation should in time of war have to depend on foreign provisions. The right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean said that our policy should be an offensive policy, but while our Navy is carrying out that policy abroad, what is to become of the nation at home? A naval campaign at the present moment might last for two or three weeks, but I venture to think that after the first 10 days the pinch of hunger would be so felt by the poor people that we would have a revolution, and all the horrors attending it. If the solution which I have brought forward be carried out, it would assist those who have land, it would assist the populations which now crowd our towns. We have been told there is no remedy for the state of affairs referred to in the Amendment, but I believe my proposal is a remedy. I certainly think that a great question like this should not be left to the chance of successful naval warfare, or even be left to wait until we are actually at war. It should be dealt with now, and then we should be able to say that we were safe at home, and safe on the high seas.

MR. YERBURGH (Chester)

Mr. Speaker, I have been chiefly responsible for one of the proposals alluded to to meet this danger which I think is admitted to exist. That proposal is one for the establishment of a storage of wheat. I dealt with it fully last Session, and I do not think it necessary to elaborate it on this occasion. The right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean has, however, challenged us to give our figures. The total cost of storing 10,000,000 quarters of wheat would, according to calculations which have been very carefully verified, amount to £21,400,000. It has also been calculated by experts that the annual working expenses would amount to £288,046, and if the capital were raised by terminable annuities at 2½ per cent., there would be a further charge of £754,530, making the total annual outlay £1,042,576. That might be met by reviving the duty of a shilling per bushel on corn, which was levied by Sir Robert Peel, and only taken off by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. I notice that one of the arguments used in the Debate was that those who support the Amendment did not agree with the various proposals put before the House. Surely that would apply also to the question of Imperial defence. Take the Navy. Some advocate the construction of battleships, others that of cruisers, and even experts are not agreed as to the particular kind of battleship or cruiser which should be built. There is no necessity to refer these matters to a Committee because experts do not agree. We are agreed on one thing, and we have the country behind us, and that is that there is great danger to the interests of this country if it were involved in war under present conditions. What are the criticisms levelled at the proposal for national granaries? Two years ago I was fortunate enough to secure the assistance of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and it nominated a Committee to consider whether my proposal would have any injurious effect on agriculture. It met 16 times, and examined 54 witnesses, all men experienced in farming, or connected with the corn interest. The evidence of those responsible men was that very grave danger existed, and many of them stated that the question of bounties was outside practical politics. That Committee came to the conclusion that there was a case for inquiry by the Government, and the members added that they were profoundly impressed by the danger disclosed by the evidence presented to them. I have already dealt with the cost of national granaries. Another objection is raised, and that is that wheat will not keep. I only hope that Gentlemen who raise these objections would read the report of the Committee, whether they agree with its recommendations or not, as it contains an enormous amount of valuable information. Sir, we can keep wheat for practically any length of time. But we are told that when we put it on the market it will disturb it. It is entirely the opposite. Matters will adjust themselves, and you will find that if you serve out the wheat in small quantities it will have no practical effect on the market. There is one more objection raised. It is that national granaries would injure the farming industry. That is not the opinion of the majority of the witnesses who appeared before the Committee. There is another point which ought to be considered. It is that at the present time a large proportion of farming capital is not invested in wheat at all, but in dairy stock, and, therefore, when we talk of injury to the farming interest we are only touching the fringe of the subject. We had most intelligent farmers before the Committee, and they all agreed that the capital formerly devoted to wheat was now largely transferred to dairy farming. Why, in past days it was to the interest of the farmers to have war—a favourite toast was, "Drink it off to the next bloody war"—now they recognise that their interests lie in peace, and I submit that any policy which would put war farther off would be to the interest of the farmers of the country. But we do contend that if we have a supply of wheat at home we will be in a stronger position in case of war. It is generally admitted that it is the policy of other countries, not being able to contend with us, to attack our colonies in the event of war, and if we are safe at home our fleet will be able to defend them. There was one extraordinary argument used by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. He objected to this proposal because it is part of what he calls a system of possible defence. I am glad if he means a general policy of possible defence. How can it be a policy of possible defence to take precautions to feed our soldiers and our population? Can anyone fight better on an empty stomach? I do not think for a moment that argument will stand the light of criticism. I regret if I have occupied the attention of the House too long, but I was only referring to the proposal for which I am myself responsible.

SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

I must congratulate the honourable Member who has just sat down for going more closely into the question of granaries, as that is a matter which really concerns the farmers' interests more than any other. Now, I must say I cannot think there is much in the argument at all. I question if any Government in the world would undertake the great responsibility that national granaries would involve, and the President of the Board of Trade has put the reasons very fairly and fully before the House, but he did make a certain statement in his speech which I am rather surprised at hearing from the Front Bench. My right honourable Friend said that there never was a time in which land was better cultivated than at present. That cannot be said to be the case. My experience is that where land is still cultivated, it is cultivated with less than half the amount of capital expenditure than formerly, and, therefore, it does not produce the same quantity and quality in crops. That is a serious statement, but it is perfectly true, and I tell my right honourable Friend, with the greatest courtesy, that if he leaves the House under that impression he is utterly misinformed. What we want is a good market for our produce. I cannot see that any storage of grain, or any of the other remedies mentioned, will give us a larger supply of wheat. I am perfectly certain that in the event of war quantities of wheat would come into this country, only we should have to pay more for it. We cannot prevent grain coming here. The high prices would press hardly on the working classes, and that would be the great drawback. As it is understood that the matter is engaging the attention of the Government, I think we may rest satisfied that it will not be forgotten, and I hope my honourable Friend will not press his Amendment to a Division after the very instructive Debate we have had.


After the discussion which has taken place, and after the assurances given by the right honourable Gentleman, I do not propose to put the House to the trouble of a Division, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Question, "That those words be there, added," put, and negatived.

Main Question again proposed.