§ Mr. HEWINS
I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of the Government to adopt further methods of organisation to increase and conserve the national food supply, and so diminish the risk of shortage and serious increase in prices in the event of the War being prolonged."
The subject of the Resolution that I have to propose is causing considerable anxiety in the country, and I very much hope that this Debate will give the Government the opportunity of stating deci- 828 sively the policy which they propose to adopt to deal with the present situation. The question of the relations between our food supply and the War, I suppose, has occupied more attention during recent years than almost any other subject. I remember myself opening up a discussion with some younger military experts with whom I am acquainted, and I always found that the younger expert military minds were alive to the vital importance of the question of food supplies and its effect on the ultimate success of our military operations, and they were anxious to bring about a combination of military and economic policy, such as is really necessary in order to win the War. We were always met, when representations were-made, by the same kind of argument. I have never heard it denied that the outbreak of war would lead to a large rise in the price of the necessaries of life. The estimates, in what I may call orthodox circles, varied a great deal. Some people went so far as to say that prices would be quadrupled or quintupled, but always maintained that there was a sort of settled evolution of an orthodox economic character in relation to the matter, and that after a temporary rise in prices all the world would he producing corn and other requisites for us, which would pour into our ports, and that prices would come down again to their normal level.
That is a beautiful argument which, apparently, does not work. It was always based upon the saving doctrine of the omnipotence of private self-interest to secure the well-ordered conduct of the world. One change that; we have had to make during the War is to suppress private interests, and many hon. Gentlemen who used to be most prominent in the advocacy of that particular philosophy have been most vociferous in their denunciations of the vice of profiteers. I do not want to go into these old controversies at the present time. Most of these ancient philosophies which belong to a period of time so remote, when we were not at war, have tumbled down. They have not held against a few days of actual war, and we are face to face with a movement of prices which is certain to have very important, immediate, and permanent results, and which I think in itself, in all probability, is likely in a large degree to last, at any rate, for as long a period as we in this House are likely to be interested in the matter.
829 I distinguish three important parts or elements in the rise of prices which has taken place. It is too often forgotten that long before the War broke out there was a marked tendency throughout the world towards a rise of prices. In fact, attention was called to it in this House. Attention was called to it at public meetings. It formed the subject of much discussion that in the years before the War the general movement in prices was upwards, and this was supposed to rest upon such a solid basis that, even apart from the War, it was expected, in what I may call economic circles, that prices were being gradually lifted to a new level which was likely to be more or less permanent. I do not enter into that because I want, as far as possible, in anything I say to do away with the grounds of anxiety or panic. I do not believe there is any justification for that at present, but I do want to draw attention to that substantial, world-wide, permanent alteration of these vast economic forces which mould the destinies of nations, and to draw attention to the necessity that we should in our policy not be content with temporary expedients, which are merely devised to assuage the anxiety of particular groups, but that we should conduct our policy upon the solid ground of permanent national and international tendencies.
Then, of course, there is a second great element. I mean what I may call the normal operations of the forces let loose by the outbreak of war. The mere fact of the interruption of the ordinary economic activities of so large a part of the agricultural population of the world would have led to an increase in prices. You have the natural falling off of production, and the increased demand of France, Italy, and other countries at war, so that the normal operation of war would have raised prices. And there is the third factor. That is really the factor with which we in this House at the present moment have primarily to deal. That is the rise in prices which is due to the action, or inaction, of the Government. On this point we have to consider the transport question, the breakdown of the organisation of labour, and the great many forces of the kind which I will deal with in a moment. But before I leave this general subject, I do wish to call the attention of the Government to one matter, and, so far as I can, almost I may say to insist upon having a reply. 830 That is this: there has never been in the-history of the world any great alteration, lasting for a long time, in the level of prices without bringing about vast social changes. That is invariably the case. Therefore I do urge upon the Government the necessity of now working up and decisively adopting a national social policy which will deal with these great new problems, which the rise in prices is certain to call into existence. Otherwise we may, at a critical period of the War, be face-to face with outbreaks of discontent in certain quarters which are exceedingly dangerous. In fact, every examination which we can give to this problem, or I may say to every problem, shows the absolute importance that we should have in the Government the capacity to think out, and not only to think out, but to decide upon a great policy.
Let me go back, after that short digression. What is the state of the problem? First of all, it is primarily a problem of production to a large extent. I do not want to underrate the importance of the value of any particular expedients for regulating consumption which we may hear presently from the President of the Board of Trade, but prices having gone up, and prices tending to rise, it is perfectly obvious that there are only three great factors that can alter the situation on a sufficiently large scale. To modify the operation of so world-wide a movement, you have got to get high production. You have got to organize your labour, and you have got to organize your transport, and if you leave those three things out, you cannot devise any great national policy in regard to this subject. I do not think that the little expedients which we may adopt for regulating consumption, desirable as they may be on general, economic, and moral grounds, will have a very appreciable effect upon the level of prices or even upon the quantity of food that we have to consume. Let us look at this question of production. You are not taking the right steps in this matter either; you never have done. You have pursued it without thought, without reflection, and in obedience to economic prejudices derived from economic schools which may be said no longer to exist. You have pursued for seventy years an urban policy. Our national agriculture took us successfully through the great Napoleonic struggle, though not without a rise in prices, because importation then, as every- 831 body knows, was then impossible. We got through the Napoleonic struggle, whether prices were high or not. The authorities at that time attributed the great rise of prices to the seasons, and not to the causes which hon. Members think. We got through the Napoleonic struggle because we had a national food supply of our own. The whole economic system of the British Empire rested on the extent of our national food supply, and that was the core and kernel of the policy which has made the British Empire what it is. When I say that we got through the Napoleonic War and were able to feed 24,000,000 with home-grown food supplies, that is a sufficient comment on the urban policy pursued at that time.
One would have thought that with the actual necessities of the War before us, every possible measure would have been adopted to stimulate the growth of wheat and other necessaries of life at home. I desire to take out of any observations I make anything in the nature of censure or reflection on the Government. I have no wish to do that. I am looking at the system and not the Government; and I trust that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench will not think that I intend to convey any reflection against him and his colleagues. But we are interested in bringing out clearly the different sides of our national policy. Why have we not adopted, at least since the War began, a national food supply policy? It is not the lack of reports, it is not the lack of representations, it seems to me to be due to a sort of national agnosticism of the British intellect. In Government circles at the present time there are those who, I think, believe that there are ready solutions of these problems that you may adopt from time to time. I trust that, so far as may be, we shall deal with this question of our national agriculture. I live in the country, and I, with many of my hon. Friends, am very well acquainted with and personally interested in agriculture, and I say, without hesitation, that the neglect of our agriculture at the present time is a public scandal. We are not doing anything like what we may do. In evolving a remedy, do let us, once for all, put on one side this idea that farmers or other people engaged in agriculture are out to exploit, in their own interests, the public. There is no vestige of foundation for that. In a population of 45,000,000 of people you possibly may find some thousands of people who, for 832 seventy or a hundred years, have been taught as gospel for belief, that self-interest is the policy to follow. While you may have some thousands out of this vast population who practice that policy, the great majority of their fellow-countrymen do not do so.
What is it we have to do? We have to find food for the people. I ask what steps have been taken by the Government collectively, and what has been the result of their action. What steps have been taken with our great Dominions to encourage them to grow as much food as we want? What steps have been taken in Egypt, and what steps in Ireland? Considering that we have under British control the largest area and the most fertile lands there are in the world, considering that you can grow everything in indefinitely large quantities that is required for the service of man in the British Empire, I say that the policy of the Governments of this country in dealing with the question of food supplies is totally inexcusable. If you cannot do it with the British Empire at your back, then you cannot do it at all. If you take into counsel the great organisers, the great business leaders, that you have within the confines of the British Empire, I do not believe for a moment that the problem relating to production is incapable of solution. Therefore, I ask the Government to declare explicitly this afternoon, I ask the President of the Board of Trade to say what is the policy which the Government have adopted with regard to production at home and in the British Empire. After two years of war we have a right to know the position occupied by them.
I come to the second question, the organisation of labour. We who are on the Business Committee raised this question of the organisation of labour in relation to agriculture at the very beginning of the War. We could not get a reply. We have had no reply from the Government—none whatever. Speeches were made, but no reply whatever was given, and since that time there have been repeated efforts to attract the attention of the Government to the importance of this question. I do not know what the state of things is in the whole country. I think that it varies from county to county. I do not know whether the Government have had any reports in considering the problem of agriculture. I 833 do not know whether they have actually got full returns from the farms all over the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] They ought to have had them two years ago. I only mention this because it is really a most important branch of the subject—it is the problem that we have got to deal with. Some of my friends in Herefordshire were good enough to have a return made to me, which I gave to the President of the Board of Agriculture. It was a return from a large number of farms, not for the whole county of Hereford, but North Herefordshire. We have examined that return, and we took cases at random, and we found that in that part of the county of Herefordshire the actual labour supply in the farms selected at random was from 50 to 70 per cent. below what is required, in consequence of recruiting. I believe it varies from county to county, but I am merely speaking of my own county of Hereford.
I have not the slightest doubt that the same sort of rule applies to many other counties—certainly to that group of counties, Worcester, Gloucester, and Hereford. I should say, from my own experience of those counties, that the charge that the farming classes have been unpatriotic, and have not done their duty, is quite unfounded. I think that what happened is this: You have got the claim of munitions, you have got the claim for the Army, and you have got the claim for agriculture, and I am not sure, in regard to the questions I wish to deal with a little later, that the different Departments of the Government appreciate the various points of view. I am not casting any reflection on them; I only want to get out the facts. The impression I got from conversations and negotiations I have had to conduct was that the different Departments, instead of working together, instead of a policy of co-operation, have rather a tendency to act one against the other, and poor agriculture tomes off rather badly. I do not say that, in what I may call the higher circles of the Government, the agricultural point of view is insufficiently appreciated. It. is essentially a question, I suppose, for the Man-Power Board, and we shall certainly look with very great interest to what the Man-Power Board has to say about this highly important question of the organisation of labour, and the or ganisation for war purposes, especially with regard to agriculture. The more 834 the War goes on the more the food difficuties increase of course, and the greater will be the importance of this question of agricultural labour. I trust very much that the President of the Board of Trade may be able to give us some reassuring word about that subject.
I come to the third question—I think that those I have mentioned are perhaps the most important—the subject of transport. We have been on several occasions to the heads of Government Departments on this question of transport, and here I would like to express my appreciation, particularly, of the President of the Board of Trade. I should like to express not only my appreciation, but the appreciation of my hon. Friends, of his great courtesy, of the full information he gave, and of his anxiety to help us on every occasion. In all I say on this subject I trust it will be understood that I am not casting any reflection on him or any of his colleagues. I only want to get to the facts. The impression I have got from the interviews I have had is this: Up till quite recently we have not been to any of the Departments, but I know that on the last occasion, when we went to Lord Faringdon's Committee, we were all immensely impressed by the advance which had been made in economy and efficiency. I think this question of transport is very important.
I feel that this question of transport is very important. It is a question with which we must deal. Take the case of Holland. According to the newspapers we have recently made a very good agreement by which we shall get a great deal of valuable food supply from that country. As a matter of fact, we may reasonably assume that there are hundreds of thousands of tons of produce of one kind and another ready to come from Holland. It is a question of bringing it here. I have no desire—and I am sure the Government would not dream of suggesting I had any wish—that there should be any false economy which would cripple in any way our naval and military activities. But we are entitled to urge upon them that every conceivable endeavour should be made, by the different Departments in consultation, to see that, if possible, such increased facilities such as are required are given for bringing that produce to this country. The transport problem is one which cannot be discussed in detail, because it would be necessary to go into a variety of subjects it is very 835 undesirable to debate in public. But I know the Government are alive to the importance of the subject, and I merely utter these remarks in order to bring before the Government the very strong feeling we have on this side of the House that every possible endeavour should be made to deal with that problem satisfactorily. It is the keynote of the whole question.
I come to the third division of things which the Government can do at the present time, apart from those great broad issues I have mentioned—the increase of production here and of the organisation of transport and labour—and I have to ask what the Government can do by trying to regulate consumption? The sooner the country realises it is at war the better, and I shall welcome any steps the Government may take to bring about, if necessary by the coercive force of law, that simple living which people ought to adopt voluntarily in a great struggle like this. The effect which that may have on the prices of the food we really require for purposes of consumption will depend very much on the way in which it is done. There are a good many measures, which probably the President of the Board of Trade will sketch later on, which may lead to good results if they can be carried out rapidly and with consecutive action. But the question of time is important, and if things are done gradually and spread over a long period they will not have any effect on food prices. In course of time new conditions will emerge, and the effect of measures of that kind will be lost in the changes taking place. The essence of the thing is that it should be done—done with decision, done quickly, and done universally. Then it may have some effect. But I do not believe that measures of that kind, whatever the result on consumption, are likely to affect prices. They may affect consumption, but I do not think they will affect prices. These are the broad conditions upon which we desire information, and we hope that the Government will be able to announce the measures which they propose to take in an effective manner.
Before I sit down there is one other side of the question to which I may call attention. These policies—I do not mind what they are—depend so much on the machinery by which they are carried out. Some of my hon. Friends seem to think you have only to say that the State shall 836 do this or that, somehow or another, and good results will follow But what does the State mean? I will tell the House what I think it means. I think it means, as a rule, an interview with this or that particular official, or this or that Minister. It is one of the glories of life if it means so much as an interview with a Minister. It may mean that you have got this or that Committee, this or that official, or this or that individual who is to be put on a business which sometimes he does not really understand. I am very much afraid, from the views which I hear expressed by quite a number of business people who ought to know, that some of our troubles may be absolutely due to-State action and the way in which commandeering has been carried out At any rate, that is the view entertained in more than one quarter. Do not let us have-any cant about the State. You cannot solve this problem by the use of force; that is really no good at all. With all the different Committees which have been set up, I would personally scrap them all if we could have one man who really understood the business. I am rather inclined to think that the Committee method is one which is all very well in the time of incubation, but it is really no good when we want action. Committees as a rule do not know how to act. They get afraid of one another; they get afraid of the Government; they are not sure the Government means what they mean; or they quarrel, and the result is that no conclusion is come to.
My experience is, and I say it without a trace of malice or bitterness, that there is a want of co-operation between the different Departments. I pointed out on a former occasion that the method of government which has grown up in this country in the last ten years had become far too departmental. I found this morning that in regard to the management of one of the most important sides of this very question of the food supply the individual in charge is not able to see the heads of other Departments very much, and has to do things on his own as well as he can. What we want is— and I am sure the Prime Minister will not think I am reflecting in any way on him—what we want in this War is a Prime Minister's Department. The Prime Minister of this country has to run his Department with two private secretaries, and what we need is a Prime Minister's Department which will sort 837 out, co-ordinate, and keep in their proper respective proportions the different lines of national policy. We want someone who can view the War as a whole. I know it is a very difficult thing to do, but still it is done in other countries. One of the great advantages which Germany has in this War has been a certain unification of administration. We have not got that at the present time. The Admiralty, as I can imagine, may not feel as we do the urgency of the food supply. The Board of Trade may not feel the urgency which the War Office or the Admiralty attach to their side of the question, not because they do not want to co-operate, but simply because they themselves get swamped by a mass of departmental detail, and do not realise the great, broad issues of policy that are involved. That is what I mean when I say we want a Prime Minister's Department.
We want a power of co-ordination—of directing policy as a whole, of keeping things together. We have not yet had it during the War. I am not making the slightest reflection on the Prime Minister or on any member of the Government in the remarks I am making, but I am pointing out what I think to be a defect in our organisation. If you are going to manage a business of any kind you must have unified administration. Here you have the greatest business in the world. You have this great War, and, what is not the least important side of it, the economic side. And that side is related, of course, to the military and naval side. I may enumerate some of those Departments which the Prime Minister has to bring into consultation in dealing with this question. There are the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, the Colonial Office, the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Board of Agriculture, and the War Office. All these Departments are brought into this question of the food supply at the present time, and we want the capability to take a big survey of the whole field as it affects the different Departments. When I say that I am only expressing the general trend of current opinion at the present time. We want more direction, more organisation, and more decision, and you cannot get decision until you have somebody with power to take that decision, and to stand by it through thick and thin.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
In the first place, I should like to express my grati- 838 tude to my colleague for giving me the privilege of seconding this Resolution which has been so ably proposed by my hon. Friend. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the actual words of the Resolution:That in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of the Government to adopt further methods—I would like to accentuate the word "further"—of organisation to increase and conserve the national food supply, and so diminish the risk of shortage and serious increase in prices in the event of the War being prolonged.When we talk of the necessity for adopting further methods of organisation, I think it follows that we are not satisfied with the present methods. I do not believe there is any difference between us and the Government on this point, because the Government has already promised this afternoon to introduce some proposals to further organise in regard to our food supply. What those proposals are we do not know. That is one of the difficulties under which we labour, because, if I were to make suggestions on this point, I should not know if I were pushing against an open door, or whether I was wasting the time of the House by pushing against a door definitely banged and bolted. Therefore. I do not propose to go very largely into suggestions. I prefer to draw attention to the term "organisation" in the Resolution before the House. It covers a very wide field, and it implies attention to the home production of food, and to the importation and distribution of food. With regard to home production, I propose to say very little. There are other experts in this House who speak on the subject with greater authority than I can. But as a practical farmer I would like to record my own conviction—my own certainty—that we are not at the present moment extracting from the soil of our country anything like the amount of food which that soil is capable of producing. Why? Because agriculture has not been organised. For years past it has been disorganised, and during this War what has been done to organise and to increase the food production of this country? I received an answer from the right hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Agriculture yesterday in which he certainly gave some figure, but I think his answer hardly tells the whole story. I believe if the whole story, of our own home production of food were told, it 839 would not redound to the credit of this country. But I will leave the details of that subject to be dealt with by those who are better qualified to speak upon it.
As regards the importation of food, that is perhaps something which is exercising our minds most at the moment, because we are naturally somewhat perturbed by the interruption of our oversea food supplies which has been brought about by the operations of the enemy's submarines. It would be very easy for anybody to make a very sensational speech on this subject of the submarine menace. I propose to do nothing of the sort. As far as I am concerned, I am satisfied that our Navy will do everything that is possible without any urging on my part. I can remember eighteen months age we were perturbed when the submarine menace first broke out. Our Navy, in due course, found means to deal with it, and I am sure, in my own mind, that in due course our Navy will find and adopt means to deal with this recrudescence of submarine activity. I ask for no assurance on that point, because I feel in my own mind satisfied that our Navy will do everything that it possibly can. But as regards the management by the Government of our mercantile marine, I do ask for an assurance. I cannot say that I am satisfied, and I have not met a Member of this House who has said that he is satisfied in his mind, that the best and the most ceonomical use is being made of our merchant shipping. We have heard of vessels being used certainly not to the very best advantage. We hear of vessels being hung up in ports both at home and abroad, and we hear of many matters in connection with our mercantile marine which seem to me to require very careful consideration and a very great improvement in their future organisation. Here, again, there are experts in this House who are better qualified to speak on the subject of shipping than I am. I will merely, before I leave that point, say that I, personally, would like to receive an assurance that every possible step is being taken to launch new ships to take the place of those ships which we are unfortunately losing.
There is another word in this Resolution—"conserve." The Resolution suggests we ought to conserve the national food supply. Few will dispute that there is waste and extravagance in connection with the food going on in this country 840 at the present day. Perhaps the waste has been exaggerated, but still, even reducing it to the smallest proportions, there is undoubtedly a great deal of waste and extravagance by selfish and thoughtless people who are undoubtedly consuming too much, with the result that the really poor of this country, and there are plenty of them, cannot get enough. This thoughtless and selfish extravagance and waste in consumption is raising prices against us. It reduces our reserves of food, whatever they may be, and it has the further defect of causing us to send out of this country large sums of money which could be used to much greater advantage by investment in war savings. I think everybody is agreed upon that, but differences of opinion will probably become evident when we begin to try and devise methods by which this waste can be checked. I have not heard that there is any party or any section of a party in this House which has a very definite policy on the subject of how to check extravagance, how to increase the reserves, and how to steady prices. I think it very reasonable and very natural that different people in this House should be unable to formulate a plan. We do not know the whole facts. I doubt if we know the real number of ships that have been sunk. We do not know what the reserves of food are in this country. We do not know what the expectations are on the part of the Navy of speedily terminating the submarine menace, and in view of that lack of knowledge on our part it is obviously necessary that the Government should give a lead, and that the Government, possessing as they do full knowledge of these facts, should lay before us their policy. We wait, I am sure all of us do, with very great anxiety that lead. It is not as if the Government had not had time to consider that policy. On the 19th May, 1915. I had the honour of supporting the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero) when he raised this question in Debate in this House. That is eighteen months ago. The answer we got from the then Secretary to the Board of Trade was that the matter was receiving the very careful and continuous consideration of the Board of Trade. They have been eighteen months over that very careful and continuous consideration, and I hope the result of it will be that the Government will come before us to-day and put before us a clear policy, an effective policy, and that 841 they will not hesitate to give the country what it wants, that is, a strong lead and every information that is consistent with the national interest.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I would have hesitated to have intervened so early in the Debate had I not thought it would be to the convenience of the House that they should hear as soon as possible some of the further steps which are now in contemplation. No doubt, as the discussion proceeds, it will cover a good many of the general topics which have already formed part of the two speeches to which we have just listened. But we are mainly concerned in the Board of Trade and in the other Departments with steps which, if they do not have an immediate effect, will, at all events, safeguard our position for the future. The hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion (Mr. Hewins), in one of the best speeches which he has contributed to our Debate, made a number of general suggestions which, no doubt, will fall upon the ears for which they were intended, and, I can assure him, with no feeling of resentment, but with the genuine desire to take advantage of any suggestions that come from a disinterested quarter. He said that every Department was brought into this subject, and, indeed, that is more or less true. It is impossible to consider the question of home production without impinging upon the policy of the War Office. You cannot discuss the question of abundant supplies of almost every commodity necessary for the maintenance of human life without finding yourself in close contact with Admiralty policy. Home production affects the Boards of Agriculture of the three Kingdoms. The Board of Trade is interested in keeping a record of what is passing and of dealing with the commercial aspects of the various questions, and it is quite fortuitously owing to the pressure of the time and the necessity of doing things quickly, which formerly did not come within the recognised duty of Departments, that it has become one of the great purchasing Departments of the State.
I stand here this afternoon not as a Food Minister—the only Minister responsible for the supplies of our people—I am the mouthpiece of the Government, it is true, but as head of the Board of Trade I am directly responsible for only one aspect of it. The hon. Gentleman was quite 842 correct when he said that the Government as a whole must regard these food problems as war problems. They are as much part and parcel of the organisation necessary for winning the War as anything which is done by a belligerent Department. The strain which we shall all have to bear next year will fall primarily on food supplies. We can only express the sure and certain hope that, tragic as it may be, that strain is felt more severely, more bitterly, in Austria and Germany than it is in this country. But it is our duty to our people, it is indeed our bounden duty if our powers of endurance are to continue, that every step that can be devised, whether by Ministers or by merchants, by those who-are responsible for shipping, by those who direct the belligerent Departments, should be taken for thesolution of these problems. With these general remarks I find myself in full agreement, but the hon. Gentleman has put point to them by asking us at least three questions. In the first place, he inquires what has been done in the British Empire to stimulate the production of the food on which we depend; what has been done to mobilise labour for this purpose, as well as for other purposes; and how far are we managing transports with the intention of making the most of what we have at our disposal? In answer to the first question, I am glad to say that in two Dominions at least no artificial stimulus was required for a large production of the main articles of food. In Canada last year there was an abundant crop. Out of the abundance of that crop the burden that fell on us in the spring and summer of this year was undoubtedly cased. Our supply was augmented by the enormous harvest in the United States of America, of which we took full advantage. In looking at the transport problem the House will keep in mind this dominant fact: that the securing of these supplies enabled us to make more of our merchant shipping last year than we shall be able to make of it this year. Then in Australia there was a complete change of the produce of the soil between the years 1914 and 1915. In 1914 and 1915 the harvest was a failure, and Australia was an importing country. Owing, however, to abundant rains and the energy of their producers, Australia has been provided for one season, and we hope for a second season, with more abundant wheat crops than she has ever had. There was, therefore, in those two Dominions no necessity 843 for any artificial stimulus for a large production. We shall have to depend to a large extent upon Australia for our supplies in the coming season. The arrangements between Australia and ourselves are now mainly those, not of stimulating production, but of transporting here in the most rapid and, most economical manner what they have to spare. We have already bought a large block of wheat from the Australian Government, and will buy more as our necessities become clearer, and as the Australian situation also becomes clearer. All the supplies from Australia undoubtedly are dominated by the possibility of our shipping facilities. It is no use our attempting to think that a surplus of 4,000,000 tons in Australia is likely to provide us with abundant stocks here if we find that we cannot free the requisite number of merchant vessels, if we have to spread them over other trades, and if we have not the vessels to bring the wheat over to England before the middle of next summer.
The length of the voyage is in itself an enormous disadvantage. A six months' voyage instead of something like between six and eight weeks makes an enormous difference to the effective power of our vessels. We shall require an enormous number of vessels in the course of the season. Already, since the Wheat Commission was started, a very large block of tonnage has been requisitioned, and is now on its way to Australia. We have augmented that by chartering neutral vessels, and although the freights that we have to pay for these neutral vessels is gigantic, we are getting the full benefit of Blue Book rates on the vessels which are going out under our own flag. That enables us not only to bring wheat over here without augmenting our home prices, but enables us to pay more to the Australian producer than would otherwise have been possible. The open market rate, if we had had now—owing to the necessities of the moment—to charter neutral vessels to go out to Australia in ballast, and return to this country with wheat, would be nearer 300s. than 200s. The House will easily see, if we compare that with the prices reached in the importation of wheat from the United States and Canada, that there would be very little left for the Australian producer. Therefore it follows that our vessels, having artificial Blue Book rates, the commandeering of them for this purpose has 844 enabled us to pay a better price to Australia than would otherwise have been available.
To a large extent our problem is affected and limited by the necessity under which we live to provide not only for ourselves, but for our Allies. We talk of food problems here as though they were peculiar to the United Kingdom. They are, unfortunately, much more pressing in Italy than in England, and in some aspects they are more difficult to deal with in France than in England. We have been bound to go both to the rescue of France and Italy in the shipment of wheat to their shores, and we have taken what I believe to be the right step. Here, I am sure, the hon. Member who moved this Motion will agree with me that the proper view to take of this problem is to regard the whole of the Allies wheat shipments as one large problem to be dealt with by one requisitioned Fleet under three or four flags, all the vessels being taken on the same terms and running in the same service as though they were one line, so supplying the Allies with the food necessary for their existence. Therefore, to that extent we have actually stimulated production in the British Empire. I do not know whether I have made it quite clear to the House the effect that the commandeering of shipping has had; but the point I wish to make is that the mere fact of our being able to command and to commandeer such a vast block of merchant shipping at artificial rates has enabled the producer in Australia to make more out of his wheat than would otherwise have been possible, and it has to that extent encouraged him to plant again in the coming season.
What of the United Kingdom? I agree when we come to the United Kingdom that the stimulation of production is a much more difficult matter and depends much more upon artificial assistance than it does in the Dominions. There seems to be little doubt that the very large acreage of wheat last year was due mainly to the high prices obtainable. High prices may press hardly upon our people, but they certainly have the advantage of stimulating production. With that stimulation of production in the United Kingdom there were hundreds of thousands of acres more bearing wheat last year than there were before the War. That was the effect of the open market. What was done to encourage the planting of wheat was done mainly by way of exhortation by the Board 845 of Agriculture. I am glad to think that although no further steps were taken that that exhortation did not fall on deaf ears. I would like to say, from such knowledge as I have been able to obtain officially, that I find that British farmers, on the whole, have responded to the invitation of the Board of Agriculture in so far as their labour would permit. They are not limited by their greed or by their lack of patriotism. The British farmer is no more greedy and no less patriotic than other people, but he is undoubtedly limited by the labour difficulty. The hon. Member dealt with one of the most important questions with which we have to deal in these days when he referred to the use which is made by the Army of agricultural labour. There is no doubt that you might easily get recruited from the soil three or four divisions composed of some of the best men who would be available for fighting purposes; yet the strength you would add to your Army by taking these divisions from the soil would be far more than counterbalanced by the reduction in your food supply.
It is a most difficult thing to arrive at exactly the point where you have reached the maximum amount of recruiting in rural districts without injury to your food supply. Some of the farmers have asked for large numbers of their families to be retained, sometimes with titles which were more or less factitious. Those instances are not common. Even when the greatest care was taken in describing men who were rooted on the farms, there is very little doubt that, time and again, some of the most essential men have been taken from some of the best of our farming districts who, in our experience, would have been far better employed if they had continued farming. I see that in the North country and in other parts of the United Kingdom men have been taken, and the result is that some of the finest heavy horses, which would have been ploughing through the whole of this autumn, are out to grass or eating their heads off in the stables. That has been a direct loss. The War Office has recognised this, and have done something to infuse a little reasonableness into the patriotic gentlemen, the officers who are recruiting in the rural districts. No one blames them. We depend very greatly on their zeal for the manning of our Forces. But there is no doubt that unless they are guided it is not their business to look at the larger considerations, which really is the supplying of our people 846 with what they need, and which are war measures as much as recruiting for the Army. The Army Council have recognised this, and, although in many districts depletion has already gone some distance, they have authorised the Board of Agriculture to state that:It has been agreed, subject to any decision of the Man-Power Board and subject to any revision which the development of the military situation may require, and further information in regard to the agricultural situation may demand, no more men from among those now employed in agriculture will, from the 1st January, 1917, and in the case of men whose whole time employment on the holding is necessary for maintaining the milk production, the 1st of April, 1917, be called to the Colours, except in return for men released from the Colours for work in agriculture.It has been further explained to the authorities in the various districts by the general officers commanding that it is essential that farms should not be denuded of labour. A scale for the general guidance of all concerned was laid down by the Local Government Board Circular, R 94. It says:It has been brought to notice that in many cases proper attention has not been paid to this scale. It is reported that all exemptions held by or applied for by or on behalf of persons under 30 years of age although within the scale of labour are opposed or appealed against. Such action, if taken on the ground that substitutes of some sort are available and will be provided before the men in service are called up, is correct, but if taken without any consideration as to the production of food is contrary to the policy of the Army Council.This has been circulated by the Army Council, and if the tribunals and the recruiting authorities act on those instructions, there appears to be no reason why there should be any further depletion of labour on the land. In many districts that labour will have to be augmented not only by substitutes, but by actually returning to the farmers skilled men of various kinds—skilled horsemen, skilled mechanics and the like. The matter does not end with the farmers. I have had before me within the last few days particulars from some agricultural works. It is obvious to the House if we are to make labour go further we must have more machinery. Ploughing is behindhand not only because the weather is bad, but because a good many horses have been put out of action, and because machinery is lying idle in consequence of mechanics having been very freely taken. Some of the returns of agricultural implement makers are disquieting. Ransome's "have full orders for no less than 2,000 ploughs." Bamford's "are six months in arrears with their orders." Crawley's "have only a few mechanics left, such has been the demand for this class of labour since the 847 War began." I freely admit that in these matters recruiting has gone ahead of the necessities of some of these industries. We are a new country in the experience which the Military Service Act is now giving to us. Conscription was not an old system of ours. It must not be wondered at that Conscription has gone wrong in a good many particulars, and has been carried too far. We are now having to take steps to repair some of those things which, lacking experience, were bound to come about. A country like Germany that had general experience of Conscription in years past, does not make those mistakes, for, if my information is correct, she is now sending a good deal of agricultural labour and agricultural implements into Serbia to prepare for her coming needs. The question of labour undoubtedly calls for our seeing the problem as a whole, but I think I can assure the House that the Army Council is taking the broadest possible view now of the necessities of the agricultural industry, and that everything will be done to stimulate production in this coming season.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I think it would be improper at the present moment to say definitely what is going to happen after 1st January, but I can assure the hon. Member that the Government is seeing the problem as a whole, and I am quite sure the War Office will not after 1st January deplete the land of the labour necessary for the spring sowing and for keeping the land clean. Already arrangements have been made for harvesting next year, generously assisted by those who are now with the Colours.
The next point on which the hon. Gentleman touched was the question of transport. I presume he meant transport across the sea for he referred to it as the key to the situation, and in that sense it undoubtedly is the key to the situation. There, again, I must say if we are successfully to victual our people throughout the remaining period of the War, it is also absolutely essential to regard shipping as labour is regarded, as serving the national interests, not only when supplying the fighting forces, but when it is carrying 848 food over here. The Navy and Army have running for their needs an enormous number of vessels. There are some people who think they have too many. Soldiers and sailors certainly do not think so. It is the constant trouble and anxiety of the Government to cut down that number to a minimum without in any way impairing the efficiency of the Forces. That cutting down may have to be more drastic. If our needs become more urgent in one direction they must be less generous in another direction. There is no reason in the world why we should shut our eyes to the fact that you cannot have merchant vessels running in the Mediterranean or elsewhere for the Army and running on the high seas for the Navy and carrying food supplies to this country. They cannot do both things at once. If many hundreds of vessels are taken for one service they cannot be used for the other, and what we have to arrive at is the true balance for those two sides of the national interest.
I hope the House will not run away with the idea that because the transport problem is dealt with by a number of Committees that there is, therefore, anything in the nature of confusion It is dealt with by a number of Committees for the simple reason that the shipping question is a conglomeration of the most difficult problems in the world that we have to solve. But we have thrown our national needs altogether and surveyed them as a whole. The House will realise how difficult it is to deal with the allocation of shipping when we have to supply not only ourselves, but our Allies with much of the tonnage on which they depend. The congestion, for instance, in the French ports as directly affects our food supply here as though those vessels were completely put out of action. I have no complaint to make against the French Government. Naturally their difficulties are far greater than our own. I do not know that their man-power is as elastic as ours, but the trouble which has come in their ports through slowness of loading nearly all centre round either labour or railway difficulties. With 160 or 170 vessels waiting to discharge at French ports, those vessels are out of action.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am sure my French colleagues will not resent my saying to the House that I have constantly had to press on them the necessity of turning 849 those ships round more quickly. They have reduced the congestion at a great many ports, and are doing the best with the resources they now possess. But we must not depend purely on French labour for dealing with some of these problems. There are a good many Members in this House who think we might make a much larger use of labour in other parts of the world. Here is one of the directions in which it can be done without coming into conflict with any of the sentiments or trade feelings of those who in England might possibly resent their appearance at our dockside. If we can relieve the pressure in France we are really helping Great Britain as well as France. Not only is shipping difficult to manage when we have Allied demands to meet, but our own munition demands are constantly on the increase. It is true we manufacture more and more stuff in this country as the years go on, but we have to bring more and more raw materials to this country, and, strange as it may seem, as we reduce our claims on the manufacturing countries abroad, we increase the claims on our tonnage, because obviously raw material takes up more room than the finished article. On shipping I would only say one other word, and it is this: We can fill up the deficiency from which we now suffer in only three ways. We can reduce the number of vessels which are used for other purposes than the carriage of food supplies to this country, or we can add to our merchant fleet by new construction, or we can charter more largely in the neutral market. Germany knows perfectly well that we are chartering in the neutral market, and that explains to a large extent her activity against those who are flying the neutral flag. The surest and best way of making the most of our shipping resources is to reduce the claims made on our shipping and to add to the number of vessels flying our flag.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes, I will tell him what we are doing now. I regard that as almost the most important of the whole of these problems. So important is new construction that I would remind the 850 House we can in a normal year, with all, our shipyards active, all our labour available, all our engine works working full time, put very nearly 2,000,000 gross tonnage into the water. We have only lost two and a-quarter million tonnage by all risks since War began, and we could far more than make up for the depredations on our shipping by submarines if our shipyards and engine works produced their maximum. They are not producing their maximum. They are by no means doing so. Then again the subject of labour lies at the root of the troubles with which we are faced. Heavy labour has naturally been the first to be withdrawn. Skilled labour in the early days of the War was no less patriotic than unskilled, and an immense number of engineers, fitters, plumbers and the like went into the Army. Then the very heavy claim which came for the production of munitions made a further heavy toll upon the skilled labour, which must be in our engine works if we are to get anything like our maximum production, and the result by the middle of last year was that our production of new tonnage had reached a minimum. I believe that in the quarter ending June, 1915, we had only completed something like 80,000 tons, which is a trivial amount in one quarter. That is gross registered tonnage. If that had gone on, we should have been landed in a very short time in the gravest fix this Empire has ever known. We could not by now have made ends meet.
When it became clear that the congestion was growing in the shipyards, that empty hulls were lying with no engines put into them, we at once set to work to try to mobilise our engineering forces. We recalled from the Colours a very large number of engineers, fitters, and mechanics. We drew out of some of the yards, which were doing purely Admiralty and munition work, a number of men who formerly were engaged purely on merchant work, and at the end of next quarter there will be a very large addition to the number of ships completed. By the end of this year I do not see any reason why our six months' output should not approach 500,000 tons, which is a very large advance on what we expected at the end of the summer; but this must go on with increasing rapidity if we are even to hold our own. I am making arrangements in some of the ports for treating the whole of these ports as one big concern. For instance, let me take the case of the 851 Wear. There are some eight or ten shipbuilding yards there, and a large number of engineering works. There are sixteen vessels lying with their engines not aboard. Unless the engines are put aboard, it is clear all the work on the hulls up to the present has been wasted. They are cumbering the waterway and are no use to ourselves or our Allies. A little work is done by one set of mechanics; they will hurry on the vessel for a short time, and then there will come pressing needs for repairs to Admiralty vessels. Then a little more work will be done and a little more progress made, and there will finally come a stop because the coppersmiths are missing, or not enough to go round, and so by working as separate firms there has been a blockage on the Wear. I have made arrangements with the shipbuilders on the Wear to provide for the pooling of the whole of their skilled labour, and they will concentrate their attention on some of the vessels most near completion, taking them one after another, so that we hope by the end of December, or the beginning of January, there will be no vessels waiting half completed, but all will be proceeded with by reguar course. The same system I hope to extend by negotiation on the Tyne, the Clyde, and similar ports.
By mobilising our labour in that way, we shall get most even with the shortage which at present exists, but we shall have to get back in the shipbuilding industry a larger number of men, and I would also point out that we must provide for these men, for the skilled men are just as essentian to the shipbuilding industry as the skilled Artillery officer is to the Army. If you have a skilled engineer in an Infantry battalion it may be very good for the battalion, but it is not so good for the vessel wanting skilled labour. The problem is not always so simple as that, for it frequently happens that a commanding officer of a battery finds that the best mechanic he has got is a man who was employed at Swan and Hunter, or some other firm, and he is reluctant to part with him, and from one point of view it would really be unwise to send him home, because the little tinkering he can do on the spot may possibly prevent a gun being sent to the base or sent over here to be touched up. Therefore we are constantly in a position of having to decide between the two claims. We shall have to take a plunge in 852 this matter, and my own view is that the most urgent thing at this moment is the construction of more merchant vessels. If there is to be a comparative shortage for a time—I hope only for a short time—in some of those branches of the Army, these men will be put to their best use for turning out vessels and engines which will add to the merchant vessels of ourselves and Allies.
The next point is material. The total amount of steel available for all purposes in the United Kingdom is less now than it was in normal times. Here, again, there has been a certain amount of trouble over labour. Steel workers are enthusiastic supporters of this country in the prosecution of the War, and far too large a number of them have found their way to the front from the point of view of the production of steel. Where blast furnaces have blown out in the last few weeks it was due to the fact that skilled steel workers were not available for those furnaces. We are strengthening those, and we are bringing back from the forces some hundreds of the most skilled of the steel workers, and the furnaces will be lighted again. The Ministry of Munitions is extending its steel works and rolling mills, and we hope by the beginning of next year the shortage of steel will entirely disappear, and we hope to have not only enough for our own requirements, but also have some to spare for Italy and France, who may also be able to do something in the way of further production. Those are the means we are taking for adding to our merchant fleet. We are not only making use of all the organisations that the shipbuilding industry can place at our disposal, but we are giving assistance in other directions, and building is going on abroad, all of which will add to the number of vessels we can use for food transport and for military purposes.
When I come to the question of limiting consumption, I fear that I cannot say anything cheerful, for it appears to me as the weeks go on that the consuming capacity of the people in the; United Kingdom goes up. It is perfectly true that high prices in many directions are seriously crippling those who have small incomes. As I said on a previous occasion, the old age pensioner is suffering severely, and in a great many districts where incomes have not been increased the cost of food has gone up. The truth is that if consumption is not likely to go down 853 on account of high prices, which in normal times would be the case, the Government may be compelled against its will to take artificial means for bringing them down. Already the Sugar Commission has been bound to take that step, and it is going further. I have received the following communication from the Commission. They say that,Notwithstanding that the issues of sugar for consumption have been reduced to about 65 per cent. of those of 1915 a further reduction in some form or other is becoming inevitable.Then the Commission ask whether we can give them any guidance as to the way in which it can most suitably be done. I need hardly say that the whole of the luxurious use of sugar must be cut off if we are to make any appreciable effect upon the amount of tonnage employed in the carriage of sugar to this country and upon our foreign exchange.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Confectionery. There is an enormous amount of sugar used in certain forms of bread. [An HON. MEMBER: "And beer!"] I would point out that as regards beer the sugar used in the production of beer is not that which is handled by the Sugar Commission at all, but even there we have cut down the amount used by one-third, and if the national necessities demand it we shall have to cut it down still further. One of the most pathetic things which must have struck everybody going about our populous districts and munition areas is the enormous number of sweet shops. I do not want to blame anybody for eating sweets, but that would be better than drinking some forms of liquor. I am told that in the Army the consumption of liquor has gone down while the consumption of sweets has gone up. If that would prevent men taking strong drink I would not grudge it, but I do say that you can provide for the Army's needs at their maximum and even then there is room for enormous economies in the consumption of sugar in this direction. If anybody wishes to walk through the streets in the West End of London he will see large boxes of sweets wrapped up with brilliant ribbons and selling at extravagant prices, and people have no more sense than to buy them. There is far too much waste in the consumption of sugar. I am not looking at this matter from the point of view of the Exchequer, but I am thinking of tonnage and the extra tonnage that has to be 854 brought in on long voyages, and it is cutting out a large amount of tonnage that could otherwise be used for the bringing in of wheat or maize or rice. We have been endeavouring in dealing with these problems to ascertain what forms of food we can dispense with. I asked the Royal Society some time ago whether they would be good enough to set aside a number of their expert scientific men to give us their assistance in this matter. A Committee was formed, and Dr. Waller was chairman of that Committee Recently this Committee has issued a Report which is of considerable interest, and it might shorten what I have to say if I were to circulate this Report with the Parliamentary Papers. I want to point out that we are trying to find out what forms of food we can best dispense with. We have to dispense with some of them, and we want to dispense with those which are likely to be most helpful to us in this direction.
Let me come to another problem which is of great urgency at the present moment, namely, the potato crop. I will only say a few words about that, and I wish to tell the House the machinery by which we intend to deal with these things in the future; and I wish to announce what powers the Government think it necessary they should be in possession of. The shortage of potatoes is likely to press hardly upon nearly every grade of society, and particularly upon those who regard potatoes as almost their only vegetable food. The case of Ireland is naturally most urgent, for in many parts of Ireland potatoes are the principal, and in some cases the only, food of the people. Ireland produces a great deal more than she normally consumes, and we are still not without hope that the crop in Ireland is going to turn out better than some people anticipate. If that is so, we are sure it is in the interests of Ireland that they should export as far as they are capable, and then they will certainly get the advantage of the high prices which I fear must rule during the coming season. When I speak of high prices, I wish the House would keep in mind that to advertise the possibility of some speculator having made a great haul last season does not help the Government in buying to the best advantage.
Hon. Gentlemen say that the Government buying is badly done, and I have often admitted that. I do not think the Government are good buyers and private 855 firms do it better, and the Government do better when they employ private firms whom they can trust to buy for them. To this extent the State does not show competence in buying. But when we are bound to buy potatoes, as we must for the Army, it certainly does not help us to have it made public in this House that someone has made as much as £62 per acre profit on potatoes grown in Lincolnshire. That sort of thing encourages the price to go up. The markets are high enough, and that sends the prices up higher than ever. I prophesied a fortnight ago that the tendency would be downward, and every expert told me that prices had reached their maximum. I am glad to say that there has been a gradual decline. I would like to point out to those who are holding potatoes for a profit that the Government is about to take powers to prevent them from making an undue profit. This is by no means such an easy problem as might appear on the face of it. You may easily say that potatoes are not to be sold for more than £5 per ton, and by that you might destroy the whole of the crop for the succeeding year. We might encourage early potatoes and then force prematurely on the market some of the best keeping brands. These considerations are not at all easily balanced, and above all we must provide for an abundance of seed potatoes.
I do not know whether the House realises what an enormous proportion of our total crop is required for seed. I am told that at least half a million tons will be required for seed if we are to keep up our normal output, and half a million tons out of the total available amount is such a large proportion that what is left is really in proportion to our previous consumption more than many of us had anticipated. The total average consumption in a normal year is, roughly, just over half a pound per head per day for every man, woman, and child of our population in the United Kingdom. There are a great many of us who do not get anything like as much as that. But if people who are fairly well-to-do eat less it shows how necessary a part of the diet of the poor are potatoes. When the subject was mentioned in the House, a fortnight ago, I said something about those of us who ate potatoes excessively eating a little less. I was not only giving good medical advice, but also economic advice. I notice that almost immediately some people in journals outside said that 856 I was making a recommendation that might have come from the lips of Marie Antoinette. I do not believe there is a single man sitting in this House who does not think that the only way we are going to meet a lot of these problems is by all of us economising.
I do not wish anyone to go without. My policy is one of abundance rather than anything else, and that covers not only this but many other problems. But if there is not going to be enough to go round, there are only two ways of making it go rounds, either forcibly, by potato tickets, a most detestable form, or voluntarily by all of us economising. I understand that there are a number of ways. Certainly some of the drains on the potato crop must stop. We cannot allow potatoes to be used so largely for the feeding of animals in this country. The best keeping sorts must be kept for human beings, and those that will not keep must, of course be consumed as rapidly as possible. It is undoubtedly necessary that we should make arrangements whereby other substitutes may be available. We must encourage importation from the Channel Islands, from Spain, and elsewhere. The Board of Agriculture is doing what it can to encourage the cultivation of potatoes in the warmer counties of England. We must do what we can to see that the long-keeping stocks are preserved for April and May. If all these suggestions fail, then we shall have to take more drastic measures and take them in good time.
Let me turn from potatoes to the more general considerations of the best way of working this vast and complex organisation. The House will see that I have touched upon three commodities this afternoon, every one of them bristling with difficulties. Let me assure the hon. Member who moved this Motion that the most competent way of managing these matters is not to get rid of our committee of experts, for it would be impossible for any body of men to successfully conduct the enormous investigations which have to be done in time of war without their assistance. We have a Commission to look after our meat supply. There is also a Commission dealing with the importation of wheat, and the Sugar Commission looks after the importation of sugar. Then we have branches of various Departments dealing with all our mercantile transactions. There are some of our Departments while withholding supplies from the enemy are adding to our own, and all these at the 857 present moment are scattered over about half-a-dozen different Government Departments.
As the problem has extended and as the strain has fallen more and more heavily upon some one or two men, we have come to the conclusion that we must have someone free to deal with nothing but food problems and to co-ordinate the whole of these activities. A Food Controller of great ability and of great authority would be absolutely useless without the Committees of which the hon. Gentleman thought so lightly. There is no one autocrat who can do this job properly. The wisest man who ever lived could not victual this country without assistance; but what we want undoubtedly is one man at the head to co-ordinate the activities of these various Departments. We at the Board of Trade shall be at the service of the Food Controller, because we regard him in one aspect of our national needs as the most essential man in the Empire. We shall give him every support, and so, I am sure, will the other Departments; but he must have greater powers than those now possessed by the other Departments and we propose to add to his powers somewhat drastically. In the first place, I would like to say that we had intended, and certainly we thought until within the last few days that it would have been best, to proceed by way of a Bill, but it was pointed out to me that with our present powers extended and those which could be given under the Defence of the Realm Acts we could do the whole thing. Under the Defence of the Realm Acts Orders can be issued just as well for civil supplies as for military supplies, and to some extent we shall follow the precedent of military supplies.
Unless the House entirely disagrees with the extension of the powers which I am about to mention, we shall propose at to-morrow's Council to extend the Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Acts in these particulars: In the first place, we shall avail ourselves of provisions to enable us to proceed against any person who wastes or unnecessarily destroys any article. An instance was given a month ago, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the discussion then, of milk to his own knowledge, having been poured down the sewer because the contract price did not suit him. That is the kind of thing which must stop. There are other forms of food which are sometimes destroyed because the producer or the owner is afraid that the market will drop too 858 heavily if he is compelled to go to a forced sale. We are compelled to go to a forced purchase, and we cannot permit anybody for fear of a forced sale to destroy any food within these islands. The next power we wish to have is that of prescribing the purposes for which an article shall or shall not be used. Here let me take the case of milk. Our advice is that the best use we can make of milk is not to give it to pigs, and we propose at once to issue an Order under the Regulations to put a stop to that practice wherever it may be resorted to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Skimmed milk?"] I am talking about whole milk. It has been brought to our knowledge that whole milk has been given to pigs, on the advice of an agricultural association, because they did not like the contract prices which at that moment were prevailing. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I regret to say, had sent to him a copy of a circular issued by one of our agricultural societies—a most unimportant one, I am glad to add—actually advocating this use of milk if the contract prices were not satisfactory to the owners of milk. We must put a stop to that.
Then there comes the Regulation with regard to the manufacture of certain articles of food. This is intended particularly to apply to flour. The Government have decided that 70 per cent. of flour cannot now be permitted in this country. Pure white flour, from which has been abstracted, as some people think, some of its most valuable qualities, will not be milled in future. We shall retain in the flour a good deal of what I believe in some quarters is called offal and in others precious food. I am authorised by the Local Government Board to say that they will make Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Acts, requiring millers to produce only a straight grade flour, and to mill not less than some fixed percentage. In this country we have to deal with a number of different kinds of wheat the flour contents of which varies to a considerable extent. It will therefore be necessary to have a scale of percentages. The general average percentage which it is proposed at once to fix will raise the yield of flour about 8½ per cent. In order to prevent unfair competition with our own millers, steps will be taken to control imported flour. Then we wish to have powers to deal with the mode of sale and distribution of the article. If it becomes necessary for us to embark on food tickets, obviously we must have the 859 power given to us to do it without long and protracted discussion. Directly the need becomes apparent power ought to be given to us to act. Moreover, I need hardly say that to have this power in our hands is not without its influence on the market. Then we seek power to regulate, if necessary, market operations. Some hon. Members will remember that not long ago there was a large operation in tea which had a most disturbing effect upon the tea market. Whether that operation was good or bad from the point of view of the purchaser I do not know, but from the point of view of the general consumer it was one of the most disturbing things which had happened to the tea market for many years past. That sort of cornering must obviously be prevented, and up to the present we have had no powers to prevent it. In some of the smaller commodities there are already a good many transactions which come under the head of cornering or something like it.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
This will cover every sort of article—wheat, maize, potatoes, currants, rice, everything. If there is any sort of cornering, the Government will have power to act. [An HON. MEMBER: "Does it apply to Ireland?"] Yes, it applies to the United Kingdom. There are some cases where we can fix maximum prices. There are the cases of foodstuffs which are controlled by the State, Obviously it is within our power, without interfering with the amount of stuff that comes into this country, to fix the maximum price of flour, wheat, and sugar, and certain forms of meat. We can fix those prices without doing anything whatever to prevent the flow of food into this country. Where we are concerned with food which is not under State control or which is not owned by the State, maximum prices might actually lead to the stuff not coming to these shores. I have more than once explained the real harm that would be done if even by the smallest fraction the price in this country were below the world price outside, and we cannot in the least afford to have any interruption of the flow of foodstuffs here. With regard to foodstuffs not under our control, we do not intend at the present time generally to fix maximum prices, but there are some things where we can limit the increase of 860 price and make that limitation depend upon the cost of production, at the same time taking into account the security of the continuance of our supplies. I think milk is one of those articles. We cam ascertain the cost of milk. Our best expert advisers tell us that we can ascertain that cost, and if we fix the price at a fair price there is no reason in the world why we should diminish the output by a single gallon on that account. We therefore ask for powers to fix these prices. It would refer to produce produced in this country, if necessary. There, again, we must keep before our eyes the fact that if we limit the price too low we may actually destroy the very source of our supply.
The suggestion has been made that we should take over the whole of our wheat crops at a fixed price. If we took them over at the market price, I do not suppose that we should do any great harm except to those firms who have been in the habit of dealing in that particular commodity, but I should like to know what advantage would accrue from it. If we took them over at more than the market price, obviously we should at once do harm to the State, and no one would recommend that. If we took them over at less than the market price, we should certainly be accentuating the tendency of farmers not to sow wheat for the coming season. What with the pressure of shortage of labour, bad weather, and dirtiness of the land, we should undoubtedly, if we fixed the price below the market price, tend to put that land out of cultivation. I give no final opinion even on that at the present time. I would ask that the Government might be left free to act under the organisation which will be at the disposal of the Food Controller, the one person who will have all these problems centred in him. Power should be left to him to act as he sees best. I am told that the country is tired of being lectured on food questions, and wishes to be governed. I ask the House of Commons to give us power to govern them.
Finally, I would refer to the fact that we must have more information if we are have an influence on the markets. We must have further returns not only from merchants, but also from those who have goods stored in their warehouses. We must have returns sent in, and sent in if necessary under oath, as to the stocks of articles held by the individual, as to any contracts that he has entered into for the 861 purchase of his goods or for the sale of his goods, as to the prices that are being paid by him or received by him, and as to the cost of production of his article; and we must have absolute means of testing the accuracy of his returns. By those means we shall be much better informed for dealing with these problems as they become more intense, as they may, during the next twelve months. These are very wide powers. When the House passed the Defence of the Realm Acts it took upon itself the responsibility of giving to the Government wide powers. We propose, if this Regulation is not seriously objected to in the House to-night, to issue Orders this week, and that is one of the reasons, the main reason, why we propose to proceed by Regulation rather than by Bill. We propose to issue Orders this week—this is only the first instalment I may say—providing for a return of milk contracts as well as purchase prices and the like, and for limiting the increase in the price of milk; for a return of stocks of potatoes where those stocks are over 20 tons, for giving the names of purchasers in the case of sales exceeding 20 tons, and requiring a statement of the stocks in hand at the beginning of December—a return which all growers of more than 10 acres of potatoes will be required to make, as well as merchants and dealers who may have owned potatoes or bought them. We shall issue an Order limiting the percentage of milling of flour; and, finally, we shall issue an Order which deals with the waste or destruction of food.
Those are drastic Orders, but I feel that we are justified in asking the House for power to issue them. I cannot at the present moment say who will act as our Food Controller, but of course he must act in conjunction with the Government as a whole, for nearly every important Department is concerned in the problems with which he will come into contact, and his whole time will be devoted to this question.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Perhaps it will satisfy the curiosity of my hon. Friend 862 when I tell him that we propose to concentrate all these powers that I have described to the Board of Trade for the present, and as soon as we can find the man who will fit what we want the Board of Trade wilt hand over the whole of these powers by an amending Regulation within twenty-four hours of his selection. That is the best stop-gap arrangement I can make. I cannot give any further information to the House on that subject—
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have read out the Orders which we shall make at present, and, as I say, they are a first instalment. I am sure my hon. and learned Friend-will forgive me if I say that we have taken a pretty large bite of the cherry to begin with.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY rose—
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I have told the House all we can say at the present moment. If we had to wait until we had to decide what the status of the Gentleman was; exactly to be, what his position in this House or another, or in no House at all, was to be, or whether one Minister or another was to answer, we might go on for weeks discussing those matters. Under the Regulations the Board of Trade will have power to act. The Board cannot, of course, act by itself. It will act in conjunction with the other Departments. In asking for extra powers we: are asking for them as a temporary expedient to be exercised by us to the best of our ability, and we have the right to demand in these pressing days that some of the ordinary procedure of Parliament may be set on one side.
I have only one more word to say, and it is this: We have been driven bit by bit against our will, and here I speak for myself, because, as the House knows, I do not like these arrangements if they can be avoided, to suspend the easy flow of purely voluntary action. We cannot depend on it now. We are bound to give increased powers to State Departments and to State officials, and we should be foolish if we did not call into our aid the best wisdom, and the best technical advice, and the best character that this country can produce. We have laid a heavy toll on the ability of our people in many Departments. The 863 Ministry of Munitions has been built up not out of bureaucrats, but out of able business men who have given their services freely, and what has been done there can be done in other Departments. We have to abandon in some respects the old voluntary principle, to which I have long been wedded, and we may have to take steps in the way of State control which may cause a good deal of discomfort and create some discontent in some quarters. But you can have no State regulation which does not bear hardly on somebody. We have the right to ask that all our people at home should be prepared to put up with some hardship, which will be assessed and prescribed and distributed as evenly as possible in order that those who are giving far more for the country should be allowed to reach a glorious victory.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I do not intend to detain the House at any length, although I consider this is one of the most important Debates we have had in the House for a long time. I do not think my right hon. Friend need, in the slightest degree, have apologised for the drastic nature of the proposals which he has submitted to the House. I think the House expected more drastic proposals, and I am perfectly sure that the appeal that he made that we should allow these proposals to go through without the ordinary formalities of a Bill is one which we shall most readily accede to. He has said that every man must make sacrifices. I believe that the Government have only to give the lead and that the country is prepared for every and for any sacrifice, because, after all, no sacrifice we can have at home here can be anything comparable with the sacrifices that are going on at the front. There is one observation I desire to make in reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is this—that I think he goes rather slowly in the necessary organisation for the food production in this country. He drew us a very graphic description of the difficulties under which we are likely to labour before our next crops are reaped. He told us, and I think it is a thing we ought to take to heart— that we are having a great deal less ground under wheat this year than we had last year. He told us that for the purpose of importing wheat we would have to go longer distances than we had in the past year, and that we will have to import 864 from greater distances with fewer ships, which again adds to the fewness by reason of the length of the voyages. He told us also of the increasing difficulties of transport in a manner which I think has brought home to every Member of this House that that is a question of paramount importance. He also told us that as regards that transport, and what the transports carried, we were greatly hampered, though no doubt willingly hampered in the circumstances, by our having to share all those with our Allies.
This is a situation of the very gravest importance. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to say so, has put proposals before this House which will be anything like adequate to meet that situation. There is no use our shutting our eyes to the great difficulties we are going to have in the future for transport. It is all very well to hide away in the corners of newspapers the submarine menace. It can do us no good, shutting our eyes to the fact, and we are really not telling the Germans anything they do not know. They know perfectly well, and no small print in the corner of a newspaper will make any difference. I should be glad if he could have told us, and I do not believe it would have done any harm, to what extent our tonnage has been decreased in the past three months by the, submarine menace. I believe myself it amounts to an enormous amount of tonnage if you take neutral ships as well as our own. One sees it day after day so many ships reported from Lloyd's, and really I think it was a pity that the Admiralty gave up publishing the weekly or monthly statement—I think it was weekly—of the number of ships which came into our ports, and went out of our ports, and the number of ships which were sunk by submarines. It is far better the country should know it, and it is far better the country should understand it, and for this reason. Nothing is more likely to upset the country than the belief which gains ground day after day that prices go up, and scarcity goes on or increases by reason of the exploitation by profiteers of the food of the people. That is about the most dangerous thing that any man can say to the whole country. It is a thing that the country would not only resent, but that the country ought in the very most forcible manner resent if it was true. But it is not true, and, so far as I am concerned—and I have watched these Debates carefully in this House—I have 865 never seen any genuine facts put forward in the House to show that there is this dishonourable, criminal, treasonable practice which is averred outside, and which is a matter which the Government ought to put down if it existed, with the very heaviest hand practicable.
But what the country ought to be told really is that the difficulty of food is a difficulty of transport, and let them know that this question of transport involves almost every single Department of the Government. You cannot view it as one matter; it involves the Navy, of course, and to a very large extent the Navy, not merely in the number of ships that have to be requisitioned by the Navy, but it involves the Navy as to how far the Navy is able to grapple with the convoy of our food transports, and to protect those transports from the submarine menace. And I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that one of the reasons why this matter never can be brought home sufficiently to the people is that it is impossible for us in this House to discuss the Admiralty. We have never had an Admiralty discussion here since the War commenced. I do not know whether they have had it in the Cabinet, or whether they have had it at the War Committee. I am not talking of the Navy, but of the Board of Admiralty, which provides the Navy with the necessary organisation, and with the necessary equipment of ships and money and everything else. But I do think, whether in Secret Session or by some other means, we ought to be able to satisfy ourselves in this House that every possible means is being used, that every ounce of our opportunities is being availed of for carrying out by the Board of Admiralty all that is necessary for making the Navy as strong as possible for dealing with this question. I am not saying for a moment that that is not so, but I think any Department suffers when it cannot have any criticism pronounced upon it or upon the methods in which it carries on its business, and therefore I would suggest to the Government that some means ought to be taken of making us absolutely crtain that everything is being done at the Admiralty which can possibly be done to meet the questions that are daily arising with reference to our transport.
Transport, as I said before is really the main question, and the greater the difficulties about transport, surely the greater the necessity there is for our producing in this country the greatest possible quan- 866 tity of food. I believe that that is vital to the future. It is there that I am disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend, in that he has not told us of far more drastic organisation in the production of food at home. The production of food at home, as far as you can have it, gets rid of transport, gets rid of naval convoys, and gets rid of the submarine menace, because you have it at your door. It does something more. It relieves your finance, because, of course, where you have to pay for the imported goods, where you have to pay in gold or by exportation, as the case may be, you are greatly adding to the burdens of this country at a critical time. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have told us a great deal more of what he proposes for the organisation of the whole of the country with a view to the production of food for our people in the country itself.
The right hon. Gentleman talked of pooling in relation to certain matters. I myself do not profess to understand very much about farming as a practical man, except so far as I have observed it ever since I was a young man. Is there no pooling possible in relation to farming? In my opinion, every inch of ground in this country, if it is suitable, ought to be producing now for the people. The Government ought to take the most drastic powers, if they had not got them, of taking possession of any land that they require for the purpose of producing food for the people. I do not know how the carrying out of such a matter can be done, but I cannot but believe that you could organise labour, not merely for the purpose of sending it round to one individual or another individual, but for sending it round wherever it is required, dischargng its particular functions at that place and then going on to some place else. Take the case of ploughing land. Surely if the matter were undertaken upon a large scale, with plenty of steam ploughs and with labour organised, the land could be ploughed to a very much larger extent than it is at present. I throw out that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I should also have thought that somehow or other, by local committees or something of that kind under the Controller of Food, there must be some way in which you could organise the labour in the districts and use it to the most beneficial advantage. I am perfectly sure that the more you elaborate to us the difficulties of 867 transport and ail that that involves, the more you render it incumbent upon yourselves to put forward schemes and carry them out for the greater production of food in this country.
I am not going in detail into all the many points upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched. He told us of the depletion of agricultural labour, he told us of the absence of mechanics, and of various other matters of that kind. It really does shake one's confidence in the powers of organisation of this country— I am not saying this by way of casting any slur, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, upon himself or his Department, or any other Department—but it does seem to be a great pity and to shake one's confidence in the power of organisation of this country, that, after two and a half years' experience of war, we are only now beginning to find out that we have sent away men who are essential for industries which go to the very root of the support of our Armies in the field and of our people at home. I am glad to hear that there is to be appointed a Controller of Food. I hope he will be somebody somewhat in the nature of a dictator. I hope he will meet with the fullest cooperation from every Department. I hope he will have power to snub the Departments, if the Departments will not do everything that he requires. I believe that it is only by putting into the hands of one man all the various powers which are so distributed over every Department that you will come at the end to some satisfactory conclusion. So far as they go, I can congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the proposals he is making. I doubt very much myself whether they will lead to great results, although they may lead to some, but I am perfectly certain that it will not be long before he comes here to tell us a very different story. I hope I may be wrong, but I would implore my right hon. Friend and I would implore the Government in a question of this kind, which more than any other may upset every arrangement we can make and may upset more than any other the disposition of the people of this country towards the carrying on of the War—I implore the Government not to lose a single day in taking any powers which we would most gladly give them.
§ Mr. BENTHAM
I do not often trouble the House, but I should like to offer a few remarks on this occasion. [HON. 868 MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] May I be allowed to say how much I believe the country will welcome the speech of the President of the Board of Trade. He has touched upon a very large number of subjects, all of them most interesting and most vital to the interests of the country. There is one point he raised which is a very serious one, namely, the shortage of labour on farms. It is all very well for the country generally and for some Members of this House to expect that there will be more wheat sown this year than last, but that is almost impossible. The shortage of labour on the farms is so serious that they cannot possibly get an equal amount of wheat sown this year as they did last. We all hope that with the co-ordination of the War Office, the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Trade that things in this direction will so mend that spring corn will at any rate show an increase. Equally important as the question of agricultural workers is the question of skilled workers in the agricultural machine shops. If there ever was a time when we required all the agricultural machinery we could possibly get, it is this time of great stress. I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) advocate the abolition of all Committees. He usually thinks about what he says and is very careful of what he does say, but for once I am afraid he did not give that same; care to his statement. Many of these expert Committees have done yeoman service. We should have done very badly without them. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman is only going to have one grade of flour—what is known in the trade as a straight run of flour—thereby abolishing two or three different grades. I have no doubt whatever that this will mean a practical increase of something like 10 per cent. to the food yield. The right hon. Gentleman estimates it at 8½ per cent. There is this point: What are we going to do without the offals which were used so much in feeding-stuffs? I presume that the Director will make arrangements in this respect.
The question of milk is not nearly so easy as it looks. Many cowkeepers are giving up keeping cows simply because they cannot get labour to take the milk round and also because of the high prices of feeding-stuffs. If that is to continue and they cannot get what they conceive to be enough profit to keep them going, then they will use their milk to make cheese or butter, and in that respect we 869 shall be at a disadvantage. I take it that the main object of the Government is to see that all the food in the world that is destined for us gets here. That is mainly the duty of the Admiralty, yet this afternoon we have had no representative of the Board of Admiralty on the Front Bench. I do not say that the Admiralty is necessarily at fault in this matter, but they are primarily responsible for seeing that all the food destined for us gets here. The President of the Board of Trade said that we had made a very good agreement with regard to the export of food and other produce from Holland. I believe every word he says, but, unfortunately, ever since that arrangement has been made we have got practically nothing at all from Holland. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman did not make any insinuations with regard to profiteering. I do not believe that, with perhaps small exceptions, such a thing exists. If it does exist in a very small amount, it certainly is not among the retailers or the wholesalers of food. I have the Report of the Food Commission here, and I am glad to know that one thing upon which they seem to agree is that there is really little or no food being held up from consumption by the people. I believe that on the matter of the control of food the Government have done well, although in some details they have been somewhat deficient. Take the case of sugar. There is no doubt—here I shall probably differ from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough)—that the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the control of sugar saved this country millions a year. The week after War was declared I paid £36 a ton for castor sugar and duty. I made a purchase the other day and I hope to make another purchase next week of the same class of sugar at £27 a ton and duty. That means that sugar which cost me 4d. a pound immediately after the outbreak of War can now be bought at 3d. a pound, although the duty is now very much more.
§ Mr. BENTHAM
I do not know exactly. I have not got the figures here, but what I have stated is correct. My right hon. Friend may be able to supply the information he asks from me. The details of the sugar supply were very badly worked out indeed. That was due to lack of 870 practical knowledge on the part of members of the Royal Commission. Tea, coffee, and cocoa are very important articles of consumption. With the exception of the duty, there has been little change in these three commodities. Tea at the most has not advanced more than 2d. a pound, which is very moderate, considering freights and all the circumstances of the case. Coffee and cocoa are quite as cheap as they ever were, except for the difference in duty.
There is another important article as to which the Government has very seriously blundered, and that is cheese. I got the figures out to-day. On 11th November last year Canadian cheese was bought at 84s. a hundredweight. Now, almost exactly a year after, the price is 124s.; and, further, there is more Canadian cheese both in Canada and in this country than there was last year. I have heard that the man employed to buy cheese is a railway manager. Anyhow, they have not the right man, and the result has been that the price of cheese has advanced, both Canadian and English, by leaps and bounds. Then dried fruits are very dear. We get almost the whole of the supplies of our dried fruits from Greece and Turkey, and, of course, we can practically get nothing from them now. Butter is very dear—something like 2s. a pound. I strongly recommend people to use margarine. It is practically the same price as it ever was; it can be got from 7d. to 10d. a pound; it is quite as good food as butter, and let no one here say he would not have margarine at any price. The probability is that he has eaten a lot more than he knows anything about, and has not been any the worse for it either. I have great hopes with regard to the Government's action in the purchase of wheat, though why they did not take the English crop as well I have not quite understood yet. When they took over the control of wool they took over the whole of the home article and left the foreigners and Colonials to get the very best price they possibly could in the market. I happen to be a farmer in a small way and I clip my sheep about May, or something like that, and I had to take a certain price. I do not grumble at that. It does not matter very much, although, of course, the foreigners and Colonials got the very best they could on the market. The control of wool has been grossly mismanaged. The wool is clipped about May. We were not 871 allowed to move any of it until well into August. Then I was ordered to send it to a fellmonger, since when I have heard nothing. I shall get over that, but there are thousands of farmers in this country who look to their wool money to pay their rent with, and hon. Members opposite will not be able to get their rent in some cases until the farmer gets the price of his wool. Why have we not had our wool money? In the times which are gone the factor came round, you weighed the wool, and he paid you on the spot. I think the management of the wool business by the Government has been most un business like altogether.
We had the Food Control Committee, and it was little less than a farce. There was not a practical man on it. They were all theorists, and they sent us out a very colourless Report, and I fear the next Report they send out, if it ever comes, will be of a very similar nature. Those gentlemen, whether they are Members of this House or not, who try to stir up feeling on dear food cries incur very grave responsibilities indeed, unless at the same time they are able to provide a real remedy. We must all economise. We must knock off the little luxuries to which we have become habituated. As I sit at the tables at lunch and dinner here I observe hon. Members using a lot of things they need not. There is no occasion to have cream with their fruit tarts and that sort of thing, and they use a very great deal too much sugar. I have got out of the habit of using sugar myself, and I have not had it for three months in anything that I eat at all: This thing is really serious, because people look to Members of Parliament even yet to set some sort of an example. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the great bulk of the people are using as much, if not more, of the good things of this life even than they did in time of peace. A very large number of people have a great deal more money than they ever had before, and it seems to me useless to ask them to economise. I appeal to the House, and through the House to the country, with regard to the terrible nature of our drink bill. It seems to be growing very seriously indeed. If we only drank half—if we only spent £90,000,000 instead of £180,000,000 on our intoxicating liquor, we should save a vast 872 amount of money, and should save raw material, and the balance could be used to very much better purpose.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am very glad indeed to welcome the steps which have been announced by the President of the Board of Trade. I am quite sure the powers which he is seeking will be very gladly conferred upon him by this House, and I am quite sure also that the House will not stand on ceremony in the amatter. I think he is quite right in assuming that the House will acquiesce in the procedure which the Government proposes in order that these powers may be more quickly confirmed and more quickly exercised. The amazing thing about the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that he has been driven, according to his own confession, in a direction in which he was unwilling to go. The very fact that he has had to go in that direction seems to me to be a condemnation of the past inaction of the Government in regard to this very grave and serious problem. Early in August, 1914, members of the party to which I belong pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman and upon the House the necessity there was for taking drastic steps at that time, before the problem had grown to the dimensions which it has, in order to deal with it in the very direction which the President has now announced. There can be no doubt that when we went into this War the very first thing which was necessary was that the whole of the labour and all the resources of the people should be organised for the purpose of the War and of providing for the civil population as well.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I shall not shirk the question of compulsion. That is one of the complaints that you compel in certain directions, but you will not compel in others. Indeed, so far as most of the complaints with regard to the Military Service Acts are concerned, along with compulsion there has always been the claim from Labour that you should conscript and compel wealth to be utilised on behalf of the nation in the same degree and in the same manner as you compel labour. I do not desire to pursue the question of compulsion, for there was a great amount of organisation which could have been done on voluntary lines in this 873 direction in the early days, which is not possible now, and which has led you to compulsion. I am convinced that if we are to make the most of the resources of the nation we shall have to carry the organisation of those resources to a very much further degree than even the proposals which have been put for ward this afternoon. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is taking a bigger step, or, as he put it, a bigger bite at the cherry this time. It is a pity this step was not taken a long time ago, and is even now not being taken in a degree which we think will turn out still to be absolutely necessary if we are to organise the full resources of the nation. I have no desire to go into detail. The question of detail is a question of organisation, and, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has shown, he has been driven step by step and step by step into asking for further powers, and the Government has now asked for fairly drastic powers with regard to certain matters of the food supply. I do not think anyone can deny that at this moment the most vital problem to the civil population of this country is the question of the food supply. I differ entirely from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lough) that the Government has made a mess of everything it has touched. On the whole, I think the taking over of sugar, drastic as it was, has been justified by the event, and we should have been very much worse off if the Government had not done it. Naturally, they made some mistakes in so gigantic a business, but things are being straightened out, and I think the country as a whole is thankful to the Government for the step it took in that direction.
But when we come to the question of the food supply we find that the Government has had to buy for the Army to provide for the needs of what is practically a nation, and that when they buy and distribute, though they have to bring the food to France as well, they can do it at a price which, compared with what the civil population have to pay for the same thing, makes an enormous difference. It is true that they ration the Army. I do not think that anybody desires that we should have to ration the civil population in the same way, but allowing for the difference it is perfectly possible, if the Government had done the buying for the whole of the people and organised the distribution to the retailers, that we should certainly not be in our present position. And if it be, as I think it will turn out, that the action 874 of the Government to-day does have the effect of limiting prices, the step which they are taking will be of very great advantage to the country. I quite agree that the problems which we have to face are very grave and serious. The problem of labour is at the bottom of all these problems. I appeal to the House of Commons to realise, as they have never realised before, that in these days at any rate they are dependent for winning this War, for supplying the food of the country, upon the labour of the country, and that the organisation of that labour is of immense importance in this connection.
It is true, I believe, that this problem has never yet been envisaged by the Government as a whole, and they have never faced it as a whole. They are beginning to do so now, and to face the questions of the needs of agriculture, of agricultural machinery, of the building of the mercantile marine, the finishing of the ships, of transport, and of all these great problems of labour. When it comes to a question of dilution labour has willingly thrown aside its rules and restrictions and has allowed dilution to take place in the engineering workshops in order that the production of munitions might be increased to the highest possible amount—a very patriotic, and in the circumstances, a very sensible proceeding. As labour has taken that step and agreed to that policy, we suggest that as regards what is called profiteering—I am not going to make a charge of deliberate profiteering against any particular class of the community, but it is true that by the time the food has reached the people it has come to such a price as to prove an extremely great hardship on the people, and that that price need never have been reached if the supply had been properly organised and properly distributed. Therefore, whether it is deliberate or unconscious profiteering, profiteering does take place between the time when the commodity is produced and the time it reaches the consumer. Instances of it can be multiplied. Profits would not be what they are in some industries and in some distributive agencies if it were not so. You had the illustration in the early days of the War, which did an immense amount of harm, of a particular firm of millers at Cardiff, and it was not the only instance because they can be multiplied wholesale, but in all cases where profits have gone up so enormously there was profiteering. I am not making a deliberate charge against any particular 875 firm, but we are in a vicious circle in this matter in which profiteering does take place under which in consequence the consumer and the people as a whole suffer. And it is because of that policy that I suggest to the House that, as labour has agreed to dilution, that as labour does not say, within certain reasonable bounds—with the exception of demanding a sufficiency where the price of living has gone up—that the production has to be stimulated by the high prices, the statement of the President of the Board of Trade that high prices stimulate production is a message which the workers of the country will not welcome and will not agree with.
They do not ask that their production shall be stimulated by high prices, and therefore they do not think, and I believe that they are right, that we should have in this country during this War the doctrine propounded that high prices are necessary to stimulate production, and that we should have to pay high prices in order to get the production which is necessary. With regard to home affairs, and the production of food at home, every effort should be made by the Government to increase the production of home-grown supplies. An increase in the amount of land allowed for allotments would be one very good way. I agree that there has been very great development in certain parts of the country with regard to allotments. I know that there is not much leisure on the part of anybody, at the present time, in any part of the country, but so far as allotments can be got and cultivated I think that there ought to be encouragement on every hand of the system of allotments, so that men can supply their own families, as far as possible, by their own labour. I suggest that the Government should, as far as possible, encourage the system of allotments, and encourage men to produce food for their own families, and, beyond that, that they should take every possible means within their power to encourage the production of home supplies of food, so that we may, as far as possible, bring down the prices by that means. I see that the President of the Board of Trade is here now, and I desire simply to add this: He has admitted that he has been an unwilling traveller in the course which he has taken, and, seeing that he has been driven to that course, and that now he acknowledges that course to be the only effective course, from the fact that he has taken 876 it, I trust that he will no longer prove himself unwilling to go in this direction, but that he will go further if it is necessary to do so.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I think that the agricultural world will welcome the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. I think, for instance, that the fixing of a maximum price for wheat will come to farmers in this country as a very welcome step. You must remember that farmers do not fix the price that is paid them for their wheat. It is fixed from outside, and it is hard upon them that they should be compelled to bear all the obliquy and opprobrium of the high prices to which wheat has now soared. I believe that they will welcome a maximum price—of course, if it is one which they themselves would consider a reasonable one. In Germany the way the maximum price was fixed, when all the supplies were first taken over, on the 25th January, 1915, was as follows. I believe that it is the fair and proper way: They took the mean price for the last fortnight in the principal large corn market of the district, and on that system I believe that a price could be fixed which would be welcome to the British farmer. There are many other points respecting wheat prospects in this country on which for many months I have thought a great deal. But I am in this position: I am sitting on the Food Prices Committee, and we have made a Report to the President which embodies practically all the suggestions which I wish to make on the subject. I think that many of those suggestions had better not be dealt with publicly just now, and I feel that it would be an inconvenient step for me to do so. But I do trust that the President of the Board of Trade will give me the opportunity of putting before him my views about certain details of those questions, with which, I am glad to say, I induced my colleagues on the Committee to agree. I hope that I may have that opportunity, and further than that I will not go. That is the first point which I noticed in the President's speech.
An important point was the closer milling of wheat. There, again, I agree entirely with the President. Of course, you must be prepared on that point for a certain amount of opposition from the industrial community. Ft was so in the Napoleonic days, when although you could only get 4 ozs. of bread for 1d., people would not buy the coarser sorts of bread, but preferred the white bread. I 877 am glad to hear that there is none of this sort of flour going to be issued. I think that that will help the proposal forward, and I do think that if you can show to the people that this simple change will give them something like 360,000,000 quartern loaves, that will go home and they will be prepared to accept it. As regards the diminution of offals, if there is any great outcry on that subject you have your answer completely ready, "The bread for the people" ought to come before the pigs and poultry of the country, and they must, in the case of war shortage, do so. The next point was the Food Minister himself. I should be glad to hear whether the Food Minister is to deal only with the food of the civil population, or whether he is to deal with the food for the Army and Navy as well as the civil population. You must remember that the two are in conflict at the present time, and they must be made to come into co-operation. If I may again quote the example of Germany, I would ask the House to remember that there they have a central committee for food distribution, and it has on its commercial side a section which deals with the food for the civilian population, and for the army and navy, They are not separated, and they are made to agree one with the other. The next point which the President made was in regard to the potato crop. I do not propose to go into the question of what price can be fixed, but I would like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that as there is a shortage in the potato crop, and as there is nothing that in this country we can do to obtain a larger supply of potatoes before the next potato harvest, he should turn his attention to the North of Spain. I do hope that no old-fashioned notion will prevent him from complying with the plan which is there adopted for getting a crop of potatoes sown and harvested. You have to take some risks. You have to pay a deposit upon your potato crop at the time of sowing, and the potato crop is most honestly cultivated and rendered. That would come in before our next potato harvest, at the very time when our potato harvest is petering out. There is an additional argument in favour of that, and that is that you can send your potatoes from the North of Spain to some of your destinations without having to put to sea. The next point which the President touched upon was that of transport. I think he omitted one of the most important modes of utilising the existing shipping of the 878 country. He omitted to mention the congestion at the docks. I am perfectly sure that if that congestion could be removed by more energetic organisation of the docks you would be able to increase by one-half the carrying capacity of the tonnage which comes to these shores. I do hope that the President will give his attention to that side of the transport question. Lastly, in the President's speech—or rather his first point and my last point, because I am taking his points in the reverse order—he came to the question of labour. I think we agriculturists as a rule, I hope so, are loyally determined to give the scheme of substitution every chance. But we do complain that in times of peace the War Office has not co-operated with the Board of Trade, and we think a great deal of the mischief that has been done has been due to that want of co-operation. Let me put two points on that, one of which was alluded to by a recent speaker. Take the question of wool. You could not have had that purchase of wool carried out in a way that would have given more discontent to the agricultural community than was done by the methods of purchase adopted. More than that, it was a direct loss to the nation in two important respects. The wool was left, and is left still, in places where it is deteriorating in quality. Because you have not paid for it the men have been obliged to sell their cattle in an unfinished state, with the result that the complaint of the butchers is wide-spread that cattle are coming forward in an unfinished state, simply because the seller of the wool had not been paid for his wool and he had no money with which to pay his current expenses. That is a very strong illustration of the want of co-operation between the War Office and the man who knows. Take another point. The Board of Agriculture have appealed to farmers to pool their labour. The farmers are quite content to-do that; indeed they are glad to do it. What happens? The military representative before the tribunal says, "Farmer A claims this man is indispensable." How can he say that when he has lent him to farmer B? Unless that is stopped, and it must be stopped, you will not get the farmer to attempt to pool his labour. I do hope that this is a point which will be made very strongly to the War Office and the military representatives.
I will put another difficult point connected with labour. The county council is, of course, a large landlord of small 879 holdings, but as the law now stands, the county council cannot spend one penny on cultivating land unless the holding is vacant. Look at the effect of that! We have 100 acres of land, say, cultivated in ten small holdings by ten men. If any of these men are called before the tribunal they say, "It is a one-man business, and my money is in it. It is work of importance. I am cultivating food for the nation. You must not take me." All these ten men go, and yet the county council with three of these men could cultivate those 100 acres of land. They could not grow a double crop, but I have no doubt they could put in wheat and potatoes, and the remaining seven men would be free to join the Army. Surely such a technicality as that is one which the Government could help us to sweep away! I believe that if some little power was given to the county councils in these ways they could organise labour, through substitution or otherwise, so as to be able to cultivate a great deal of the land which at the present time is lying idle, and put a crop of potatoes into it. You cannot expect them to do it unless you remove the financial difficulty that they can only spend the ratepayers' money on cultivating a small holding when it is vacant. They cannot cultivate them for a holder who has gone to the front.
There is one point which the last speaker hinted at, with which I should like to deal, and that is the question of profiteering. A short time ago the right hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) said that when he was young milk was 4d. a quart, and it had been so ever since, and there was no earthly reason why it should be increased in price. He went on to say that during the War it should be once a dairyman, always a dairyman. To argue that because milk was 4d. a quart before the War it should therefore be 4d. a quart now, shows, I am afraid, a most extraordinary ignorance on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. We hear a great deal about the degradation of people's taste by pictures. I think the sight of a wooden cow in the fields when you come up to London may be mentioned in this instance. You see the cow there being milked in the field, and when you go back it is still there and still being milked, and if the snow is on the ground, that wooden cow is still there. That appears to be the view which the right hon. Member for Blackfriars takes of the milk industry. When he says, 880 "Once a dairyman, always a dairyman," what about the principle during the War of once a Member of Parliament, always a Member of Parliament. There is, however, this difference: that a Member of Parliament gets his pay, but a dairyman, at 4d. a quart, would get no pay at all. I know perfectly well that what the right hon. Gentleman really did mean to say was that as a workman was not quite free to go to more remunerative employment during the War it was a fair principle that a dairyman should not be allowed to put his money into a more paying industry. After all, the workman is getting an increased wage, whereas the dairyman, on the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, would be getting none at all. On the question of milk profiteering, I understand that the President of the Board of Trade is going to fix a price for milk. I think he will have to be very careful on that subject. I believe he will find that there is a good deal of variety in the course of milk production. He will find, for instance, that at the present time, in the winter months, the arable farm is the cheapest form of milk production, because the arable farmer grows most of the produce that he needs for his cattle. The suburban dairyman finds it extremely difficult to make his cost of production anything near that of the arable farmer, and the pasture farmer, who has had the pull all the summer, now finds it extremely hard, considering that he has to buy not only artificial food, but a good deal of home-grown produce, to get down to the price which is fixed for the arable farmer who has the cheapest form of winter milk production. I submit to the President that at the present moment the arable farmer cannot produce one gallon of milk under 1s. 3d. That is quite a definite proposition. That means that the profit on the cheapest form of milk production at the present price of 1s. 4d. per gallon is one farthing a quart. Can anyone say that there is room for profiteering there? There is not. When you consider that on the other forms of dairying the cost of production is higher, I think it must be admitted that the charge of profiteering breaks down entirely. I would appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, whose stay at the Board of Agriculture we remember with gratitude, to announce officially what is the actual cost of producing milk, and once for all put a stop to this charge of profiteering. You have to consider that the 881 farmer who buys a beast in store condition has to put it on a certain ration for four or five months, and the animal at eleven hundredweight will yield something like 736 pounds of meat. Taking the case of the ration, and taking the price paid for the animal, the ration works out at something like 4d. a pound more in 1916 than in 1913–14. Then there is the increased cost of production, all the expenditure made by the dealer, the wholesale and retail butcher, all of which appear in the consumer's price, so where is the room for profiteering in those circumstances? I do think that the speech of the right hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division is one that ought not to have been made in this House. He quoted against the farmers the statement of milk being poured, down a drain, but he could give no authority for it, and his speech was evidently made without the slightest attempt to get at the real cost of the production of milk in regard to which he so loudly declaimed against the farmer and his profiteering. I am quite sure that is not the spirit in which we are going to pull through the difficult times ahead of us. Discontent of the belly is always more dangerous than discontent of the brain, and men like the right hon. Member for Blackfriars are encouraging that discontent to a dangerous degree by statements like that to which I have called attention.
§ Mr. LOUGH
The hon. Member for Stockport and another hon. Member made interesting contributions to the Debate, and they stated rather emphatically that they differed from my view on the subject of sugar. The House will, therefore, allow me to make a few remarks. The hon. Members, alluding to the question of sugar, differed from what they understood to be my views with regard to the action of the Government. I would like to take the apportunity of stating my views in regard to sugar, as apparently they are not understood. I have not the slightest objection to the Government interfering in anything at this time, but we have the Tight to ask the results of that interference, and to criticise its effects. If the Government had reduced the price of sugar nobody would have praised their action more than I should have done. That is the extent of my criticism. I think the Government were perfectly justified at first in interfering with the sugar market; where I think they are wrong is in preventing the importer from bringing in sugar, and thereby 882 reducing the price, if he could. That is the extent of my criticism, and I leave the matter to the judgment of the House. I asked a question with regard to a statement made by the President of the Board of Trade with regard to sugar. The right hon. Gentleman said that sugar was cheaper in London than in New York, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said thy same thing. I asked the President of the Board of Trade what were the retail prices in London and in New York, and he gave me the reply, which I did not consider a very good one, that the New York price was 8.8 cents, or 4⅜d., and that the equivalent price in London was 5¼d. a pound. But that is not sugar cheaper in London than in New York; it is something like 1d. dearer, and that is the July price compared with to-day's price. I sent my right hon. Friend the "New York Times," giving the actual quotation of the retail price. The price given in that paper was 3¾d., and in London I believe it is 5¼d. or 5½d. and 6d. now. So that the statement which the Government has given us is absolutely inaccurate.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
There are more recent quotations than those of July. I gave quotations for the 7th October, and at that time sugar was selling in New York at 27s. 9d. a hundredweight wholesale price, and the same sugar in London was 28s. 10d. Those are the figures on which I made my statement.
§ Mr. LOUGH
This is another indication of the difficulty of getting from the Government, with great respect, a considered answer. We are talking about what people are paying for their food. Can any person buy sugar at that wholesale price here? We pay 5½d. and 6d. a pound here, and in New York they buy it for 3¾d. a pound. I am sorry to have to go into this matter, but I think I ought to try to make it clear. The Government themselves have put up the price of sugar. Why is it so dear? We had a great speech from the hon. Member for Hull, and I wish we had more speeches of that kind in the House. My hon. Friend knew everything he was talking about, and he made a very perfect speech. He mentioned six or eight commodities. In three of them the Government have interfered— sugar, cheese, and wheat. What was the result? The result was to put up the prices tremendously. With regard to cheese, their action, from want of proper business control of Government buyers, 883 resulted in the price of cheese being put up by 50 per cent., and the stocks are larger to-day than they were a year ago. The fact that the price has gone up 50 per cent. higher is attributable to the action of the Government. The hon. Member for Hull mentioned three other great commodities—tea, coffee, and cocoa—which are as cheap now as before the War, apart from the increase of duty, and the reason of that is that the Government have not interfered with them at all. I have no fixed principles in regard to this matter. On the contrary, if the Government could help us by interfering, let them interfere in any way. The only thing I suggest to the House is that it does not use the power of criticising the Government and asking them to give the results of their interference. My right hon. Friend here put a question to the Government with regard to the wool trade. That is a case in which the Government interfered in the most drastic way, and everybody in the House who has spoken about it this afternoon, including the hon. Member for Hull and the hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Prothero), has complained of the Government action. I say that in a country like this there is plenty of business talent, and if the Government interferes at all this House has the right to ask whether that interference has resulted to the general satisfaction.
My right hon. Friend, answering the question, said the price of the wool was 1s. 7d. a pound, but no one knows what he sold it at. I am told that at the market price he would perhaps get 2s. a pound for it. What was the difference between the price the Government gave for the wool and the price at which they sold it? Is the Government beginning to profiteer? The Government interfere in the most drastic way, and the people do not get the advantage they are led to expect from that interference. I protest against the way in which the House of Commons has been treated this afternoon. I would say to my right hon. Friend that surely there has been nothing in the way the House of Commons has treated his proposals or himself personally that should make him so reluctant to take the House of Commons into his confidence, and that he should make these drastic changes which he has stated in a constitutional manner rather than in the revolutionary manner he proposed this afternoon. My right hon. Friend says he is going to extend the 884 powers of the Defence of the Realm Act to interfere with the food provisions of the country practically to any extent he likes. I can understand that object, but why should not the House of Commons be asked to sanction this? What did my right hon. Friend say? He said it will depend on the Debate this evening whether the whole thing will be done to-morrow by Order in Council. I protest in the strongest way against that. I believe we have had very good opinions given in this Debate, and the best agricultural authorities in the country, who are behind us, have spoken. There are plenty of good opinions to be obtained in the House, which has not been very busy, and I think that these things should not be huddled up and done practically in the dark, but that there should be some opportunity for discussing what effects the welfare and happiness of so many people in this country. Why should the Debate on this subject be so hurried? The Committee on Food Prices has agreed on its Report. Why has not this House had the Report before it, in view of this Debate on high prices? Surely we ought to know something about these important matters before they are carried out.
An hon. Member the other day asked why the evidence which had been taken by the Committee on Food Prices was not laid before the House. The Government refuses to print the evidence. Why should this secrecy be maintained by the Government about a matter of this kind? A great blow is aimed at the House of Commons, and if these things are to be done we shall find not only our constitutional rights interfered with, but the interference will be of no good in the end. We do not get sugar cheaper, and I do not think we will get the loaf cheaper; probably we may get it bad, while it will be a great deal dearer. I say to the House that I look with great misgiving upon this invasion of freedom. I desire to make two suggestions on the question of why prices are high. Control of shipping has been mentioned a great deal in the Debate, and I would ask the Government itself to interfere perhaps a little more drastically than it has interfered, for it is the huge rise in freights more than anything else which has sent up the price of food. After all, the United Kingdom consists of two islands. Nothing can get here except in ships, and it is the freights which have caused the prices to spring up. My right hon. Friend's speech with 885 regard to shipping was not entirely satisfactory. He has done something to amend it to-day, but I do think we ought to have a little more opportunity to consider the very important statement he has made. He told us the number of our free ships was 1,100. That is a very great number He commenced by dealing with the vessels employed permanently abroad. He told us that about 300 were so employed. I am not at all satisfied with the reasons the right hon. Gentleman gave for this number of vessels being employed abroad in this kind of emergency. If we want them here, why not bring them here? If the requirements of the Kingdom necessitate it, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should respect to such an extent the reasons put before him by the shipowners.
He said we must not be put out of the shipping business at the conclusion of the War. I do not think there is any fear of that. We shall pick up shipping business very quickly after the War. All the shipowners may require will be the profitable employment of their ships, and with the large number employed in this War, if this matter were economically managed by the Government, there need be none of these difficulties. I will admit my right hon. Friend displayed a great deal of moderation in what he said, although I do not agree with his conclusions in one or two directions. But it all depends on what he actually does. We have not heard how far he is to go with his Food Director when he gets him. I think we ought to utter a protest from the House of Commons against action being taken until we get the information which we have always been accustomed to in this House. I will not elaborate my point as to the shipping question. My right hon. Friend promised me that if I had any particular case he would inquire into it. I sent him one, but I have got no satisfaction in regard to it. It is a case where freights were raised 40s. a ton in July and August by four or five shipping companies in combination working between Liverpool and Africa. Why should that have been done in the summer? If shipowners are free to do that, surely my right hon. Friend has the power under this mighty Act, which he so readily invokes against the House of Commons, to tell them they shall not put up the freights until he sanctions it. That would be a reasonable way of dealing with the matter, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider it.
886 My second point is, that the upward movement in prices has been greatly caused by a lack of business management in the action taken by the Government. It is constantly doing extraordinary things which one can never understand. I may give one illustration of what has taken place in the last fortnight. The Government have appointed a new Committee to look after prisoners of war. Nobody in this House will object to anything being done which is necessary, but what has this Committee decided? It has ordered that instead of one parcel a fortnight being sent to each prisoner, three shall be sent with a minimum weight of 44 lbs. and a maximum of 60 lbs. Of course, no man could consume that quantity of food. A grave question arises as to whether the responsibility does not rest with Germany and her Allies for feeding the prisoners, and I do suggest that anything we send should be supplemental to and should not supplant that which ought to be done by those countries. At any rate such a vast quantity of food cannot be used by the men, and the result will be that these prison camps will be turned into shops to which we shall be sending £30,000 worth of food every fortnight more than is actually required by the prisoners. An hon. Member near me suggested that is good for Germany, but why should we do good to Germany in this emergency?
I quote this as a small example of the extravagance and want of business management and knowledge which the Government displays in any new matter it takes up from time to time. It is a great pity it should be so, when everybody is so willing to help the Government. There has been too much of panic in the House of Commons during this Debate. We are talking as if all prices had advanced. On the contrary, even in the course of this Debate, many cases have been cited in which there has been no advance in prices, apart from the increases of duty that have taken place. We have talked as if the Government and the country were in a great emergency. That is a most unfortunate attitude for us to take up. Here we have gone through two and a half years of the most extraordinary War any nation has ever had to deal with and most classes of people are better off than they were before the War started. It is wonderful how the country is going through this period. [An HON. MEMBER: "Artificial prosperity!"] The views of the hon. Gentleman are not generally entertained. I 887 do not think it is artificial. It is owing rather to the effects of our excellent institutions in this country, to the laissez faire way in which we manage things by voluntary effort rather than by State control. These are the things that have carried the country through up till now. I say these things, while, at the same time, I am prepared, if the Government can effect any improvement, to support it. But do not let us shut our eyes to the action which is being taken by the Government in many respects which has resulted only in increasing the difficulties with which the Government has attempted to deal.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) will pardon me if I leave him—distinguished Member of this House that he is—and his attacks on the shipowners while I turn my attention to the President of the Board of Trade. In the first place, I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having screwed up his courage and more particularly on having screwed up the courage of his colleagues to take the action which he has this afternoon announced. It has been long wanted, and I regret it has not been taken before. I regret, too, that he has not extended the scope of that action. While the right hon. Gentleman made a most interesting speech, which was listened to with rapt attention by this House, a speech which dealt with many important points, he will, I am sure, pardon me if I say he rather reminded me of the heathen Chinee, with his bland, child-like manner, when he rides away from the real point on to others which are of less importance. Every speaker, including the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough), has said that transport is the key to the situation, yet the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government has put that key into his pocket, so far as dealing with that aspect of the question in this Debate. The whole root question of this trouble is a shortage of food. The complaints about prices arise from shortage. The higher prices are brought about by shortage of tonnage, and all this has been developed in the very interesting Debate we have had to-day.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) had no hesitation in putting his finger upon a serious question, that of the submarines. I do not propose to give any information to the enemy, or friends of the 888 enemy, by entering into any particulars or giving the House the benefit of my knowledge in connection with submarine operations and the great loss of tonnage that has arisen therefrom. But I would like to tell my right hon. Friend that all these remedies which he is proposing are mere palliatives of the disease, and are not the cure. The disease is shortage of shipping, and when you say that you immediately raise a host of problems that all work round in a vicious circle, acting and reacting on each other, and affecting every aspect of the case. When we say shortage of shipping, we say at once shortage of men, because we have no men in the country to turn out the number of merchant ships that we require. As I have frequently pointed out, not only in Debates in this House, but in the Press, it is useless for us to be turning out merchant ships if they are to be turned out merely to be detroyed by submarines. Therefore, to deal with this question of the shortage of shipping, we have to deal with the submarine danger, and, in dealing with that, we have to get back to the question of men. There is a combination of circumstances within the vicious circle which may be described as men, munitions, and money, and the greatest of all these is men, because without men we cannot produce munitions, and without men we cannot make money with which to pay and feed our soldiers.
The right hon. Gentleman might have dealt more fully with the wasteful use of ships. There there is an immediate remedy which lies to his hand. In the course of his speech I interjected one or two remarks in the hope that he would have taken notice of them and dealt with them. He surely will exonerate me from any charge of wishing to interrupt him. I merely desired to call his attention to the points and bring them prominently to his notice. Only yesterday morning I called the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a case in which there had been a grave waste of tonnage. Of course if the right hon. Gentleman chooses to play the part of a scapegoat, and if he voluntarily takes the sins of his colleagues upon his shoulders, that is his concern, but I venture to tell him if he does so, when he is driven out into the wilderness they will not hang garlands on his horns, and, therefore, I should have thought that not only in self-interest, in the interest of self-defence, but in the interests of the nation at large, he would have put the blame in the right place.
889 There are three great Departments which create this waste of tonnage. One is the Army, the second is the Navy, and the third is the Munitions Department. Each of these rightly make demands on merchant shipping, and those demands must be complied with, because men must be transported and munitions must be carried. The men must be fed and and enough ships must be supplied to carry the munitions. I will not name the places from whence they come. But all these things must be done, and it is because there is such an enormous demand on merchant shipping that we are at the present time quite unable to satisfy those demands. One class consequently must suffer, and that class is the civilian population of this country. But that suffering may be greatly alleviated if the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to deal with his colleagues, and I therefore ask him as the protector of the people's food, and as the guardian of the civilian population of this country—I ask him, categorically and pointedly, what protest he has made to his colleagues, the heads of other Departments, against the outrageous waste of tonnage that has been going on ever since the beginning of the War? The right hon. Gentleman knows it perfectly well. I have brought it under his notice. I have never hesitated to speak of these shameful cases of waste publicly as well as to talk of them privately, as a good many Members of the House of Commons do. I have instanced in the Press as well as in this House, and in the Press quite recently, the case of one steamer that came across from the other side with munitions and with 4,300 tons of empty space in her. Surely some management would have arranged for a little less munitions to be put in and large quantities of, say, oats or other foodstuffs to be brought to this country! At present I am engaged in a dispute with one Department—and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. I have taken up a position, not of declining, because I do nothing to obstruct any Department which is making efforts to carry on the War, but I have entered my very strong protest indeed, not only to the Department in question, but to the right hon. Gentleman, against the efforts which are being made to force one of my ships to come across here with a large amount of empty space in her. That brings me in conflict with various Government Departments, and I am sorry that it should be so, because I much prefer to be on friendly terms with them, but when 890 one feels, as I do, that one owes a duty to one's country, one must risk falling out even with friends and friendly Departments.
There is another question which I want to treat very lightly, and that is the great demands of our Allies, who, not being favoured with the amount of tonnage which the British nation has, and having as great demands as ourselves, have naturally made great demands upon our Government for merchant ships, not only to supply their war operations, but their civilian needs as well. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not find fault with me if I say that we have treated our Allies generously in the matter of tonnage. In the course of his speech to-day, speaking of Australian wheat, he told us that by sending ships to Australia to bring home wheat instead of sending them across the Atlantic or to the Argentine, much longer journeys are involved. It is quite right that we should go to Australia for wheat, but when the right hon. Gentleman tells' the House that he has made arrangements for the conveyance of that wheat in British ships requisitioned at the equivalent of Blue Book rates, I want to ask him pointedly how much of that wheat carried in ships requisitioned at Blue Book rates is going to our Allies, and how much of it is coming in neutral ships chartered at the extravagant market rates of the day to this country? I hope the right hon. Gentleman, with the generosity which characterises him and with that love which we all have for our Allies, will not make the mistake of giving them all the Blue Book ships, and this country all the neutral ships. Otherwise I am afraid the price of wheat will be much higher in this country than it is at present. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with that.
I should be the last in the world to wish: to do anything to cause the slightest. friction with our Allies or to offend them in the least degree, but the right hon. Gentleman, as he is the guardian of the merchant shipping, ought to point out either to our Allies direct or through our own Departments who are concerned, the extravagant waste of shipping in connection with supplying the wants of our Allies. I instanced in the Press the case of one of my own ships—that is why I know it. It was sent across to an Allied port where already twelve ships were lying waiting to dock. My ship, for some reason or other, possibly because I am such a disagreeable person and kick up 891 such rows when there is any delay with my shipping, was given precedence over all the other twelve and sent into dock. With what result? Notwithstanding the preference and the efforts that were made to discharge her, that ship lay in that port thirty-five days before she was discharged, and when I tell the House that the port was blocked with over 100,000 tons of foodstuffs roundabout, and a small port at that, with only about 1,500 or 1,600 yards of quay space within the port, with wagons that could not get in or out, and the whole place congested, they will see that it is absolute folly and criminal folly to send ships to such ports. The right hon. Genteman can deal with that matter. Talking of the shortage of men, one thing acts upon the other, and they are all intertwined. In this Allied port German prisoners are used to discharge the steamers, and on that ship of mine 400 German military prisoners were employed discharging the ship. German officers were working them as foremen, and they were under guard by Allied soldiers, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman why he does not deal with the labour difficulties at our own ports. I have no hesitation in saying that it takes from 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. longer to discharge a ship and to load a ship in British ports—even in the great port of Liverpool—than in pre-war days. Why? The best of our men —and Liverpool has not been behindhand in its patriotism—did not require to be conscripted, but volunteered and went. Now we have got an inferior class of men so far as their working capabilities are concerned, older men, men who are not perhaps as keen on working as the young, vigorous men who joined the Army, with the result that as wages go up the amount of work performed goes down, and everything is wasted, and the time occupied is increased. The right hon. Gentleman knows this, because I have worried him a great deal personally and brought a great deal of pressure on him.
The Admiralty are largely to blame for a great deal of the congestion, because they appropriate anything they want, whether they really require to use it or not. In connection with the waste of shipping, in a home port which I will not mention, but the name of which I will give to the right hon. Gentleman, ships have been kept lying for months idle because possibly they might be wanted for military purposes. No wonder the price 892 of the food of the people is dear, and it will continue to be dearer still if this sort of thing goes on. I want to know, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman specifically, has he protested to the Admiralty against the wasteful use of ships? Has he done so in writing? Can he produce his memoranda? Has he protested to the Ministry of Munitions against the unreasonable demands for ships, ships of great measurement capacity, commandeered in a home port, sent away thousands of miles to bring home a deadweight cargo which might have been brought home by a tramp steamer on the spot or near the spot. These are instances of wasteful use of tonnage, when every ton of shipping is of vital importance to the people. The whole expedient of the Government at present with regard to tonnage reminds me of Paddy's expedient with his sheet. He cut a piece off the bottom and sewed it on the top to make it longer, and that is what the Government control amounts to. We are told in grandiloquent terms that we have got command of the sea. I wish that were literally true. We know this, that our ships are sunk even at our doors, and they are sunk on trade routes far away, and I want to know why more active measures have not been taken in dealing with this question.
We want a little more of the Nelsonian touch in dealing with the enemy. I want to remind the House that a hundred years ago the seas were infested with pirates, and our then Governments did not exchange Notes with the pirates or the pirate King to ask whether they would modify their operations. We were not horrified and frightened into letting the pirates do what they liked because of reprisals We dealt with piracy in those days and stamped it out. It is in the recollection of the House, I am sure, and even now there is a place not very far from here which is known as Execution Dock, which was specially reserved for pirates when they were captured. The present Hun is no worse than the pirates of olden days, who took very drastic measures with the British men-of-war that they should not ascertain any information as to their whereabouts, because, believing in the old proverb that "dead men tell no tales," they took very good care that whenever they captured a ship everyone on board walked the plank and the ship was sunk after her valuables were removed; and therefore I want something of the same measures at the 893 present time. We do not want to have any doubts, philosophic 6r otherwise, as to how we shall deal with this danger, and in this connection I should like to say that I regret that a great British seaman, namely Lord Fisher, is on the shelf. I have never spoken to Lord Fisher in my life. I do not know him, but I know that he is a sailor of the Nelson school, and these are the men we want, and the very men who are being held up to us now for our admiration, namely, Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty, are pupils of Lord Fisher.
I would like now to call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the action of the Censor, which is interrupting and delaying business. I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, because I called hit attention to it in connection with a refrigerated steamer bringing meat home, that the Censor held up a cable announcing the arrival of the ship for five days, and notwithstanding the fact that I had taken the precaution of not using the steamer's name, which I never do, but using the captain's name or a code word to indicate it, the Censor being fully advised of the meaning of the code word, and that was held up for five days. In that connection, how is a shipowner to carry on business without a great loss of time if the Censor is to play such fool tricks? For instance, a steamer in, we will say Calais, writes to the owner. His letters are censored, and he is not allowed to send them to the owner, who can get no information; and as for documents, this is the sort of document that a shipowner gets that has passed through the hands of the Censor. It is very useful to him with all the useful information cut out (exhibiting a document which had apparently been considerably excised). We are told that secrecy is absolutely necessary. The Admiralty have impressed upon owners that in no circumstances are they to allow anyone to know that a particular ship is in Government employment, and all your bills of lading must be commerce bills of lading, and you must not allow anybody to know. I have here a letter from a captain of mine, from which I will read one sentence:I must not acquaint my owners of my steamer's movements and still, as the enclosed cutting from a daily paper here shows, it is publicly known.The cutting from the paper is as follows:News of the water front—An exceptionally heavy movement of horses and mules from this port is anticipated during the present week, beginning with to-day, when the British steamer 'Baron Polwarth' gets away. A British steamer, 'North Point,' is scheduled to leave to-morrow, and the British steamer 894 'Hydaspes,' the latest arrival, Saturday. One of the cattle boats which is at present in port is expected to get away between the sailing of the 'North Point' and the 'Hydaspes.' In all, the movement will aggregate in the neighbourhood of 4,000 head. Right now the trade is feeling the effects of labour shortage, the demand for muleteers eclipsing the supply. It is claimed that the restrictions imposed on the men, who in many cases have not been allowed to land when reaching the other side, has robbed the trip of some of the novelty.8.0 P.M.
There is the action of the Censor! Another thing I should like to mention, another question of the censorship, is this: I was asked by a leading London newspaper eight months ago to give in an article my views upon the submarine danger. I did so. It was submitted to the Censor, who struck out the whole of the article, which was not allowed to appear. I understand that it was on the instruction of the Admiralty that the Censor took the action he took. I afterwards submitted the article to the Attorney General, and asked him if there was anything objectionable in it, or was there any reason why it should not he printed? My right hon. Friend opposite has seen and read the article, and takes no exception to it. Was there, I ask my right hon. Friend, one word in it to which exception could be taken?
§ Mr. HOUSTON
This was again the censorship! A blue pencil was struck right through, and not one word of the article allowed to appear. I do not want even to read extracts from it, although it is full of valuable information dealing with the very points which have been raised to-day in debate. But I should like to say here, without claiming to be a prophet, that what I indicated eight months ago as to what would take place out on our trade routes has come to pass. I dealt with the submarine danger, and I pointed out what I thought would happen. There was the censorship! There was Government Departments, not that of the right hon. Gentleman, but other Government Departments, who repudiated any suggestions from an individual outside their own Department. There are many other points with which I should like to deal. I am very glad, indeed, that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the suggestions mentioned in my questions to-day, and which by a stroke of the pen were immediately struck out. I am sorry that the Food Committee have not issued their Report. I know that I spent an hour and a half before them giving evidence, and one of 895 the prominent members of that Committee held up his hands in horror at what I suggested, and said: "that is revolution." The "revolution" was simply my suggestions of reform. The tight hon. Gentleman has adopted one of two of them. Revolution! I hope revolution of this nature will go on. We need it badly. I do want to emphasise the remarks by some of the previous speakers that there is a great danger of inducing the people of this country into the belief that their food is being raised in price by the action of profiteers. That is a most dangerous doctrine. I believe the people of this country are sufficiently patriotic that if they were told the difficulties in connection with the food supply and the real reasons why the price of food is high they would listen to it. I know there are people who will jeer at what I say, as they have jeered elsewhere. But the whole question depends, not as one hon. Gentleman put it, upon supply and demand, but, as I prefer it, on demand and supply. When the supply is short of the demand there is an increase of prices, and everything must go up. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this.
There is one thing I wish to express in this connection, and that is in respect of the policy of secrecy. The suppression of news and information by the Government is dangerous to this country. If you go on in the course you are pursuing and keep information back from the people, then one day they will find out, without knowing the real facts of the case, the position in which they are placed on the food question: then you will produce a crisis which may affect the successful prosecution of the War. Therefore, I do press upon the right hon. Gentleman, who is always receptive to suggestions— whether or not he uses them he will listen to them; he is the one individual and the one representative in the great Government Departments I have yet come across who listened to suggestions, though I do not say he always accepts them. I put this suggestion to him: to beg of the Prime Minister and all his colleagues to tear aside and rend this veil of secrecy in which everything is being wrapped up from the people of this country and let them know; not, as if they were children, keep the knowledge from them of the dangers of the situation. Tell them the truth, and I believe the people of this country 896 will rise to the occasion. If they have to go on half commons, or, if necessary, on quarter commons, for the sake of beating, the Germans, they will do it. It is, however, a most dangerous policy that has been pursued by the Government. The policy of the mole and the ostrich, which latter thinks that by hiding its head no-body can see its body. I say to the right hon. Gentleman — and I use the strongest expression that I can use in this House—"For Heaven's sake let us treat the people not as though they were children, but as grown-up people! The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington has fled, otherwise I should have liked to deal with him. He has made an ill-informed and ill-advised attack upon the shipowners. When he comes to speak of economic questions he is a babe. He does not know what he is speaking about; nor does he when he is speaking about shipping. He put questions to my right hon. Friend as to the causes of high prices and as to why the freights had gone up in the Italian trade. There are hundreds of reasons why feights have gone up. But the right hon. Gentleman would be surprised to learn that with freights in the hands of the Government they have practically not gone up in the Italian trade. I hope and trust that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is always most courteous to me-I hitherto called him the right hon. Gentleman, but now I should like to call him my right hon. Friend, for he is always receptive to any suggestions I have made—will really adopt the suggestions that deal with the wasteful use of tonnage, which is the principal factor in the rise of prices.
§ Mr. WILES
The lucid and interesting speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be received in the country with the same satisfaction with which I feel it has been received in the House this afternoon. He has put very clearly what are our requirements. He has not, so far as we know, veiled them in any way. He has told the House many things which the House wanted to know. The first thing he dealt with, or one of the first, was the question of transport. It is a great satisfaction to us, and it will be a great satisfaction, not only to the country, but to the commercial community generally, to know what is the position of the merchant shipping being built at the present time. I 897 do not think we have had the figures before. The losses are very alarming, but when the loss is compared with what the shipbuilding yards are turning out in the year and what is being done, I feel it will be a great assurance to the country generally. The hon. Member for Oxford University dealt with the delays which are taking place in the docks, and my right hon. Friend who has just sat down has spoken also on the point, for he knows full well the delays which have been caused to shipping. Everybody does not know the difficulties which captains of ships and shipowners have in getting their turn. We know also there is great difficulty in the dock authorities arranging for vessels to discharge. Nevertheless, I cannot help thinking, when we have heard that we are going to have a food controller, or is it a food dictator?
§ Mr. WILES
Controller. The dictator is in Germany. I cannot help thinking that we ought to have had some time ago a shipping or transport controller who could have made better arrangements to deal with matters immediately. If any shipping information is wanted you are sent first to one Committee and then to another. After you have been to all the Committees you find some other arrangement has been set up to deal with the question, information of which you want to obtain. I therefore suggest to my right hon. Friend, when he is now setting up controllers, that he might also consider the desirability of setting up a controller of shipping who shall not only arrange where vessels shall go to, but who shall also have some control over all the docks in this country. I know it is difficult for him to deal with Allied ports, but I feel sure that if one man could control the whole of the ports of this country, having absolute power so that he might order his instructions to be carried out, that the shipping, which is unfortunately getting daily so much smaller, could be used to the best advantage.
Reference was made by my right hon. Friend to the Royal Commission on wheat supplies. It is hardly fair at the present to criticise the action of that body, because it has had so little time to work. Its members commenced at an unfortunate time, and I do not think, therefore, that the House is justified in criticising the action of the Wheat Commission 898 until it has been working for a longer time. I would, however, like to say this in connection with the Wheat Commission, that I think that it is unfortunate that we have not yet brought the wheat of this country under their purview. There is the case of the British farmer. The hon. Member for Oxford spoke about him—and he knows much about him—in a way that suggested to me rather making excuses for him. It would be a good thing if the Royal Commission would in some way deal with English wheat. That would be a satisfaction, I think, to the farmer. He would know what price he was going to get for his wheat, and it would be an inducement to him to make even greater efforts to sow a larger area for next year. I think also that the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture should weigh very carefully the actions of farmers at the present time. We have heard a great deal about things being "held up." I have not come across very much of that myself, but I did the other day come across an instance in connection with which I put a question to the Board of Agriculture. It related to a large farmer in Lincolnshire, near to Peterborough, by the side of the Great Northern Railway, who, a fortnight ago, had not harvested his wheat. I did not get very satisfactory replies to my questioning. I was persistent, however, in my questions, because I found that this farmer had not got in his wheat, which was unfortunately on the side of the main line of the Great Northern Railway. He said that he would not pay any higher wages for getting in the wheat than he had ever paid. That is a case where the Government ought to come in and insist on immediate harvesting, giving no time to a man of this kind to allow his wheat, the food of the country, to remain out and get damaged. I do hope that the President or his Royal Commission will consider what shall be done with English wheat. I feel sure there will be great satisfaction, not only in the community but on the part of the farmer himself, in such an announcement.
I want to say a word or two in regard to the proposal to lengthen flour. Lengthening flour I believe, means that out of 100 units of wheat the miller shall be allowed to take eighty units of flour instead of seventy-two, which has been the average in the past. I heartily agree that it is a wise course to take, but may I point out to my right hon. Friend some of the practical difficulties which have been put before 899 me by millers who have been discussing it for the last few weeks? The first one which was put before me is the position of the baker, who gets a very small profit on the bread—hardly sufficient to make his shop pay—but makes his profit on what are called small articles, and it will be necessary for him to have not only the flour with the 8 per cent. of offal in it, but, unless the country is to give up having confectionery at all, arrangements will have to be made for the baker to get a certain proportion of the white flour. Then, I have no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman has considered the position of the big biscuit manufacturers. It is one of the largest and most important industries in this country, and the exports of biscuits, I believe, are also very important. I do hope that he will make arrangements so that the biscuit makers shall get their proper supply of white flour. Then there is another trade which has put its case before me, and that is the business of self-raising flout. I was astonished when I heard to-day from a very large miller that the annual consumption in this country of what is called self-raising flour is 32,000 sacks of 280 pounds each week. That is a very important item. That self-raising flour is used, I believe, for domestic purposes, for making puddings, and so on; and I can assure my right hon. Friend, on the best authority, this new flour with the 8 per cent. of offal allowed to remain in it will be of no use for making these articles.
Another case put before me is that of the small country miller. There are a great many small country millers who make perhaps 400 or 500 sacks of flour from English wheat, and buy Canadian flour which they mix with the English milled flour and make a blended flour ready for the baker. Therefore, the small country miller can sell twice the quantity of flour he really manufactures. It will be rather a hard case for him, because he will only be able to make 500 or 600 sacks of 80 per cent. flour, whereas before he made that quantity and, in addition, bought 500 or 600 sacks a week to mix with it. Therefore, I hope, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to reply later on—and I am sure the House would be glad if he had the opportunity—that will be one of the matters he will consider. There is a further question. At the present time, out of a sack of 280 lbs. of 72 per cent. flour, I believe, the town baker expects to get ninety-two quartern loaves. I am told if the flour is 900 lengthened to 80 per cent., the baker will only get eighty-six loaves out of that same quantity of flour. That is a very important matter, because if the baker is only going to get eighty-six loaves instead of ninety-two, I think my right hon. Friend will find that it is hardly worth making the alteration unless it can be met in some way. If he is going to alter this system of milling, it has been suggested by many of the millers themselves that it would be better to do it gradually. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend proposes to order the millers to jump from 72 to 80 per cent.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
As far as we have gone at present, in arrangement with the Wheat Commission, the Local Government Board have produced a draft Regulation which will provide for the change coming into operation somewhat gradually.
§ Mr. WILES
I am sure that is very satisfactory, because it has been pointed out that there are certain parts of the country—notably, I believe, South Wales—where the people all eat very white bread. They are particularly keen on it. I believe the minors of South Wales eat a great deal of white bread, and will have no other; so that the country has got to get used to this very gradually. As my right hon. Friend knows, the housewives of Yorkshire want very white bread, and they have to get used to the milling of this new kind of flour. I do hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, in consultation with the Local Government Board, will see that these Regulations are drafted in a practical form, and, if I may suggest it, I think they ought to come into operation very gradually. If you were to alter it one or two points per month from 72 per cent. until you get up to eighty, which, I think it is agreed is the highest to which you can go, I think then the public would not object to it so much. If the right hon. Gentleman suddenly goes to a different kind of bread on the 1st of December, or whenever it comes into force, I think there will be a great deal of objection, but if done gradually I think that may be got over.
There is one other point I want to put with reference to this new milling. If the right hon. Gentleman takes 8 per cent. more of the wheat, and makes it into flour, there will naturally be 8 per cent less of byproduct to be used for cattle feeding, and for horses and other animals that have 901 been fed on the offal before. I am informed that the 8 per cent. which he proposes to take from the offal means something like 400,000 tons a year. That will leave 400,000 tons of offal less for feeding cattle in the country. I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend opposite also grasps that point, and is evidently going to say something soon on the matter. Now that offal at the present time is very valuable in the country.
§ Mr. WILES
It is far too valuable, and if my right hon. Friend is going to fix the price of food which will no doubt be consistent with fixing the price of wheat, then no doubt he will fix the price of bread. When he has fixed these, he must also fix the by-products of the wheat at a price which will be in harmony with the price at which he fixes the flour. That loss of offal to the farming community is a very serious matter. I believe I am right in saying that there are more cattle in the country at the present time than there were last year or the year before but far less pigs. That is satisfactory, because cattle are more necessary than even the domestic pig. I know also that we have more sheep. All these animals have to be fed with offal, but this 80 per cent. flour would take away the finest of the offal that is used for feeding calves and young animals, and that very valuable food will be lost. If we lose 400,000 tons of offal it will tend to make other foods dearer, and you will have to find other articles to take its place. The only other article to take its place is maize, and that will mean that more tonnage will be required. Although the right hon. Gentleman is going to save tonnage in wheat, he must find tonnage to bring the maize which will be necessary to take the place of the offal.
I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will tell us what arrangements will be made for the shipping of maize. It would be foolish to take away the food from the cattle, which is the meat of the people, if he is not going to make some arrangement to bring maize at a rasonable rate of freight. It will be ridiculous to see wheat kept at a fixed price and maize going up to a higher price. I hope we shall be told what it is proposed to do in regard to this matter. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman will find that millers generally are quite ready to co-operate and do their best to 902 carry out this new system. I trust it will be made easy for them, and that there will not be a large number of unnecessary regulations and restrictions drawn up too quickly. The troubles of the Wheat Commission have been that everything was arranged and their work was given them much too quickly. I hope the putting into force of this new arrangement will be delayed a week or two, and that it will not be done too suddenly.
I listened with very great interest to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who made the most striking speech that has been made in this House and the most epoch-making speech since the introduction of the Military Service Bill. I think the effect of that speech and the policy put before us will strike terror into the German nation to a far greater extent than any policy that has yet been put forward by the Government, with the single exception of the Military Service Acts. A number of suggestions have been made calculated to give us a greater sense of proportion as a nation, a greater realisation that we are in the middle of a serious war, and calculated to inspire us with the hope that that war will be thereby brought to a successful conclusion. The first suggestion was an additional shipbuilding programme of merchant shipping; the second was the appointment of a food controller who shall be something of a dictator; and, lastly, the promulgation of Orders for the control and regulation of waste, the manufacture of foods, and their consumption and distribution. Before I deal with some of these matters I should like to refer to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Wiles), in which we were told that some Lincolnshire farmer has not yet harvested his wheat. The hon. Member further said that he had drawn attention to this fact in the House of Commons, and that the reason given by the farmer for not harvesting his wheat was that he was not going to pay the price which is now demanded by agricultural labour. All I can say in regard to that farmer is that he must be a lunatic, bearing in mind the present price of wheat, because any farmer, whatever the cost of labour, would be only too glad to put it on the market at present prices.
The same hon. Member also uttered a word of warning about the application of this new policy to various kinds of flour, including self-raising flour, which he told 903 us was used for fancy cakes and puddings. All I can say is that we are at war and we have to have some due sense of proportion. I think the time has come when fancy bread and fancy cakes and puddings can be put aside altogether, and we should so ration ourselves in the best interests of every section of the community, and particularly the poorer classes, that there will be every inducement for all concerned to promote the prosecution of this War to a successful issue without the development of that war weariness which will otherwise come about. The hon. Member also reminded us that milling offals were very largely used for the feeding of farm animals. He particularised cattle and horses. He is certainly quite right about cattle, and I think the recent very high price of milling offals which roughly speaking, has been double the pre-war price, has been one of the main causes why milk is sold, or attempts are being made to sell it, at very high prices, beyond the reach, unfortunately, of the poorer children in our towns. The same applies still more to pigs. The pig population, which has been the very backbone of the livestock industry of Germany, has, unfortunately, decreased at an alarming rate in this country during the last twelve months owing to the fact that milling offals have not been obtainable at a sufficiently reasonable price to encourage the smaller man, who depends upon bought feeding stuffs and upon purchasing those raw materials at such a price that he can reasonably expect to make a profit out of his pigs.
I should like to ask whose fault is it that milling offals have been standing at the very high prices they have been standing at during the last few months. It cannot be due to the alleged export of these milling offals. I know that during the first twelve months of the War there was a large export of these offals to Denmark, and this was used for the feeding of pigs, which were largely consumed in Germany. There has been, however, an embargo put upon that export for some months past, and the consequence is that it has rested entirely with the millers of this country as to what price should be charged to the owners of live stock for these offals. But the millers cannot have it both ways, and if they are getting a good profit on flour there does not seem any adequate reason why they should get an exorbitant profit upon all the products of the process of 904 milling. I wish the hon. Gentleman had remained, because I should have liked to have suggested to him that the policy of the Government need not necessarily increase the cost of milling offals for the purpose of feeding farm animals at all if only the millers will be prepared to take a reasonable profit out of the manufacture of flour, and make the cost of milling offals as easy as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Prothero), who delivered such an interesting speech this afternoon, made one observation with regard to the price of milk upon which I should like to comment. He suggested in the case of what he called pasture farmers that the Board of Trade should go carefully in [...]ixing a maximum price for their milk. I should like to remind the House that farmers under normal circumstances, and particularly pasture farmers, do not always look to a profit upon their winter milk, and they do not always get it, but a sensible farmer will take an average of profit over summer and winter taken together, and on that basis he is able to get a very fair profit, whether in normal times or under war conditions. I would suggest to the farmers, as they have made, as I believe, a very fair profit upon their summer milk, that they must average the profit in estimating what they desire to get for their winter milk, and not necessarily put figures before the Board of Trade which would involve a certain profit under all circumstances upon their winter milk taken by itself. With regard to the many interesting proposals which the President of the Board of Trade has adumbrated this afternoon, there is none which has appealed more forcibly to me than the proposal that 70 per cent. flour shall no longer be possible in the manufacture of bread. He modestly suggested that it would result in an increased yield of 8½ per cent. I suppose he meant that about 8½ per cent. additional bread would be available.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Pretyman)
He meant that there would be 8½ per cent. more flour from wheat.
Yes, it comes to much the same thing: 8½ per cent. more flour available from the wheat for the purpose of making bread. Personally, I should like to have seen this policy a little more drastic than he seems likely to make it. I should like to have seen such a policy adopted as is current 905 in France at the present time. I would suggest that bread should have all the grain left in it, except the bran and coarsest pollard. This would save not 8½ per cent., but from 20 per cent. to 25 per cent., and, as in France, it could be quite easily administered. I welcome this proposal further because we shall re-establish in this country genuine bread. That bread which, under war conditions, it is now proposed to put upon the market is only that which we all called bread some forty or fifty years ago. That which we now eat, the anæmic lump of baked starch, which now falsely goes by the name of bread, is not bread at all, and is certainly not what nature intended us to eat as a more or less complete food. There is no doubt that the dentists will not welcome this new policy, but I fancy the children of the future generation will have reason to thank the right hon. Gentleman for inaugurating a policy which will save the teeth of the nation to a greater extent than any other policy that could possibly have been put before the country. I do not quite understand why logically this policy has not been carried beyond bread. Exactly the same applies to potatoes, and exactly the same applies to rice. If it is desirable to retain certain sections of the wheat in order to economise the starchy food in bread, why not similarly insist upon retaining the peel of the potato beneath which the most nutritious part of the tuber is to be found. It is done in Germany. Every single potato that is consumed in Germany to-day is eaten in its jacket, for the best possible reason that, being a scientific nation, they realise that their potatoes will go infinitely further than they would if they were peeled, as they are in this country. That applies even with greater force to rice. We in this country eat an attractive-looking article which looks more or less like diamonds in the bag or sack when uncooked, but it goes through the process of being polished. Why we should eat polished rice I have never been able to understand, but I do know that in the process of polishing the most nutritive part of the rice grain is removed.
I really forget. I believe with something in the nature of emery, but I will not be sure how it is polished, and I will not commit myself. It is polished, however, and in the process of polishing the most nutritive part of the 906 grain is removed. I understand in the case of unpolished rice that you not only get a far more attractive article of food—I generally have it on my own table—but also one which is infinitely more digestible and which is very much better for consumption by children than the polished rice which is commonly sold upon our markets. I was very glad to hear that some steps are going to be taken to prevent seed potatoes or what should be seed potatoes being sold for ordinary market consumption. At the present time, as perhaps the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a tendency to riddle potatoes in a totally different manner from that in which they were riddled before they reached the high prices which have recently been current. Whereas the merchants were in the habit of rejecting very properly for the purposes of seed, all potatoes that will not pass through a one and a-half-inch riddle—
It is one and a-half or one and five-eighths. It varies in different parts of the country. It has lately been reduced in certain districts to one and a quarter. I want to ask the Board of Trade to take steps to prevent this unusual course especially bearing in mind the fact that seed potatoes under any circumstances are likely to be at a high premium in the course of the next spring and may possibly, as I believe happened last year, pass into the hands of a ring of potato speculators who operate not only in Lincolnshire potatoes but in potatoes derived from Scotland, Ireland, and other parts of the Kingdom. I have reason to beleve that such a ring was in fact formed last year which raised the price of seed potatoes to omething like £15 per ton. With this now not uncommon process of reducing the mesh of the riddle there will be a danger of those seed potatos mounting to a very much higher price in the course of next spring, and this will naturally deter a good many poorer persons from raising potatoes as a farm or garden crop. I very much regret the absence of the War Minister from our Debate this afternoon, because the gravamen of any charge that I have to make on the subject of agricultural labour must necessarily be directed against the War Office. I am bound to say I must entirely endorse the criticism which I think was made by the hon. Member for Hereford, when he 907 said that there appeared to be a marked discrepancy in the policy relating to food production and agricultural labour between the various Departments of the State over whom the solution of this problem was spread. In nothing is this more marked, I think, than in the attitude of the tribunals, in face of the protest of the Board of Agriculture, inspired in their new policy and their policy generally, but particularly their new policy, by the military representatives of the War Office. We are told this afternoon that the Army Council have lately issued a new Instruction to the tribunals in the matter of ensuring, if possible, the retention of absolutely indispensable skilled workers upon the farms. So far so good. The former Instructions were not only vague, to the effect that all ordinary farm labourers of military age should no longer be exempted after the 31st of December, and that all dairymen should no longer be exempted after the 31st of March, but in assuming that the military authorities would find substitutes to take their place. That was an unsatisfactory announcement, and I am not sure that it has been modified to any extent by the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon. As regards highly skilled agricultural labour, this applies mainly to wagoners or carters, and shepherds. They are quite irreplaceable; you cannot find substitutes in the country to replace these men. That applies to a somewhat less extent to people like stockmen and dairymen and cowmen. It is, at any rate to some extent, possible to replace them by properly trained women, and also by boys, assuming that they have been brought up to this sort of work from an early age. But as regards these wagoners and shepherds who are irreplaceable, the War Office may as well face the fact that they are not going to be able to find any substitutes, or that, if they did find them, they are not going to be competent, and production is bound to suffer in consequence. As regards the finding of substitutes, we have been told in answer to a question this afternoon by the representative of the War Office that the substitute, having been allocated to a farmer, will be at perfect liberty to leave his employment at any time he likes and go to any other employment, agricultural or otherwise.
I understood him to say, in reply to a supplementary question from the Labour Benches, that the man would not be deterred from seeking other employment in the same area.
For my purpose that is quite enough. How are you going to carry on effective substitution if a man can pass from one agricultural employer to another at his own sweet will, without any control on the part of the military authority? If he is allocated to a particular individual in order to take the place of a permanent employé possessing certain qualifications, how can it be fair to allow that man to pass on to another employer, without at once finding a substitute, if such can be found? I suggest in all these cases that the substitute, if he ceases to be employed by any particular agricultural employer, should revert to military control, and be reallocated to fresh employment, after taking care that the employer whom he left has been properly provided for with another substitute, and not left with one worker short of his necessary complement of labour. Another thing I should like to ask is that in every case where a substitute is found be should be allowed to work on the farm for at least a month with the man whom he is about to replace, because it is most necessary that a substitute should have the opportunity of learning from the regular hand what the actual farm work is which it is intended he should undertake. If you let the man go into military service, and after he is gone supply a substitute, it is going to be a long time before that substitute settles down in most cases to the work on the farm. And that is not in the best interests of food production. I was rather sorry to hear that the new system was going to retain what is called the Board of Agriculture scale of labour. Let me indicate how that scale works out. A man can be exempted at present if he is proved to be in charge of a flock of 200 ewes, and a man who is in charge of twenty milch cattle can be similarly exempted, but a man who happens to be in charge of 190 ewes, and, we will say, at the same time ten milch cattle, cannot under that scale obtain any exemption at all. When you come to think of it, that operates most unfairly in the case of the small farmers —that is, the men who have one farm worker to do a variety of work, to attend, 909 it may be, to a certain limited number of sheep, and a certain number of milch cattle, and possibly a certain number of fatting stock. A man of that kind under this scale system has no right to be exempted as being indispensable to his employer. You cannot work this thing by a sort of rule-of-thumb method of calculation as to the number of stock of a particular kind that it is the man's business to attend to. I see in my part of the country a considerable number of small farms, and I find a considerable number of obviously indispensable men being sent to do military duty simply because they do not correspond to the classes prescribed in the Board of Agriculture scale.
The right hon. Gentleman said something ought to be done to bring back to the farms those who to the detriment of food production had been taken away in the past to do military duty, but he did not tell us that it was part of the new policy to carry that out. I sincerely hope that it was something more than a pious hope, and that to some extent it represented the intentions of the War Office. I was glad to hear that some effort is going to be made to increase the output of essential agricultural machinery. In many parts of the country it is difficult to obtain the necessary machinery and implements at the present time, and it is also extremely difficult in some districts to get the existing machinery on the farms repaired when it breaks down, because so many blacksmiths and wheelwrights have been taken from the villages, when their value is far greater in the villages in which they used to work repairing the various farm machinery, implements and wagons which constituted their normal pre-war work. The same applies particularly to threshing machines. There is a considerable amount of wheat growing green in the stack to-day simply because threshing machines, with their engines and enginemen, cannot be obtained. If there is going to be some mobilisation and organisation of agricultural machinery and implements, I venture to hope that special attention will be given to the threshing machines and the engines which operate them.
As regards the appeal tribunals, in my humble opinion they have ceased to exercise any judicial powers. When those tribunals were set up, one assumed that they would consider every case on its merits according to the evidence brought 910 before them and decide accordingly. That may have been so once, but it is certainly not so to-day as regards the Appeal Tribunals. In most parts of the country, certainly in agricultural districts, the Appeal Tribunals are operating entirely under the threat of the military representatives, inspired by the new policy of the War Office. That is not a tribunal. It has ceased to be a tribunal. There is no object in having a tribunal if it is not going to exercise the duties of a judicial body, but is going to act simply in accordance with the mandate of a Government Department. As regards this substituted labour, I should like to see it not left either to the military representative or to the Appeal Tribunal. I should like to see the duty of deciding the fitness of the substitutes to carry on the farm work allotted to them without any danger of loss of production placed in the hands of an official appointed by the county agricultural war committees. These county agricultural war committees were set up for the definite purpose of seeing that the war requirements of agriculture were forthcoming in their own localities. These committees must know a great deal better than either the local military authorities or the War Office what are the requirements of the industry in their area. I suggest that they are the persons, above all others, who can best say whether the substitutes proposed are able and sufficient for the duties to be allocated to them.
There is going to be a census of agricultural labour. I hope that that census will be completed as soon as possible. I am told that committees are to he formed in each command in order to endorse census forms as to the sufficiency of labour shown in the census returns. I believe the instructions have gone to the commands to the effect that these committees are to be guided by local knowledge together with a scale of labour drawn up by the Board of Agriculture. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Trade if he can appeal to the War Office to get these instructions, which have just been issued to the general officers commanding-in-chief in the various commands, modified by cutting out the reference to the scale of labour promulgated by the Board of Agriculture. These committees, if they are properly constituted— and great pains have been taken by the various general officers commanding-in- 911 chief to constitute them fairly—will be perfectly well equipped to decide, without any reference to the scale of labour, what is the necessary man equipment for every farm in their area, and will do their work very much better if they are not hampered by Departmental Regulations. I suggest that these committees should have ample power and authority to use their discretion in the best interests of the agricultural industry without detriment to the man-power required by the Army.
I desire to make a short reference to certain ways in which the shipping tonnage of this country can be economised for essential national requirements. I entirely endorse the suggestion made from the other side of the House that far too much shipping is taken up with barley being brought across the seas for conversion into intoxicating liquor of one sort or another. The amount permitted by our Government for brewing purposes is far in excess of what Germany permits, or of what, indeed, most other belligerent countries allow. If in Germany for the same manufactures 50 per cent. only of their normal requirements is allowed, surely it is high time that we also should raise our 30 per cent. limit to 50 per cent., if not higher. Bearing in mind to what extent we are dependent, unlike Germany, upon Overseas grain for the feeding of our population, we should, at any rate, bring up this limit to 50 per cent. in this country. The same applies to maize, which is very largely imported into this country for the manufacture of sweets. If, as I understand, sweets are one of the commodities upon which some restriction is to be placed by the new Orders, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to keep an eye upon the large amount of maize which is required, not merely as an animal fod, but also very largely for the production of one of the necessary ingredients in a very valuable explosive, in order that maize imports should be earmarked for these essential national requirements and not be permitted to go into sweet manufacture as they do so largely to-day. As regards milk, in my own county of Gloucester during the last few weeks a large amount of milk which formerly used to pass into the local villages to be sold for the benefit of the local inhabitants has been, through certain travelling agents, diverted to the chocolate trade. We used to get on very well in the old days with chocolate which contained no milk, 912 and I suggest that, considering how enormously important it is to keep the price of milk as low as possible, and have the supply as large as possible, milk should no longer be allowed to be taken at? higher prices than the local purveyor can give for the purpose of the manufacture of chocolate. There is another purpose to which milk is being put in my county. It is being turned into collars, pen-holders, handles for cutlery, and all sorts of miscellaneous articles, in which it replaces either ivory or bone on the one hand or celluloid on the other. That is a purpose to which that valuable and essential commodity is being applied, which in war time ought not to be permitted, and there are other uses of milk which it would be very difficult to defend, certainly in Germany, which I might represent to the Board of Trade, but with which I do not propose to weary the House.
Another thing I want to mention is the way in which the Government has, I think, unhappily, been dealing in wheat upon the London Wheat Market. The price of wheat has risen during the last few weeks, as a direct result of the Government's operations, by at least eight shillings in the course of a fortnight. Either the Government ought to leave the Wheat Market absolutely alone or else it ought to buy up the whole supply. If it does anything short of that it is at the mercy of the market, and as its operations are always known beforehand, its buying is bound to send up the price to the consumer. It is always known in Mark Lane and on the Baltic when the Government mean to buy. On 18th September the price of wheat in the City was 72s. per quarter. On 9th October it had risen to 78s. per quarter, and it was known on that day that the Government intended to purchase wheat in large quantities at that day's price. It did not, in fact, do so. It came into the market somewhat later, and as the result, by 20th October, when the Government had become a large purchaser, the price of wheat had risen to no less than 86s. You cannot prevent the prospective buying by the Government being known on the wheat market to the other operators, and if that is so, you cannot prevent speculation as the direct result of the Government's operations in wheat. I think it would be much better for the public generally if the Government had kept out of the wheat market altogether, but having once touched it the only possible position is for them to buy 913 the whole of the wheat on the market and thereby have some effective control over its current price.
There is another thing that is going on. The Government only permits the sale of wheat at no more than 3,000 quarters on any one day to any individual. But there is nothing whatever to prevent the same individual coming the next day, and, in fact, on successive days, and buying 3,000 quarters. The result is that in the course of a week a single buyer may buy enormous quantities, which this rather ridiculous Regulation will not prevent his doing. As an indication how very difficult it is for the Government to deal effectively with wheat coming from abroad, may I remind the House of what happened in regard to that Indian wheat about which we heard so much in the spring of 1915. We were told there were 2,000,000 tons of wheat available from India, all of which the Government was in negotiation with the producers to purchase. Out of that 2,000,000 tons the Government only got, I think, 500,000, and the reason was that the Indian natives buried all the rest. There is holding-up if you like. I do not know how you are going to prevent it. There is, in consequence, no great inducement to the natives to grow the largely extended area which they ought to be growing this year. That is one result of an attempt on the part of the Government to deal largely in wheat coming from another country. I can say on very good authority that what has actually happened during the last few weeks in the City is that the Government, by bulling wheat, has raised its price by 15s. a quarter in the course of three weeks.
Maize and rice are now being used in the manufacture of a very important ingredient of a very important explosive, and to show how very little system there is in the method of Government purchase, whereas the War Office is buying through the business houses in the City, the Admiralty is buying, on the other hand, in the open market, these particular commodities of maize and rice. Everyone on the market knows when the Admiralty intends to buy, and the price goes up in consequence. Maize is now standing at about 67s. a quarter, whereas three weeks ago it stood at only 53s. Rice, the normal price of which is £8 per ton, is now £20, having risen about £l in the same period. That shows an extraordinary lack of business capacity and of co-operation on the part of Government purchasers in different Departments. Why cannot they 914 put their heads together, the heads of these important Departments who are buyers of this grain on the London market, and decide what they mean to have? I should like to see them buy the whole lot, but do not let them bid against each other and against the ordinary purchasers, with the result that the price is considerably raised.
The only other thing I want to mention, is this: Cannot some control be put upon manufacturers of the various cattle cakes, in order to avoid the price going to the very extreme limit which it has now reached? Cotton seed oil, linseed oil, palm nut fat, and other similar products show a quite magnificent profit under present conditions. What the farmers of this country want for their stock is merely a by-product of the extraction of these oils or fats. That being so, surely this byproduct ought to be obtainable at a reasonable price. Surely they ought not to be allowed to have it both ways. If they are making a big profit out of the fat or oil, they ought to be content to take a moderate profit out of this by-product, which is of such enormous importance in the fattening of stock and in the production of milk on the farms. I would like to urge upon the Board of Trade that this is a matter deserving their earnest and immediate attention. I hope that the Controller of Food is going to be a veritable dictator. I should like to see him put in exactly the same position as regards food that the Commander of the Forces in the Field is put as regards military operations. Let him take advice, if you like, from various Government Departments, or from Committees, but give him absolute power to act, if necessary without mercy, and to act promptly. I hope, too, that he will have some know-ledge of agricultural practice and agricultural business.
You will never solve this food problem during the War if you are going to appoint a Controller of Food who knows nothing whatever about the agricultural industry and its requirements. Let me say this—and in this I am inclined to support the right hon. Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) in opposition to some of my agricultural friends—that if the farmers of this country are going to be sufficiently supplied in the future with indispensable labour, and with the necessary machinery and implements, the Government, through its Food Controller, will be perfectly justified in saying that the 915 land of this country must be expected to produce the reasonable quantity of food that the country requires from its home food area. When you see large areas of land in this country woefully neglected, growing couch, thistles and every sort of weed, you are entitled in times like these to say that the men who are holding that land in trust for the nation's needs must use their utmost endeavour to produce what the nation wants. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why have they not done it in the past?"] They have found it impossible in the past because you have not given them a fair chance. Immediately you give them a fair chance and supply them with the necessary men, machinery, and equipment you are perfectly entitled to demand of them that the land shall produce what the country requires. I hope that the Food Controller will be sufficiently equipped with courage and with agricultural knowledge to enable him to take the necessary steps to ensure a far larger extension of food production and a more intensive system of food production than prevails over a great part of this country to-day.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
The House always listens with deep interest to my hon. and gallant Friend when he speaks on a subject he knows so well. I am quite sure that a great deal he has said to-night has met with general approval from all quarters of the House. Arising out of one of his remarks I should like to say that I wish that more use could be made of the county agricultural committees. If we are to realise the ideal to which he referred at the end of his interesting speech, in which he asked for, or claimed power for the Government to dictate the use of land in connection with the new food dictator that is to be appointed, surely that might be done if these county committees were more greatly trusted and used by His Majesty's Government through the new food dictator. Why should not these county committees, for example, actually dictate what land in the county should be put under cultivation? That decision having been made, and made by men fully acquainted with local conditions, and by men who are experts, why should the county committees not then proceed to do their best to use local resources in labour and machinery and by virtue of the substitution of labour to get that land into the 916 desired use?. I am a layman in these matters, but it seems to me that, working on those lines, very much more use could be made of the land of the country. If, further, the Government would take its courage in both hands in this connection and guarantee a price for the production of wheat, not only now, but for a term of years, surely the farmers in this country would rise to the occasion.
I have heard the term "profiteering" bandied about the House to-day. It has been used in connection with this trade and that. I do not say that it can be truly said of any class of commercial men or other men in this country that they have done more in this time of war than to follow the ordinary principles of trade, which are to sell what you have for as much as you can get. That simple policy works very curious ends in times of peace, and in times of war they are not different in kind, but only different in degree. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Bathurst) would be the first to repudiate any suggestion of food profits being made by farmers, and yet when he dealt with those who have to get their living by the curious process expressing oil out of oleaginous products, he did refer to food profits. Moreover, when he spoke of the Government going into the market, he said what I am afraid is perfectly true, that their appearance in any market, whether it is the stock market or the Baltic, through the coming of the Government broker, is always the signal for the putting up of prices. While these things are stated in speeches we are still told that war profits are not made. There is action and reaction in these matters. One never knows where a beginning is made in these matters of war profit. But we are sure that the taking of war profits by one man leads to the addition of a second margin by the man to whom he sells, and so we go on in a vicious circle, cach man maintaining that he is not he maker of the profit but that it is the other man that makes it. In the meantime what happens? The farmer opens his newspaper and sees that a certain shipping company has made £3,000,000 profit. The working man sees that a thread company has made £3,500,000 in a single year after providing for excess profits taxation. These things tell them that war profits are being made. That is, no doubt, the truth. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will, I suppose, in 917 the coming financial year rake in something approaching £100,000,000 in excess war profits.
Of course, it is idle to say that war profits are not made. Let us be quite frank with each other and acknowledge that they are made. There is only one authority in the country that can prevent the manufacture of these profits, and that is His Majesty's Government, but the Government, unfortunately, as I said on the last occasion when I spoke on this subject, have been imbued from the beginning of this War with the conception that you can run a war without the aid of the powers of Government. As to food prices, from the very beginning they stoutly resisted interference in any shape or form. On the very first day of the War I remember writing an article, and I gave it this title, "Mobilise the daily bread." I wrote it because I was perfectly sure that ordinary commercial usages applied in war-time would undoubtedly raise the price of bread unless the Government interfered. At that time there was not a single person in this country or, I believe, in the world who would concede the idea of a submarine campaign carried out without regard to the life of non-combatants. There was not a person in the world, not even a German, who, I believe, had conceived that idea. This thing revealed itself in the early part of 1915. The reprisals Order in Council was dated 10th March, 1915. By that time, therefore, the Board of Trade was seized with knowledge of the fact that here was a ruthless campaign Against the British mercantile marine, striking at the very roots of the safety of this country and of the Empire. That caused me at the time to send a very long communication to every newspaper in the country, in which I pointed out the inevitable consequence of the adoption of this particular campaign, that Germany, as perhaps the greatest engineering country in the world—it is remarkable to think at what a recent date we lost the honour of that title—had the power to construct a very large fleet of submarines. What did the Board of Trade do? Again and again in this House it repudiated the idea of interference in the matter of food prices, or of taking any precautions on a large scale.
I remember the speeches made in 1915, in which the President of the Board of Trade allayed the fears of the House of Commons and pointed out that some of the prices were scarcely rising—for instance, 918 that the price of bacon was very much the same as before, and the same was true of many other articles. Later on we heard the Prime Minister speak on the same subject. He, no doubt, with information obtained from the Board of Trade, stated that wheat must come down in price by and by, and he gave the country to understand—I am sure it was done in perfectly good faith, and that it was believed at the time—that there was nothing to fear; and every suggestion that was made that here was a grave and serious situation which demanded large and drastic effort was brushed aside, sometimes with contempt and ridicule, by the Board of Trade. I now come to four weeks ago, when in this House the President of the Board of Trade made a speech which was very different from the speech which he made to-day. What has happened in the interval that has made his speech to-day so very different? Only this has happened, that four weeks have been lost, and now to-day we get a speech which of course goes very much further than anything that has previously been announced to this House and to the country by the Board of Trade. If I am raking up this ancient history to-night, it is not for the mere pleasure of doing it. There is no pleasure in doing it, or in saying that what he proposes now will not go far enough, and that he will be driven by the logic of very serious facts a little later on to make another speech in the House of Commons in which he will announce even more severe measures. Unfortunately, we shall have to say to him then that we have lost even more time, and that in the meantime the problem will have become even more difficult, and that things which might be done now would then be impossible to do.
Under that head I venture to direct the very serious attention of the House to what might have been done during this last period of the greater part of two years, during which this problem might have been regarded in a very serious way. During that time there has been brought into this country from every part of the world hundreds of millions of pounds worth of things which we do not really want. Lately the Board of Trade has faced this fact, I gladly admit, more and more seriously. It has issued prohibitions, though, unfortunately, the prohibitions have been accompanied by a system of licences so liberal that it has been said that the way to increase the import of 919 any article to this country was to issue a prohibition that it should not come in. If any hon. Member of this House will take the Board of Trade Returns, as they are commonly called, for the last month or the previous month, he will find an extraordinary record of the kind of things which are coming to this country, at the very time when we are going to legalise a standard of flour and further cut down the consumption of sugar, one of the most valuable of foods. Barley has been already mentioned and has been referred to, not too severely. Then the importation of tobacco into this country is prohibited, yet in the month of September We brought in £880,000 worth. In the same month the imports of paper were £652,000. As a man who spoils a good deal of paper, perhaps I ought not to say too much about that. But there is the importation of an enormous quantity of an article which might be restricted; for instance, cardboard boxes, which we use with such prodigality—this item might be cut into. Then there were earthenware and glass £188,000, manufactured silk £1,000,000, hats and bonnets £21,000, furs and skins—not sheepskins, such as are so freely used at the present time—£37,000, musical instruments £16,000, marble £16,000, stone slabs £13,000, toys and games £30,000. I did not take the trouble to make out a complete list. But the list of unnecessary imports coming into this country is still very great.
The policy which we are following is one of prohibiting imports. I suggest that the policy to follow should be this: We have left a certain amount of available tonnage which we know to be decreasing. That tonnage should be used in the most economical way possible, in order to bring into the country the largest possible quantity necessary, concentrating our attention upon those necessaries and leaving prohibitions to look after themselves. If we use the ships for the things that are necessary, we need not worry about prohibition. It is a complete reversal of the present policy. Here is the ship. What is wanted is this, that that ship could only be licensed to carry some of those things. If that policy were followed we should get into this country in six months more necessaries and fewer luxuries than under the present system. I would ask the House to think how different the position would be if this policy, which I am now advocating, and have been advocating for 920 a very long time, had been followed for a considerable time, and if it had been accompanied with the best possible use of our storage accommodation. I do not know whether the Board of Trade yet possesses any census of the storage accommodation in this country. If it does not, then I beg of it very earnestly to get it at the earliest possible moment and to use it to the fullest possible extent. In my opinion, during the last eighteen months, we might have done a very great deal indeed to have got and stored in this country a very considerable supply of grain and of the necessaries of life. If this had been done, it would have given us protection from this submarine danger, while it would have enabled the Government to have a control over prices which it does not now possess. I pass from that to beg the Government also to influence imports by another measure which is open to them—that is, through taxation. The earlier we adopt measures which are necessary to the scale of the campaign, the easier our task will be in the long run. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in his place, but in his absence I would say that he has done a very great deal to make us thankful to him for his courage and determination in managing our finances. At the same time, however, I cannot help thinking that more might be done. I think more must be done to strike at the root of the expenditure by adding to the taxation of the country. The relevance of my observation is this, that by using that particular method we strike at imports in quite another way, by, of course, depriving the people of the margin which they expend upon the things they do not require. In that connection we have got to remember that you cannot, by going through an import; list, say such-and-such an article is a luxury. If you have wool imports, they may be secured for khaki, for working dresses, or other things which are absolutely of assistance, but wool might also be purchased by women who may have four or five dresses each already. When you talk of the expenditure on imports you do so in a general way, as of only those imports which you require, but that part of the imports which can be used for ordinary articles may also become objects of ordinary luxuries, on which there ought not to be expenditure by reason of the circumstances of the time.
I trust that the powers of the right hon. Gentleman will be found ample to deal with what is a grave situation, and I 921 earnestly hope that he will co-ordinate in his efforts not only the control of the chief necessaries of life, partly in their manufacture, perhaps wholly in their manufactured state, and in their distribution, but that his work will have relation to the whole of the production of the community. It is often forgotten in time of peace that we do produce in this country one-half the food we consume. That is not true of bread, of course, but it is true of all our food taken together, one-half of which is produced in our own country. That, unfortunately, is decreased by reason of the War—by increased consumption on the one hand, and by decreased production on the other. That half of the production would give the Government a very large control of food prices, and I cannot agree with the President of the Board of Trade as to the great risk that he indicates to the House that if he fixes a fair price for articles produced in our own country, the production of those articles will fall. Has that been the case in Australia, where the Government has commandeered the wheat of the country at a fair price.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Yes, at a fair price. I am quite sure that if the President of the Board of Trade will trust the local committees, if he will inspire them, as I think he can inspire them, or his Food Dictator can inspire them, with the supreme value to the country of increasing our food supply at this time, if he really treats them fairly, and at the same time guarantees them a future price for wheat, which is necessary not only with regard to the time of the War, but in regard to the period after the War, then I am perfectly sure that the result will be that the farmers of the country will help all they can in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman need not fear that his control of prices, fairly and straightforwardly exercised, will contract the production of the country. At least that is how it appears to me. People talk about the law of supply and demand, but the law of supply and demand is a commercial law. In these matters, however, we are not dealing on the commercial scale, we are not on the commercial level, but far above it. That is, of course, the reason why it is possible, in time of war, to fix maximum prices. Germany is doing it. [An HON. MEMBER: "So are we!"] Yes, but to a lesser degree, and Germany is doing it in spite of the blockade, and whatever you may say about the imper- 922 fections of the blockade, it is still very real. In spite of the blockade, Germany is maintaining her great people, certainly not in profusion, but I venture to say in a degree under which the people of Germany perhaps suffer less than the working classes of our own country have sometimes suffered in times of peace. That is simply being done under Government control at maximum prices.
I do hope that the Food Dictator, whoever he may be—I suppose none of us will envy him his duty—will have with regard to the facts which I have mentioned, and that he will not be afraid to apply the maximum prices. I venture, in that connection, to comment upon the reply given to me by my hon. Friend sitting near me with regard to a question I put to him, I asked him whether he had compared certain prices for bread in London, New York, and Berlin at the present time. In one part of his reply the hon. Gentleman said what everybody knows, namely, that German bread is not the same bread as ours. German bread is by no means the same as ours: it is very inferior bread. Nevertheless, it is remarkable, in view of the blockade, that German bread, inferior though it is, is much cheaper at this moment in Berlin than is our bread in London. That is a very remarkable fact. The other part of the hon. Gentleman's reply I want to deal with. He said that the comparison would seriously mislead, inasmuch as the Berlin prices for articles mentioned are not market' prices, but are specially fixed maximums. The maximum prices save people from the law of supply and demand, as, although the supply may be very limited, they do enable that limited supply to be bought at a price which is not a famine price—they enable the supply to be commanded in a limited degree at a price which is fair under the circumstances. I therefore hope that our Food Dictator will not allow his mind to be prejudiced by a consideration of that sort of the law of supply and demand. It is his business, whatever the supply is, to see that people get that limited supply in as fair proportions as can be arranged and with due regard to the cost of production. I am sure the House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech to-day. He carried us very much farther than we have ever been carried before in this connection. It shows the Board of Trade has at last determined seriously to tackle these things on a proper scale. I am perfectly sure, when once they address themselves to the 923 subject in that way the logic of hard facts will carry the administrator of the policy in the direction we desire.
§ Mr. TICKLER
I am sure the country will congratulate the Government that they have at last made up their minds to take action in controlling the food supply of the nation. There seems to be a difference of opinion in the House as to whether the control of the sugar supply by the Commission has been as great a success as the Government would like us to believe. It is very difficult indeed to persuade the public that it has been a success, because we all know that in this country, at the present time, there are thousands of families who are unable to get even a moderate supply of that article. What they cannot understand is the fact, which has been alluded to by previous speakers, that they can go to the first confectioner's shop handy and buy any quantity of sweets they like to ask for—they may get 1 pound or 15 pounds—but if they go into the nearest grocer's shop and ask for a pound of sugar they are refused. This is a matter which it is very difficult to explain to the public, who are inclined to believe that the confectioners and sweet manufacturers are getting more than their proper share of the sugar of the country. I think it will be admitted that if the Commission had taken the advice of some people who put this proposition before them—i.e., that they should first make up their minds whether sweets or jams are the most valuable as an article of food, and then have decided to put down that which they come to the conclusion is a luxury, and let the manufacturer of the other have a larger share of sugar, it would have given greater satisfaction. I would not have stopped the industry of sweet-making altogether, but I would have preferred to curtail it, and I think that the country and the public would have been in a better position to-day with regard to the supply of sugar than they are by reason of the fact that the Government have delayed their action for such a long time.
What I want to bring to the notice of the Government particularly is the question of the fish supply. We all recognise that fish is a very valuable article of food in this country. I do not know whether the House is aware of the very important position which fish occupies in the supply of the nation's food, but the figures I am about to give the House will afford it some 924 idea of the extent of this industry. In 1913 there was landed on the English and Welsh coasts 16,152,374 cwt, of Ash, of the total value of £10,330,689; and in the United Kingdom there was a total of 24,657,116 cwt., of the total value of £14,692,953. The fish made about £l per cwt., or about 2½d. per lb. To-day the price has gone up five times to what it was in 1913. Of course, it is known by every body that a number of the steam trawlers—in fact, the best of them—have been taken by the Admiralty for mine-sweeping and patrol purposes. This is necessary, I have no doubt. The people are getting paid a reasonable price for the hire of the vessels, while the Government also pay the market value if they are sunk or lost. So far, so good. But that is very different from being allowed to trade, and many traders are now making fortunes in the country as a result of the War. These people, however, though they are only getting a bare percentage on their capital invested, are quite satisfied and do not grumble. The vessels are manned, of course, and the fishermen consequently are not suffering through lack of employment.
But latterly it has been the practice to allow some of these small vessels, which are of no use for mine sweeping—they are, of course, North Sea boats—to go to sea. They catch a certain amount of fish, but the Admiralty have: closed a considerable portion of the best fishing ground in the North Sea and they are prohibited under heavy penalties from fishing in that area. A great many skippers have been brought before the magistrates lately and fined, in sums varying from £25 to £50—and it is a fine upon the skipper himself—for, having gone into the prohibited area. This shows the class of men you have to deal with. They place very little value on their lives. If they go into the prohibited area they do so at the risk of their lives, and many of them have in fact been blown up by striking mines. But still they go, because they get some very valuable fish. Lately the Admiralty have found that the fine alone was not sufficient to prevent these men from going into these areas, and consequently they have had to deal in another fashion with some of the skippers and on more than one occasion they have decided to intern the vessels. The practice now is not only to fine the skipper but to pile the vessel up and keep her there for twenty-eight days. The House will readily see that this 925 is not only punishing the skipper and the owner, it is also punishing the public by reason of the price of the fish, because you are stopping the supply of a very valuable article. There are always, I believe, from twenty to thirty vessels held up for a month because they have transgressed the law. It is quite right that they should be punished, but of course you understand the reasons why they continue to use the prohibited area. The owners are not supposed to do it, but you know what human nature is, and if you have a skipper who brings you £600 worth of fish, and is fined £50 for doing it, you pay the fine, and he docs the same thing again. Of course the skipper could not pay the fine, but if he has caught £500 or £600 worth of fish it will be paid for him.
In conversation with some of the men connected with the trade, it was suggested to me that instead of interning the vessel and stopping the food supply of the country, and punishing so many people—because there is another class of people you are punishing, and that is the large army at Grimsby of fish buyers who have built up a big business by sending fish all over the country; the consequence is that those men are also absolutely on the rocks; they cannot live at all, because they cannot get the fish with which to carry out their orders—instead of tying these vessels up, would it not be better to fine the skipper as usual and confiscate the catch? Let the Government sell the fish, taking it themselves, and then there would be no advantage either to the skipper or to the owner to send a vessel out to sea and go into prohibited waters if they knew when they got back, that is, if he was caught doing it, that the fish would be confiscated. They would very soon stop it, because they would be losing money, and there would be no inducement to go into the prohibited area. I may tell you that they do not always catch fish in these areas, but they know very well when they bring the fish into port that they have been in prohibited areas or they could not have caught the kind of fish which they have got for sale. That ought to engage the serious attention of the Government. I have already approached the Admiralty on this question, but they do not seem to have made up their minds. I hope, however, that the right hon. Gentleman who is listening to me will put this matter before them, because it is a very important matter indeed for the people at Grimsby, and 926 also for the food supply of the country. There has been a great deal said about the waste of ships. We are very short, indeed. There have been 500 of the best steam trawlers taken from Grimsby, and yet the Government are tying these vessels up by the score in the docks, and keeping them from getting valuable food, and when I tell you that these small vessels from the North Sea will bring in £500 or £600 worth of fish each voyage in about seven days, you will see that it is a very valuable consideration, and a matter which the Government should consider very carefully.
There has been a good deal said about flour, and I suppose we must call it the use of standard bread. I am sure I welcome it, and I was very sorry to hear the President of the Board of Trade say that it would only come into force gradually. I hope he will take the bull by the horns and go for it at once, because if he does not I am quite sure that there are wealthy people in the country who do not like eating brown bread or standard bread who will lay in a stock of white flour, and it will give everybody an opportunity of laying in stocks, with the consequence that it will raise the price, because there will be a rush to the shops for flour, as there was for provisions at the outbreak of the War. I therefore think this matter should receive the Government's very careful consideration. There has also been something said about the offal, which is a very valuable food for pigs and for horses. I believe at the present time there is no doubt there is nothing like the quantity of horses or pigs in this country that there used to be. One of the principal reasons is that the pig food is very dear indeed, and I have some experience of that. I do a bit of farming, and I keep, amongst other things, a good many pigs, and I will give an experience which I had recently. All the camps wherever the troops are have a great deal of scraps or refuse, leavings by the men, bread of all kinds, which is very valuable food, indeed, for pigs, if care is taken with it. But, unfortunately, up to now it has not been taken care of as it ought to be by the Army authorities. I will give you my experience. A man who had not had it before had the offer to contract for this refuse from the military camp with the idea of feeding pigs. He came over and bought some pigs from my son, some 927 large store pigs, at about £8 a head. He was told that he must have large stores because it would kill small ones. He took them away—they were very fine pedigree pigs—and he began to feed them with this refuse from the military camp. He had got about a score of them, and they were all dead in less than a fortnight, and it was traced to the fact that there was carbolic mixed with the refuse. It had been carelessly put there, and this is a matter which ought to be looked into. This refuse is a very valuable pig food, but people dare not buy it. The Government are not making anything out of it because it is very dangerous to give to the pigs, and people have had such bad luck with it. This is a matter which ought to be mentioned in the proper quarters, that they should take more care and not throw everything into the refuse, but nothing but what is good for pig food. We should then have a very valuable food for the pig, and consequently they would be able to keep more pigs, and produce some very valuable food for the people.
There is a great scarcity of ships, no doubt, and I think more care and consideration should be given by the Government to the great variety of things which are luxuries and which are taking up very valuable space in our ships. There is a trade which is just commencing now, the orange trade. I do not know how many ships are employed in it, but there must be scores of them bringing oranges from Spain. I think we can do without them. When I was a boy there was not a quarter of the quantity of oranges eaten that there are now. The people did not eat them then because they were dearer. Now the German market is closed entirely except those that can be sent overland, which must be a very small quantity. We are about the only market to take these oranges, and consequently there is a very large quantity of them sent here, and we have got ships which we want badly for bringing the necessaries of life bringing these luxuries. I think the Government should give a little more attention to these matters. On the one hand we have ships laid up that might be bringing in valuable goods; on the other hand, you have valuable ships, which might be bringing in necessary articles, employed in carrying luxuries. I am sure, if the Government give the? attention that they ought to do, that 928 matters ought to improve. I am delighted to find that, at least, the Government are taking action in these matters. We have had a lot of talk. We have had the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling the people that they ought to economise. It is very difficult indeed to get the public to economise when they are earning big money. The working classes were never earning so much money, and they will have their beef-steak, and bacon, and their food generally as they have had it before. They do not mind about the cost. You never, or hardly ever, hear the working man now complain about the cost. They are not the people hit by these high prices. They have got the money, and they are spending it. So are the people in the highest positions. I hope, however, that this measure for compelling the use of standard bread will be introduced immediately—that there will be no delay. You can depend upon it that all those people who make fancy biscuits and cakes will get big stores of them, that we shall have these people accumulating these stores. To prevent that, action should be taken immediately.
§ Sir S. COLLINS
I would like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade on the courageous step he has taken to-day. I am sure the House will uphold him and strengthen his hands, and the country tomorrow will be delighted with his proposals. I could have wished that the hon. Member for Oxford University was in his place, because I wanted to go back for a moment or two to the milk question. At the same time I rather hesitate to challenge a Gentleman like the hon. Member with his wide experience. Just, however, for my own experience in this matter, I want to say a word which will justify the President's action in doing something to put milk prices on a more satisfactory basis. In many parts of London, and in other towns, milk is 6d. per quart. I know towns where milk at the door is sold for 5d. per quart, but if you fetch it from a farm five minutes away you can get it for 4d. The other day I was down in Sussex, and I was told by the friends with whom I was staying that milk could be obtained there for 3d. per quart. With all these varying prices, I think the President is quite justified in doing something to make the price more uniform. It can be proved, at any rate, 929 that in one place in Sussex milk can be had for 3d. per quart, and I do not suppose the people who sell it lose on the sale. The President was rather hard on the popular pig. He is to have no potatoes, no milk, and very little offal. I do not complain. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would, even if he has to do without his rasher of bacon in the morning. At any rate, he is doing it for the best, and none of us will complain.
There is, however, one other question which has been referred to very lightly: several Members have made mention of it, I do not think the President referred to it, except that he referred to the sugar that is being brought into this country. I refer to the money which is being spent on alcoholic liquors. I wish that the President and the Government would take their courage in both hands on this question. We are asked to economise. The President is going to economise by what he has said to-day. After all, what are we doing? What is being done in the way of economy up to the present? We are only pottering with things. Consider. We are spending £180,000,000 a year in this time of terrible strain and stress in this country. What we are spending would build 300 aeroplanes a day, or three super "Dreadnoughts" a fortnight. It would be cheering news to some of our hon. Friends who are so keen on aeroplane extension if we could only divert the money to that use. Then as to shipping tonnage. No one knows better about this than the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. In the first twenty months of the War 1,400,000 tons of shipping were used up in bringing over material for brewing and distilling. At the same time we imported three hundred thousand tons of sugar for brewing and distilling. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman said that this was sugar that could only be used for brewing. That may be, but could we not have used the shipping for something which would have been much more useful to the country? Then we see about a Barley Commission for whisky in this war-time. We grow wheat for brewing, yet we import into this country five loaves out of every six that we eat, or wheat to make the bread. Yet it is generally admitted that these things are luxuries and waste. May I give an illustration or two, not as a temperance advocate, but from disinterested parties altogether? What do the National War Savings Committee say, and what do 930 we see on placards about this great city day after day? I would call the attention of the President to these words, not lightly written, I presume:Immense quantities of food materials such as barley, wheat, and maize are used in this country for the manufacture of beer and spirits. As beer and spirits are almost valueless as food, and can only be classed as luxuries pure and simple, all this grain is lost for food purposes. If this grain were available for food—This is the National War Savings Committee—both for man and beast, the price of grain and meat would be lowered.What says Sir Alfred Booth, the chairman of the Cunard Line:The services absorbed by the trade are on a gigantic scale, and the net result of it all is a decrease of national efficiency.I wish some of my hon. Friends who are interested in the brewing industry were here. I wish they could listen to this paragraph:A feeling is evidently abroad that they (public houses) should be patronised as little as possible, representing as they do, to a large extent, national and individual luxury and waste.That is taken from the "Brewers' Gazette" of 10th September, 1914. They are not the words of an abstainer like myself, but the words of the "Brewers' Gazette" which said that intoxicating liquors to a large extent are nothing but luxury and waste. I commend that to the President. I would ask him, and I would ask the Government, if they cannot, and will not do something. Copy other countries! Copy our Dominions who are tackling this great question. Copy Canada where eight States now, I believe, have gone in for prohibition. Copy Russia where they have transformed and reformed that great country through the action they have taken. At the commencement of this great struggle the Prime Minister said that this was to be a war of endurance. If you want to win this War I implore the President, and I implore the Government, with all my heart and soul, I implore hon. and right hon. Members if it is to be sacrifice, to make it, and to tackle this great question, this waste. As I said just now, every economy that we are making is comparatively trifling to what economies we could make if we tackled this question. I believe the country, as a whole, would be with us.No easy way to win will bring us to our goal,But iron sacrifice of body, will, and soul.May the Government be encouraged and inspired in this grave crisis in our nation's history, if we want to win this war, to 931 do something more than they have done with this great national evil, which even the "Brewers' Gazette" says is nothing but luxury and waste.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
I think all will fully recognise the importance of the question we are discussing this evening, and I would like to say at once that, though I am a producer of food, personally I would support any practical system that was just to producers of food and did not tend to reduce production. I was very much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Sir L. Chiozza Money), who has left the House, in which he emphasised the self-supporting condition of Germany in the necessaries of life, notwithstanding the blockade, and it is a striking fact that Germany is being fed at the present time very largely by her own production. Surely the moral we should learn from that is that, while in Germany agriculture has been recognised for many years past as a very important industry, I regret to say in this country and by this House very little indeed has been done to encourage agriculture. It has been regarded as almost a by-product of the State, with the result that to-day we are not producing from our land so much of the native food supply as it is capable of producing. I sincerely trust the lesson we have learnt from this War will mean that we shall recognise the importance of the agricultural industry and that we shall do all we can to encourage the largest amount of food supply from our own land it is capable of producing. Notwithstanding that, I would venture to point out the fact that, though we are at war and the cost of forage has been so heavy, it is a matter for congratulation that the supply of home-produced food last year was greater than had been the case in any previous year.
I venture to say that, with the labours of the right hon. Gentleman and the pluck shown by British agriculturists, notwithstanding the difficulties of the paucity of labour, the British farmer has realised his responsibility to the country in this crisis, and tried to do his part. We shall continue to do that, I earnestly hope, and all I have to say with reference to the proposals of the Government to-day is that they are drastic. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, with his economic views, would not have introduced the proposal which he has made to the House unless he 932 was convinced that it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the country in winning the War, and, therefore, I think I may say, on behalf of agriculturists, that we will do our best to co-operate with him in fulfilling the functions which rest upon us as producers of native food. But I would venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to be extremely careful in the matter of the Controller of food prices. The British farmer has had an experience of the Government's action in commandeering all wool that has made him very suspicious of Government control of any kind whatever. I must not, of course, on this occasion go into the particulars of that question. We were led to believe that we were to have the June and July, 1914 prices, plus 35 per cent., and it was understood that the wool would be taken in bulk, as has always been the case before. Instead of that there was a grading initiated afterwards, with the result that in no degree has the Government fulfilled the promise of paying 35 per cent above the June and July price of 1915. I heard of a case to-day in which a large farmer in Devonshire proved that he had received £14 less than the price promised by the Government. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, whose fair-mindedness has always been manifested, to be careful that in the Controller you get a man who will hold the balance fairly between the producer and the consumer. I wish to say one or two words about milk production, because I feel very anxious on that point. I have had some experience in the production of milk, and I am obliged to say here, notwithstanding what my hon. Friend has just said, that the milk industry has been very unprofitable in recent years, with the result that many cowkeepers have given up their dairies, and it was only on account of the increase of price that many of them have been able to continue the milk industry. The milk supply is one of the most important parts of our food supply. It is of greater importance to-day from the economic point of view as well as from the humane point of view of the protection of infant life, and no method of securing the health of the child is more potent than the provision of an abundant milk supply. Any step taken by the Government that would make the production of milk so unprofitable that many people would give up producing it would not only maintain a very high price, and with high prices there would be scarcity as well.
933 If the House will bear with me I will point out the experience of a dairy of 250 cows. The cost of feeding-stuffs is now 50 per cent. greater than it was before the War. The cost of labour is also 50 per cent. greater than it was before the War, and, roughly, at the increased price of milk we can hardly get men to milk the cows at all. We pay the men 30s. a week, but they can go to the munition factories over the road and get £2 a week, and it was only by providing good cottage accommodation that we were able to hold the men at all. Having regard to that fact, I am sure that the Government's action in the best interests of the consumer will be to be very careful to see that the price paid for milk will not be such as to prevent any reduction in the production of this important commodity. There is a great difficulty in getting men to milk, because these men have to work seven days per week, and they have to get up at four o'clock in the morning to get the milk off, and, consequently this is a kind of occupation that it is very difficult to induce men to adopt. May I point out another difficulty? It is that with shorthorn cows it often happens that the pure milk of these cows will not pass the standard, and, consequently, the dairyman has to milk all his cows and mix the milk in order to obtain an average that will pass the standard. I maintain it is important that the public should have a pure and clean milk supply, but the standard is so high that even the pure milk from Shorthorn cows will not pass it, and unless there is this mixing the dairyman is in danger, if a sample is taken from the inferior animal, of being fined. I venture to warn the right hon. Gentleman that unless he is careful to fix a price that will be fairly remunerative he will cause such a decline in the milk supply as will be very serious indeed for infant life. These are rather mundane questions, but at present milch cows for the dairy cost 35 per cent. more than before the War, and when the animal has done milking and has to be sent to the butcher, even with the present high price of meat, the owner has often to suffer a loss of 25 per cent., or £10, on the animal. My hon. Friend opposite appears to hold a different view. I can assure him that the dairymen of this country are in this position, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not careful to fix a price that will afford reasonable remuneration he will cause such a decline in the milk supply as will be calamitous for the general consumer.
934 I was a little disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman's speech, able though it was, in that he did not hold out any hope of some means of increasing the native food supply. I should have been glad if he could have given us some assurance that Parliament intended to deal more considerately and sympathetically with agricultural questions in the future than I they have done in the past. I should have I been glad if he could have assured us that they proposed to do something to increase the native food supply by using German prisoners to break up suitable common land. I know very well at the present time, when labour is so scarce, that we have not available native labour for the purpose. We have a large number of German prisoners, and surely it would be possible to utilise them for the purpose of breaking up and bringing into cultivation some of the waste land that would make a valuable contribution to the production of native food. I do not know what is the right hon. Gentleman's view on that point, but I should have been glad if there had been a little more constructive matter in his speech. We, as agriculturists, realise our responsibility and intend to do our duty, but at the same time we want the Government to do their duty and to show that they will at least deal fairly with our claims in fixing a price. I recognise most fully that the present high prices are very serious for men of limited incomes, and especially for the poorer classes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in the action which he proposes to take will act considerately and justly between producer and consumer and do what is fair and equitable to both parties. As to the labour supply, I recognise fully the need of the maintenance of the Army and the Navy to full efficiency for the one purpose we all have in view, to win the War. If more men are taken from agriculture it cannot but result in a reduced output of native food. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the War Office, will look at both sides of the question. I am glad to know that farmers are utilising women labour. There was a little prejudice at first, but now I think the farmers regard it as their duty to use what female labour they can. But many men are indispensable for work which cannot be done by women, and unless we have sufficient men for the purpose the machinery will break down. I do hope the War Office will be careful not to take indispensable men from agriculture to act 935 as grooms for officers' horses. I know of instances of that kind, and surely some disabled soldier could do that work and those other men could be and should be reserved for the production and maintenance of our food supply. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman realises the importance of the step he has taken to-day and that it has arisen from the desire, with which I am in sympathy, that the poorer classes should be fed as cheaply as possible. I trust that in his action he will do nothing which will discourage the followers of the soil from putting forth their most strenuous efforts to produce all they can from the soil.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
I would like to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a particular subject, and probably it is not for the first time I do so. When he is looking for more land to be tilled for potatoes, vegetables, and the like, why should he not commandeer for that purpose the waste lands of our country, just as they have been commandeered for munitions and other purposes by other Departments of the State? I know that in the Constituency I represent there is a Vacant Lands Association, which has cultivated a series of vacant plots, little bits here and there, at a profit and to the great advantage of the neighbourhood, and on which they have grown vegetables close to the people's own doors. The right hon. Gentleman may have studied the question, and there may be some objections to what I am now saying, but throughout the country there is land which has been bought, say, for churches or chapels, and for building ground, but none of which building has been proceeded with owing to the War and shortage of labour. I am sure he would be able to commandeer such land without rent, since it produces no rent at present, and in that way affords means to cultivate vegetables at the cheapest possible price. I think it is well worth his while to look into that matter. It is a small matter in places, but it is a large question taken over the whole area of Great Britain.
In the second place, in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, for the second or third time, has complained of the shortage of labour, I do not understand the mystery of why German prisoners are not employed on the agricultural and other land of this country. It is a great pity that a representative of the War 936 Office is not here this evening because the War Office is at the bottom of the difficulty with regard to the employment of German labour. We have 30,000 German prisoners in this country. Thirty thousand, perhaps, is not much, but it is something. I cannot understand why the Front Bench will not tell us why they will not use it. There was a most important Debate in another place yesterday. Lord Newton, as representing the prisoners, said he wished to goodness these prisoners could be used; that, on grounds of health and on economical grounds, there was every reason why they should be employed, but that the War Office made difficulties. The War Office representative got up and said they would make no difficulties. The President of the Board of Agriculture got up and said he had arranged with the War Office that these prisoners should be employed. Absolutely nothing has happened, and we do not know whether or not these German prisoners will be employed. On three occasions I have put a question on the subject in this House, but have failed to get an answer as to why they should not be employed. I hope some answer will be given to reasonable people and the people of this country on the subject, especially as our prisoners in Germany are being employed at the rate of 3d. a day under conditions which are really terrible, and which would not be allowed in any civilised country.
My right hon. Friend complained seriously the other day that there was a shortage of labour at the ports of Great Britain. I asked him why he did not employ German labour, and he said we could not employ it at the ports. I pointed out that it was German labour which was sent from this country to Havre and Rouen to load and unload ships, and I asked why it could not be used at Liverpool, Cardiff, and elsewhere. That would hasten the loading and unloading, and mean that the ships would be doing three instead of two voyages, and would help to solve the tonnage question. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this. If the health of the German prisoners is a consideration which weighs with him—it does not with me—it will be enormously improved by using them on steady work. They want to do it—let us make no mistake about that. I am told that the trade unions are against it. I do not believe that they are. If German prisoners are employed there is no reason why the employers 937 should not be told to pay them the trade union rates. They will do the work while labour is short in this country. I know I speak for large numbers of people who hope, for one reason and another, that German prisoners may be employed for their own health and for the good of our country. I hope they may be employed now, and that at some time or another either the right hon. Gentleman or the Secretary of State for War, or whoever is responsible for not employing them, will give us a very good reason why they should not be so employed in return for the extraordinarily good feeding and keeping they get, whereas ours get keeping hardly worthy of dogs in Germany.
§ Mr. BYRNE
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the attempt he is making to deal with food prices. The control of food prices was never so necessary as it is at the present moment in Ireland. It is partly brought about by the failure of the potato crop and partly by the heavy export of the good potatoes to this country, leaving practically nothing in Ireland for use by the Irish people. What is left is being sold at prices beyond the pockets of the ordinary working classes. Another reason why I think food prices should be controlled in Ireland is that the wages in that country are far less than in this country. The hon. Member, a few moments ago, said that in England you cannot get the Workers to economise, that they have plenty of money and they must spend it. I wish I could say the same for the Irish people, that they had sufficient money in the same manner. Wages in this country are, in some cases, three times what they are in Ireland. The price of food supplies in Ireland is, in many eases, higher than in this country. Your workers in this country are receiving war bonuses. The English railway employés, for instance, are receiving war bonuses of 10s., while the Irish railwayman is receiving a war bonus of only 1s. or 2s. That is one of the principal reasons why I say that food prices should be controlled in oar country. I fear that my colleagues on these benches will have, very shortly, to ask you to stop the exporting of foodstuffs from Ireland altogether. My right hon. Friend stated to-day that our farmers in Ireland were getting very good prices for their produce. I agree with Mm. They are getting fairly good prices, 938 but it is to the detriment of the towns and cities. The city worker has to pay three times the amount for his foodstuffs. His wages are not increased by more than 5 per cent. in comparison with pre-war rates. Your people here are able to afford to pay the prices for the foodstuffs, while our people are not. One of my hon. Friends referred to the question of the milk supply. I would ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware of the enormous export of milking cows from Ireland for slaughter in this country. I think that at the present moment the slaughter of milch cows and cows in calf should be made a punishable offence. That is more or less brought about by the Government buyers taking all the milch cows and the cows in calf for this country, and it has caused the price of both milk and beef to go up in Ireland. Milk in the city of Dublin would be beyond the purse of the poor of that city if it were not for the very powerful influence of one of our Dublin newspapers, which prevented the dairy proprietors getting enormously increased prices for their milk. That newspaper, by its action, has, in my opinion, saved many lives by conserving the supply of milk for the child-life of that city. That is a matter which should not be forgotten. Another point which has not been mentioned is the number of acres of arable land that is being held as cattle ranches, and the number of acres that could be cultivated if the tenants who were evicted in times gone by were restored to their holdings. I think that after this War the necessity for restoring the evicted tenants will be greater than ever, and will, I believe, receive the favourable consideration of those responsible for their reinstatement. Your workers here are in a position not alone to pay good prices for foodstuffs, but, as has been stated frequently on the Government Benches, they are indulging in luxuries that no Government should allow. It is well for them that they have the money to do so. In Ireland our local taxes have gone up and our food prices have gone up, but our wages in many cases are at a standstill. Another thing which has made the food prices generally go beyond the purse of the working classes is the fact that the imports of food from America in the way of American beef have been considerably reduced, thereby reducing the available supply to such an extent that the people in many of the cities and towns in Ireland do not know 939 what it is to take meat on more than one day a week. If the Government would consider the advisability of spending some of the war expenditure in Ireland in the way of giving our Irish people some munition work for the purpose of enabling them to meet the increased cost of living, it would be one way of remedying the grievance. Or if the Government would go a step further than they are doing to-day and take their courage in their hands and control once and for all the shipping rings in this country that have made it almost impossible to bring foodstuffs or coal to Ireland at reasonable prices, it would be well. The people of Ireland in the towns and cities are practically in a state of semi-starvation at the present time. I hope therefore, that the Government will favourably consider the request that I expect we shall have to make from these benches that foodstuffs of any sort should be prohibited from leaving Ireland so as to prevent farmers of Ireland being tempted by the food prices that you arc offering them to ship their foodstuffs to this country.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I suggest that this Motion shall be agreed to only on the understanding that it will not cause any delay in the procedure which we think necessary for getting out our Orders. If that is the general understanding I shall offer no opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.