§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [15th November],"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 1044 supply, and so diminish the risk of shortage and serious increase in prices in the event of the War being prolonged."— [Mr. Hewins.]
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
The President of the Board of Trade delivered a very important speech yesterday, in which ho made an announcement of very far-reaching importance. At last the Government, who have hitherto felt unwilling and reluctant, have been forced to face a problem the urgency of which has been pressed upon them in this House for a year and a half, and as to which the Press has been occupied now for very many months. It is difficult to understand— the right hon. Gentleman did not explain it yesterday—to what is due the somewhat sudden conversion he has experienced between the Debate in the House on the 15th October and the Debate which took place yesterday. In his speech of the 150th October, the right hon. Gentleman absolutely set his face against restriction and against action. It is extraordinary that he could not deal with a matter of such importance as the question of the food supply of the population, and he ended his remarkable speech with the following words:The policy of the Government is to provide plenty, to see that we have in this country an abundance, to see that it is brought here, and on terms which will allow no one to exploit or to become unduly rich at the expense of the consumer.That was spoken on the 15th October. Yesterday, a few weeks afterwards, the right hon. Gentleman announced the appointment of a Food Dictator. There is to be restriction, a census of stocks is to be taken, and an inquiry into milk regulations, which we have not yet been allowed to see, and that is one of the difficulties of discussing this matter; and, in the course of a few weeks, there has been a revolution in this matter. The unwillingness and the reluctance of the Government, who have failed for over two years to face the elementary question of the food supply for the people, and who have relied upon insufficient voluntary effort, propose to take the measures described yesterday—not before, but when prices have risen. I would like someone on the Front Bench to explain to the House and the country why this position of the Government has been adopted. The Government consists, as we all know, of men of great ability. We know that they 1045 have got sufficient power in the Cabinet. They have at their disposal the best intelligence and information in the country. Things are going to happen, and what is to happen must be known to the Government better than to any of us. A Committee was appointed, and the Committee have made their Report. But nothing has been done. We now see that what was found impossible yesterday becomes suddenly a grand policy to-day. Not many weeks ago it was suggested that wheat might be brought from Australia. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade ridiculed the suggestion, and declared that no one engaged in shipping would propose anything so foolish as to bring wheat all the way from Australia, which would occupy a very much longer time than bringing wheat from the North American Continent. As if anybody did not know that. But the Department apparently did not know that there was no wheat that could be brought from North America. Yet a few weeks afterwards the Board of Trade adopts the very policy which had thus been ridiculed in this House, and we are informed that ships are going to be sent to Australia. What is the meaning of this zig-zag course—of this absolute want of consistency week after week, month after month, and year after year, in dealing with this question?
The right hon. Gentleman must have known, as well as other people, that, in a war of this kind, the food supply would be a most important subject. The Government appointed an eminent Committee under Lord Milner. That Committee made recommendations. Those recommendations, of course, were not followed out. Why, we have never yet been told. There is no doubt that if, at the beginning of the War, a consistent food policy —an intelligent food policy—had been followed in this country there would have been no question now of panic legislation, or of the Regulations of which we have heard. Every other country besides ours has been treated by its Government in a systematic and more or less drastic way. [An HON. MEMBER: "Russia!"] Yes. [Another HON, MEMBER: "Germany?"] Certainly. If nothing had been done in Germany, half the population would have been dead to-day. I am certain of that, and I think anybody will understand it. If General Townshend had not been able to ration his garrison how long would they have been able to 1046 continue their defence? There is no difference between that case, and the casts of Germany herself. She is besieged. We, fortunately, are not in the same position as yet. I hope we never shall be. There is no reason why we should be.
We have in this country large agricultural resources. What is needed is to take steps to enable them to be used properly. I have been asked by a right hon. Friend near me what has been done in Germany. I will tell him the things the German Government did, and that we ought to do. The Germans were well aware when war broke out that men would be required, and that they would have to be taken from the farms. So, at the beginning of the War, they adopted a system of supplying machinery to the agricultural interest throughout the country. They did not exempt ploughman and carters—they substituted for them motor ploughs and motor lorries, and that enabled the farmers to dispense with a great number of ploughmen and carters on the land. The French Government have been operating on exactly the same lines, but in this country nothing of the kind has been done. The Board of Trade has not done anything. It might have had a system of providing the local authority, the parish council, it may be, with a motor plough and other mechanical appliances so that the land could be properly cultivated, and at the same time a great many men released. There is no reason why that should not have been done, except that it was nobody's job to organise it.
There is another point I should like to draw attention to. From this country you are exporting food in large quantities—not in a consumable form perhaps, but you are exporting large quantities of nitrogenous manures, and, after all, that is food. One is always hearing about the number of acres in or out of cultivation, but nobody seems to talk about the possibility of getting more produce off the acres that are under cultivation. The Board of Trade, in a recent Report, admitted clearly that the land in Germany before the War was producing much more food per acre than that in this country. Why? Because they are using more artificial manures. It is therefore not a question merely of increasing your acreage, and thereby necessitating more labour and other things, but it is a question of increasing the production of the land already under tillage. 1047 What have the Government done towards that? Absolutely nothing. Worse than that, we have exported from this country —we are doing it to-day—thousands of tons of sulphate of ammonia, the most valuable manure by means of which we could increase by 50 per cent. the wheat crop of this country I shall be told no doubt that the farmers have been informed on this point, that circulars and leaflets have been issued to them, and that many speeches have been made begging them to do these things. But it is not enough at a time like this. You want to go much further than that. You want to make it easier for the farmers to do these things. You ought to have experts going up and down the country visiting the farmer and talking to him. He is not an easy man to deal with. He is not a good hand at reading literature. You want to approach him directly. You might even go further. You might compel him to use a certain amount of manure on a given acreage of land. But none of these very elementary steps have been taken.
Take the question of potatoes. It seems absurd, when we are short of potatoes in this country, and especially in Ireland where the crop has suffered from blight, that no steps were taken to provide against such a state of things. Everybody knows that potatoes properly sprayed do not get the blight, and if our potatoes had been sprayed we might have been in a far better position. It would have cost the country very little even to pay for the spraying. In the highlands, I am told potato spraying is done for the farmer. After all, such steps as these would have been taken if the Department had been dealing with the Army or with She Navy. The Government have spent £20,000,000 in building huts for the soldiers. They have spent many millions in putting up factories for the provision of munitions. The money has been poured out with a lavish hand for these purposes. But our agriculture and our food supply, which are so important, have never had a £10 note spent on them by the Government in order to enable them to provide more food during the War. That is my complaint. I can never understand why all these things, which must he so well known to the Board of Agriculture, have been neglected, and why no action has been taken. Let me take another point. No steps have ever been taken, so far as I am aware, to lay down 1048 in any way any principle as to what land should be ploughed up for wheat. No survey has been made. There has been no allotment of the various areas. No one has been consulted, and no one has been told that this or that land must be ploughed up. The Government have commandeered 4,000 businesses. Why not commandeer the land in the same way?
§ Sir A. MOND
Surely the State can take over a farm. They have taken over land for munition factories, and they could quite as easily take over 4,000 farms as 4,000 sites and factories. They have simply to give their instructions and it could be done. If I had the power I would do it myself in six weeks. The State is a very large landlord. The Crown holds a very large amount of property in the way of farms. The Crown surely could have insisted on its own tenants producing more wheat and more potatoes. It could have done it quite easily if it had gone about the task in a systematic way. These problems may be difficult, but they are not impossible of solution. You have put up all over the country national shell factories. Why not have national farms? The national shell factories had to be built. The national farms are already to your hand. The national shell factories had to be supplied with labour gathered from all parts of the country. The farms had the labour on the spot. It is absurd to suggest that nothing could have been done in this direction.
I would like to ask for information on another point. What is the estimated shortage in the potato crop in this country? Does it amount to more than 10 per cent. or 15 per cent.? If it does not, how is it prices have been allowed to go up 100 per cent.? I shall be told that that is due to the fact that the demand is greater than the supply. Of course, we all know that a small falling off in the supply may produce a very high rise in prices, and that a small excess over the average supply may be followed by a big fall in prices. But surely there is nothing to justify an excess charge of 100 per cent. if the shortage is only 10 per cent. We are told it is not possible to fix a price for potatoes, but you have done it for hay, straw, and wool. You 1049 have fixed a maximum for coal, and one for pig-iron. I could give hundreds of instances in which the Minister of Munitions has never hesitated to fix a maximum price for anything the Government? wanted for the production of munitions. It cannot be contended, therefore, it is impossible to fix maximum prices for food supplies. I agree that in fixing the maximum price it is necessary to be careful to leave such a margin of profit as not to discourage production. But that margin need not be so enormous as to permit of the exploitation of the consumer, or to act as an inducement to people to keep their supplies back in order to reap the benefit of big prices. I hope the Government will give up the idea that they cannot fix a maximum price for this purpose.
Again, I do not see why they cannot take over the wheat crop of this country. We have taken over the wheat crop of other countries. The farmer, like other people, is naturally watching and waiting for the best prices, and, as prices go up, he becomes a more unwilling seller. Nobody likes to sell when prices are on the up grade. That is the time when you want your maximum, otherwise you are going to have your wheat held up. That is the thing you have to avoid, even if you have to commandeer the whole wheat supply at a reasonable price. It is a thing which can be done Other products have been commandeered. Then with regard to our meat supply. We produce a very large amount of our own meat consumption, and I do not see why we should not regulate our meat supply even if we cannot regulate the South American supply. It seems to me that the policy adopted can be best described as that of a dog trying to catch his own tail; and that is one of the grave dangers they have run this country into. They never seem to have been able to make up their minds whether they liked high prices of food with a view to the reduction of consumption, or whether they considered everybody was to use the same amount of food as or not more than they used before the War. What has been the result? Having allowed the prices of food to go on unregulated all this time you have had continually to raise wages, given, and not wrongly given, by Government arbitraters in order to compensate for the rise in food. The result is you have created an inflated wage in this country, 1050 and a most serious position as regards the industrial question after the War. That is the result of being unwilling and reluctant to face the position, and to take a long time ago the steps you are compelled to take now. The workman has not benefited by his higher wages, as long as food went up. As a matter of fact, in a way, you are making him discontented, because with so much more money he cannot buy more, and you have established a standard of wages right through this country which will be extremely difficult to deal with when the War is over. We shall have to deal with a problem which has been made intensely more difficult. If the Government had announced that they wanted the people to use less food, and the higher prices had brought about a lower consumption of food, that would have been a consistent policy. But they have not done that. One Government Department has had that in its mind, and another Government Department has had exactly the opposite in its mind. That is why we have had no policy of consistency.
I have pointed out a few errors; there are many more in the way in which the food supply of this country has been treated. Nobody has been specially asked to plant potatoes. There has been nothing of what I would call a really serious attempt to do anything. The Government have not planted any potatoes. In Hyde Park they have planted flowers; an example of that kind was not likely to induce other people to realise that there was something serious on. Not only that, but the right hon. Gentleman the other day, in answer to a question, said, regarding prohibitions and leases, that any question of a breach of these covenants was to be brought before the Board of Agriculture. Why should they be brought before the Board of Agriculture? The farmer has his lease, and he knows that he is liable to a heavy fine if he breaks up grass land without permission. The farmer probably might think in his mind that he might dig up grass land, but he would say, "Here is the lease," and he thinks perhaps he had better not. If an announcement had been made that these leases should be set aside for this purpose, then I think a great many more questions would have been asked and a great deal more would have been done. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the farmer is conservative, and slow moving. There is one 1051 thing I may say in his defence. He has been asked to break up old pasture. The landlord may have been able to consent, but the breaking up of old pasture is a serious thing. You cannot immediately grow a wheat crop. If the farmer is to be induced to do that it must be shown to him that it "would be a profitable transaction. For some period there ought to be a fixed sum guaranteed to him under such conditions. You cannot ask the farmers to do this immediately out of sheer love for their fellow men. If the Government at the beginning of the War had guaranteed to the farmer 45s. a quarter for three years—those three years are getting on—wheat, being above 45s. a quarter, the Government would not have lost a farthing over the transaction, but what they would have done if they had adopted the recommendation is that they would have had a good deal more wheat land under cultivation in this country.
Anybody who has been in touch with English farmers knows perfectly well that one of the reasons that has made them chary of turning up arable land has been the fact that they have felt, I think wrongly, that as soon as the War stops there will be a great slump in wheat prices, and they would have turned a lot of their land into useless production. If the Government had given a guarantee for a certain number of years it would not have cost them anything. I am certain wheat will remain dear for some years after the War. The farmer, of course, is not in a position to judge of these things, and he does not like to take the risk. I say that if the Government gave a guarantee now they would add greatly to the wheat supply of this country. There is another point I want to come to, and one which I think has not been mentioned at all during these Debates. I wonder whether the House, or the country, realises the enormous waste of food material, land, and labour which is going on in this country owing to the destructive distillation of grain for the purpose of making alcohol for drink. I am not normally a temperance fanatic or a prohibitionist. I would not advocate anything exceptional in the way of restricting the moderate enjoyment of alcohol if people like to take it, but we are not in a normal time; we are in an abnormal time. We are in a time when every ounce of our strength is required to win a great war. Neither beer nor 1052 whisky is required to win a great war, though alcohol, so far as it is wanted for munition purposes, must of course be had. Anyone who likes to look into the figures will see that we have in this country an enormous area which is utilised for the production of barley and hops for the purpose of brewing beer. A considerable amount of this land which is available for growing barley would, I think, be suitable for wheat, while the hop land, at the proper season, could be used for growing very fine crops of potatoes, or any other crop of that kind.
Then you have a large amount of labour employed in this, and though it would not be in order in this Debate to deal with the question of man-power, and I do not propose to do so, when you think that the area of land in the United Kingdom under barley alone in 1914 for brewing and distilling was estimated by the Board of Agriculture to be 871,000 acres, land which is now arable, not which wants breaking up, land which is arable and therefore can be used for arable crops, which has got the labour and is being tilled—when you think of this, I say the reduction the Government has made in the brewing facilities is infinitely too small. If they will not adopt a drastic policy of entire prohibition, I hope the new Food Dictator will seriously consider the question with a view at any rate of cutting it down very considerably. There are no greater beer drinkers than in Germany, yet in Bavaria they have reduced brewing by 50 per cent. The Austrians have abolished it altogether, and in Russia the distillation of alcohol has been entirely prohibited. I am urging this as a war measure, and I have a very good precedent for it. I do not know how far Members of the House are aware that this very step was taken during the Napoleonic Wars by Pitt. There is nothing new to learn on this question. You really only have to go back on our own history to the action of our statesmen under similar circumstances in order to find the remedies for our difficulties. The Act of '35 of George III. prohibited for a limited time the making of low wine or spirits from wheat, barley, meal, or any other sort or kind of meal, flour, or bran, or permitting home-made spirits, deposited in warehouses for export, to be taken out for home consumption. This was in June, 1795, and it went on for a number of years after the war, because they found 1053 the result so beneficial. That war measure was adopted for the purpose of conserving the food supply of the people. I advocate it now with no ulterior motive, but for exactly the same reason. I say it is perfectly scandalous that your children and women cannot obtain sufficient nourishment when you are employing large masses of land and a large amount of labour in producing what is, after all, at best a pleasurable, but an entirely useless commodity. I therefore hope the Government and the Food Dictator will do something. I hope the Food Dictator will really be allowed to do some dictating, and not merely make memoranda and recommendations for Government Departments, to be then referred to another conference, and then to another board—something like the Man-Power Board which we have at the present time. I hope that this will be taken seriously in hand.
In the Debate yesterday I think a great deal too much stress was laid by some speakers on the submarine menace. We were assured in almost lugubrious tones that the submarines were a menace. I think it is deplorable to give the Germans the kind of testimonial that they wanted. I see that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in answering a question a short time ago, gave the figures on this question when he said:Of the total British gross tonnage of merchant steamships of 1,000 tons and over which we possessed at the beginning of the War, the net loss up to the end of 30th September, 1916, is slightly over 2½ per cent. This includes losses from all causes.After all, a loss of 2½ per cent. in tonnage of all British ships cannot produce a crisis in shipping.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
The right hon. Gentleman has not given anything like a complete statement when he refers to 2½ per cent. reduction. He must be aware that by far and away the largest reduction is due to the enormous number of vessels required for military and naval purposes.
§ Sir A. MOND
If the right hon. Gentleman had allowed me to continue he would have seen that that was exactly the point I was going to make. My point was that, instead of lugubriously wailing 1054 over a submarine menace, which has succeeded in reducing our mercantile marine by only 2½ per cent., whereas the Army and Navy use over 30 per cent., we should be better advised to try and reduce the wasteful use of our shipping by the Army and Navy. I do not think my right hon. Friend objects to that; but from some of the speeches made, and from what has appeared in some of the newspapers, the people of this country are getting the impression that all our trouble is caused by the submarine menace, and are beginning to fear the danger of starvation. If you want to hearten the Germans and give a handle to the advocates of fright-fulness, you could not do nothing more for that purpose than to say what has been said about the submarine menace. That is exactly what the Germans have been saying. It is just what some of their people have been pressing upon the powers there. And it is not the fact. That is why I have made this point. With regard to the further point, the right hon. Gentleman, I think, agrees with me that we ought to endeavour, as far as possible, to utilise to the best advantage the shipping which is commandeered. We ought to endeavour to liberate as far as possible, and also to utilise to better advantage, the shipping that has been commandeered. I do not wish to enter into this point. It was gone into at great length yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Houston); who is a much greater authority on the subject than I am.
But among the people connected with shipping whom you come across there appears to be no two opinions on this point: That there is a very wasteful usage of tonnage; that ships are being held up because they may problematically be wanted, and not because they are actually wanted; because some occasion may arise in which they may be required, in which event it is very much easier to have the ship lying at hand than a week or two ahead to have thought out what may possibly be wanted. I hope a stronger line will be taken in the future to adjust these requirements. We do not want for a moment to rob the Army and the Navy of shipping, but everything should be done that can be done to make the demand more adjustable to what is really required. Sometimes these demands may be, and could be, reduced, and that would ease the shipping situation. I wonder 1055 also whether something could not be done to induce some of the neutral Governments on the South American Continent to take some steps to release, or to obtain the release of, German ships interned in their ports? Some of these Governments export to this country. The ships to which I refer are lying in their ports. They are earning no money for anybody. It is obvious, of course, that we cannot have them, but I myself cannot see that the German owners should have any particular reason to object to them being taken over in the way I suggest, and utilised at the present time. I think, too, that overtures might be made to the American Government in relation to the enormous tonnage in the harbours of the United States. It is not merely a matter of our exports, but of the exports of these countries.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, what progress is being made with the question of shipping construction in this country. In the last speech he made in the House he referred to the ships on the stocks which had been much delayed, as we all know, owing to the differences between the owners, or the prospective owners, and the builders as to the prices considered fair to be paid during the War. The right hon. Gentleman said that very considerable progress has been made in getting these difficulties adjusted, and in getting these ships off, and that if the private owners could not agree in this matter the Government themselves would step in and have these ships finished. It would be of interest to know what has been done, because a very great amount of delay, a great deal more delay than ought to have occurred, has occurred in the completion of the ships on the stocks. Of course, this Debate might have been more useful if we had known the regulations intended to be issued, and if we had had some statement as to the action to be taken to improve the position. I, at any rate, am very pleased that even at the eleventh hour our Government has begun to do something. May I ask my right hon. Friend not to waste too many months in getting in returns. So far as I can see, most people in this country are occupied not in producing anything, but in filling in pieces of paper. I do not want my right hon. Friend and his staff devoting most of their time to filling up endless forms only to find them accumu- 1056 lating, especially at a time like this. I understand we are to get some of these returns, which may take months to fill up and months to put together and tabulate, and in the meantime the people of this country want more food and cheaper —and the people are entitled to have it We are not in a state of famine. We are not in a state of serious shortage. We are in a condition of relatively small shortage, and of consequent relative high prices. It ought to be a question of relatively small and not enormous regulations to retrieve the balance, and this would do very much to remove what industrial unrest exists in the country.
§ Mr. HOLT
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was not quite fair in the attack he made upon the Government for having changed their policy in regard to our wheat supplies. In the first place, I am not quite sure that he, of all people, is particularly entitled to complain that they have not been quite as rapid as he in changing their views upon fiscal problems.
§ Mr. HOLT
But, after all, surely the Government are entitled to say that the circumstances have entirely altered and that they are entitled to adopt; a different plan? It is not as though the Government had done nothing whatever in regard to the wheat supplies. To my knowledge the Government has taken action for over twelve months to artificially stimulate the importation of wheat into this country. I believe the Government plan of twelve months ago was a better plan than the plan of to-day if it had not been for the unfortunate circumstances that we are obliged to get our wheat from Australia. That is a new circumstance which has materially altered the whole problem, and I feel it is in itself a sufficient justification of the action of the Government of adopting a different method of dealing with the problem. I take no exception to the proposals of the President of the Board of Trade which were yesterday put before the House. I would like, however, to say this about the Controller—that he ought not to be only a man who, as the hon. Member for Oxford University very properly pointed out, should be acquainted with the agricultural side of the problem; he also ought to be a man acquainted with the transport side of the problem.
1057 I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that this qualification is also particularly necessary in a man who is going to wield the powers of this Controller—he should be an absolutely honest man ! I do not mean that he should be an honest man in the sense of not putting his fingers into the public pocket. What I mean is that he should exercise all his functions honestly, and with the one purpose of getting food into this country, not using his power for some ulterior object, whether to promote a political theory or to favour the holding of certain views amongst any section of the community. Undoubtedly, in some of these Government enterprises, there has been a tendency to use powers the Government has obtained ostensibly for one purpose, as a lever to accomplish wholly different purposes. We ought to have it quite plainly understood that the Controller will not use his great powers for any purpose whatever except that of definitely and honestly finding food for the people. The whole speech of my right hon. Friend yesterday struck me as a most remarkable justification of the attitude of those of us who have for some time been protesting against the excessive number of men who are being taken into the Army. Every word he said, every tale he told us, came down to this story: "Why should not the farmers plough more land? Because the horsemen have gone; because ploughing machinery could not be obtained." "We do not get steel for shipbuilding because the steel-workers have gone into the Army; because shipbuilders and engineers have also gone into the Army." And, as the hon. Member for Oxford University told us, one reason for the congestion of shipping was that you do not get the people to work at the docks—they had all gone into the Army. Is not that really exactly what a great many of us have been saying for a very long time past, and saying it, I am afraid, to deaf ears? I think that this is a very great justification. I do hope that those people who have been clamouring so loudly that every man should, at any price, be forced into the Army will read the speech of my right hon. Friend and ponder on the errors of their ways.
We were told by the President of the Board of Trade that men had been brought back from the front. Quite right. Is not that a most disastrous result for the nation? First of all you 1058 pay a large sum of money to train a man as a soldier, and then you are obliged to bring him back to the occupation for which he has been partially unfitted by his training as a soldier, having been taken away from work which he was performing much more to the advantage of the nation before he was forced into the Army. One word finally on this point. Let me make this protest: I want to protest against habitually describing the persons who are admittedly doing national service as funks, shirkers, and slackers. If you are going to indulge in that sort of language to those whom you expect to increase your production of food, you are not likely to get it. People will not put up with such language, and they will do anything, however foolish, than be content to be taunted in such a manner. There is another class which comes under this category. That is the people who supply the organising brains. If we are going to ask Government Departments to undertake the enterprise of supplying food, the men who attend to this, who have the organising brain, even if they are young men, must be left to their employment. This (resolution, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, calls attention to the desirability both of plenty and of cheapness. It seems to me that plenty is a very much more important consideration than cheapness. Cheapness in itself is a legitimate consequence of plenty, There is a great danger in laying the emphasis upon cheapness, important as it is, and so running the risk of going without plenty. As a matter of fact, everybody knows that high prices do stimulate production to a certain extent. It enables people to use methods and tools which otherwise could not be used for the purpose, and there is an increase by reason of the rise in prices, and an increase in the total amount of commodities which can be put upon the market.
I would further observe that if you want plenty you have generally got to cultivate decent feelings towards the people whom you propose to purvey the article to you. If you are going to indulge in abusing everybody who you hope is going to provide the article you want, you will not find that you are getting that plenty. You get people's backs up, and the stuff is not produced. You have to treat people fairly. It seems to me a monstrous thing to go to farmers in the spring of the year and to instigate them 1059 by every means you could get to produce larger crops, and then, during the summer, to take away their men who are necessary to put the crops upon the market. If you are going to ask people to undertake certain work the least you can do is not to interfere with them while that work is in progress, but to allow them to carry it to a conclusion. I would also warn the House that it is necessary to protest against a policy which has gone on so long—of asking people to do things which are perfectly incompatible the one with the other. A man cannot be in two places at once. He cannot be a farmer and a soldier at one and the same time. The people must really make up their minds which of these two duties they desire a man to perform and stick to it, and not try chopping and changing.
We have had a great deal said about the wheat production in this country. It has been said that if some guarantee of price had been given to the farmer there would have been more wheat produced than at present. It is a remarkable commentary upon that that the President of the Board of Trade told us yesterday that, in spite of the fact that prices had risen, the total acreage under wheat cultivation was less this year than it was last. That is to say, that the failure of production is not due so much to the want of a guaranteed price as the fact that labour is not there to produce the wheat. If you want to discover one of the causes of the short production of wheat, look at the state of affairs in France. France is a country which has stimulated the home production of wheat by every device known to gentlemen who think it is the business of the State to stimulate the home production of certain articles. Under ordinary circumstances France imported on an average, I think, something less than 5 per cent. per head of the total wheat production—that is approximately — during peace time. Everybody must be aware of the fact that the wheat position at the present time has been aggravated by the fact that France, since the beginning of the War, has been importing wheat on a very large scale. What is the cause of that? It is quite simple. The men have been taken to be soldiers. The fact of the matter is you have this case: In spite of every form of artificial stimulation known to everybody, artificial stimulation which is 1060 perfectly successful in peace time, France is no more able than ourselves to support herself on home-grown wheat. That consideration should, in one sense, be a great satisfaction, because if it is true of France, how much more true is it of Germany? My hon. Friend (Sir L. Chiozza Money) in his speech yesterday, made some very interesting remarks about the Australian wheat prices, and as to what the Australian Government had done in regard to wheat. I am not quite sure that he thoroughly understood the position. He seemed to be under the impression that the Australian Government had bought up the wheat crop in order to prevent the consumer from being exploited by the farmer. The exact opposite is the case. The crop has been bought by the Australian Government for the purpose of rigging the price against the consumer. That was the whole object of the Australian Government in purchasing wheat, and for years holding up this wheat crop against the whole world, financed. I may say, by the British Exchequer. I have always been an advocate of the voluntary system, and as such I opposed the introduction of compulsory military service, and I in no way regret or depart from the attitude I have taken up in the past; but it does seem to me that it is almost impossible to have a combination of a compulsory and a voluntary system if the compulsory system deals with a large and overwhelming part of the nation's activities. I believe that the logical corollary of the adoption of the compulsory system by the Government of this country to the extent of compelling 4,000,000 men to serve in the Army must be that the Government control and supervision will have to be extended over almost everything of real importance. I do not believe it is possible to live in a half-way house, and if we have chosen the wrong house, I think it would be better to make up our mind, whichever house we adopt, to do so thoroughly and furnish it to the very best of our abilities. There is no use doing these things in a half-hearted way. The fact is I do not think people even now really comprehend the extent to which war service goes. War service really embraces almost every form of useful activity it is possible to contemplate. I doubt whether anybody busies himself in any form of useful work without contributing something useful to the war. Many things that do not appear in the 1061 first instance to have any direct bearing on the War, nevertheless, when we get a little below the surface, are found to have a vital bearing on some of those things which are of vital importance to the War. Therefore, I think the Government will probably find themselves forced to extend their activities to a very considerable extent. I do not believe that this dealing with the wheat supplies is going to be the end. I believe they will be dragged on to other cereals before very long, and from step to step to articles which appear to be of much less importance, but very likely are not so.
I want, if I may, to say a few words on the whole question of shipping and transport. First of all, I was very glad to hear what the President of the Board of Trade had to say on the subject of shipbuilding, and I do know as a fact that the position is distinctly better, that is to say, ships are actually being built—not being played at—to a very much greater extent than was the case six months ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "And engines!"] Yes, and engines. I say there is real improvement accomplished. It is not merely on paper, but is an effective improvement. I should like to claim a certain amount of credit in this matter, because I did draw the attention of the House to the fact that this was likely to be a serious problem as long ago as February, 1915, when probably no one was paying much attention to it. I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in regard to the submarine danger. I believe it has been very much exaggerated, and unwisely exaggerated, and, as far as I can make out, those people who have most to do with submarines are the least afraid of them. Those who go down to the sea in ships are much less afraid of submarines than people who read about them in drawing-rooms, but, in dealing with the submarine danger, one fact has come out very clearly, and that is that the defensive arming of merchant vessels has been a very great protection, and I think that the Government ought to take some special steps to make quite certain that ships do not go into submarine danger zones without being a[...]med. It is a very great protection. There is no sort of question about it, apart from the fact that it gives a great deal more confidence to the people on board. That is a matter which ought to be carried out to an even more thorough extent than has hitherto taken place. I should also like to suggest that it might be 1062 better if there were something more in the nature of consultation between the Admiralty and shipowners as to the way in which this submarine danger could be met, because I am quite certain people who are responsible for the mercantile marine are quite capable of having sensible opinions of their own as to what should be done, and it is not necessary or desirable that they should be dictated to by admirals who have never been on a merchant ship, and never consider or listen to the views of anyone responsible for the merchant ships as to what they can wisely do.
I come to the question of the working of the mercantile marine. There are, as we know, a great many claims on the mercantile marine. First of all, there are the claims of the Admiralty for assisting the Naval Service in many different directions. We have got also the very large claims of the Army, not only for the transport of troops, but to an enormous extent, which is probably hardly realised, the transport of horses, stores, etc.; and in this connection I think it should be clearly realised that the more distant the Expedition the greater the strain on the mercantile marine. If we are going into the policy of very distant Expeditions, and that on a large scale, there will be an aggravation of the whole of this problem of transport which will make it almost insuperable. Then we have got the claims of sugar, as to which I am glad to learn there is to be a reduction in the total amount to be brought into the country. There are the claims of wheat. As I said before, I do not suppose this matter can stop there. I will tell the House why. It is quite impossible to provide for any one of those requirements without sacrificing something else. There is no perceptible amount of tonnage being used for purposes which are not good purposes. There is practically no business being carried on now by the mercantile marine which anyone can say ought in itself to be stopped. If everything you are going to do has got to be done at the expense of something else, then, I submit that serious steps ought to be taken to consider whether those other things ought to be stopped. If so, which of them, and to what extents I believe that that part of the problem has never been faced by anyone. Let me mention some of the other articles, which I believe are almost as necessary as food itself, because, after all, people do not live by bread alone. Look at some important raw materials—cotton, wool, hemp—and also other food, such as rice, provisions, and 1063 the whole volume of exports which has got to be attended to for the purposes of the stability of the national finance. In my opinion, this problem of the use of the mercantile marine has got to be considered as a whole. It will not do to fasten on to two or three subjects which appear to the popular eye to be by far the most important, though they may not be, and to concentrate your energies on satisfying those demands without the slightest regard to the interests you are going to injure. You may very soon find you have done yourself more harm than good, just as happened by concentrating your attention solely on the Army, and roping everyone into the Army without considering the occupations from which you have taken them. You have got to consider this problem as a whole.
I will make another suggestion as to what should be considered—whether we are not obliged to some extent to import that food which can be supplied to us by those countries which take our exports. If you are going to take a ship to one part of the world with exports, and then send it five thousand miles to another part of the world to get the particular import you want, you are producing a very great waste of your carrying power. It might be, for instance, that by taking more rice and less wheat you could get a great deal more grain to this country. I do not know; I merely give it as an illustration of my argument, and as a proposition which ought to receive serious consideration. I think you want something much more like a unified control of the mercantile marine. I think, in some form or other, you ought to have a single department working under a Cabinet Minister of authority to take over the control of the merchant service. It ought to supersede the Transport Department, the Licensing Committee, and what is known as the Curzon Committee. The work of all those Departments should be thrown into one, and placed under independent control, which would deal with this great problem as a whole, under, of course, a competent person. I have been associated for some time past with the work of the Transport Department, and I should like to say a word or two on that subject, as that department has come in for such an enormous amount of criticism, a great deal of which I think very unfair. I should like to testify from personal knowledge to the admirable work which has been 1064 done by the most devoted service which any public authority has ever had. I have never seen people working more devotedly, according to their lights and abilities, for the sole purpose of serving the nation, and I say that, having regard to all the difficulties, having regard to the vast amount of work which was thrown upon them, without any experience whatever of the class of work they have been asked to do—because the Transport Department has developed during the past two years from almost a trifling affair to one of the most important Departments of State—I say that, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the marvel is, not that they have made so many mistakes, but that they have not made more. If the thing is fairly judged, I think anyone is bound to say that, considering everything, the Transport Department have done their work a very great deal better than the nation had any right to expect they would.
I have drawn the attention of the House to this subject because I think it is a very serious subject. It concerns not only the food supply, but the question of organising all our oversea transport, which really lies at the root of success in this War. I believe that every person in this country not only wants to win the War, but is absolutely determined to win the War. I for my part thoroughly rejoice at the speech of the President of the Board of Trade and the whole tone of this Debate, because they indicate what I should describe as clear evidence of a return to sanity in regard to the methods to be adopted to win this War. What we want is a much more accurate sense of proportion as to the way in which the different powers of the nation should be used for the purposes of this War. I believe, and I say again, that by the over-development of the Army you are adopting almost the only possible way by which you can lose the War, and I hope and believe the President's speech has been just in time to draw the country up from embarking upon what is a thoroughly false step. We must devote our energies in reasonable proportion to rendering those services which we can most efficiently lender to the Alliance as a whole, and our Allies must accept the same position. We can render, and are asked most imperatively by our Allies to render to them, the service of our marine shipping and the service of our financial departments, which 1065 they cannot render for themselves. It must be clearly recognised that the answer to that call makes it impossible for us to make anything like a similar response to the call for fighting men in the field. You cannot have the same man in two places at once. You cannot have him rendering two totally distinct services at one and the same time, and, having elected which of those two services is the more important, then I say it is foolish and childish to put a man to the other service which you decide is less important. I believe, if we are prudent— as I think we shall be—we shall not have, in spite of all people have said, any difficulty in bringing to a triumphant conclusion a thoroughly just war.
§ Mr. DILLON
The Motion we are discussing is exceedingly characteristic of the time in which we are living, and I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most extraordinary and extreme proposal that has ever been submitted to a British Parliament, so far as we understand what the proposal is. There is not a single Member in the House who could stand up here and give a coherent statement of the nature of the proposal which he is being asked to support. I say that in spite of the fact that I have never heard a more able statement than the one made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who has the gift more than anyone else—perhaps with the exception of the Prime Minister—of lucid statement. Manifestly, from the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Government have not made up their minds, for they have no clear conception of the course they are now embarking upon, and yet such is the state of the public mind that the only criticism made in the course of the Debate up to the present is that the Government have not gone fast enough or far enough.
The first thing I want to deal with is a criticism which has been made, I think, in nearly every speech which has been delivered on this subject, and that is the attack upon the Government because they have not taken action before now. That criticism, I think, is wholly baseless and wrong. When you listen to this universal attack upon the Government for not having taken action before now on this question of food, does it not occur to those critics to compare the position of other countries, belligerent and neutral, with the position of this country, and is it not a fact that this country, with all the delay 1066 and all the crimes with which the Government have been charged, is in this matter of food and food prices far better off up to this hour than any one of the belligerent countries, and far better off than some of the great neutral countries. We have all suffered during the last few weeks from the constant rise in prices, which has got worse, and which has justified the Government in taking action of some kind. Up to a few weeks ago We were better off than the people of New York or Chicago so far as prices are concerned. Bread is selling to-day in New York at a higher price than in the City of London, although the Americans are the greatest grain producers in the world. These facts teem to have been wholly ignored in dealing with the record of a country like this, which only grows a small proportion of its own food, and which has been at war for two years, and which up to a few weeks ago had the necessaries of life selling in its great cities at a lower price than in America, which is the greatest food-producing country in the world. I do not agree that the Government have acted too slowly, and I think they have acted wisely in proceeding on this path with extreme caution, slowness and wariness, and not taking one step beyond what they are coerced to take by the circumstances of the day.
It has been made a matter of reproach by the Leader of the Labour party, in a speech to which I must allude—and it was the most remarkable oration I have ever heard—that they did not move until they were coerced to move. What Government with any sense of responsibility would move until they were coerced to move on this question'; The German Government, which is held up as a model of perfection as it is so often nowadays, took action on this question at a very early date, and probably they were coerced. But it has not been a very popular action in Germany, and at this moment, unless the extracts we are allowed to see from the German papers greatly deceive us, one of the chief dangers from which Germany is suffering at the present time is the intense irritation created by their food laws. Therefore I say that a Government who travelled that path, and inflicted unnecessary and minute irritation upon the people until the necessity was absolutely proved would be courting trouble and acting in the most foolish possible manner Up to a few weeks ago the necessity for this action did not exist in this country. It is 1067 all very well for Gentlemen, some of them learned in, the law, to lay down the law for us here about agriculture, food production, and food distribution, and talk about privateering, and the desirability of strictly and stringently limiting the price of food. As the President of the Board of Trade has explained on more than one occasion with absolutely unanswerable force, the process of limiting the price of food in a country like England, dependent largely on foreign importation and upon our own farmers, is a most dangerous process, and may result in producing something worse than high prices, and that is an actual shortage and famine.
There is one other criticism I want to make on the Government proposals, and it is that I listened to the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and listened in vain for any proposal to stimulate production. If there is a criticism which may be justly levied against the Government, it is not that they have hesitated long to limit prices or to enter into the question and control distribution, which is a difficult and dangerous operation, but that they have not taken steps in time to stimulate production. The best way in which you can possibly reduce prices and meet the food prices in war or in peace is to increase the supply, and, above all, to increase the supply at home. Neither in this country nor in Ireland, where it could easily have been done, has any practical step been taken to promote and increase production. It could have been done, and a great work could have been done. Take Ireland, for example. Anybody acquainted with that country could have increased the production of food largely, and all the more easily in Ireland, because there we do not suffer quite to the same extent as you do in this country from the depletion of agricultural labour. But neither in Ireland nor in this country was that step taken which could have been taken without any danger whatever of promoting popular discontent. We have reached a period now when it is absolutely true that subterranean grumblings are to be heard by those who will put their ears to the ground, and that is why we should take the greatest precaution, because it is going to be a long war—I have never, directly or indirectly, given any encouragement to the pacifists and the peace agitators; I suppose it is in Irish blood, because we are fighters, and we believe when two men get into each other's wool, one has to go 1068 down before the matter is settled—I believe you will have no peace until one side or the other is beaten in this contest, and if it is going to be a long war, one thing you have always to keep in mind is that you should not do anything that is absolutely unnecessary to make it unpopular.
This was a democratic country before the War, and it may again be a democratic country, and when you touch questions affecting the food of the people you are getting on very serious ground. Even now we had nothing from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to indicate what is the policy of the Government to deal with the agricultural situation in England. It has now been admitted on all sides that there has been a great blunder committed with labour, that agriculture is in a very serious condition, and may be much more serious during the coming winter. It was proved in speeches which struck me as extraordinary that whole fleets of vessels— it was put as high as a hundred ships of 5,000 tons apiece—will be employed if they can be got in carrying to this country the shortage of wheat which could have been produced here but for the shortage of agricultural labour. That is a fact, and nobody has denied it, and all the agricultural men take the same view. If that be a true statement, is not that the dominant factor of the whole situation, and is it not even more important to produce more food instead of less in England than travel upon the road we are now invited to go? When the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is going to speak for the Government, winds up the Debate, I hope we shall be told what the Dictator and the other Department which is to be created is going to do to meet the agricultural situation, and increase the production of food in Great Britain and Ireland?
We are asked to appoint a Dictator, because that is what it amounts to, and that is the name which has been given to it by the newspapers of England to-day. In taking up the morning papers, I find one of the enthusiastic newspapers—I forget whether it was the "Morning Post" or the"Times"—congratulating the Government upon making a real beginning by appointing a dictator, and this paper has got so enthusiastic on compulsion in any shape or form that they did not wait to inquire what is the name of the man who is to be lord and master over us in every detail of our lives, but what they did say was that they wanted to warn any man who was invited to assume the 1069 new position that he should refuse to be-come Dictator unless he got an assurance that every Government Department, including, as far as I could read the notice, the Cabinet itself, would obey his orders without question. Is that really the proposition? Mark this: There was nothing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which was received with so much enthusiasm by this House, even to indicate who the man is to be, or that the Government have any notion who he is to be, or that they have thought or considered where he is to be found, or what his functions and powers are to be when he is found. No doubt we had a most formidable list of Orders in Council passed yesterday, and they will be published, I believe, to-morrow. All these confer powers only on the Board of Trade—they are only a beginning—and they have no bearing upon and they give no indication as to what is to be the relation of this new great official of the State either to this House or to His Majesty's Government, or to any of the Departments of the Government. It appears to me absolutely without parallel that the House of Commons should blindly and wildly accept and enthusiastically approve this proposal.
I have a few questions which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman or his representative, and I hope that we may have an answer before the Debate closes. Have they considered the names of anyone for this post? We were told just now some of the qualifications. He must be an expert in agriculture. I should hope a better expert than the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson). I am an agriculturist to the extent of forty or fifty acres. I do not claim much skill, but I have sufficient skill to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College would starve us very soon. He must be skilful in agriculture, and understand the necessities. I think he must, or else, with the enormous powers that he is to have, he may play the devil with the whole country. He must be thoroughly versed in all questions of shipping and transport. If he is going to be a Dictator over the Board of Trade, over the shipping of the country, and over the Admiralty and the War Office—I hope that he will have the War Office well under his thumb—he must undoubtedly be an expert in shipping. He must be an expert in land transport, he must know something about railroads, he must be an expert in 1070 trade, or else how can he lay down rules for all those infinitely complicated trade conditions in this country which his will and decree may fatally dislocate if he does not understand? He is to have all these qualifications, and, finally, the hon. Member for Hexham, who just addressed the House, said that he must be an honest man. We are entitled to know at the earliest possible opportunity who he is to be, and I think really this House is entitled to express some opinion as to whether the correct man filling all these qualifications has been selected. We ought to know very soon who is to be this Dictator, who, remember, according to the indications thrown out in the Press, is to have more power over our lives during the course of the remainder of the War than any Eastern despot has ever had. He is to be able to come into our houses and tell us whether we are to have pudding for dinner or whether we are to have a pinch of sugar—very dreadful powers which no Sultan of Eastern lands has ever attempted to exercise, and which, if he had, would undoubtedly have led to his being assassinated.
When is this gentleman's name to be revealed, and who is he to be? Is he to be a Member of this House? I doubt whether all the ingenuity of the Government could discover anyone in this House who, on examination, would fill all the qualifications. Is he to be a Member of this House or a member of the Government? Is he to be a member of the other House? When he is appointed, is he to be a member of the Cabinet, or is he, as indicated in one of Lord Northcliffe's papers to-day, to stand outside and superior to the Cabinet and not to be soiled at all by the slime and filth of politics? Perhaps Lord Northcliffe himself has found the one office for which he is suited, with Cabinets and Governments and War Office all subservient to him and without the right to say a word. He would then be in the position which would suit him, because he could bring them all to reason by cutting them down to half rations by a stroke of the pen, or cutting off their champagne or beer, or whatever occurred to him. Joking apart, however, we are entitled to know who this man is to be, and the Government in common decency ought not to have made this proposal without having let us know. If they could not suggest a name, they ought 1071 before rushing into this matter to have decided what his functions are to be and what his status is to be.
One word about the agricultural situation. We got a lecture yesterday from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, who rushed into the fray and hailed with rapture, as he always does, any fresh step on the road to compulsion. He told us what his view was and how he would deal with the agricultural situation. I would like to see him explaining his views before any agricultural body in the country. Some steam ploughs manned by ignorant men were to go about the country and plough up the land in a general way, and the whole country was to blossom forth. They were to go, as far as I could understand, into all the gentlemen's demesnes first of all, because he said. "Not an inch of land," and plough them all up and sew them with potatoes. That is a very interesting view, but it did not strike me as being at all practicable. Then he complained in the most eloquent and ferocious language, and he attacked the Government. The most amazing thing is that the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that no Government can sit there that is not equally open to his attack. He attacks this Government with almost the same zeal and fury and persistency as he attacked previous Governments. Why does he attack the Government now? He does so because he says they have denuded the farms of this land of the necessary labour. Who was the man to hound the War Office to take every single man capable of doing work without any reference whatever to the industries and the food-producing capacity of the country, a policy which in my opinion if persisted in will be disastrous. I suppose we shall have him on the other track next week, demanding that every man who can stand on two legs and some who can only stand on one and are unable to stand on two should be promptly run into the Army, letting trade and agriculture, as he said last year in my presence, take care of themselves. "Our business is to fill the Army; trade will be managed by women and children and so on." Now he attacks the Government because they have taken too many. Of course they have, and we are witnessing the spectacle of them being forced to take men upon whose training vast sums have been spent out of the Army in order to bring them back to produce food for the country Any 1072 intelligent man could have told them, and many did tell them, that it was madness and folly to take these men from the land. Agriculture and labour must be attended to.
This brings me to a question on which I must say a word or two, because it is vital and important. It is the question of the Irish agricultural labourer. When this controversy about compulsory service arose, we asked what was the position of Irish agricultural labourers who, as everybody knows, are really vital to certain parts of this country, and whom the farmers are extremely anxious to get. I was particularly interested in this matter, because I have got 6,000 or 7,000 of them in my Constituency who come over to this country every year. It has been most justly said that it would be unfair of them to come over here and take the places of Englishmen, who would thus be set free to go into the Army. But they never do come over to take the jobs of Englishmen. They come over, to their own advantage, no doubt, but far more to the advantage of the farmers here, to meet the exceptional demands for labour to get in the harvest and at certain seasons of the year when there are not enough English labourers to be got. These Irish agricultural labourers are absolutely essential. I asked some time ago what the position of these labourers was to be. I said, "I will go home, if you like, and tell all my men to stay at home. Thank God, in the altered circumstances of Ireland they can live without the English labour. But if you want them, tell them frankly that they will not forfeit their rights, and they will come, not to take the jobs of Englishmen, but to do the work which they have usually done in times of peace." I was told by the President of the Local Government Board who has charge of these matters, perfectly frankly and honestly, that the Irish labourer would not be touched. I went back and told them so on the word of an English Minister. What happened? When they came over here several of them were illegally arrested, and because they were unlettered men and without resources several of them, having been kidnapped against the law and in defiance of the law, were run into the ranks of the Army. I declare that this was an idiotic policy. You gained some twenty, or thirty, or forty Irish unwilling soldiers, but every one of these men had friends at home—several of them had two or three brothers in the Army who 1073 had gone in voluntarily, and the amount of irritation, anger, and bitterness created in large districts in Ireland among their relatives was beyond words. Folly could not go further even under the British War Office.
There is another side of the case. Lincolnshire is one of the districts to which the men in my Constituency go, and a great many women also go there to help to take up the potatoes. They went there this year and were met with insult and outrage. They were hunted, and I believe some of the potatoes in the fields of Lincolnshire are rotting to-day owing to the want of labour because they hunted our people. Our people do not go there to take their places; they go on invitation to do the work they have done every year. Why do I dwell on that point? I frankly recognise the difference in the circumstances of the two countries. Compulsion, to which I am as much opposed as ever and which I think was a great mistake, existing in this country and having been adopted by the House of Commons by a huge British majority, every loyal Englishman in my opinion is bound to make the best of it. I have not in the least changed my view, nor has the hon. Member for Hexham. I quite recognise that there must be a great amount of prejudice against Irish labourers coming over to this country under these circumstances, and we do not want our men to come, and they do not want to come, unless you want them. If they are not welcomed they will stay at home. Let the House thoroughly understand that. We do not press Irish labour on you. Our men will stay at home if they are not required. I think myself it is quite natural that Englishmen should get irritated if they are going to be conscripted into the Army and Irishmen are brought over to take over their jobs in order to render them no longer indispensable and to free them for the Army. I have always set my face against it.
What is the Government going to do? They are proposing to bring coloured men to the docks and the railroads of this country to take the place of Englishmen for the specific purpose of setting Englishmen free to go to fight. It is a very dangerous game and a very stupid game, and certainly it does appear a strange thing when you find that the bringing of Irishmen over to take the place of Englishmen—I disapprove of it, and have always disapproved of it—is resented both by public men and by English working men. I think you had better look out when it 1074 is proposed to bring coloured men over to take the place of Englishmen. So much for the position of the Irish labourers. But what about the remarkable speech which we heard from the Leader of the Labour party last night? I listened to the whole of the Debate very carefully, because this is a question in which I take a very deep interest, and I never was more dumbfounded in this House, except it may be by the violent Protectionist speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond), who used to be, and to whom I used to come and listen, one of the ablest Free Trade speakers in the House, and who is now more violent and got far beyond the Colonial Secretary, who, compared with him, is in this respect a backslider. The hon. Member the Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Wardle), to my amazement, hailed the whole of this proposal with rapture and enthusiasm. He thanked the Government and at the same time blamed the Government for not having moved sooner. He said he was in favour of compulsion all along the line and a complete organisation of the country, such, I assume, as that which has been advocated by the Northcliffe Press for the last ten or twelve days. Is it possible we have reached a stage when the Labour party are urging on the Government compulsory labour, followed up, I have no doubt, by compulsory tariffs? It is an amazing development, and I should be curious to hear whether any of the Labour leaders endorses that position.
What I want to ask in conclusion is, Where does Ireland come in, and Irish agriculture, in the details of these proposals? That is one of the reasons, one of the main reasons, why I have taken part in this Debate. I listened, and I gathered all I could from the Debate. Once you set up this gentleman, whoever he is to be, whatever his status, and give him these vast powers, then, with the inevitable tendency which marks all such departures, power will follow power, and he will become more and more a dictator and master over the whole industry, the whole agriculture and the whole distribution of food in this country. Naturally, I want to know to whom he is to be responsible. If he is to be responsible to this House, and if we are to be at liberty to criticise his proceedings, I should not be so uneasy. But I must say this, if he is to be set up as an irresponsible, not a Member of this 1075 House, outside the House, and not responsible to the House, I would be extremely uneasy as to the effect of his rule upon Ireland. I would beg Ministers to remember what is an old, trite saying and a commonplace, and that is the fact that the interests of Ireland and the interest of Great Britain are very often diametrically opposed in these matters. We are therefore entitled before a Dictator operates on Ireland and Ireland's interests, small though they are, no doubt, but they are all to us, to have some assurance that before these laws are laid down, and any morning now we may open our newspapers and find in them some law which will bring ruin on large sections of the Irish people or at least heavy losses, we are entitled to be consulted and have some voice as to the individual to be selected.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The speech which was made yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade seems to me to be the most striking speech both in its gravity and in its intrinsic importance that has been made in this House since the passing of the Military Service Act. I think that opinion is shared by many who heard it and who have read it. It was expressed yesterday by, amongst others, the hon. Member who sits for South Wiltshire (Captain Bathurst), who indeed used almost those words. And if the House will consider what that speech has really accomplished, I will not say in changing the opinion, but at any rate in causing a change in the expression of opinion in this House, it will be clear that the description I have given of it is not exaggerated. My right hon. Friend took a series of trades connected with the supply of food. He took shipbuilding, he took agriculture, he took engineering, and taking trade after trade he demonstrated by chapter and verse how we permitted those who were engaged in those essential industries for the purposes of the War to be taken away to quite a dangerous extent for another occupation more immediately and obviously war-like, but not an occupation where they could contribute more to the national strength. He pointed out how, in the case of mercantile shipbuilding, that although the most recent returns are better than the returns of some time back, he hoped to be able to say by the end of the year that during the last six months of this present year we should have succeeded in 1076 putting into the water merchant shipping to the amount of some half-million gross tonnage. That is to say only one quarter of the British merchant shipping which we have lost during the course of the year. Obviously that single fact is one which must cause many Members of the House and public opinion throughout the country very seriously to take stock of some of our proceedings. He took the case of agriculture, and from his own great knowledge of these things he told us that some of the most essential men have been taken from some of the best of our farming districts, who, in his experience, would have been far better employed if continued at farming. He told us 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, and that that has been a direct loss. He told us that although efforts have been made, as we can well believe, to restrain the mistaken policy which has led to these very serious consequences, still, he did not claim that that restraint had, up to the present, been really effective. Those are most serious facts which were laid before the House and the country with all the care and lucidity and gravity which the President of the Board of Trade always shows in dealing with public affairs. The extent to which these revelations have influenced opinion may be best illustrated by an observation which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) immediately afterwards. This is what he said, commenting on those statements of the President of the Board of Trade: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 sure that everybody who heard the right hon. Gentleman say that and who remembered his language and still more his general attitude to the men who warned the House of Commons of the possibility of this danger must be struck by this confession. He says, "We are only now beginning to find out." But what was the experience of some of us during the past twelve months whenever we called attention to this matter. When we did we were instantly told we were people who did not seem to realise that this country was at war. The speech of the President of the Board of Trade, deeply as it impressed the 1077 House of Commons, does not appear as yet to have reminded anyone who has spoken of another speech which the right hon. Gentleman made. This is not the first time the President of the Board of Trade, has warned us of these dangers, and has urged us constantly to be on the watch against these very obvious mistakes. When I read his speech of yesterday in the OFFICIAL REPORT I was reminded of the speech which he made, I think, on the 21st of December, 1915, just a fortnight before the first Military Service Bill was introduced into this House. He was at that time a colleague of mine, and I sat on the Front Bench and listened to him. In that speech he told the House of Commons that he and his Department had been making the most full and careful survey of the different trades of the country in order to calculate exactly, or as nearly as might be, how many could be spared from the different trades for the Army without really, on balance, reducing rather than increasing the full total of the national strength. He said, for example, that they had taken shipbuilding—and he told us something about shipbuilding yesterday—and that they had taken engineering of all classes, and he gave us a long list of other trades, and the food-producing industry. Speaking in December, 1915, in the name of the Government, my right hon. Friend said:Those we put in the first group and the view that I took, if I may express my own personal opinion, fortified as it was by all the industry, care and scientific training of our experts, I estimated that out of that group of those who were still remaining in the industries after something like half a million had already gone into the Army we could afford to take no more.That was the warning which the President -of the Board of Trade gave us in December, 1915. He dealt with agriculture as distinct from the food-producing industry, and told us that as regards agriculture the view of the Board of Agriculture was that out of agriculture you could only afford to take such of the labour as was replaceable by women. He went on in that speech to warn us that, while it was very easy to suppose that every additional man you take from industry and nut into the Army made an addition to the national strength, that was not the way Germany did it, and was not the wise way to do it. These are his words:This careful examination may not he a slap-dash way of dealing with recruiting, it may appear to be slow and minute, but it is the kind of method which has been adopted by Germany…. She goes carefully through every section of her population; she examines her trade and her industries, as we have examined ours. She gives exemptions, just as we are wing exemptions. She does not make the mistake of 1078 sending too many men to the Colours; she retains a scientific balance and a distribution of labour and skill such as have enabled her to last out this War with, so far as we can see, her strength very little diminished."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1915, cols. 329–330, Vol. LXXVII]6.0 P.M.
Surely it is right that we should now remember that wherever we are going to throw the blame for want of foresight, it cannot be thrown on the shouders of the President of the Board of Trade. He took up that position in December, 1915, and the speech which he delivered yesterday shows most clearly that the anticipations he had made were in substance right, and what has happened in the interval has unfortunately threatened us with some consequences by no means encouraging for those who wish to see us put forth our strength at its maximum. I remember when he made that speech eleven months ago it was regarded in some quarters as being in effect an argument against compulsion. But at any rate it shows that it cannot be because the President of the Board of Trade has not understood the real results of this question that we have got into this position. Is it not obvious, in the light of the quotations I have just made, when they are compared with the President's speech yesterday, that we have had, in fact, large numbers of men taken from these essential industries, with the result that we have not kept up the strength of the country as it might have been kept up? What is the explanation? Obviously, it is not want of warning on the part of the President of the Board of Trade. The explanation is perfectly obvious. The explanation is that the War Office have had powers conferred upon them which they have exercised in defiance of warnings—I might add in defiance of pledges—and really without any regard for any other object except that of getting men for the Army. Anyone who has urged any other consideration as being important from the national point of view has been in this matter regarded as someone who really was not addressing himself to the business of beating the foe. There are two or three facts in connection with this recent history which bear directly on the difficulty of the food supply as the President of the Board of Trade has expounded it to us. In the first place, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Captain C. Bathurst) yesterday, whatever might have been the original intention when the tribunals were set up, they are really no longer acting as tribunals who judge without fear or favour whether a man can best be used in the 1079 Army or not. There, again, I do not desire to say anything on my own account, which has been put quite as forcibly as I should wish by the hon. Member speaking yesterday. The hon. Member for the Wilton Division said this about 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, l5th November, 1916, col. 910.]What is so surprising to me, knowing as I do, and greatly admiring, the industry and energy of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, is how comes it that one Government Department should have been able to do this month after month all this time, when the Board of Trade and, I suppose, the Board of Agriculture, have all the time known perfectly well — it was stated perfectly clearly—that this was not the best way of getting the maximum effort. The truth is that if the Government is to be criticised on this matter it is not the two hon. Gentlemen whom I see sitting on the Treasury Bench who have really got to be brought to book. It is not the Board of Trade; it is not the Board of Agriculture; it is the War Office that has yielded, as it seems to me, to mere clamour, or else has been governed by extraordinary ignorance at a time when it was very popular—oh, very popular, indeed !—to denounce anybody who desired to say that the strength of this country depended upon anything except upon putting the people into the Army. The War Office have done exactly what any popular agitator in such circumstances might be expected to do—they have never paid the slightest regard, so far as I can judge, to the warnings publicly given again and again by the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture. Of course, we should be very unreasonable people if we did not expect these Appeal Tribunals and other tribunals to make mistakes—many mistakes, and serious mistakes. Nothing I am saying involves any criticism either upon their good faith or their desire to do their best, but they have been ruled and governed by the military representative, and the military representatives have been ruled and governed by Regulations from the War Office. The reason why these 1080 obvious councils of prudence which we had expounded to us yesterday, as they were expounded eleven months ago, by the President of the Board of Trace were not regarded, is for the same reason that the pledges of the Prime Minister and of the President of the Local Government Board have not been regarded. The moment you set up this system the War Office say, "I am out to get men for the Army, and nothing else matters.".
That seems to be the first explanation to which it seems relevant to draw attention. The second is this. There has been from the beginning, as it seems to me, a very serious misunderstanding as to what is meant by saying that a man is indispensable. In one sense of the term nobody is indispensable. If you take an industry, I do not care how important it is in relation to the War, it really is not possible to say who of great numbers of persons ought to-be kept in that industry, or that any given one of them is indispensable. Still less is it possible to say that anyone is indispensable when looked at by himself. I remember pointing out this very thing in the Debate on the Military Service Act. I think I used this illustration myself. If you have an industry which, by common consent, is an industry essential to the carrying on of the War and which employs twenty persons of a given grade, you can take each one of those twenty at a given time and challenge him as to whether he is indispensable and it cannot be proved. What you have to do is not to consider whether each individual man as he comes out is able to prove that he is indispensable as against all the world, but you need, every time one of these problems is judged, to remember that you are dealing with a vastly complicated balance and that the thing has to be looked at not as a problem of one man against a nation, not as a problem of prejudice, but as a claim worthy to be made with all the expert help which the Board of Trade, the Board of Agriculture and other Departments can give. Let me quote here from an hon. Member who spoke yesterday. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), in the interesting speech he made yesterday, speaking of this very subject in connection with agriculture and the difficulty of proving indispensability, said: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. 1081 'Farmer A claims this man is indispensable, How can he say that when he has Bent him to Farmer B? —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, I916, col. 878.]That is what is called organising the nation. I believe that quite the larger part of the unfortunate result unfolded to us yesterday is due to this confusion as to the meaning of the word "indispensable." Unless those Departments which are represented here in the Debate to-day on the Front Bench—the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture—are really able to stand on level terms with the military authorities about this matter, then nothing that is happening in this Debate will secure an improvement in food prices or in food production. These are some of the difficulties which were unfolded to us yesterday. Deeply impressive as they are, we all ask in all quarters of the House, what is the remedy suggested? I think there was great force in what was said just now by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon),You are marking a proposal for a Food Dictator. That is a proposal which is extreme, revolutionary and vague, and alarming in the highest degreeI think that much of what he said went to show it. That is quite true, but it also follows from that fact that you are not really meeting the need. What is it, so far as one can measure, that the Food Dictator is going to do? Apparently he is going to be in a position to discourage and, I hope, prevent waste in the consumption of food. He is going to be authorised to fix prices and so forth. Yes; but is he going to control the production of food? Is he going to have a voice in saying who is to be left to produce the food? Is he to have a right to say—not merely to say but to enforce what he says—to the War Office and to the military authorities, "You must not take these people," whom, as the President of the Board of Trade has pointed out to us ought not to have been taken when he spoke a year ago and who had been taken when he spoke-to us yesterday. Can he do that? Unless this Dictator is going to be represented in the tribunals with equal authority to that wielded by the military representative, then he is a Food Dictator who is merely going to dictate what food we are to be at liberty to eat, without having part or lot in the really essential difficulty of governing the conditions by which food is produced and transported to this country. While I see the force of the criticism that his powers appear to be very wide, and may be very dangerous, I am 1082 prepared, for my part, to see very wide and alarming changes made if we can only get on better. It is quite plain that the scheme unfolded by the President of the Board of Trade is not really addressed to the evil he expounded in his speech. Nothing he told us about the Food Dictator is in the least in the world going to cure this unfortunate bad distribution of power between the Army and other functions. Therefore it comes back again to this: It all depends upon whether or not the House of Commons and the country are now prepared to face this problem and to see that the War Office is really controlled in the matter. The President of the Board of Trade said yesterday, fairly enough, that it is absurd to blame the recruiting authorities because they have tried to get everybody they can. Of course they have. I do not blame them at all. I blame the people who must in council have learned the great dangers which would flow if these recruiting authorities were given their own way. This is what the President of the Board of Trade said about them:The War Office has recognised this and has done something to introduce a little reasonableness into the patriotic gentlemen, the officers who are recruiting in the rural districts. No one blames them. We depend very greatly for their zeal for the manning of our forces. But there is no doubt that unless they are guided—they ought to be guided. They ought to have been guided during the last twelve months. It is a little late to tell us it is time to begin to guide them—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 with what they need, and which are war measures as much as recruiting for the Army."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1916, cols. 845–6.]What guarantee have we, if this Food Dictator is to be appointed, that these military representatives are going to get this very necessary guidance? If they do not get it from the War Office, who is going to give it to them? I would ask this further question: What is the real guarantee that those who we are assured are going to be got back out of the Army are really going to be got back? I sympathise very much with anybody who is called upon suddenly to surrender gallant men, trained men, keen men, from the position which they occupy in his military unit, in order that he may go back to work in comparative safety at home. It is all to their honour that they do not want to go back. We know they do not. It is all to the credit of their 1083 commanders that they feel that, having trained them and having confidence in them, they do not want to let them go. But we must have some organisation which will really secure that these things are done. This is by no means the first occasion on which we have been told that these little slips are going to be corrected, and that an unfortunate mistake has been made here or there, and these people are going to be got back, and I do not think the House of Commons is justified in accepting assurances from either the Board of Trade or the Board of Agriculture, genuinely as I know they feel the urgency of this matter, unless those assurances are in terms backed and made effective by those who speak on behalf of the military authorities.
Let me point this out. The Prime Minister has always, as it seemed to me, stated the complexity of this problem with the greatest clearness and frankness. He has never perpetrated the absurdity of saying in the middle of the War let trade go hang. He has always perfectly understood that this is a vastly complicated machine, that there are many wheels going round, each of which is doing its work, and he has always appreciated that it is a very dangerous thing to give one particular Department a great rod of iron which it can drive into the middle of this machine and stop some of the wheels turning round and then say, after all, that is only the trade wheel, or the transport wheel, or the agricultural wheel, and what does it matter as long as I get men for the Army. He has always understood it, and has always stated it perfectly clearly to the House, but has he secured that those mistakes were not made? I hope, therefore, that we shall get in this Debate, and in the Debates which must follow about this food Minister, something more than assurances, something more than explanations, however clear and however candid, by the President of the Board of Trade as to what has gone wrong — something which will give the country an assurance that the real proportions of this problem are now acknowledged by people admittedly patriotic—it is no longer an indication that you are a crank or a pro-German that you happen to think it is important to get a correct distribution—and that, as a result, we shall give up once and for all the stupid fallacy of supposing that every 1084 additional man that you add to the Army is necessarily an addition to the strength of the nation.
As it appears to me, the safety of the country and its ultimate victory in the struggle may depend upon action being taken really to meet what the President of the Board of Trade explained to us yesterday. I do not share, I never have pretended to share, the feelings of some people, a minority of this country, who think that as the situation now stands there are rosy prospects of a satisfactory peace. I do not agree with them a bit. It appears to me that that is far too sanguine a view of the situation. If it be so, so much the better. But even if it were so, I feel confident that the analogy of controversy in another field applies here. If you want to get a satisfactory settlement with your adversary, whether it be in a law court, or whether it be in diplomacy, I am sure you must stand in a position where you are able to go on, and where you can show your people that you are so arranging matters that you will go on. Therefore, whatever be the right view as to an early peace or a long-lasting peace, the only safe policy for this country to adopt is one which it can adopt and carry through on the assumption that peace is still a long way off and that the War has a long course to run. That is my objection to what is called the policy of the knock-out blow. The knock-out blow is a capital way of winning a fight, always assuming that after you have put everything into that one blow you really knock the other man down. But it is a very dangerous policy to put the whole of your strength disproportionately into one particular sudden energy unless you are absolutely certain that when you have done it you will have got your enemy to his knees, and that is the reason why I think there is much force in what on hon. Friend of mine said to-day, and others have said before, that to throw too much of our national resources into the purely military channel is the only way in which we might lose the war. Our real resources are essentially the resources which belong to a Power which can stay and can last. The spirit of the country to-day is just as determined to see this War ended in the only way which will justify our entering into it, and the only way for securing the objects for which we entered into it as ever it was and I trust that this most crucial Debate is going, while there is time, to result in such 1085 a readjustment of our arrangements, such a fresh recognition of the claims of this element of strength and that element of strength that we may say, one and all, whatever we have thought in the past about compulsion—I am all for letting bygones be bygones till the War is over— that we now stand in a position, whatever mistakes may have been made in the past to fight this thing out, however long it lasts, to the victory which we all desire.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. Acland)
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) will feel extremely disappointed to have missed the extraordinarily interesting and important speech to which we have just listened and the speech which preceded it. He has had to be away unavoidably. He is going to return, and I intervene largely in order to minimise his disappointment and to prevent his missing other speeches which are to follow mine. Therefore, I am going, so to speak, to fill up a little time until he returns, and deal with some of the agricultural questions which have been raised. I am not going to attempt a detailed reply to all of them, but I should like to break a lance with my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Mond) He made some very extraordinary assertions about the state of agriculture and the entire inactivity of the Government in doing anything whatever to help anyone, and I thought he rather put himself out of court in some of the things he said. He said, for instance, that absolutely nothing—he did not use the words as a figure of speech, but as a matter of fact—had been done in the matter of trying to encourage and spread the use of such fertilisers as we have available. I should not have objected at all if he had come to the House with some knowledge of what had been done, and reviewed it and said it was inadequate. It may be inadequate, but when he says that absolutely nothing has been done, I think less of his criticism than if he had tried to inform himself in any way of anything that has been going on from the beginning of the War till now. I realise it perfectly, because in a certain section of the community, namely, the makers of sulphate of ammonia, even I am regarded as a most oppressive scoundrel who by most damaging agreements with them am compelling them in various ways to accept prices for their products far less than they would and could have got in the open market, and 1086 far less than they really would be worth to a farmer to-day. That is their point of view. We made a special arrangement in the autumn of last year under which farmers were able to obtain sulphate of ammonia at a specially low price. The right hon. Gentleman said, why did not we hang up exports so that more of this very important fertiliser will be available. We absolutely prohibited export for two and a-half months. We held on that prohibition of exports so long—many people thought too long—that such accumulations of stocks took place that there was a chance, or a threat, that works would have to discontinue manufacturing articles which were absolutely vital for the Ministry of Munitions, and, of course, when that fact became apparent we had to allow, under licence and control, export to again take place. The total manufacture of this sulphate is something: like 400,000 tons a year, and the total amount used by the farmers is something, like 50,000 or 60,000 tons. We have every prospect of increasing the use of it to something like double, I should think, in the present season. The amount taken by farmers owing to this arrangement which we have made, and of which the right hon. Gentleman is wholly: ignorant—
§ Mr. ACLAND
Then why does my right hon. Friend say that absolutely nothing has been done? He said that with every appearance of truth.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, I know, but that simply is not so. Even ignorance of what we have done is more excusable than thinking that what we have done is absolutely nothing. If with a set of people who, as he has said, are rather slow to move what we have done will result, I believe, in doubling their consumption of a certain fertiliser this season, I think it is not fair to say it amounts to absolutely nothing. He turned to copper sulphate, and said why did we not limit the. export of copper sulphate.
§ Sir A. MOND
I did not say that. You have limited the export of copper sulphate. You hung it up, and never saw that the people who ought to have used it used it.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I apologise. We limited the export of it. We saw that there was 1087 plenty available for farmers to use as a spray for their potatoes. I admit we did not send round inspectors to every farm to see that it was put on as it ought to have been. That is perfectly true. We only saw that there was plenty available for farmers, who know all about spraying, to use at a reasonable price. What happened was this—I expect no one knows more about it than the right hon. Gentleman—that the weather in August and September was such—there were very heavy rain storms—as to make it entirely impossible to keep disease from potatoes, however well they had been sprayed in the earlier parts of the season. He must know that under certain circumstances, and they unfortunately occurred this year, however well potatoes are sprayed, disease is bound to get going because once the storms come the sulphate is washed off, however well it has been put on, and by that time, in August, the leaf has grown so strong that you cannot run the machine down to the last rows, even if you get fine weather, in order to apply the spray at that later stage. With these views as to our encouragement of the use of fertilisers, as to our prescience in the matter of warning the farmers with regard to copper sulphate, and so on, he says he would like to take over the farms and compel everyone to do exactly what ought to be done in detail, and that he will get it all ready in six weeks. I wonder which to pity most, the farmers or himself, at the end of that six weeks. He makes very bold charges against the farmers. For instance, the charge that they are holding up wheat for a higher price all over the place. I do not believe that is in the least justified. I believe that wherever the weather has allowed threshing to take place, and whenever and wherever threshing machines have been available, wheat has been threshed by every farmer from one end of the country to the other and put on the market, and there has been no holding up of wheat in order to get higher prices later on.
Having tried to make that small tilt at my right hon. Friend, I should like to pass to more general agricultural questions. Undoubtedly in the past the military authorities and the tribunals, of course, have not seen eye to eye with the agricultural representatives, and it may be that the War Office has not seen eye to eye with the Board of Agriculture and other Departments, and I think there is 1088 a great deal of ground for criticism for what has actually happened in the past. But I want to say rather strongly that there is not now the grave difference of policy between the War Office and the Board of Agriculture which some hon. Members have imagined. I think I can prove that. There is special significance in the circular addressed to the Officers Commanding-in-Chief in the English districts, which was quoted yesterday by my right hon. Friend, in which it is brought very clearly to the attention of the military representatives that they have been going a good deal too far ill many cases in claiming that men should be taken from the land, and that it is their duty to see that the scale which has been agreed on, and which would leave on the land a reasonable proportion of skilled men, is adhered to, and that if they do anything to the contrary they are, as the circular says, acting contrary to the policy of the Army Council. I think the fact that the War Office has issued a circular of that kind, which is intended to be brought to the attention of the military representatives, is, at any rate, one sign that we are seeing eye to eye at the present time and doing our best to prevent the land from being denuded of necessary labour.
Again, in regard to the substitution scheme, the working of which is to be put into operation during the next few months, the War Office were most anxious to lay it down that only men should be sent back to the farms who not only had previously been accustomed to agriculture, but had been accustomed to agriculture, if possible, in the particular village or place to which they were sent back. That means a real appreciation of the farmer's point of view. It is not enough for the farmer to know that the man he is going to get back is able to plough, but it ought to be enough for him, and I think it will be enough for him, to know that the man who is going to return is, in many cases, the John Brown who used to be on his farm, or on the next farm, and whose reputation as a ploughman and the value of whose work he can quite easily find out before he agrees to the substitution scheme with the military substitution officer. I think the War Office have taken a great deal of trouble to make sure, so far as they can make sure, that these sort of details shall be worked out to meet the farmer's views in their substitution scheme. For instance, they have provided this, which I think will be shown when the scheme begins to work, that the 1089 man who comes back to the land shall come back before the man who is to be taken from the land is actually taken. It will not be a question of taking a man from the land one week and bringing the substitute the next week. The substitute comes first, and after a decent interval, if the substitute is satisfactory, and is adjudged by the agricultural representative to be satisfactory, the young man who can be spared will be taken in the substitute's place.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The substitute comes from the Army. He is a man who may not be fit for the A class, but he is in C class and in the Army. They are making lists of people of C class now in the Army, who were in agricultural occupations before they joined the Army, and they are seeing that these men are returned to the parishes they came from. If there is a young man who can be spared from the farm, the substitute comes to the farm and takes the place of the younger man who is capable of active fighting. In the whole of the procedure which will take place in this substitution scheme there will be the closest co-operation between the military substitution officer and the agricultural representative. If the agricultural representative judges that a certain proposal of substitution is not fair to the farmer, I think the War Office intend that that proposal should not be carried through. There must be real co-operation between the military and agricultural representatives before any adjustment goes through. Similarly in the census of agricultural labour which the War Office is now about to take, it has been their suggestion that there should be the closest co-operation between their representatives and those of the Board of Agriculture. They have, indeed, proposed that the agricultural representative before the tribunals, or other agricultural representatives who shall be appointed, shall be definitely asked to examine the returns of the census before any further labour is drawn upon from agriculture, except where labour is found to exceed the scale agreed upon between the two Departments. In spite of the fact, which I do want to emphasise, that there is now, whatever there may have been in the past, real identity of views between the two Depart- 1090 ments, I quite agree with the point which was made yesterday that a great deal depends on what is done after 1st January; whether men are taken in large quantities, even without substitution, and how far the power of the War Office to take further men will or will not be exercised. I believe that in that matter, although I am not able to say anything definite to-day, there will be no want of agreement between the two Departments. I know that the War Office is thoroughly convinced that it is not possible under any circumstances to remove skilled horsemen from the farms, and to expect their places to be taken by women labour; or anything of that kind. I believe that farmers can rely upon it that no further men will be taken except after very careful consideration of each individual case, in which the interests of agriculture will be fully considered.
I come now to a sort of criticism which has run through many speeches, namely, that if some generally undefined change is made in the conditions, we can greatly increase agricultural production. I do not think it is so easy to take over the agricultural industry and reorganise it so as to secure greater agricultural production, and I do not think that anybody who really knows the English farmer believes that anything of that kind is possible. I would like to try to remind the House of what the farmer has really been doing. I think it is a disservice to him to suggest that if he were guaranteed this or that price for this year, or the next year, or for a few years to come, he would be able to greatly increase his wheat or any other crops. I believe that he is sowing every grain of wheat that the labour that he has got on his farm allows him to sow without thinking of the price he may be going to get this year, next year, or any other time. I do not think that he is standing back and waiting and expecting people to come forward to tell him how to carry out his business, and I do not think that he would welcome anything of that kind. I believe he is working every fine day in a way which, as a class, he has never worked before in his life. It was quite amazing, if I may give one particular instance, to see what happened in the spring. Hon. Members will remember that there was one period, the month of February, in which it was practically impossible to work the land at all, and similar conditions prevailed during half 1091 of the month of March, with the result that the farmers came to their spring operations with six weeks' arrears of work. They had to try to make good those six weeks in which nothing had been done. We thought that it would not be possible to overtake those arrears, or, at any rate, not until well into the summer months, but within a fortnight of the fine weather coming along we had reports from everywhere that the arrears were overtaken, and that agricultural operations were already up to the normal standard for that time of the year. That could only be done, and was only done, by a perfectly amazing amount of hard work by the farmers themselves and by the men who were left on the farms to help.
What has really saved agriculture in so far as it has been saved—and I do not think it is in such a desperate position as some hon. Members seem to think—is that we have a great many farms which, from the economic point of view, are supposed to be of the wrong size—farms which are, as has been said, too small to make a man use his head and too large to make him use his hands. It may be that they are farms of the 100- to 120-acre type. If they were three times as big the farmer would be more of a scientific farmer, and if they were smaller he would be working hard every day, as a small holder usually does. This type of farm has done very much to save, English farming during the War, because the farmer who very often did not do hard manual work day in and day out in normal times has settled down and done it now for the first time in his life, except at particular seasons in the year, such as lambing time and harvest. This reserve which the farmers themselves have brought into agriculture on farms of the size I have mentioned has been the factor which has largely helped to keep up production in the way it has been kept up, in spite of 30 per cent. or so of the men having been subtracted from the industry. There are a few figures I want to give. Hon. Members have concentrated on one particular figure, namely, that there has been a decrease of 200,000 acres in the wheat area this year—quarter of a million acres, perhaps. There is this to be said about the wheat acreage, that except for last year the wheat acreage this year is the largest that has been recorded in this century and for a good many years in the preceding century. In spite of 300,000 1092 men being taken from agriculture, we can still get a wheat acreage larger than any in this century, except that of the preceding year. Therefore, I do not think that British agriculture is in such a desperate condition as some people have imagined. Of course, the yield of the wheat acreage has been 29 bushels as against 32, which is about normal. That means that the actual crop this year will be about the same as the average of the ten years 1905–1915.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the figure of 300,000 is an ascertained figure? I believe that 750,000 was the number of farm workers before the War, and I thought it was considerably more than 300,000 who had gone.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I am sorry that we have not any exact returns of the labour which has left the farms. That is one of the things which the Food Dictator would have done if he had been appointed at an earlier date. We have to generalise from the limited number of returns which are collected by the Board of Trade, but I think that the figure of 300,000 men who have left either for fighting or for other work is a fairly safe average figure to take. Turning again to the figures, I may point out that the yield of oats this year is a little more than last year, and is 900,000 Quarters more in England and Wales than in 1914. I do not think that is at all bad. In regard to hay, the yield this year is 800,000 tons above the ten years' average 1905–1914. As the House knows, there has been an increase of 300,000 cattle; as shown in the returns of last summer, over and above that of the year before, which makes the figure for cattle an absolute record in this country. We have not begun living on our capital in the matter of our live stock. It will be a question, which no doubt will have to be gone into carefully, whether in the interests of economising foodstuffs it would not be legitimate to make some drain upon our capital in live stock, not such a drain as would make it difficult to build it up to the right size after the War, but to consider whether in a war it is not justifiable to make some drain on our capital, even in the important matter of live stock. Apart from figures, if things had been going wrong and if farmers were not still pretty well able to make the best use of "the land for themselves, if they really 1093 were in the position when some great interference and some great general scheme would make a great improvement, we should hear that farms we're tending to be given up. An enormous number of farms are simply let from year to year, and if farmers were not able to carry on, if they were not actually carrying on and succeeding in doing everything which their labour enables them to do, there would be farms to let and difficulty in finding new tenants.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Of course there are farms to let this year, just as there are in other year. But I am absolutely certain, taking the length and breadth of the country, that there are not a greater number of farms changing hands this year than in an ordinary year, and certainly that there is no more difficulty on the whole now in finding tenants. I do not speak of every district, but on the whole there have been many cases in which it has been easier to find tenants this autumn.
§ Mr. ACLAND
On the whole, I think that the number of arable farms vacant now is not greater than usual. We have been into this matter very carefully, because of the rather alarming rumours which we thought it necessary to try to verify. And I do not think that it will be found that, generally speaking, the farms vacant exceeded or were very different from what you would find in an ordinary year. I agree that that is due very largely to the high prices that farmers can get. That is the reason why any very vigorous interference with those prices might have consequences which those who have advocated interference would not count upon. We must keep the farm paying the farmer for doing his work or else he will not do it.
The position with regard to milk has been brought up in these Debates. There of course, too, I agree that it is the price which is keeping the farmer in milk production, and it would be very difficult to keep him in the extremely anxious and difficult trade of milk production unless prices were remunerative, as no doubt they are. A very considerable number of 1094 big men have been giving up their big herds simply because they do not pay at present prices, and it must be remembered, by anybody who thinks that prices are so high that they are capable of reduction without a very grave dissipation of milking herds, that large herds have been given up and sold off. Even present prices show that things are fairly near a margin. But what I have been glad to see is this—that those cows have not in the main gone to the butcher and bees lost as milk-producing animals. They have been sold by the big man and bought by the small man, who, owing to the fact it may be that his sons and daughters milk, and that he has not got the same difficulty with labour as the big man, has been able to buy the cows, even at the high prices they have been fetching, and carry on, I hope very much that this House and the Food Dictator will hesitate before they plunge into any big Interference with the trade of milk producing on farms. In spite of the Minority note appended to the Report of the Food Committee, which says that the State, having controlled wool, might equally easily control milk, I am bound to say that I have never seen any scheme of interference with milk supply which would prevent men from turning to some other branch of the industry and making cheese or butter instead of producing milk, and the 30b of controlling in detail from farm to farm and deciding what cows a man may sell to the butcher and what cows he has got to keep on for milk and what he has got to do with his milk when he has obtained it, is one which I think would be extraordinarily difficult to tackle in every detail.
There are certain points—I will conclude with a few of them—in which I quite agree there is room for development and improvement. But I do desire to utter a warning against it being thought that it is an easy thing at all to step right into the industry and take it over or anything of the kind. In the first place, farmers might make better use of women's work than they do now. The work of women on the land has entirely justified itself in every possible way. It has been found that they are not only capable of milking, but of doing a great deal more work than people suspected before they tried it. Farmers are getting converted to that point of view every day, and the word "can't," 1095 which is still sometimes used by farmers, when they say that they "can't" get the labourers' wives and daughters to milk and so on, has got to be wiped out of the farmer's vocabulary. I believe that they can get the women to do the work. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear) come nearer to that side than I have heard him before.
Then undoubtedly more could be done— and I am very grateful to hon. Members who have drawn attention to it—in the matter of implements and machinery. I do not conceal that, as some of our agricultural machinery makers were put on to munitions work and the producing of shells, it was very difficult to get that work stopped or suspended, and their factories turned in the direction of producing implements for agriculture, motor tractors, ploughs, and anything of that kind. Then more might be done, I suggest, in using prisoner labour on farms. I agree that it is rather difficult on English farms, which are generally not very large, to employ the big groups of German prisoners that the War Office think it necessary to ask for. But there are a great many people who are enemy aliens only in name, Czechs and people of those races, who, though technically enemies, are really friendly to our cause. They have been available to farmers for months, but only about thirty or forty of them have been employed. I am very sorry for that, because in every case where they have been employed, of which I have heard, they have all been very successful at the work. They have done their best, and though they knew nothing of farming, they were very intelligent and quick to learn, and every farmer who has taken them has been thoroughly delighted with the work which they have done, and the farmers say that there has been no difficulty with their ordinary labour owing to the presence of those men who are enemies in name only. I wish that farmers would make more use of that source of labour which is available to them.
Lastly, farmers might do more in the way of co-operation with one another. It is perfectly true that we cannot expect them to do that while there is some chance that a man may be taken off a farm by a military representative and taken away from the farmer who has lent him to another. That must be stopped. I think that there is a cer- 1096 tainty that it will be stopped. That is impossible if there is to be a proper cooperation, as there ought to be. But I believe even now, with the amount of labour still available, if farmers would, so to speak, assemble in parish conclave, and put their heads together and see how they could make the best use of the labour which was available in the general interest of the parish rather than in the particular interest of the farm, that a great deal might be done, and I believe that there is a good chance of its being well done. We have got a splendid system carried on by the agricultural committees this year, which are working in each county. We have not got such good work carried on by the district committees which are under the agricultural committees. There is more to be done in encouraging women's work and in cooperation. In spite of what anyone says, the Board of Agriculture is ready to work in those matters, and is now working in a perfectly friendly way with the War Office, and altogether I want to dispel the idea that the state of English agriculture is quite so bad as some hon. Members think. The farmer has been doing magnificently, and making splendid use of all the labour available to him, and I believe that he will continue on those lines, and will continue to do much better than if there is any tremendous interference with his industry, and he is put under the control of people who are not accustomed to his wishes and his methods.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I noticed a tendency in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) to point to certain aspects of this discussion, and the one that took place yesterday, as if they showed that the Compulsory Service Act was a great mistake, and was responsible for the difficulties in which we find ourselves. Such a view is not, I believe, the view of the House as a whole. The shortage of labour, which exists in so many skilled and indispensable industries, was, I believe, more largely produced by the unchecked and indiscriminate recruiting that went on on a gigantic scale, and which was enforced by every form of social pressure, which was practically equal to the hard compulsion of the law, for more than fifteen or sixteen months of the War. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the argument in favour of the application of compulsion was never based by 1097 those who studied it on the ground of collecting the greatest possible number of men indiscriminately for military service, and that on the contrary the argument which was always used was that organised recruiting by compulsion, and with the State as judge, would enable a much higher selection to be maintained, and would enable the work of the vital industries to be carried out with much greater effect. And certainly I think what we have heard from the Under-Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, in the course of his instructive speech, goes to show, though no doubt there were many failures and hardships in this respect, that yet already organisation and scientific principles are being introduced into the work of selecting men for the Army to an extent that was never known before, in place of the altogether indiscriminate system which it succeeded.
Then the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) also spoke in the course of this Debate in a manner which seemed to indicate that the House and the country would be shocked or surprised by the drastic character of the proposals put forward yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade. He reproached the President of the Board of Trade for having decided, as he said, to take action, and he warned him and other Ministers of the Crown of the dangers of causing irritation and making the War unpopular if—I noted his actual words—we touch the food of the people. My good gracious!—if we touch the food of the people. The food of the people is being touched. It has been terribly touched, and it is being not merely touched but it has been torn and trampled upon by the working of the special conditions of this War. The demand that I made upon this Government, to which they have tardily and to some extent responded, is that they should intervene to prevent the food of the people from being touched by the hard working of these artificial circumstances, which are the result of the War. The right hon. Gentleman would make a great mistake if he thought that he had any need to apologise for the drastic character of his proposals, or if he thought that the country is going to be shocked at the novel principles and the new departures which he announced. I listened with great attention to the speech which he delivered yesterday, and I do not think that the ability of that statement, nor the pleasure which we all feel to see my right hon. 1098 Friend restored to the fulness of health, ought to blind the House to the fact that many of the features of that speech constituted very serious confessions of failure and of neglect. My right hon. Friend spoke of 2,000 ploughs under order at Ransome's—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Two thousand ordinary ploughs could not be delivered because of the scarcity of labour. He pointed out that at the very time Germany was sending agricultural machinery on a very large scale to Serbia. What are we to deduce from those two statements except that the Germans have a much more sagacious and far-seeing Government than we have? I want to know what other conclusion can be drawn than this. Germany has had much greater demand on her manhood for labour than we have had here; she keeps up a considerable Navy, much larger than the Navy of France, and she has been forced to do a great many things in regard to munitions, while we have had munitions supplied to us and in that way got relief from other countries. Yet Germany, by the organisation of her powers, maintained her extraordinary forces in the field and on the seas, but also turned out agricultural produce for her own country and for the countries she has conquered. My right hon. Friend holds these two facts out to us, to meditate and moralise upon. The right hon. Gentleman apologised for the drastic action he felt it necessary to take. What are some of the instances of drastic action he has taken? He said it was high time to stop people, who are not satisfied with the milk prices prevailing in their district, pouring milk down the drain, and he said it was high time to stop the feeding of whole-milk to pigs. Has it really taken twenty-seven months of Armageddon, twenty-seven months of this terrible conflict, to convince the right hon. Gentleman that action to prevent proceedings of that kind is justified by the circumstances of the day? Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman announced that by reason of certain restrictions which would be introduced on the quality of flour, what may be called war bread, would be introduced, and I gathered from him that that would increase the quantity of bread available from a given quantity of flour by about 8 per cent. I have been told that that means a large number of ships moving across the seas in the course of a year. Why has it been necessary to take twenty-seven months for such an 1099 obvious measure as that? Why could it not have been done this time last year, or this time two years ago? Who was going to oppose it, if he had really come down and advocated it? It does appear to me that a measure so sensible, so useful, and of the necessity of which the Government are now convinced, ought to have been introduced at a much earlier period of the War, and that the Government is responsible and is to blame because it has not been introduced. My right hon. Friend finished up his speech by saying that the Government were told to govern, and they asked for the power to govern. Who has ever denied them the power? What single power have they ever asked for that the House has not willingly afforded?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I quite agree with my hon. Friend, who is very vigilant in small matters. Broadly speaking, I say that the Government could not only have obtained all the powers that they wished, when dealing with this question of the supply of food to the people of this country, but that they had already all the powers that were necessary. Without legislation, and under the Defence of the Realm Act, the right hon. Gentleman has all the powers to take all the steps now necessary, and now he comes forward, with the full reputation of a Minister, and with the authority and support of the Government, with proposals that he would not formerly accept. He had the power from the beginning of the War to take all or any of these steps, and I want to know what has happened recently, or in the last few months, what new circumstances have arisen, to make these steps necessary now when it was not necessary to take them, in his opinion, at an earlier stage. On the 17th of October my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made another excellent and interesting speech in the House, in the course of which he poured ridicule, or deprecated in terms of considerable emphasis, a number of things which he has done now. First of all, he deprecated any attempt to fix milk prices. He pointed out how injurious that would be, and that it would be sufficient to let the milk people know that he was keeping his eye on them. Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke in terms of disparagement of the idea of a Ministry of Food. I 1100 should have thought that the Food Dictator, who is to have duties connected with the production and regulation of food supply, has an authority and character very near that of a Minister of Food. At any rate, he is evidently an officer of such great power that he will either have to be represented in this House, or in person, or by some Minister who is competent to deal with the many cases which will undoubtedly arise for Parliamentary discussion. My right hon. Friend, on the 17th October, deprecated further steps in a system of rationing, and pointed to sugar and rubber, which have been the subjects of rationing and have given cause of complaint. I have not heard the right hon. Gentleman express any intention of departing from the policy, and, if I understood him aright, he indicated that the rationing policy with regard to sugar would have to be carried further, and that stricter regulations would be necessary than had hitherto been enforced.
What has happened between the 17th October and the 16th November to lead the right hon. Gentleman to alter his course? [An HON. MEMBER: "The voice of the people!"] Prices in that time had not advanced so very much—from 65 per cent. to 73 per cent. What has happened? The submarine campaign was in full existence; its dangers could be fully appreciated on the 15th October. The probability of a longer duration of the War was just as apparent then as it is now. What has happened? I feel that what has happened is that there has been increasing pressure in the newspapers, from the people of the country, and that pressure finally operates on particular members of the Government, who in turn succeed in asserting and carrying their policy over the others. And then the President of the Board of Trade comes down and announces these proposals as if they were his own policy, and as if he loved it. I noticed a tendency on the part of my right hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, to exaggerate a little the submarine menace. It is a very grave menace, and it requires from the Admiralty the most strenuous exercise of all their energy, resources, and ingenuity; but I am inclined to doubt whether the submarine menace plays such a great part or will play such a great part in the supply of the food of the people of this country, as might have been supposed by anyone who judged entirely from the speech to which we listened of my right hon. Friend. If that be so, and if 1101 that be not the main factor in the conditions under which we lie, certainly it is most important not to let that be supposed, because nothing will encourage the enemy to hurl himself with vigour into the submarine campaign against merchant ships so much as tributes paid to its efficacy as a military operation and as a means of putting pressure upon us.
I spoke on this subject in March of the present year on the Naval Estimates, and I ventured then to warn the House of the possibilities of new developments which would greatly add to the difficulties of the Admiralty, and to urge that timely measures should be taken to cope with them in advance. I have confidence, I am bound to say, in the Admiralty's great organisation for anti-submarine warfare, which now will, if properly used, be able to cope with the danger, so that in the present War the submarine would not prove a decisive factor. It is a fact that armed ships have enjoyed a very great impunity. I believe of the attacks which have been made on our shipping, roughly speaking, four-fifths of the armed ships have beaten off the attack and escaped, and, roughly speaking, four-fifths of the unarmed ships have perished. If that be so, it certainly tends to indicate that there is a course of action which, if continually developed and pursued, would enable us greatly to diminish the evil, and keep it, as always hitherto it has been kept, within manageable and calculable dimensions. I do not think we must at any time allow an opinion to go forth that we are afraid that anything the enemy can do will injure or curtail us in any possible manner in our efforts to carry on this War and to bring it to a completely satisfactory conclusion. I am about to give the House some very rough figures. Of course, a private Member must be treated with great indulgence by the House when he attempts to deal with figures, when, very properly, the information in regard to the matter is largely confined to those who have supreme responsibilities. But I understand, taking ships of over 1,000 tons burthen, we had at the beginning of the War about. 18,000,000 tons of shipping, and to-day we have nearly as much. I believe my right hon. Friend admitted that 2¼ per cent. of the shipping had been lost by submarine warfare since the War began, and I believe we have added very nearly that amount during the course of the War. At any rate, we have added 1102 nearly four-fifths of it by new construction, by purchase, and by commandeering ships.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? May I ask the President of the Board of Trade if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty did not admit yesterday that the loss was 2¼ per cent. net?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not quarrel with my hon. Friend's figures. The fact remains that to-day we stand, in regard to shipping of over 1,000 tons burthen, within 5,000 tons or 6,000 tons of what was our position when the War began, and, under these circumstances, I do not think we need put our shutters up. I think we ought to be very thankful that we have been able, after two and a half years of this extraordinary War, with its entirely novel and unmeasured features, to almost make up our losses in the way I have stated, and there can be no good reason why the success we gained when the initial dangers of the War were unknown should not be repeated and continued in these days when our knowledge and experience are accumulating. The right hon. Gentleman must persevere in the most energetic manner with the multiplication of merchant bottoms. It is an extraordinary thing that these matters should be argued at this tune of day. When the War began emergencies were so novel that every risk could not be foreseen, and many things were done which did not tend really to prepare us for meeting a long war. But as early as June, 1915, it was clear there was a shortage of merchant shipping, and that gave people a first claim for the construction of new-ships.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is perfectly true that when this War broke out we had a large number of great ships approaching completion, and it was desirable that all our energies should be concentrated on the completion of those ships. It must be remembered that in those days the collapse of Russia in the East had not made the prolongation of the War to this length a certainty. There was no inconsistency whatever in having advocated the taking of men from merchant construction in the eighth month of the War, and in advocating their concentration on merchant construction twelve months later. I 1103 wonder why the right hon. Gentleman— perhaps he may have done so—was not able a year ago to lay down a standard for merchant shipping like, say, the Ford motor car—a ship of which all the parts are standardised and uniform. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Houston?"] I am afraid my hon. Friend will not agree with me in that, but I must put up with his wrath. I say it ought to be possible to devise a kind of ship which could be built in the shortest possible time and on the simplest possible lines, with suitable engines and suitable guns, on a standardised pattern. If that can be done to-day steps should have been taken to do it a year ago.
There is no reason why at this stage we should suppose we shall be prevented carrying this War steadily to its conclusion by any activities of the enemy submarines. I am afraid I am going to get into more trouble with my hon. Friend (Mr. Houston), because I am going to touch on the question of shipping freights. I understand that about half of our shipping is requisitioned by the Government for one purpose and another, and that the other half is working independently. But an enormous difference prevails between the rates which are paid by the Government and those which are exacted in the market. I want to know what public utility there is behind these enormous freights. I can quite understand it may be desired to see high prices in order to stimulate production. But that does not apply here. The production of mercantile shipping should be absolutely regulated by the necessities of the State. I ask the House—we have very little public opinion in the country, but I am certain the question is one which every Member should be able to answer to his constituents—I ask the House what is the public utility of these high freights that are now being exacted? This matter does not turn on figures, or on the exact proportion between the Government rates and other freights. What I want to know is what is the public utility of the extraordinary freights which are being charged? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will answer that question. I, at any rate, have been utterly unable to discover an answer to it.
I have said over and over again, when I was in the Government and since, why cannot we take over the shipping on the same basis, and in the same way, as we have acted with so much success in regard 1104 to the railways? Let it not be imagined that that question is not asked by hundreds of thousands of people all over the country. I have heard one argument put forward, and that is that it would be very unfair to do this because neutral shipping also comes to these shores in great quantities, and exacts very much higher rates. But what has that to do with if? My right hon. Friend allowed this policy to creep into another part of his argument. He spoke of the impossibility of fixing prices in regard to commodities of which the supply is derived partly from home sources and partly from abroad. Is there any substance or truth in that argument?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That was not my argument. I said that in so far as these commodities were owned by the State, there was absolutely no obstacle to fixing a maximum price, and we were doing so.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Whether produced at home or abroad. So long as the State was the merchant, there was no reason why maximum prices should not be applied to them, and they are being applied to them in the case of all commodities in regard to which the State is the sole merchant.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Irrespective of the fact that you have to pay the foreign producer higher prices than you necessarily pay the home producer?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It is a very important point. It seems to me if the State undertakes to deal with any great commodities it should pay two prices—I hold that view, odd though it may seem—a price to the foreign producer regulated by the least sum you can persuade him to bring his goods here for, and the price for the home producer regulated by what you consider to be a fair return on his capital and labour and what is expedient to stimulate future production. There is no-reason why these two prices should not be widely different. There is not the slightest reason why the Government, buying both from the foreign producer and the home producer, should not put the prices-together and strike an average at which it can sell to the community. You could apply that principle to commodities and also to freights. If we have to pay higher freight for neutral ships that come to this 1105 country let us do so, but that is all the more reason for not putting an unnecessarily high rate on the goods which are brought in vessels under our control. On the contrary, it ought to be reduced to a fair return on the capital and labour, at the same time giving a proper guarantee for the future interests of the industry, and not beyond that.
Then my right hon. Friend told us yesterday of the need of employing native labour at the ports. That is not a new question. The resources of Africa, both for labour and fighting, have been perfectly well known to the Government for a great many months past. There is not the slightest reason why the decision of the House—and I know the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) very much dislikes that policy, but the Government have adopted it—there is no reason why it should not have been adopted at least eighteen months ago, in which case a very large supply of this vital labour would have been available to decrease the congestion in our great ports. Of course we all know that nothing but the dire peril and stress in which we stand induces Parliament to tolerate for a moment such a suggestion, but the fact of us not only tolerating it, but that the announcement of it met with almost general approbation, shows how very deeply the grave situation in which we stand has sunk into the public mind.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I said almost generally. At any rate the Government got support from many quarters on the subject. But why has that been put off so continually? My right hon. Friend gave us an epitome of the policy which has been pursued in this and many other subjects in a sentence that he used last night. He said, "The Government has been driven against its will bit by bit to suspend the easy flow of private and voluntary action." These are the words which I copied out of the "Times" newspaper this morning. Never was so naive and candid a confession made in this House. It has been a question of driving bit by bit, inch by inch, driving the Government along the path which necessity in the end has forced them to enter upon. Just let me refer once more to the question of Conscription. How much better it would have been to have done it the day the War was declared. You would have avoided 1106 hundreds of thousands of men coming forward, leaving the most vital industries in the country and pressing forward into the ranks months and even years before it was necessary, and you could have drawn them with scientific accuracy as your munitions and equipments came to hand. But it was always a question of driving the Government bit by bit to suspend the easy flow of private and voluntary action. And so it has been in all these other measures in regard to the regulation and supply of food and in regard to the regulation of shipping. No doubt in the end everything, that is asked for, or nearly everything that is thought to be too extreme for adoption now, will be forced upon us by the cruel circumstances into which we shall gradually descend during the hard months that are before us. But what I fear is that these expedients will be put off as long as possible by the Government: and I must say certain speakers in the House this afternoon have seemed to encourage the Government in that evil course. They will be put off as long as possible until, when they are adopted, much of the usefulness which could be derived from them is gone. In war what is the obvious is nearly always obsolete. In this War, at any rate, once a thing becomes so clear that everybody is agreed—all the newspapers, all the House of Commons, both parties of a Coalition Government, all agreed—that this is the right thing to be done, by that time you may be quite sure that the need really demands something further beyond it. The need has moved on and a new danger for which that is not a complete remedy is now threatening. A little while ago everyone was talking about after the War, and what rosy pictures they were outlining for themselves, what fine shcemes which could be developed and brought into being after the War—great schemes of Imperial trade and franchise, and imperial development and unification, and so forth. Would it not have been very much better if everyone had concentrated on the simple question of how we were going to get through the next twelve or eighteen months, because that is the grim and immediate problem which is going to affect the lives of every individual and of every class in the country?
I am only expressing a personal opinion in what I am going to say, but I believe, having learned by hard experience of the fallibility of human judgment and the dangers of prophecy, I believe that before the end of this War, unless it comes to an 1107 unexpected end, all shipping will certainly be taken over by the Government and regulated in one form or another, no doubt through its existing owners. I believe that all important employments will be regulated by the State for the purposes of the War. I believe that ration tickets for everything that matters will be served out to everyone of us. I believe that prices will have to be fixed so as to secure to the poorest people in this country, who are engaged in fighting this War as comrades with us, the power of buying a certain modicum of food sufficient to keep up physical war-making efficiency, at prices which are not outside the scope of the wages they receive, whatever those wages may be. I believe we shall all come, in one form or another, to something very like universal service, not only for the Army but for industry, during the process of the War. We have gone a very long way so far. I am quite sure that we shall come to a national organisation of agriculture like there is a national organisation of munitions. We shall have a great organistion for producing the munitions of life just as we have a great organisation for producing, so wonderfully, the munitions of death. All this will come. It can all be avoided quite easily. We have only got to send across and say we want to give in, and all these difficulties can be avoided. But if this War in the hideous forms which it is going to take as it rises towards its climax, and in its latter phases is to be fought out with success to final victory, all this kind of thing will undoubtedly be done, and more than we can think of now will be done, by the desperate resolution of the British nation not to be baulked of its object.
But why not do these now? Why not do them now while there is time? No one is stopping the Government except themselves. If the Government come forward with well-thought out proposals on any of these heads they will undoubtedly be given absolute support by the House of Commons, and the country will thankfully accept the action which they have taken. Each month that goes past will make the difficulty greater and will make the relief which you will gain from these measures less. Next year, for instance, it will be more difficult to take these measures than it is now, or to take some of them, because I fully agree with what has been said by some of the speakers. There will not necessarily be the same unity of purpose 1108 next year as, happily, has combined us all so far in the War. There undoubtedly will be differences of opinion as to the measures which should be taken and as to the discussion which should take place of the terms on which this conflict may be ended, and I say that now is the time to take the drastic measures and to take all these powers so that you get the greatest advantage out of them and before there is the growth of a pacifist or a hostile opinion in the country against them. This nation at war is an army; it must be looked upon as an army; it must be organised like an army; it must be directed like an army; and it ought to be rationed and provided and supplied like an army. That is the brutal fact to which we are being hurried remorselessly by events which we cannot in the least control. The nation is perfectly willing to subject itself to these strange departures from all the old familiar easy private life that prevailed in England before this catastrophe came upon us. Parliament is quite ready to support a Government that comes forward with well-considered schemes. We ought to have done this or something like this at the beginning of the War if we had been wise; we ought to have done it a year ago if we had not been foolish and supine; and we ought to do it now unless we are prepared seriously to jeopardise the essential foundations of victorious warfare.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I can only speak in the course of this Debate by leave of the House, but I should like to deal with some of the points which have been raised and to answer some of the many questions which have been put to me. In the first place, perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to say that in the long speech which I had to deliver to the House yesterday I certainly did not exaggerate the submarine menace, and my justification for saying that is that I was reminded of the fact immediately after I sat down by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson), who, amongst other things, complained that I had not laid enough stress on the submarine menace. I am told also that I have been reminded of the same lack of alarm in my speech yesterday by some of the daily Press, and I fear either that my right hon. Friend did not pay enough attention to what was said by his right hon. and learned colleague or he misread or misheard the remarks which I 1109 made yesterday. There was not a single word that I said yesterday, not a single sentence or paragraph, that was anything like as alarmist as the peroration to which we have just listened. I should like to know where, in the course of the speech I delivered yesterday, I said anything so gloomy or painted a picture anything like so dark and painful as that with which my right hon. Friend concluded his speech. I am quite well aware that the submarine menace is rather more than a menace. The vessels are being sunk. But I am not going to exaggerate that. We have a war risk insurance scheme, and the scheme is solvent. Let me remind the House what actually happened with that scheme. We started the War with a 5 per cent. premium, and we did that on the advice of one of the best expert Committees that ever served the Committee of Imperial Defence. Within a month that had been reduced to 3 per cent. Within two months it had been reduced to a 1 per cent. premium, and it has never been raised above 1 per cent. until comparatively recently, when a slight addition was made for the purpose of rectifying our accounts.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No matter what he said about the Mediterranean, the fact remains that on the whole we have succeeded in running a solvent scheme on a 1 per cent. basis. A 1 per cent. premium is not altogether a fair estimate of the amount of loss. The figures given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Admiralty a day or two ago showed that the net loss was about 2½ per cent. on the whole merchant fleet. That does not tell the whole case, it is true, because there have been very heavy losses amongst the neutrals, who were equally serving our trade. But when all is said and done, the real diminution in our tonnage for food-carrying purposes has not come from the submarine—it has come from the necessity of using an enormous number of vessels for Army and Navy purposes. I shall have something further to say about tonnage presently, because my right hon. Friend (Mr. Churchill) is one of the persons who had the control of tonnage to an extent which I have never had, or any other Minister, since the War began. Let me take the cases of neglect which my right hon. Friend imputed to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman opposite made an attack, I am sure not personally 1110 upon me, but upon the Government. He made three charges against us—gave three instances of the kind of neglect of which we were said to have been guilty. He said agricultural implements were not being made owing to mechanics and engineers having been withdrawn, and that this was due to the fact that the Government had not been distributing its demands for recruiting on a scientific basis. I made a point yesterday—and I thought I had made it clearly—that, first of all, although we started on a voluntary basis, and changed during the War, and have had a year's experience of Conscription, we cannot be expected, in the course of twelve months, to be able to conduct a Conscript system with the same skill as our enemies who have been at it for generations, or certainly for one generation.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I made a further point that an enormous number of these same mechanics and engineers withdrawn from these works have been serving us in other fields. It is true that it became apparent that they might have been serving to better purpose. I ask whose fault was that? Not those who, like myself, stood at this box and said we ought to retain in industry a large number of skilled men. I think my right hon. Friend was a member of the Government when I delivered a speech here, pointing out how essential it was that, in taking men for the Army, you ought to take them on a scientific basis, and that it was one of the most absurd things to withdraw men from essential industries with the idea that you could afford to sacrifice essential industries in order to strengthen your forces. The true balance was the correct doctrine. So far as I am concerned, I have a perfectly free conscience from the charge of depleting this kind of industry in order to strengthen the Army, not in like degree, but in less degree. The Government may have been neglectful in the method by which they obtained engineers and mechanics in these civil works, but there has been no abstraction of engineers, coppersmiths, plumbers, and fitters from civil work to military work anything like comparable to what took place during the regime of my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not complain a bit of the programme of my right hon. Friend. I think it will long redound to 1111 his credit that during the time he was at the Admiralty he planned and built with such vigour. But it does not lie with him to suggest that, having taken men from these necessary civil purposes and put them to naval or military purposes, it is the fault of the Government now formed and not the fault of the Government to which he belonged. If the charge lies at any door, it lies at the door of the Government of which he was a conspicuous member. The next point the right hon. Gentleman made is: Why do we just want 80 per cent. flour? I will tell him one reason why. We have just now decided to act on that altered system of milling. Up to the present we have had more grain in this country than we ever had before in the history of the world. In the first year our supplies were enormously augmented by prize grain taken from vessels which were subsequently interned hero which we drew in from the North Sea and the Atlantic. The result was that throughout the whole of that season we had far more grain than we ever had before. What would have been the good during that period of imposing on large numbers of people, who certainly do not love it, a browner form of flour than that to which they had been accustomed? One of the results of having done so at that time would have been at once to have aroused an enormous amount of public feeling. There are some parts of the country where they value white flour very highly. South Wales, represented by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir A. Mond), is devoted to white flour. I am not at all sure that now when they get 80 per cent. flour they will like it as much as the present white flour. I hope they may take it with all the patriotic fervour of which the right hon. Baronet himself is an example!
In the next season was it necessary? Not at all. The Government, who are sometimes accused of inaction, had got our reserve stock up to the amount it had, not with the intention of shoving it out as soon as possible, but with the idea of keeping a large buffer between ourselves and starvation. It was unnecessary at that time to embark upon a change of this kind. I do not want to make a mere dialectical point, but to give the practical reasons why our course has not become necessary until now. It is this: During the whole of the last two years we have got the bulk of our imported supplies from 1112 North America—Canada and the United States. While we were doing that we were able to run our vessels on the shortest grain voyage that is open to us, and the effectiveness of our tonnage was enormous. There has come a change. The United States crops have failed. We must get our grain to a large extent from Australia. That means that instead of making three voyages every half-year the vessels will only make one. Where 200 vessels would have been enough we must have 600. We are making this change, it is true, and we say, so far as we can tell, we shall practically save something like 8½ per cent. of wheat. At the same time we diminish the amount of offal. As far as tonnage is concerned, if it were merely the transfer of one to the other, we should be no better off from the tonnage point of view. Yes, but, say some, how do you make up for your offal now that you are going to abstract it? Very largely with maize, which we can get from the Argentine, from America, more abundantly than we can get wheat. Maize is nearer to us and wheat further away in this season, and this change becomes necessary now, though it was not necessary before. My right hon. Friend says: "What are the new facts that necessitate these new steps?" That is the dominant fact.
If we had still been able to get all we required from North America there would have been no necessity for the greater economy of tonnage which I now declare to be necessary. There would have been no necessity for us to have embarked upon restrictions which, though gladly taken by the House yesterday, will undoubtedly in the country cause a great deal of inconvenience and discomfort. If we could have drawn it all from the Northern Continent of America we should have been saved a great deal of restriction and a great deal of interference with that private and voluntary action which my right hon. Friend hates. The new fact is the failure of the North American harvest. My right hon. Friend thinks that I. have not been consistent. I do not much mind if he does lay that charge at my door. Consistency is no doubt an excellent virtue, but its-only real value in a public man is that you should know where you have it. Without claiming that I have an undue amount of consistency, I would say this: that throughout the whole of this business I have been guided, not by political or dialectical, but purely by practical considerations. If I had strong political or 1113 economic views I would have scrapped them at once in order to feed the people, and if there was any likelihood of my views standing in the way of abundance for our people, my views would have been jettisoned. I believe I have throughout the whole of this been consistent in this fact: that I have made the practical objects the only objects which were worthy of attainment. When my right hon. Friend says that the policy I enunciated was not my policy, I should like to know whose policy it was? There was a time when we had the advantage of the cooperation and wisdom of my right hon. Friend in the Cabinet. We have not now that privilege, and I should like to know on what grounds and from what information he is entitled to say that what I enunciated yesterday was not my policy, and, may I say, my plan?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That, I am afraid, is not a good answer. I will tell my right hon. Friend how far it is my policy. The scheme was drafted by myself in the period between 17th October and yesterday. The plan of the Orders-in-Council was framed on skeletons which were drafted to me, and the policy which I recommended to the Cabinet was adopted by the Cabinet without a single dissentient voice. To that extent I am responsible for the policy. There is no inconsistency between the views which I stated before my Cabinet colleagues and the views I enunciated to the House yesterday. My right hon. Friend says, "You have changed your views since 17th October." On what have I changed them. He says I jeered at a Minister for Food. It is quite true that in a jocular way I said that the suggestion was made to me that one way of getting over all our troubles was to appoint a Minister for Food! I did not believe anything of the kind. I thought that in any organisation necessary at the time in order to relieve our people, in order to unify our work, to draw together our activities, you might have one person whom we might call a Food Controller. But I do not believe that the mere appointment of a Food Controller is going to make food a penny the cheaper, or grain a quarter more abundant. No, Sir; on 17th October I pointed out the many dangers by which we would have to be faced by overmuch State action, and I do not withdraw a 1114 single word of what I said. Foolish State action may be more damaging than foolish private action. A false step taken by the State affects millions. A false step taken by a private firm or a private individual may affect hundreds or thousands, but not millions. My speech of 17th October took place before it became absolutely certain how far we would have to become dependent upon distant sources, and how far we should have to insist by rather pressing coercive measures on our people on a degree of greater economy. I made an appeal then for a larger amount of voluntary economy. That has been poorly responded to. I repeat what I said yesterday, that if voluntary exhortation is not going to succeed, compulsory methods must be resorted to.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Yes, it is, and that is why we made the proposals of yesterday. Let me now deal with some of the speeches of other hon. Members. I was asked in the course of this Debate by the hon. Member for Mayo some questions with regard to Ireland. I can assure him that in so far as any of these Orders which may be issued under the Regulations apply to Ireland, we shall in every case make it our business to consult the Department of Agriculture in Ireland. I believe to a large extent it still retains the confidence of the agricultural classes in Ireland. By that means we hope to have the advantage if Irish bureaucratic administration. I am by no means averse to obtaining Irish opinion from other quarters, and will do so before doing anything which will affect Irish interests. The hon. Gentleman also asked what efforts were being made to stimulate production in Ireland. That is a matter on which my right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Board is better able to reply than I am. I understand the Department is making great efforts to increase production in Ireland, not only in cereals, but also in raising and fattening animals and in the production of dairy produce. The hon. Member also expressed some alarm at the extent of the powers which were going to be given to us. I did not minimise the powers. I stated quite frankly to the House yesterday what they were. In some quarters of the House an opinion quite different to his was expressed—that we had not gone far enough. I stated that we had to go step by step, and before we can take any further steps 1115 in the direction of arbitrary government— for this is arbitrary government—I have never disguised the fact—we are bound to have the opinion of the House of Commons behind us. One reason above all others why we say we could not obtain some of these arbitrary steps, even if they had been necessary—and I do not think they were necessary earlier—was that neither the House of Commons nor the country was ready for them. If we had attempted eighteen months or two years ago to do anything of this kind we should have found that there would have been more trouble in dealing with that subject than almost any other we had touched. After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo was quite right when he said we are dealing with a very delicate subject when we deal with the food of the people.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
In order to protect it. I agree that steps were necessary. But if we had attempted to take such steps during the past two years when it was not abundantly clear that such steps were necessary, it would have been impossible to carry public opinion with us. Let me deal, however, with what really is the root of the difficulty which we have to meet. What is it? Is it the failure of the harvest in England? Is it the fact that production is not going to be so great this year as last? The whole of these difficulties, even the failure of the harvest in the United States of America, can be solved perfectly easily if we had abundance of tonnage? I never could understand the attitude of mind of some people who say you ought not to talk of our dependence on tonnage lest the enemy should find out. Why, we cannot exist here without that tonnage. All the world knows that. It is the A.B.C. of European politics. Tonnage lies at the very bottom of this question. And what are the largest claims made on that tonnage? They are made by the Army, the Navy, and our Allies. God forbid we should do anything to restrict the assistance we give to our Allies, but when our Allies are extravagant it is our bounden duty to do everything in our power by persuasion, organisation, and restriction to prevent that waste. I am glad to say our Allies are co-operating with us in that. But when you come to the Army or Navy, what means have you of ascertaining 1116 whether or not hundreds of vessels used in their service are being put to the best use? A very large number of them are completely out of sight. We have no means—certainly no civil means—of supervising them. They go to the uttermost parts of the earth. We often hear that the port of Basra is congested. My hon. Friend opposite constantly asks me what I have done to relieve it. Every day he asks questions on the point. He never makes a speech without asking. Directly I heard of congestion at the port of Basra I suggested that we should have there, associated with the naval transport officer, a civilian, and the request was granted. When I heard of great congestion at Mudros I urged on the Department concerned that we should send out a Commission to the Mediterranean to overhaul the whole tonnage question, and they secured the release of a considerable number of vessels.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Has the right hon. Gentleman ever seen the Report which was issued, and, if so, does he know it has been refused to others?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My hon. Friend's questions never come to an end. I have seen the Report, and I know the work which was done by the Commission. It was very good work. Then you have the vessels used for purely military purposes. The soldier does not really know the heart of the problem of merchant shipping. You cannot expect him to know it, and you ought not to ask him to know it. I have been urging ever since the beginning of the War for more and more civil control over these matters. I am sure I am saying nothing disloyal to the other Departments when I say I have had to urge it strenuously. Naturally the other Departments think they can do the work thoroughly well. They do not like the Board of Trade coming into purely naval and military matters, and I have never interferred with any departmental question at all. This is a national question with which we are all concerned, and as I happened to have some knowledge— rather more than some of my colleagues— I was bound to do what I could to have a more economical use of shipping made. I collected an enormous amount of information from ships all over the world as to delays, the time spent in port and whether by any other arrangement of loading, for instance, it would be possible to turn them round more quickly, and whenever I got.
1117 complaints of this kind—and they came in very large numbers at one time—I handed them over to the responsible authorities. When I got them I naturally urged that any delay of that kind was reducing the efficiency of our merchant shipping. If anything more could have been done by one who was not at the head of either the Admiralty or War Office I would like to know what it could have been. The heads of those two Departments have done their best, but when you have a vast merchant fleet, the greatest fleet ever collected together under one control, run by people who have not first-hand experience of merchant shipping management, who do not really know how to get the most out of tonnage, it is no wonder that there has been a great deal of waste. And yet my right hon. Friend actually now suggests, after these two years' experience, that the best way of running the merchant navy of the British Empire would be to hand it over to a Government Department. My right hon. Friend went into this question some time ago, and I understood he assumed at the time we were making the best organisation under the circumstances.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I agreed, and I accepted the Report of the Committee as the best I could secure at the time.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
All that we can do on every occasion is to secure the best decision at the time. I do not ask for anything more. Our experience since then has only accentuated the view I still hold, that you cannot get the most efficient use of tonnage out of any Government Department. You can control if you like; you can direct if you like; you can licence to any extent, and limit your freights, but the actual handling of tonnage is best done by skilled experts. If it were necessary to go over the whole ground I would do it, because the subject is not distasteful to me, but I do not think it is necessary to point out what a very small proportion of the merchant navy is getting the high freights which have been referred to. The amount of control and direction to which the British mercantile marine is now subjected is enormous, and the extent to which they are able to take advantage of the open market rate, I venture to say, does not affect the problem we are supposed to be discussing to-night. In foodstuffs, any rise due to freights has only been an infinitesimal rise. Again and again examples have been given in this House and elsewhere. Take, for instance, 1118 the case of meat. The rise in the price of meat, as hon. Gentlemen know, is many pence per pound. The rise in freights is a fraction—three-eighths of a penny per pound. Take the case of freight from America. The total amount of the rise in freight from America was well under 1d. the quartern loaf. But the quartern loaf has gone up many pence.
We have got rid of many of these things by arranging that whenever the State owns a commodity the ships shall carry that commodity at Blue Book rates. That is the principle on which we are conducting the whole of our tonnage, and whenever the State owns the commodity we shall have no hesitation in rigidly making the shipping company adhere to the artificial rates when we have laid down. There are many ways of relieving the shipping problem, but certainly not by concentrating all the power in the hands of one Government Department and trying to compare the shipping problem with the railway problem. The two things are not comparable. The conditions are absolutely different, as are our needs. The reception which has been given to these proposals I am most grateful for, because I quite recognise they were bound to be disliked in many quarters—in some quarters because they do not go far enough, and in others because they go too far. They are very drastic, and without the good opinion and support of the House of Commons we can make nothing of them. I must say I do not envy the task of the-Food Controller. He will be laid open to criticism far more drastic than that to which I have been subjected, owing to the generosity of the House to-day. Every charge, no doubt, will be laid at his door of mismanagement in the future, but he will only succeed in his task if he receives, not only the support of public opinion, but of those men who are prepared to sacrifice their private interest for the public good.
§ Mr. JAMES MASON
If the proposals of the Government, in so far as they have been explained to us, represent the whole policy of the Government, I should certainly feel they were very inadequate to the purposes which we have in view. The control which is now proposed appears to me almost entirely directed towards the question of consumption, and I venture to say that the extension of this control will certainly have to be very drastic in the direction of all fields of production and national resources. We heard some- 1119 thing yesterday from the right hon. Gentleman about the possibility of preventing waste of milk and articles of that kind, but I cannot help thinking that instances where producers of milk, when it is worth eighteenpence a gallon, deliberately pour it down a drain, must be very few, and, in my view, you must endeavour to go far beyond the prevention of waste of that kind. You must endeavour to prevent the waste of human energy under the head of transport, on which the whole production and supplies of this country depend. As far as the assumption goes, of course, the country is faced by a very obvious fact, and that is that very large sections of the population, owing to the enjoyment of income in excess of what they received before the War, have very naturally increased their consumption, and that fact, added to another, which is that the soldiers in the field are receiving, and necessarily and rightly receiving, a diet far in excess of that to which they were accustomed before the War; those two facts, of course, have caused an increase in consumption which has got to be dealt with. But waste of the kind I have just indicated, or the giving of food fit for human beings to animals, the feeding of pigs with potatoes when worth £]0 per ton, I cannot believe is likely to occur very frequently. I believe a good deal of saving may be effected in the direction of prohibiting the use in directions for luxurious consumption of articles of food which are essential and necessary. I have been very much struck lately with the fact that enormous quantities of eggs are used in the manufacture of high class fancy biscuits, and I cannot help thinking that to use the enormous quantities of milk and eggs in the preparation of confectionery and biscuits is not putting those articles to the best possible use. A very important part of this problem is the question of production and opening up fresh sources of supply. The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate referred to the possibility of getting increased quantities of food from other parts of the world, and I think he also referred to the possibility of allotting the supplies from certain countries to certain of our Allies. I have heard no reference to that since, but I should like to point out that the question of Egypt is one which ought to receive very considerable attention. Is it mot possible to get very much larger sup- 1120 plies of wheat from Egypt, and not only that, but by attracting them to Italy avoid the employment of a large amount of tonnage which now has to be used to send grain to Italy? Of course, it is perfectly obvious, and the right hon. Gentleman has explained it pretty fully, that one of the most expensive ways of using tonnage is when we have to send it to the other side of the world, and anything which would enable us to send food or any other necessary article from a country which is comparatively near that of consumption and save the tonnage which necessitates long voyages would, of course, be a real economy of the most useful kind.
When we come to fixing prices in this country, I would like to suggest at the same time stimulating supplies, and to do this you must accept the fact that stability of prices will be far more important to the producer than the high prices of the present day with uncertainty of continuation. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman talked about the difficulty of fixing the price of wheat, and he said you cannot fix it higher than the present price, and indicated that you can only fix the present price. I do not agree. I believe you can fix wheat many shillings a quarter lower than it is today if you would fix it for a considerable time. If you would guarantee that the price of wheat should not be less than 50s. for two or three years, you would enormously stimulate production, and that is several shillings lower than the price at which wheat is now being sold. The question of labour, of course, is intimately mixed up with the whole subject of prices. I do not agree with a good many of my agricultural friends as to the position to which agriculture has been reduced. Of course, I believe that agriculture has very seriously felt the removal of certain skilled men, especially those connected with looking after stock and machinery. I believe in very large areas of England, with the exception of those skilled men, the unskilled labour has been made up, and can be made up, from people who are ineligible for military service without retaining a very great number of those of military age and fit for military service. Of course the number of men rejected as unfit for the Army is quite considerable, and in certain districts I am convinced that if the occasional skilled men, the stock men and the machine men are left, that the 1121 unskilled labour difficulty can be very well met without keeping back men who are fit for military service. There is one exception, and it is important. In the neighbourhood of munition works, where, of course, there is a very large demand for labour of all ages, both male and female, there the skimming of agricultural labour is very serious, and is not met by leaving the unfit men of military age in that district. The problem there is different, and in these two cases the subject will have to be dealt with in a somewhat different way.
There is one other aspect of the labour question which is well worth consideration. A very considerable number of men are unfit for military service, and both they and their employers think they are justified in being employed either in useless, or at any rate unessential, occupations. There arc large numbers of them in private service in that position, and I think it is no answer to say that the employer ought to drive those men into essential work, such as munition making or agriculture, when they are now occupied in such unessential work as driving private motors or looking after flower gardens. I have found from personal experience that it is practically impossible to convince such men that you are not treating them unjustly if you tell them that they ought to leave those unessential occupations and go into some other. I am aware that to dictate to a man of that sort of occupation would be considered by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as a breach of the understanding arrived at on the question of industrial compulsion. I admit it might be difficult to say that a man might do this or that particular kind of work, but I do not think there is any difficulty in either prohibiting or penalising the men who are occupied in unessential occupations, and in that way a very large number of men might be gently persuaded to go into occupations far more valuable than that in which they are now employed. I have only got one remark to make about shipping. On this subject I do not profess to be an expert, but I have been struck by this fact in connection with my own business, that there is still a considerable amount of wastage of tonnage owing to the delay which takes place at the ports of this country and also in other countries, both in Allied and neutral States. Considerable delay takes place in discharging the cargoes of 1122 the ships, and consequently there is a loss of tonnage by that delay. Some months ago I called attention to the very long delays which had taken place at some of the French ports, where frequently vessels had to wait as long as three or four weeks to have their cargoes discharged. I know that enormous improvements have taken place, but, notwithstanding this, in those ports ships still have to wait for a very long time before they can find quay space to discharge their cargoes.
Is it not possible—after all, the capacity of these ports is a matter of possible calculation depending upon quay space, labour, and rolling stock—to reckon the number of ships in a given trade which can be allotted to a particular port, and in that way still further save ships for other lines of business by limiting those going to each ports strictly to the capacity of that port? Although a great deal has been done in this direction, there still remains a very great deal to do. If that is done and economy is effected in the ships which we already have and in labour; if the labour is sufficiently organised to prevent waste of energy in unessential directions and to prevent ships from lying a single day longer waiting to discharge their cargo than is essential; if these matters are further organised, I believe it is within the power of this country out of the existing resources to make enormous improvements in the whole question of supplies of food and other necessaries of life to this country without entering into the question of increased tonnage and of fresh sources of labour, although both of them, of course, are very important items in the subject which we are now considering. Although the whole question of fixing prices and of Government interference is one of the very greatest danger, in which every step has to be examined with the greatest care, I am perfectly convinced that it would be more dangerous under the existing circumstances of to-day to leave matters alone to go in their own natural direction. That would be far more likely to lead not only to discontent in this country, tout possibly to disastrous results, than that the Government should endeavour by careful organisation of all its existing resources and by increasing its resources from outside to organise the whole of the possessions of the country in the right direction. I believe that is by far the best course to adopt, and in so far as these proposals of the Government go 1123 and we understand them, I most heartily welcome them, although I hope that they will be extended, as I believe they will, in other necessary directions.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I wish to bring before the House a point which I do not think has been referred to by any preceding speaker, and it is the question of the relation of wages in the case of the lower-paid workers of the country to existing food prices. I would like to add my own personal word of welcome to the welcome which has been extended generally from all sides of the House to the proposals submitted in the speech of the President of the Board of Trade yesterday. I fear before very long that the country will have the disappointment of finding that these proposals, in effect, will not be as drastic as they appeared yesterday in phrase when they were being revealed by the right hon. Gentleman. Stripped of the terms in which they were dressed, I can find in the proposals only some three quite definite conclusions. One is the promise to appoint a Food Controller; another is a threat to impose upon the public certain restraints with regard to food consumption in the future if the public do not soon behave themselves better by consuming less; and the third is the declaration of an intention to extend the policy which has, to some extent, been in force for some time of Government purchases of foodstuffs in cases where that purchase would be safe and wise and would not seriously interfere with ordinary market prices. My conclusion is that the Government will be bound before very long to go much further than has yet been announced. I shall hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find himself able to avoid the use of those detestable food tickets to which he referred, as I believe that the use of any such tickets would only add greatly to the hardships now being suffered in a very great degree indeed by the very poorest section of the community.
We are easily able to understand the reason for food shortage, and as so much has been said by those who seem to believe that the working classes are now enjoying a much better state of existence than ever before, I would like to give to the House my own views on me question. I deny, either in regard to their personal pleasure or in regard to their social comfort, that they are enjoying any better existence now than before the War. I say that they are not able to put their higher wages to any use other than that of serving 1124 their own private needs, and in doing that they are really serving their country. The great increase in the consumption of food by the men who are now in khaki as compared with a few years ago is one which no one will grudge. It is a necessity. Judging by the reports of occurrences in different parts of the country, we may well express the hope, however, that having supplied food in large quantities for the soldiers there will be far better organisation with respect to its cooking. I am certain that there is a great deal of waste of very good food, and consequently that a great deal of public money is thrown away. Then there has been a great increase in the consumption of food by the millions of munitions workers in this country. That, again, is due to the exactions of their work. They are following more arduous labour, many of them are travelling far longer distances to their work than usual, and they are working overtime at night. These are conditions which make it physically necessary for them to consume more food. Thirdly, we have now hundreds of thousands of women at work. When we are in bed to-night by midnight, there will be hundreds of thousands of women in different centres in this country beginning their work and who will go on labouring until, say, six or seven o'clock in the morning. That condition in their case means that they have to obtain a supply of food of more sustaining and better quality than the food to which they were accustomed in the life which they formerly followed. I agree very strongly with the main part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee. I fail to see why the Government should find any great difficulty in applying both in principle and in practice the system of control which has obtained on the railways since the beginning of the War to our whole fleet of mercantile ships.
As the Debate to a great extent has offered opportunities for justifying persons and defending parties even in these days of political truce, I venture to call the attention of the House to what was submitted from these benches in the first few months of the War, and incidentally to say that I cannot recall that at that time who received for those proposals any support whatever from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, who was then a very powerful member of the Government of the day. On these benches we first submitted this question to the Govern- 1125 ment as early as October, 1914, when the War had only just got into its stride, and when we felt and foresaw the growth of these immense troubles which have since beset us all. A deputation was sent from our labour organisations to impress upon the President of the Board of Trade the necessity even at that early date of placing these great questions under a public control. It may be remembered also that when the House assembled for its Session in February, 1915, we proposed from these benches an Amendment to the King's Speech of the day in which we submitted three definite remedies as we saw them. One was the control of shipping on lines similar to the railways, and the consequent fixing of freight charges and the prevention of extortion. The second was the fixing of maximum prices in the case of the more important foods of the country, a course to which I suppose now the energies of the Food Controller will necessarily be directed. Thirdly, we proposed that there should be public control of all the commodities reaching this country which could in any way be made subject to inflated or artificial prices. I remember that we laboured for two days in our endeavours to persuade the House of the necessity at that time of taking those extreme steps, but our Motion met with what is known in Parliamentary form as the fate of being talked out. Frequently since that date we have submitted to the House and the country that, in the interests of the masses of the nation, those courses, which are now suggested, ought to be taken.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), earlier in the Debate this afternoon, levelled some complaint against my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) with regard to what he said from these Benches yesterday, and we were asked whether any succeeding speaker from this side of the House would venture to associate himself with what was said by my hon. Friend in yesterday's Debate. I have since referred to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, and I cannot see in it any reference under the head of compulsory service to which any representative of organised labour can object. My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that the law has conscripted labour and has imposed the stamp of compulsion upon personal service, and his speech shows that he went on to say that similar compulsion should be applied to "those whose 1126 service takes the form of wealth, and that in short there should be wealth conscription as well as personal conscription. I would like to refer to the remarks made by the hon. Member who preceded me on the subject of using labour to the very best advantage, and to refer also to what was said quite recently in another place by the then Paymaster-General, who made special references to the attitude of organised labour with regard to using that large mass of idle labour which there is in the country now in the various internment camps where both military and civilian Germans are detained. I do not know of any decision of organised labour which should make it impossible for the country to make use of that interned labour, and I see no justification for the Paymaster-General urging, as he did, as the first reason why that labour cannot be used the attitude of the trade unions.
In this matter, like all other matters, is a question of terms; and surely it is possible for terms to be arranged on which that interned labour, military and civilian, could be turned to national service without in any way prejudicing the position of the working man or his rights to wages or conditions of employment. I have read with a great deal of surprise that charge levelled against organised labour. Those who are interested in the immediate use of this labour have the responsibility of suggesting terms and of getting the persons concerned to come together to see whether these idle forces cannot be turned to some useful work. Nor is there any decision of organised labour to prevent men being drawn from what may be termed as unnecessary and wasteful trade and to have their labour directed into some useful national channel. Here, again, it is a question of terms, and those who are responsible for making these charges should first take the step of seeking to secure a remedy for the diffculties with which we are faced. The proposals of the President of the Board of Trade, welcome as they are, are still not merely belated, but far behind what I believe and feel the country will soon be driven to when it has had some little experience of the effectiveness of the proposals as far as they have gone. We have labour conscripted virtually, because men are not free to take advantage of any law of supply and demand. They cannot make bargains. They must not leave their work, and they are tied to whatever occupation appears to be of greater service to the country. 1127 Workmen therefore cannot trade, and we are entitled to say that traders in foodstuffs should not be allowed to corner, should not be allowed to unduly inflate prices, ought not to be permitted to hold up, and ought not to be permitted even to come into competition with any national purchaser who is interested in procuring for the masses of the people the foods which they require. Trading in foodstuffs in times of peace is in itself bad enough, but the cornering of foodstuffs, the holding up or speculating in foodstuffs in time of war ought to be regarded as a crime that should be severely punished.
The President of the Board of Trade said yesterday that this was a time when the national interest required some sacrifice on the part of us all. The fact is that there is only one class in the country that can in this respect make any sacrifice. I do not suggest for a moment that every class, the highest as well as the lowest, has not made its contribution to war service. That is on record and faces us in the casualty list every day. Men in the highest walks of life have readily faced the dangers which confront soldiers and have done their best, as the casualty lists show us from time to time. But in regard to other forms of service at home, such service can impose sacrifice only upon those who were at the subsistence level when the War began. It is not too much to say that there are at least two millions of them who have in no sense received since the War started any sort of advance in wages to redress, in any substantial degree, that balance of disadvantage caused by the high prices which have obtained. I was talking to a man on Monday-night in the town in which I live, whose wages are 29s. a week. He works for a public body, and has a wife and four children. He has not tasted an egg for four months. Many thousands of these men are suffering real privation day by day. That form of sacrifice is a real one, and the Government should take some serious step to wipe it out altogether. If we are to enjoy equality in the glories of Empire and the greatness of victory, we should share equally in the sacrifices which are incidental to any war. The Government in this matter is, perhaps, the first, if not the greatest sinner. It has failed to set an example to private employers of labour and public bodies throughout the country. Take the great group of Postal servants, many 1128 thousands of whom receive wages that place them far below a decent level of subsistence. After very great pressure and the expenditure of a good deal of energy and effort in this House, a considerable time ago a War bonus was given to them of 3s. a week. Recently they have been endeavouring, in view of the ascension of food prices since the War began by no less than 70 per cent., to get a little more added to the 3s. a week, but every resistance is offered by the Government, who ought, in this matter, to set an example to employers of labour in the country. I know that that matter is under consideration, and perhaps it is now on the way to some result being achieved, but I ask that the Government should set a better example in these matters than it has done so far.
Again, the wages of large sections of women were fixed at a minimum of a pound a week, considerably more than a year ago. Praises are now being heaped upon the women because of the quality of their work, the adaptability they have shown, the sacrifices they have made, and so on. We have found it difficult to give substance to those praises by securing for the women any slight advance in wages. It is twelve months since that minimum wage—it has been a maximum in practice—was fixed at a pound a week. Since then the cost of food has more than doubled, and that increase in the cost of food ought to be recognised by those who are the actual paymasters in this business. I want to complain of the action of the Government because of the adverse influence its attitude has had upon the numerous arbitration cases where wages have had to be settled by one or other of the different courts of arbitration to which we may appeal. We cannot strike. I am certain there is no desire on the part of any considerable section of the industrial classes to liberate themselves to the extent of utilising the laws of supply and demand and increasing their wages by means of a strike. That is not our purpose. The Government, by its pronouncements, has unduly influenced the decision of the arbitration courts, and has failed to set an example which would cause those courts to give reasonable advances in wages, until now we find that these courts are really shorn of all the features which constitute a court of arbitration. We know, long before we go into a court of arbitration what we are going to get when you 1129 come out. We know the process, because the advances are standardised. A certain limit has been fixed beyond which the advance must not go, because, if it did, somebody else might be asking for a shilling or two more in other parts of the country.
This is not the way in which the Government can settle food prices. The effect of the proposals of the President of the Board of Trade cannot, in my judgment, pull down the prices. At the most, we can only hope that prices will be prevented from reaching any higher level. The one or two millions of workers to whom I have referred who have received few advances, if any, since the War started and who are now far below a decent level of subsistence cannot in any sense be rescued from these high prices by the proposals submitted to the House. Finally, I should like to suggest, if it is not too late, that this is not quite the way in which to deal with so serious a national situation. I would not, on an occasion of this kind, stick tightly to any mere matter of procedure on constitutional practice, because we have so forgotten constitutional practice during the several stages of this War that we need not now boggle about taking some swift course to come to a necessary conclusion upon a question of this kind. I feel, however, that if these plans were carried out by means of a Bill and the House thereby were to take two or three weeks, or even more time if necessary, over it, the result would be far better than it could be if we adopted the course which the President of the Board of Trade is taking. It is true, of course, that the case is urgent, but while immediate measures can be taken in departmental ways by the President of the Board of Trade, I believe that the Bill dealing generally with these "great issues would evoke from the House proofs of even far more willingness and far more extreme readiness than has yet been laid down by the President of the Board of Trade, so that we leave the question here to-night not as a question finished, but as a question which has merely reached another stage, certain and confident that while the workers will go on doing their best, labouring under these disadvantages, the workers will not do it readily. I believe they would do it readily and put up with all the severity of these high prices if they could feel that they were not being exploited, if they had not seen these figures of immense profits, if they did not know that within the past 1130 few weeks fortunes had been made even in connection with potatoes alone. Evidence is not wanting to prove what I say. If the working classes did not know these things they would show themselves even more willing than they have been to make greater sacrifices in the national interest.
§ 9.0 P.M.
The Motion under discussion is one which I think has received the approval of the Government. The President of the Board of Trade has, in response to it, put a scheme before this House for which he claims the support of the House and of the country, and I think, so far as it goes, though in my opinion it does not go quite far enough, it receives the support of the opinion of this House, and it will receive the support of the country. The appeal to the House which was made by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Simon) that we should readjust our arrangements with regard to recruiting, although it comes a little late in the day, for we have readjusted our arrangements, and are readjusting them, particularly in the direction of agriculture, struck a note in my breast which carried me back to the middle of 1915, when so many of us were going up and down the country preaching war saving to the people, and many of us said, at least I did, that there were three necessary things to win this War—men, munitions and money, and the greatest need of all was money. I am still of that opinion. If we have too many men and not enough munitions, that will not help the country. We therefore must not take men from munitions or else we shall not have enough for the men. If we have too many soldiers with munitions for them, we may not have enough money to pay for them. In my opinion, the greatest peril that faces this country at present is neither the impossibility of supplying enough men nor of getting enough munitions, but it is in the long run, if this War drags out, want of money which will imperil the victorious position of this country in the end. We must therefore keep up every industry which produces for the home market and our own needs at home so as to import as little as possible. We must do more than that. We must in every way help our industries which export, in order to get money to pay for the raw materials which make our munitions and for the necessities of the people at home. The great cotton 1131 industry which, next to agriculture, is the largest in the Kingdom, and is far away ahead of all others as an export industry, representing between a third and a fourth of the total value of all our exports, must not be starved of men for the purpose of going to the Army, if it is possible to avoid it. We shall want for this War every man we can get and more. It is no use asking for a Secret Session in order that the Government may tell us how many men we have in the field, how much the wastage is and how many more men are required. It is not necessary to know any of these things, because we all know that we shall want every man we can get and more. But we must not starve munitions and we must not starve the producing and money-making part of the country. We shall have therefore, of course, to supplement our British-born subjects by drawing upon the other resources of the Empire in men—in Africa, in India, and in other parts of the world. In that way, I believe, if we avoid increasing our peril of want of money by starving our industries, we shall be able to get enough men to carry this War to the conclusion we all desire. We must organise our Empire.
I think too much importance attaches to what has been said about the submarine menace, and what has even been said to me during this Debate our side by hon. Members. The number of British ships which have been sunk by submarines is comparatively trifling. It is only 1 per tent. of the whole British mercantile marine per annum. I would not have referred to this, because other Members have referred to it, unless I had something fresh to say, which I have not heard said in the course of the Debate. Only last June I had from the highest authority on the subject in the country the fact stated to me that in that month our mercantile marine had as many ships and as much tonnage as it had at the commencement of the War, and that all the depredation of the German submarines, the losses by storm, by wreck, and by wear and tear have been made up and that our mercantile marine in June, 1916, was as great in ocean-going tonnage and cargo-carrying tonnage as it was at the commencement of the War. That is a very reassuring fact, and I have stated it to-night explicitly and expressly because I want people to know it, and I am sure it is not generally known, and if it was it would give them 1132 very much more confidence. Of course, the depredations of submarines upon neutral shipping are very serious. They do not reinforce their marine at the same rate that we do and they have not, perhaps, the same opportunity that we have, and it is becoming very serious to us that the neutral mercantile marine should be so depleted as it is by the German outrages. I understand we employ about half the neutral shipping of the world, and we rely upon it, of course, to carry our goods. The German policy is, of course, as far as possible, to destroy the mercantile marine in order that her own may be the most numerous and may be supreme at the end of the War. So we have had a great discussion in the newspapers as to exacting from Germany ton for ton. I think it is a little premature for us to make any statement of that description. I am quite sure it will not affect Germany if we make such a declaration of policy. If we win the War, we shall not take ton for ton, but we shall take all the ships of the German mercantile marine that we can lay our hands upon. Not one ton for every ton, not two tons for every two tons, but every ton that we can manage to lay our hands upon. The hon. Member for the West Toxteth Division of Liverpool (Mr. Houston) said yesterday that the President of the Board of Trade had not protested to his colleagues at the Admiralty against the great waste of shipping which had occurred, which is still occurring, and which might be avoided. I should like to say to the hon. Gentleman, if he were here, that I know, from deputations I have attended and interviews I have had, that the right hon. Gentleman has been making one long protest ever since the War began, both to the Admiralty and to the War Office, in order to get as many ships as he could for the mercantile marine. Hon. Members abused him long ago, and abused him roundly, for trying to starve the Navy of the necessary ships for coaling, and the Army of the necessary ships for transport, and now they turn round and say that he has not been protesting enough to his colleagues. The coaling of the Fleet must at all hazards be carried out. It is necessary that there should be always a margin of ships for the Navy, some of which are lying idle and some of which are only being used, so to speak, as coal stores, in order to make perfectly certain that whenever the Grand Fleet needs the coal for putting to sea that coal will be forthcoming. Subject to that, I am quite sure 1133 that the President of the Board of Trade has done everything that has been possible. Of course, he cannot deprive the Army or the Navy of that margin without which the country would not be safe.
I am very pleased and gratified to know that the right hon. Gentleman is managing, as I know he has been trying to do for a long time past, to get more shipbuilding for the mercantile marine. May I make this suggestion to him? There are a large number of men employed by the Admiralty in building war vessels who from time to time are idle for considerable periods because the work on which they are engaged is intermittent. After having finished one vessel they are waiting to commence on another vessel, which is, perhaps, not ready at that moment, and will not for some time be ready for them to begin their work upon it. These men are badged men, and if they leave the Admiralty to go and build merchant ships they would be deprived of their badges and fall under the clutches of the recruiting officer. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should arrange with the War Office that these men should be permitted to go to do work on merchant ships, and that the recruiting officer should not call them up, or that the Government should make a regulation that the badges held by these men for work upon warships should extend to work upon the mercantile marine. I do not know whether that is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman has considered before. If not, perhaps it is a matter he will consider now.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That has been done already. They have been made available for work on merchant vessels.
I am glad. Another point which I bring to the attention of the Board of Trade is that the increase of tonnage might be made automatic, and very considerable, to the extent of 40 or 50 per cent. of the present amount, if the congestion at the ports could only be avoided, and if there could be more rapid unloading of ships. To remedy that two things are necessary—more labour and more warehouse accommodation. In regard to labour, I do not think that sufficient use is being made of the soldiers the War Office now permit to be used for that 1134 purpose. I know that Lord Derby had a scheme, but that was only used to a limited extent, and I think that that arrangement might be made the nucleus of a scheme for a very much more extended use of the soldiers at home after they have completed their training. The hon. Member for North-East Manchester (Mr. Clynes), who happens to be a constituent of mine, has just spoken, and I am glad to be able to agree with him that in the employment of German prisoners—who, by the way, are not employed nearly enough— the privileges and restrictions of the trade unions should be safeguarded. At the present time, when they are employed, the employer pays wages in respect of them at the same rate as the trade union wages. The German prisoners do not get the money but it goes to the Government, the prisoners only getting one penny or three-halfpence an hour to give them encouragement. In that way the requisitions of the Trade Union are satisfied, and there has been no friction between the Trade Unions and the Government in that respect, except in one or two instances which have come to my attention lately, where Trade Unions have in-fisted on not merely the Trade Union rate of wages being paid, but that the employer should pay something else for the motor lorries, the motor wagons, or motor buses which take the men backwards and forwards to their work. Whether that is reasonable or right I do not know, but there is one aspect of the question which the Trade Union regulations make it impossible to carry out, and that is the reclamation of waste land.
Waste land cannot be reclaimed at Trade Union prices, because when the land had been reclaimed, after the Trade Union wages had been paid, the cost would be about three or four times the value of the land. Therefore, it is impossible to use German prisoners for the purpose of reclaiming waste land, which, when it is reclaimed, will only be worth about one-fourth of the money that has been spent upon it. When the question was raised some time ago, I suggested then, as I suggest now, that the difficulty could be got over quite easily if the Government would only buy the waste land first. They then become the employers and do not have to pay any wages at all to the German prisoners, and the Trade Unions are perfectly satisfied. All the Government have got to do is to write down in a book wages at the Trade Union rate and then 1135 repay it back to themselves on the other side and only give a penny or three-halfpence an hour to the men who are reclaiming the waste land. In that way you would be able to reclaim any amount of waste land by employing German prisoners. There would be large gangs of men with very little supervision, and that would be a most satisfactory way of doing the work except to those bigoted persons who replied to me when I put forward the question that that was Socialism. If it is Socialism and we succeed in getting practically for nothing waste land and turn it into productive land, then it is such very good Socialism that I hope the Government will adopt it. I am not at all sure that the reclaiming of waste land during the War would be of any advantage to the people of this country so far as food production goes, but it would be of great advantage afterwards to the soldiers on their return. Therefore I am not at all sure that the German soldiers would not be put to much better use by carrying on work of actual production at the present time, and work which would assist us in carrying on the War.
I should like to say something about sugar and another matter. In regard to sugar, the import has been reduced to 65 per cent. of what it was before the War, and it is going to be still further reduced. I beg the President of the Board of Trade, and I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, that when they do reduce the amount of sugar that is imported they should make their Regulations so that the poor people will be able to get their fair share. If you reduce the total amount of sugar coming into this country now—and there is only about enough to go round—the rich people will get as much as they want, unless you make proper Regulations. I never have any difficulty in getting any amount of sugar. I have no difficulty in getting for my household as much sugar as we require, because, I suppose, we buy a fair amount of other groceries and are regular customers. Unless drastic Regulations are made, the rich people will be able to get just as much sugar as they want, while the poor people will not be able to get a fair share. I assume that my hon. Friend will make those regulations. With regard to wheat, I cannot understand what is the answer to this question. Wheat last July sold for 46s a quarter in England. The same 1136 wheat from the same farm sold at 65s. in August. This month the same wheat is selling at 74s., 76s. and 78s. How is that justified? I know that the hon. Member (Mr. Pretyman) will talk about world's prices, but simply because wheat, brought from other countries which has to pay freight and other charges commands that price is no reason why the farmer should get that enormous increase, from 46s. to 78s., for no reason except holding the wheat which he ought to have sold.
He does hold it. Ha has got it. I am not talking of the previous year's wheat. I am talking of the wheat which is in the market at the present time. That cannot be justified, and there is only one remedy—that the Government should buy up the whole of the wheat in the country at 50s. or something like that as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry suggested just now. This will not interfere with the amount of land put under wheat next year or the year after, provided you guarantee the farmer that the price shall not go below 50s. for the period of a year, as this War will probably last some years yet, and certainly for some years after the War the prices of wheat are sure to be high, so that the Government can safely embark upon that investmant now, and say to the farmer "For the next four or five years"—two or three will not be enough—"we undertake that your price for wheat shall be made up to 50s."Then the same amount of wheat or more perhaps will be sold this year and every one of those years, and the people of the country will get the wheat at reasonable prices.
I was one of those—there were many in this House especially on this side of the House—who in the early stages of the War and long before the War asked the Government to guarantee the farmer 45s. You could have had the whole of the wheat at that time for 45s. The average price for wheat in Mark Lane in 1914, eight months before the War was 34s. to 34s. 6d. A guarantee to the farmer then of 45s. would have given him a fair profit, and it would have put at least £15,000,000 into the pockets of the British people by the lower prices, and you would have had the wheat at 45s. now, and for the next two years. It must be 50s. now, because things have gone fr6m bad to worse, and as in the case of the Sybilline books, if you wait much longer, it may be 55s. or 1137 60s. There was one thing which disappointed me in the admirable and delightful speech or speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, especially that speech in which he answered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, which I admire. I admire the way in which he throws over all the economic principles of his lifetime for the sake of his country. But the one thing which disappointed me is that he makes no provision for the purchase of the wheat from the farmers of this country, who can grow it at a good profit at 50s., which is quite sufficient to satisfy any patriotic Englishman, who should not want to take advantage of the market, and continue to get 65s., 75s., and some days 85s. I think that there ought to be a different standard of commercial conscience in war time, and if the farmers themselves will not come forward and say, "You can have the wheat for 50s. if you guarantee that amount," then the Government might propose it and enforce it.
On the question of potatoes, what possible justification can there be for potatoes going up to £14 a ton, or as the price now is about £9 or £10 a ton? There is sufficient crop of them above ground stored away, while some of them are not lifted yet, but there is no difficulty in lifting them. Lord Derby told us in the Committee room upstairs, sometime before the harvest, that he had set aside 27,000 soldiers who had completed their training in England, and were waiting their turn to go abroad, and who had been used to agriculture, to assist farmers in getting in the harvest. The information was circulated widely over the whole of the country, and every arrangement was made, and the British farmers only took 3,000 out of the 27,000. They said, "If we cannot have our own men, we will not have any at all." That is not a patriotic position. It does not reflect any credit upon the British farmer. I am not such an admirer of the British farmer as some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, who seem to know so much about agriculture. If I knew more about agriculture, perhaps I could admire the British farmer more, but it would take a great deal of acquaintance with agriculture to make me admire that sort of farming. You can get the soldiers now if you apply for them, and the potatoes can be lifted. But anybody can lift potatoes. Old men, old women, and even children can dig them up, and there should be no cause for running potatoes up to 1138 £9 a ton. It may not be altogether the farmer's fault. The dealer may have something to say to it. The responsibility is shunted on from one to the other. Probably both must share it.
In conclusion, may I repent the admiration with which I listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know who the Controller is going to be He might be the head of some very great business which sells all kinds of things— a sort of glorified William Whiteley. He has got to be a man of push and go, I suppose, but it may be that we shall see a repetition of what happened in the case of the indispensable push and go person for the chief position in the Ministry of Munitions, in which case it turned out that it was the Minister of Munitions himself. I am not at all sure that it may not turn out in the end that the man of push and go who will be required to control will be the President of the Board of Trade himself.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I am sure the proposals of the President of the Board of Trade will give great satisfaction throughout the country. There has been undoubtedly, for a considerable time past, a large amount of criticism of the Government with regard to their failure to take action in regulating the supply and distribution of food. A good deal of that criticism, I think, has been due to ignorance of the conditions under which the Government have to act, but I am bound to say, with regard to certain of the proposals placed before the House now for the first time, that I think it would have been a very great advantage to the country if they had been considered at an. earlier stage. I have had some experience of prosecutions under the Defence of the Realm Act, and Regulations in Scotland, and I am convinced that my fellow countrymen there and elsewhere have much more belief in the powers which can be used under such Regulations than in the voluntary appeals which have been made in, certain quarters. I should like to know how many individuals throughout the country have adopted the proposal of one meatless day per week, or how many have responded to appeals made again and again for economy. The new powers, which I am inclined to think will be extensive, will strike, in the first place, at the offender, who, I think, ought to have been dealt with long ago, who has exploited the needs of the country at this. 1139 time, and particularly the needs of those who are less able to provide themselves with food. I do not know of any person who deserves more severe treatment. I think you might have had this Regulation put in force some considerable time ago.
I welcome also the powers which are to be taken to deal with waste and destruction of food. A great deal has been said during this Debate as to the increase of the production of food in this country and as to the methods which may be adopted to increase it; but in my remarks I propose to deal more with the other aspect of the question, namely, the prevention of waste at the present moment. It appears to me that you have here a very important remedy at hand. You can avoid the waste of certain materials on the production of what the President of the Board of Trade, I think, referred to as luxurious food, of which there is a great deal consumed. In the Debate there has also been reference made to one or two important kinds of luxuries which, at the present moment, could be done without. There was a further example at Question Time, when reference was made to the extravagant menus which are still offered at many of the large restaurants; and I am glad to learn that the President of the Board of Trade thought he had sufficient power under the Regulations to deal with the grave extravagance which prevails throughout London and throughout the country in many districts. When you come to deal with the question of luxuries, it is all the more important to consider that those upon whom the burden is thrown, by reason of the high price of food, and upon whom at the present moment it bears hardest, are those who have the smallest wages, and that they are suffering more now owing directly to the action of many at the other end of the scale of society—those who, by their extravagant consumption of what is quite unnecessary in the way of food and drink, are causing severe hardship to the poorer people. I should like to refer briefly to one or two subjects which I think could be dealt with under the name of luxuries. I was very much interested in the reference which the President of the Board of Trade made to sugar. He referred to the luxurious uses of sugar, to sweetmeat boxes, which one sees in many shop windows throughout the 1140 towns, with ribbons tied round the boxes, and on which the people spend a good deal of money.
Although the right hon. Gentleman went on to make some reference to sugar used in some industries for the manufacture of luxuries he did not face the real question which was put before him, namely, the extent to which wasteful luxury at the present time can be carried. He said in his first speech that they were quite prepared, if necessary, to cut down the sugar which was used for the production of beer further than one-third, if national necessities demanded it. What I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman now is whether the Board of Trade have not considered this point, that the national interest at the present moment seriously demands the reconsideration of the whole situation as affecting the trade in intoxicating liquors. Can there be any doubt whatever as to the advantage which would accrue to the whole country if this matter were dealt with under their Regulations—or it may be by the Food Controller, when he is appointed— in order to cut off a large and admittedly wasteful expenditure, which could be terminated without any difficulty? I think in this matter of avoiding the use of luxuries this House and the whole country ought to follow the Royal example. What is good enough for the Palace ought to be good enough for every one in the land. I thonght we might have been moved also by what has been indicated to us by the War Savings Committee, which, I understand, is a body of an official character, appointed as an impartial body to deal with this matter. They have made some suggestions as to the reduction of national expenditure which could be effected by reducing the national expenditure on drink of £182,000,000. The Committee point out in one of their pamphlets that even more important than the saving of money would be the saving for more useful purposes of large quantities of barley, rice, maize, sugar, besides a large saving in labour that might go to meet the requirements of the Army and Navy. That is a consideration worth keeping in view at a time like this. They further point out that beer and spirits are almost valueless for food and can only be classed as luxuries pure and simple, and that all the grain which is used for their production is lost 1141 for food purposes. It must be well known to the Board of Trade what is the amount of material annually employed in the manufacture of intoxicating liquors. The foodstuffs used in the brewing and distilling industries are barley, maize, sugar, and hops—all foods, and in 1915 they amounted to 1,800,000 tons. The Board of Agriculture told us that in 1914 the area of land in the United Kingdom which was under barley to be used for brewing and distilling was estimated at 871,000 acres. These are not small figures. They represent an enormous area devoted to the production of food elements which are going to be consumed under conditions "where the country will get no real advantage from them. The number of persons employed in the licensed trade in the United Kingdom is about 465,000; then there are some thousands of miners who have to provide coal for the industry, and some 35,000 agriculturists employed on the land. There is no doubt that these figures have been materially reduced, owing to the War, but you are still faced by a very serions problem. In this direction I think there is an oportunity of providing an enormous increase of food which might be used by the poorer classes of this country, and which might go to the limit and reduce heavy burdens they are now bearing.
Then with regard to tonnage. We have heard a great deal about that in the course of this Debate. The Board of Trade has estimated, no doubt most carefully, the figures with regard to the imports of spirits and wine, and these show that, in 1915, 6,600,000 gallons of spirits and 10,200,000 gallons of wine were imported, along with huge quantities of sugar, hops, and barley, all this requiring a very large provision of tonnage. I would like to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade: Has that Department considered this question at all, and have they made any estimate of the saving that would be effected in tonnage and in food and material if, at the present moment, the manufacture of intoxicating liquors were prohibited? I think that that is a question which both the House and the country will feel ought to be answered. It is very desirable that it should be considered at the earliest possible -moment. Along with the other hon. Members in this House, I felt it my duty, after the very grave statement made by the President of the Board of Trade 1142 yesterday, to put on the Paper a Resolution calling attention to this matter, and I shall be very much surprised if that Resolution does not receive support from Members in every quarter of the House. We are dealing with a national emergency. The necessities of the moment render it essential that this question should receive immediate consideration.
I was very much interested in the speech made by the hon. Member for Wiltshire (Captain Bathurst) in the course of the Debate yesterday. The hon. Member is an expert in agriculture. He speaks with very close knowledge of the facts, and he drew the attention of the House to the fact that there was far too much shipping taken for the barley brought across the seas for conversion into intoxicating liquors of one sort and another. He said that the amount of material permitted by the Government for brewing purposes was far in excess of the amount that Germany permits, or, indeed, that most other belligerent Powers allow. He suggested that the restrictions under the Restriction of Output of Beer Bill, which now stood at 30 per cent., should be raised to 50 per cent. That speech shows the trend of opinion which is expressed in different parts of this House. I believe that, so far as the facts are concerned, there is no real answer to that question. The Government, if they are seriously considering this matter, know perfectly well the country is ready to make any sacrifice in the form of luxuries at the present moment. It has been suggested that the working classes would not take that view, I do not believe it. The hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Clynes) this evening pointed out the tremendous sacrifices the workers are forced to make, and showed that the pressure was greatest upon those who are at the one end of the scale, and that the great luxury which is flaunted in their faces from the other end is causing great dissatisfaction and agitation.
May I appeal further to the right hon. Gentleman in considering this matter? Why should this great Empire of ours lag behind our Allies, who have already, each and all, determined to deal with this problem? Russia and France, and our gallant ally, Roumania—with whom at the present moment we are so closely in sympathy—all these countries have shown their desire to deal with this very important question by restricting and prohibiting the sale of alcohol at the earliest 1143 possible date after the War began, and Canada has also in eight provinces adopted prohibition. In this particular case I would put forward the economic argument. Is the country not being driven to recognise the need at the present moment for doing without luxuries? I do not refer only to the consumption of alcohol—I refer to the equally extravagant consumption of food. There are many other luxuries at present which might be mentioned, but none of them compare for a moment, in. volume and harmful effects and waste, with the consumption of alcohol in our midst. I sincerely hope that when this matter is receiving further consideration by the Board of Trade, under the new powers which they are taking, or by the Food Director, that they will not hesitate, even in the face of powerful trade interests, if they think it is in the interests of the country, to deal with this problem. I am sure if they do they will have the support of the great majority of the people of this country, who at home are prepared to make sacrifices which cannot for a moment be compared with those which our gallant soldiers at the front are making.
I should like to say, as representing a large industrial constituency, that I have been asked again and again to voice the anxiety which my Constituents feel at the failure on the part of the Government to deal with this great problem of the regulation of the supply and distribution of food. I am glad to he able to give them every assurance that this matter is now receiving most definite attention. But I would like to be in a position to go further and tell them it is intended by the Government that the excessive extravagance which prevails in this country at the present moment, especially in the wasteful consumption of strong liquors, is to be dealt with as well, and that in that way relief will be given to many who at the present time are forced to pay such high prices for food.
§ Mr. PETO
At this stage in the Debate it appears to me that the only excuse for rising, seeing that the two right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Board of Agriculture are in their places, would be that one has some rather definite suggestions to make. I have some to put before them which, having followed the Debate for the last two days, I think have not been urged quite with sufficient force 1144 so far. The first subject I want to touch upon is a question which was the main subject of the speech of the right hon. Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon), who was very anxious to put on the adoption of Conscription in this country the blame for the shortage of labour, particularly in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that to some extent to this was attributable our shortage of food. To me it is quite clear that the boot is on the other foot. After listening to the arguments on one side and the other, my impression is confirmed that the main responsibility lies with the haphazard recruiting under the voluntary system, and in the fact that we did not organise our labour in the early days of the War. I am very glad to sec how much opinion has advanced on this question of the organisation of labour. One of the few speeches made from the Labour Benches in this Debate was delivered yesterday by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle), and I think it is significant he should have said there could be no doubt that when who went into this War the very first thing that was necessary was that the whole of the labour resources of the people should be organised for the purposes of the War and for providing for the civil population as well. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture interrupted him by asking the question, "Compulsorily?" And he replied, "I shall not shirk the question of compulsion." In view of that declaration from the Leader of the Labour party, we can clearly see that all this agitation with regard to the conscription of labour, which was so violently opposed, and which undoubtedly would have been adopted by the Government long ago as the only sane way of making a fair apportionment of the available labour between the various branches for carrying on the War, between the production of food and the actual fighting, transport, and the like, would have been dropped long ago, and therefore I am very glad to see that opposition now removed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade told us yesterday that in this matter of Conscription Germany was an expert and had practised it for many years and did not make mistakes. I was sorry to hear him say that, because that lends colour to the view that was put forward so cogently as if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) had a brief on behalf of the Board of Agriculture as against the 1145 War Office in this matter this afternoon. I think, on the other hand, our failure, as far as we have failed and as far as our methods need revision at the present time, is attributable to exactly the opposite thing, not to our inexpertness in the matter of regulating labour which is involved in a true system of national service or Conscription, but to the fact that we did not adopt these methods really early enough.
There is one practical thing I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench. The representative of the Board of Agriculture told us that men who are only passed as fit for C Class are being rapidly drafted back again to agriculture, from which they were taken a few months ago. Those of us who watch this question closely have come to the conclusion long ago that during the current year, with the general depletion of our agricultural forces, no man should have been taken who was expert in agriculture unless he is fit to fight. There was a perfectly simple and clear division, and it was not good enough to take a man from the land and put him to checking Army Service Corps stores or anything of that sort, and I am very glad to hear they are being brought back. Can he not go a step further, and urge upon the military authorities that no more men shall be taken from those counties where they are really depleted of their agricultural forces except those that are fit to fight. I am sure that would go a very long way towards meeting the difficulty that is before us. The next point is where I ventured to interrupt the President of the Board of Trade yesterday. I told him that what the farmers really wanted to know was what was going to happen after January, 1917. He then told me that he could not commit himself, but he thought his influence and that of his Department would be sufficient to produce some decision which would be satisfactory from the food point of view between now and 1st January. But this is really a very urgent matter. Surely that decision can be arrived at at once. What is essential from the agricultural point of view is that the farmers should know where they are. If they have got just a bare minimum of men on the farms now, and perhaps one or two essential men warned for military service, having been before the tribunal and perhaps the Appeal Tribunal, and postponed under the Orders issued by the Government to 1st January, they must 1146 know now whether they are going to be able to depend on having the men after that date or not.
I must say that, with regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said as to his anticipations of the wheat crop, on which he tried to console us for our being about a quarter of a million acres short in land under wheat, as they were based upon the assumption that we should have a normal return of 32 bushels an acre, I think he left out of what he said to the House, though I have no doubt he had it in mind, the fact that an altogether abnormal proportion of our wheat will have to be got in in the spring because of the weather that we have had during the autumn, and that makes the point I have just made doubly important. The farmers must know whether they are going to have the skilled staff necessary to get that wheat in, and to get the land cleaned. Otherwise the right hon. Gentleman's anticipation of a 32 bushels crop is bound to be falsified. That takes me to my next point. I want to emphasise what was said last night with regard to the employment of German prisoners of war. I do not know whether any Members of the House noticed a letter from Mr. J. L. Green, the secretary of the Rural League, in the "Times" of the day before yesterday. It made a simple calculation, Which I think is interesting in this connection, as to what would be the effect on our wheat supplies—even without the plough, for which we hear there is a great demand, and regarding which the President of the Board of Trade told us that one firm, Ransomes, alone were 2,000 in arrear of their orders—even working with the spade or fork, which, after all, is about the best implement of tillage there is, if it is a bit slow, the figures were given in the letter like this: A man without overdoing himself at all could dig half an acre in a week. One hundred acres at 32 bushels (the right hon. Gentleman's figure) per acre feeds 500 people for a year. Forty thousand German prisoners of war in this country working for the twelve weeks still available before the last date for sowing spring wheat would dig 240,000 acres and feed 5,000,000 of our population for three months.
Surely those are figures worthy to be borne in mind. They are not negligible. I am not proposing anything that is illusory, anything imaginative. There is plenty of land, perhaps not up to 32 1147 bushels an acre, and I would agree, of course, that it would perhaps not be fit for growing a crop of wheat at all, but it will grow something, and the policy of lengthening the 80 per cent. flour means a diminution of 400,000 tons in the feeding stuffs that are mainly available for pigs, and we can at least grow a crop of potatoes or barley in many cases on land that is turned over for the first time, which would otherwise be waste land, and the right hon. Gentleman can press on the military authorities that if they are so afraid of the escape of German prisoners of war, they might allow them to work in gangs of 100, and arrange them in military formations, and dig up waste spaces. If his statement that we were a quarter of a million acres short in our wheat acreage this year had been made in the German Reichstag, it would have been received very differently from what is was to-day, when it was passed over as perhaps a regrettable circumstance, but something which it was quite out of our power to remedy I suggest that we can remedy it in that way, and that this idea of German prisoners of war escaping is a bogey. Since that letter was written two or three days ago we have captured another 5,000 German prisoners of war in the oflensive on the Ancre, and are we to take it that, knowing we have got to feed every single British prisoner of war with parcels now regulated (three parcels per fortnight for each man), knowing we have got to feed all of these entirely from this country or else they will starve, and to support an additional 5,000 German prisoners of war with ample rations out of the short supply at present available for our population, we are to do nothing with these men to make them dig ground at least in order to produce the food for their own consumption? I think that is a question that really ought to be taken very seriously into consideration. I am only sorry that throughout these Debates, whether to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, who attacked the military authorities, or for any other purpose, since the War Office and military policy is so closely connected with this, that we have had no representative of the War Office present.
I want to say just one or two words in regard to the submarine position as it affects the mercantile marine. Yesterday we had a statement, which has been already alluded to in the Debate, from the 1148 Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. He told us that only 2½ per cent. net of our steam tonnage of over 1,000 tons had been lost from all causes during the War. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee this afternoon quoted a figure which, I think, is erroneous. He put our steam tonnage at 18,000,000 tons. I believe he was taking the. total tonnage, and the proper figure—I have consulted the tables—will be about 12,000,000 tons. Therefore the Secretary to the Admiralty's answer means 300,000 tons. The President of the Board of Trade yesterday told us that we had lost only 2,250,000 tons since the War began. There is a wide discrepancy between these two statements. I quite agree that it is not wise to go, perhaps, too minutely into this question, but there is not the slightest doubt that we ought to look at it very closely, even if we do not go closely into the figures. There is no doubt that the definite attack which has recently been made upon neutral shipping, particularly the shipping from Holland to this country, affects the whole question. The arrangement which has been made with Holland is an admirable one, to have the food supply which they undertake to send here—if it reaches us! It may have to be revised from the point of view of the policy that was enunciated yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade. If we are going to economise in our wheat consumption by using more of the offal in the wheat for human consumption we shall have a shortage, which I have already alluded to, in offals. I do not see how that is going to be made up unless we take further steps to see that the substitutes for the wheat offals shall remain in this country, so as not to incur the double risk of going to Holland and then coming back here in the form of bacon.
We have to use 8½ per cent. more flour out of the wheat. We are to feed no potatoes to the pigs. Of course, everybody knows how you really feed pigs with potatoes. You feed pigs with what they call pig potatoes, little ones which hardly pay to cook, and which are really best used in that way. If the pigs are to have no potatoes, and perhaps a very limited supply of skimmed milk for breeding sows, and there will be 400,000 tons short of wheat offals, unless we take some steps to counterbalance that, I do not see how we are not going to be just as short in bacon as we may be more plentifully supplied with bread. I think it is very desirable 1149 to consider, at any rate, whether we ought not to put, say, 10 per cent. of maize meal into the standard bread which is now to be the war-bread of the people. I am told privately by hon. Members of this House that it is not at all a fiction that it makes a most palatable loaf, and it would mean that we should have to mill in this country a considerable quantity of maize; therefore, we should have a very large percentage of offal from that maize, which would go very largely to meet the shortage of offals from the wheat.
With regard to what the President of the Board of Trade said as to regulating the consumption of sugar and milk in confectionery— and I think he included biscuits—I can see quite clearly that there is another almost essential article of diet which may be enormously economised by that action. I refer to eggs. I believe one firm of biscuit-makers use eggs, literally by the million, not for making biscuits which are really essential, but for making only the kind of biscuits that can most completely be classed as luxuries. I should like to have seen the President of the Board of Trade, in carrying out this new Order in Council, not only to take the powers that I think he has taken, but others, to say that in these places where confectionery and biscuits are made a strictly defined scale of what it is legitimate to manufacture shall be laid down; that these articles of luxury shall not be permitted to be manufactured at all. You would not then have a regular service of motor lorries, as at present, collecting milk by the million gallons for the production of milk chocolates, and we should not have eggs, which for this purpose used almost entirely to be imported from Russia, and which are now laid in not great quantity by the poultry of this country, used to make confectionery and biscuits—Huntley and Palmer's rich luncheon biscuits, any of the dessert biscuits, and that class of thing. They ought to be prohibited absolutely from being manufactured. I do not believe you can stop it in any way by any exhortation to the people. There is legitimate business left for all these people. There are many trades in this country which are far more interfered with by the War than anything I am now suggesting. Let them turn to the manufacture of chocolate in its most substantial form, in a form in which it is really most adapted for food. Let them, 1150 if they make biscuits, devote themselves simply to plain biscuits which are essential for the troops, and useful as food in various other ways for the civil population.
If you are going to fix a maximum price for flour, which is one of the articles which the President of the Board of Trade said he could deal with in this way, I think it would only be reasonable at the same time to fix a minimum price for flour that would be assured to our farmers for at least five years to come. I am glad to notice that there has been no attack during these Debates upon the bakers. I do not believe, as a rule, that the bakers are responsible for any large share of the increase in the cost of the articles they produce. I should like to read, as it really partakes of the nature of a human document, a letter I received only a day or two ago from a woman baker in my own village. She says:I forgot to say that I think of giving up baking, as the price of flour is so very high now that there is no profit left after paying for coal, etc. It is £3 per sack now and still going up.She means the flour is £3. If that were not true, for there is absolutely no competition in the village, why should that letter have been written? I do not believe there is any very large margin of profit for those who produce the ordinary bread of the poor. I have no doubt the bakers who produce all kinds of fancy articles which they sell to rich customers in the cities make very large profits. Under the right hon. Gentleman's new regulations practically all those lines of business will be cut off, because they would not have the flour to make them. Therefore, I think that this will have to be carefully considered, as to how these regulations are to apply, so as to leave a sufficient margin, when the price of flour is regulated in relation to the price of bread, so that at any rate village bakers shall not have to shut up their businesses altogether.
But the biggest method of saving in our food supplies has never been mentioned in this Debate. In my opinion it would be what I have advocated long ago payment of all services, above a certain standard of wage, should be, not in Treasury Bonds or script of that sort, but in a deposit book which would have to be kept by the large employer, and which could only be dealt with by the depositor, or to his order by the person whom he ordered it to be paid to, and would only be repayable by the Government at a certain definite period after peace is 1151 declared. Although it is very natural for the poorer classes to say the rich ought to economise and the like, this is a question of mouths. It is a question where the millions count, where undoubtedly such waste as there is in rich houses, and places where it may be more apparent, weighs very little in the scale compared with the largely increased consumption — consumption which really must be based on the waste of food— which is due to the enormous wages paid in munition works and other departments of life where they are altogether above the scale of the increased cost of food and living generally. I do not suppose for a moment it would be popular at the moment, but I am quite sure it would be very popular indeed after the War when those deposit books came to be paid by the Government, just at the time when employment was scarce, and when the working classes might have a very difficult time to go through. I really think that as a war measure it is one that ought to be adopted, and one which I hope will not be regarded as impossible, but will be seriously considered by the Board of Trade in conjunction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe in stopping all the little leaks by all means. All the measures that have been proposed I welcome, and I would have accepted far more measures necessary, I believe, to husband our supplies through the coming winter and perhaps on through the months of next year. They are all comparatively small compared with the enormous economy of food which would result through not giving to the people an amount of wages in any case altogether beyond the absolute needs of their families. It is very natural that they should spend as they have never spent before, since the bulk of our people in the cities are earning as they never earned before.
In the speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee made this afternoon, he quoted a passage—perhaps the most important passage—of the speech of the President of the Board of Trade as reported in the "Times." I do not complain of the report in any way. It was a very natural condensation of what was said, but the words as actually used, and as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, would not have enabled the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1152 Dundee to make that part of his speech at all. What the President of the Board of Trade said was 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th November, l916, col. 862.Of course, all those personal words were left out of the condensed report. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee made, I will not say a violent attack on the Government, but he certainly attacked the Government as a whole for their dilatory methods in being driven bit by bit from the position, whereas the President of the Board of Trade made it quite clear in his speech that that was only his individual view, and, therefore, leaning on the actual words as used, I come to quite a different conclusion. As I see it, we have at the present time a Coalition Government, and we naturally can hardly expect, except on one condition, that the Coalition Government should be as ready to act, and act rapidly, as a Government composed of men whose economic views or political views, and their views on all subjects, more nearly correspond, and I know, as far as the Unionist part of the Coalition is concerned, all those economic predispositions have been put entirely on one side.
I welcome the statement of the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon. At any rate, now he has entirely dismissed all preconceived opinions from his mind, and I think he said he would not weigh them as dust in the balance compared with feeding the people, and therefore those who support the Government may hope in the future to see them act with very much more promptitude in these matters, and not be driven bit by bit against their individual will to take the measures that are absolutely necessary if we are to win this War. Many of us have felt that the Government in many of these matters have lagged far behind popular opinion and the opinion of Members in this House, and, therefore, if we can hope for the future, after the statement of the President of the Board of Trade to-night, that they are going to regard the interest of the country solely, and dismiss entirely their preconceived economic doctrines from their minds, then I think this Debate will be entirely useful, and we may hope for better things in the future. At any rate, I think the hon. Member for 1153 Hereford is amply justified in having? asked for a day, which has been extended into two days, for the discussion of his Motion. My own view is that the interests of the country are far better served by candid debates such as we have had these two days, than by any attempt to weaken the Government, and that these Debates will tend to strengthen their hands, and I only hope it may be so.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
I had a question down to-day which I was asked to address to the Government in the course of this Debate instead of at Question Time. My question was whether the Government would at once take all necessary steps to ensure a maximum home production of food in the year 1917. Since Question Time I have had the pleasure of listening to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, in which he had announced to the House the policy of the Government at the present time in regard to the agricultural industry with a view to increasing our home production of food. That statement, so far as it went, was certainly a decided step in the right direction, but I question if it went quite far enongh. There can be no more important question in connection with this great War than the increasing of our food production at home, because not only does it save our shipping, of which we arc only too short at the present moment, but it also lessens the amount of foodstuffs that we need to import from abroad, and thereby lessens the balance of imports as against exports so strongly against us. The importance of that cannot be overstated, because money is just as vital to the prosecution of this War to a victorious issue as men and munitions.
I agree with what has been said, that the Government ought to utilise the services of German prisoners to more practical purpose in connection with agriculture than they have hitherto done. We know that in Germany practically the whole of the agriculture is done by prisoners of war, and if we could only make full use of the 50,000 German prisoners in this country it would be an enormous help to our agricultural industry. I do not for a moment believe in reproaching the agricultural industry with a want of patriotism. I believe at the present moment we ought to encourage them in every possible way. I am glad to know that men who have: been previously engaged in agriculture are to be transferred 1154 back to agriculture if they are not on active service abroad, but, in addition to that, we have in our large towns scores of thousands of men who, in some part of their lives, were engaged in agriculture, and my opinion is that if we deal liberally by the farmers of this country, if we allow them such prices for their produce as would enable them to pay higher wages and secure for the land some of those now in the towns who have, during one part of their life, engaged in agriculture, in that way we might supply the full amount of labour for agricultural purposes.
Then, again, there are the women and children. We ought to employ them to a larger extent for the purpose of picking the weeds out of the land, which hinders the fullest cropping of the land to such a serious extent. There is no question that we ought to insist by some means or other that very square of land in the country capable of producing foodstuffs should be cultivated. We know that in the aggregate there is a considerable extent of land which would produce food which is not being cultivated. Take the long embankments on each side of our railways. You have hundreds of thousands of miles of railways in this country, and on the top of those railway banks considerable quantities of foodstuffs might be grown. I do not believe that the nation as a whole has yet been made to realise the importance of this question. Food prices have risen heavily, and everything that is possible ought to be done to reduce those prices. Do the people realise that one way to reduce the price of foodstuffs is to consume less, and waste less. You may still go to military camps, hotels, and restaurants, and even to the majority of the homes of the people, and you would find waste everywhere. I believe that it may very likely become necessary by Government limitation to compel our people to avoid waste of food by regulating the sale of it.
There is another way in which we can, at any rate, secure an abundance of food for the people of this country, and that is by the better handling and utilisation of our mercantile marine. Sir Norman Hill, a great shipping expert who is well known, had an article the other day in the public newspapers, in which he expressed the opinion that by proper organisation of the loading and discharging of ships in the ports of this country alone we could increase the carrying power of our mercantile marine 10 per cent., or equivalent 1155 to 5,000,000 tons. We know how ships are being detained far beyond the normal time for unloading. I know that the Government have done something in the way of supplementing civilian labour by military assistance, but not by half enough. There are hundreds of thousands of men in khaki whose services could be conveniently utilised to rapidly load and discharge ships at our ports. The congestion in the ports of France and Italy is exceedingly great, and I do think that the Government might do more in one way or another by not allowing laden steamers to go to ports until they are free of congestion. They might, at any rate, speed up the loading and discharging of ships in the French and Italian ports, and thus, as Sir Norman Hill has said, increase the carrying power of our mercantile marine. Then, again, I have always held that by the expert handling of the ships commandeered by the Admiralty and for Army purposes we could effect a considerable reduction in the number required. At any rate, we could use some of them temporarily from time to time to bring foodstuffs to this country if the matter were vigorously taken in hand and thoroughly organised by the best shipping experts in the country. How much more satisfied and comfortable the people of this country would feel if we had a larger accumulation of foodstuffs. We ought to have it. It was within our power to secure it, and far too long delay has taken place, not that I believe that the submarine peril ought to be exaggerated, because I am perfectly certain that were our present mercantile marine used to the greatest advantage, we could not only do all that is required for our Navy and our Army, but we could also bring abundant food supplies for ourselves and our Allies.
It is all a question of proper organisation; and in that matter, unfortunately, we as a nation have not had so much experience as our enemies appear to have had. But, although late, we rejoice that there are signs that the Government are beginning to recognise the importance of these questions more than they have done before. Instead of making these changes by comparatively small instalments, reluctantly conceded, so the Government tell us, we wish that they would face the whole situation, and that they would act broadly as though it were certain that the War would continue for at least two years longer. Let us take another aspect of 1156 how they might shape their policy. They could say that after the end of this year no imports shall be brought into this country that are not absolutely necessary for the prosecution of the War and for our national existence. There are many imports that are coming in that could quite well be dispensed with, and that occupy space in our ships which could infinitely better be employed in bringing extra foodstuffs to this country. We cannot get the Government to do more than act in a piecemeal fashion. They have prohibited certain things and limited others, but they have not gone nearly so far as they might go. I believe that our national necessity really requires that they should deal with this question as a whole at once and not merely make some concessions to-day when we all know perfectly well that further changes will have to take place and that in all human probability, if the people of this country cannot be induced by exhortation to practice rigid economy and to abandon the use of luxury, State interference will have to be resorted to. I do not believe, if properly explained to the masses of the people, that there will be any objection to even the most drastic measures that might be taken to strengthen our position both as regards men and munitions and money to ensure a victorious and decisive issue to this great War.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
The food problem, at the commencement of the War, had two aspects to it. The first was to make food as scarce and expensive as possible in enemy countries and to make it as plentiful and as cheap as possible at home. It is only with the latter of those two problems that we are concerned to-night. I need hardly say that naturally we regard this as a war problem and not even as a British problem, but as an Allied problem—that is to say, a problem that concerns the success of our Allies-and ourselves. It seems to me that there are only two ways to get an adequate supply, or as adequate a supply as possible, for the people of this country. One is to provide more food, and the other is to consume less food. With regard to providing more food, the food comes either from neutral countries or from our own Dominions, or from home. With regard to neutral countries, the question of buying and of shipping is the most important. With regard to our Dominions, when we last had a debate on this subject I referred; 1157 to getting Australian meat to this country, and I think my right hon. Friend who sits in front of me now poured ridicule on that suggestion—or perhaps it was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. At any rate, a good deal on official ridicule was poured on the suggestion, and we were told it was impossible and preposterous; but we know that so frequently do the Government adopt what they say at first is impossible that we are told they are indispensable for that reason. Now this "absurd suggestion" becomes practical policy. I think something can be done to get more meat from our Dominions. I feel certain that the Governments of the Dominions would do all they could to help us in this respect, and I have no doubt the Government will make proper representations to the Dominions in this matter.
I really rose to deal with the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture referred to as the increase of the home supply. That is a vital matter and entirely within our own scope and power, and no shipping concern or anything of that kind troubles the situation. We have been discussing this matter at some length to-night. My right hon. Friend who represents the Board of Agriculture has said that if he took more drastic steps they would refer to him as an "offensive scoundrel," words which fell strangely from his gentle lips. But really I think he may take heart, and I do not believe either the adjective or the substantive would have been applied to him for the reason that he took more drastic steps in this matter. It has been suggested, and said truly, that the difficulty of the agricultural situation is, in the main, men. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) went at some length into this question, and dragged the old question of compulsory service in. He made a veiled attack on the War Office by praising the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture, not so much that he loved the. Board of Trade or the Board of Agriculture, but that he hated the War Office. I do not want to go into this side issue, but as an attack has been made upon those who hold the views which I have held for a considerable time, I think it ought to be made perfectly clear that we never held the absurd views which the right hon. Gentleman has put upon us to-night. He said that if it had not been for compulsory service nothing of this kind would have happened. I would re- 1158 mind him of what the President of the Board "of Trade said yesterday. I quote from column 850 of the OFFICIAL REPORT:Skilled labour in the early days of the War—and "the early days of the War" means voluntary service days and not Conscription days—was no leas patriotic than unskilled, and an immense number of engineers, fitters, plumbers, and the like went into the Army.That is the fault not of Conscription but of the haphazard system of voluntaryism to which my hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) has already referred. I do not know whether it is necessary in this Debate to vindicate our position, but may I, in view of the attack which has been made upon us who support National Service, say that we were fully aware of all that has been said to-night? I would inflict only one quotation upon the House. It is this;Let me say this about National Service. It is not merely or mainly directed to get more soldiers. Let us be frank about that. I agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo that there is a certain maximum beyond which we cannot go; there is a maximum of soldiers beyond which we cannot go. But the real question is, What is the utmost effort we can put out? It is not only men for the Army and Navy that are wanted, not only men for equipment and munitions. These are the two chief categories, but they do not exhaust our problem. There is the whole internal trade of the country. There is the whole export trade, and there is work necessary to fulfil our commitments and our responsibilities to our Allies. We have to keep these points in view. The reason I am in favour of National Service is this, that unless you have some such system you will never get a solution of the real problem —the problem of the adjustment of these five categories of work and men. That is the real problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th September, 1915, col. 232, Vol. LXXIV.]
I know. That is perfectly true. I only state what our position was. It is quite clear that we were fully aware of the points that have been made to-night. The real point all along was the true adjustment. That true adjustment was spoilt and destroyed before compulsion came in. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!"] Certainly. That is a question of fact about which there ought to be no doubt. The wrong men went to the front and the wrong men stayed at home. There were men who ought to have gone to the front who stayed at home, and men who stayed at home who ought to have gone to the front. I do not say that new difficulties have not arisen since. Speaking from my own experience—everybody must to that—I am bound to say that to regard the Appeal Tribunals as the slaves of the military representatives is certainly not 1159 true of that part of the country from which I come. If anybody pictures the military representative as ruling the tribunals with a rod of iron, he is very much misinformed, at least as far as the part of Wales I know is concerned.
I suppose there they are more pliable and ready to bow under the military yoke. I can assure hon. Members that in my part of the world both the local and the Appeal Tribunals constantly decide against the military representative. Let me for a moment face this problem. It is partly a man-power problem as well as a food-prices problem. Taken by itself, the speech of the President of the Board of Trade was rather disquieting. What he said, in effect, was that no more men should go from the soil until 1st January and afterwards. That may be right. I am making no complaint. Not only are no more men to go from this class, who, on the whole, give us the most efficient soldiers, but he is also going to bring back from the Army those already in it to the extent of those experienced in making agricultural machinery and engineers and fitters. I have no complaint to make about that. The quotation I read to the House happened to be part of a speech I delivered here more than a year ago. I do not complain about that. I think we must make up for it in some sort of way, and, although I shall not carry anyone with me except a few Friends who have always been of the same opinion as myself, I think there was only three ways of meeting this. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is no use talking of 1st January. It did more harm than good. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Acland) knows that agriculture is not a three months' occupation, but a year's occupation, and the farmer very rightly says, "Thank you for not very much for exempting the men till 1st January, but what I want to know is how I shall be situated in the spring and summer of next year?" It was really most misleading to mention 1st January. Now we know not only are we to be kept until 1st January, but until the spring and summer of next year. That is a very important decision. Is there anything to be done? My hon. Friend talked about substitution. He will not agree with me again, but I think voluntary substitution is useless. You will have to get compulsory dilution, 1160 compulsory co-operation and compulsory substitution before you solve this problem. Someone said that when a man in the Army belonged to Class C he may be transferred to agriculture. Who has the right to do it? They will not go. Why should they go? If a man is in Class C, a man with a wife and any children, therefore with a fairly adequate income, something over 30s. a week, and the military representative at the recruiting office says, "You are in Class C, you have experience in agriculture, you were an agricultural labourer before you came here, would you not like to go back to the farm?" The man says, "What wages shall I get?" "A pound a week." "Why should I go back to the farm? I do not mind this work. I am not doing much. I get more money for doing little than for doing much." Has anyone the right to compel him? Not one. You have no right to compel a soldier to go and do civil work. It is the same exactly with all these other people. You talk about substitution. It is a nice easy phrase. Why should a man go as a substitute to a place which is less favourable to himself than the place he now occupies? It is not good business. It is not practical politics. In Wales there is another great difficulty, that of accommodation on the farms. These substitutes are very often married men with children. Where are you going to put them in the distant farms? It is really a very difficult matter, and we must not place too much hope upon this blessed word "substitution." Although I am in favour of compulsory substitution, I would myself have some sort of tribunal. I am all against compelling a man to work in order to put profits into the pockets of another man. The only thing you have a right to compel a man to do is to do work for the State and for the advantage of the State. Therefore, if you are going to compel a man to do work for a private individual, you ought to have some tribunal above reproach to settle what are the fair wages in the circumstances. That you must have some settlement or other I am perfectly convinced. We know about small holdings. There is a ploughman for 50 acres, and sometimes a teamsman, but unless you can join three or four of these small holdings and get one ploughman for the three or four, they will claim what they are entitled to have—one ploughman for each holding. I believe the only solution will come in the way I have described.
1161 There is one other matter, and that is vacant land. I think there is much more to be done under this head, and I commend it very seriously to my right hon Friend. He spoke some time ago as if I were trying to instruct him in his business. That is far from my intention, but I am quite sure there is a great deal of vacant land in this country, and it is well worthy of the attention of the Government. A very distinguished Member of this House told me that a relative of his in the neighbourhood of a certain town, when the War broke out, got all this vacant land and had it cultivated, and gave the proceeds, I think, to the Red Cross. Next year, such was the success of the undertaking, rent was paid for all these plots by individual people in the town and neighbourhood. I do hope that the Government will take this matter into consideration. I know that a great deal of the land is not fit for wheat growing, but I think the vast majority of the acres are fit for potato growing. At any rate, let the Government make up its mind. The right hon. Gentleman knows about the Vacant Land Cultivation Society. They have done very good work. Some time ago they asked the railway companies for consent to cultivate the land at the side of the railways, but they got an unfavourable reply. I understand the Government exercise certain control over the railways at the present time and I should have thought that the Government would have been most anxious to encourage that sort of work.
I know there is a difficulty. It is a steep embankment. I am informed that in one village not only are all these railway sides utilised— they may not be quite so steep—but even the lawns and gardens are used for the purpose of food production. It may be said that we have not got to that yet. So much for producing more. One other point is: Can anything be done in order to make us consume less? One solution of the porblem is to make two potatoes grow where only one grew before, and the other is to consume one potato instead of consuming two potatoes as we did before. I believe that the people of this country are not going to listen to these exhortations. I am afraid not. My information is that for nearly two years 1162 the Government have had under their consideration wholemeal bread. I do not know whether that is true. When the dreadful word was mentioned someone— no doubt a very important Member and of great importance in the counsels of the Government—suggested that there would be a revolution in this country if there was to be wholemeal bread. That is my information; that is my serious information. I have no doubt it was believed. I have no doubt that if you dealt in the same way with beer and tobacco there might be a revolution, but I do not think that there would be a revolution about wholemeal bread. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh !"] I know that my hon. Friend will not agree with me. I do not belong to the extreme party which threatens revolutions when the House does something with which they do not agree. We have had so many revolutions threatened that they are really very much overdue. I feel quite certain that, so far as wholemeal bread is concerned, the people are only too eager to help. So far from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Acland) being regarded as an oppressive scoundrel, he would be regarded as a saviour of his country if he took more and more drastic power in order to compel the people of this country to do what the Government wants them to do. The Government underrate their own importance. They are much too alarmed about the consequences of what they do. Though the people might not agree with it, I believe the people of this country would willingly do anything the Government considers is necessary in order to prosecute the War. If the Government came to the conclusion that a certain policy and a certain course of conduct was necessary, I think the people of this country would not only willingly but enthusiastically follow the lead they gave. Therefore, so far as the food question is concerned, I hope the Government will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary. It is a vital matter, because it is not merely on the fighting qualities of our troops that we depend, but also upon the heroic endurance of the people of this country. You must get this food problem solved, and you must get enough food for the people at reasonable prices.
Though I agree with the rest of his speech I do not agree with my hon. Friend below the Gangway when he says that paying wages on deposit at the bank would solve the question. There are only two ways of solving it. You must get more 1163 bread. You must give every inducement to the farmers in this country—and I trust that my hon. Friend will not content himself with exhortation. One of the powers that he takes to himself is "to prescribe the purpose for which an article shall or shall not be used." I suppose that the word "article" covers land, I submit that it does. I dare say that "article" is not an appropriate word, but if not let it be intended. I do think that the Government ought to say with regard to our land, which is not under cultivation, that this land is fit for wheat growing and is not used as we maintain it ought to be used for the advantage of the country. I really think that the Government should step in and prescribe the use for which that land should be used. I am quite certain that exhortation will not suffice. Compulsion must come in, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Board of Agriculture, which he represents, to put all their forces into use, and to employ all the powers at their disposal to see that an increase in the food production of the country is received in the coming year.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
One of the most significant features of the very instructive Debate which we have had during the past two days is that the supporters of the system of compulsory military service have been on their defence. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ellis Griffith) who bore no undistinguished part in the agitation which led to the passing of these Acts, although he disavows responsibility for their particular form, is now an apologist. He admits that compulsion has been a failure in respect of recruiting for the Army, and now demands that the Government, admitting failure in this one department, ought to apply compulsion to every other department of national life. I do not think that that is likely to impress the country as a solution of the difficulties in which we are at present engaged. I think, and regret, that the House has not realised the gravity of the statement made yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade. No graver statement has been made to the House since the beginning of the War. It proves that the problem with which we are dealing to-day is of far more vital importance to the successful prosecution of the War than all these discussions about man-power for which a Secret Session is now being sought.
1164 Our real difficulties, as has been pointed out on other occasions, are not connected with the military problem, but with the maintenance of the essential industries of this country upon which the success of the whole of the Allies depends. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) is not present at this stage of the Debate, because there are a few of the observations which he made to which I should have called the attention of the House. But it seems to me extremely strange that this right hon. Gentleman, who, perhaps, more than any other Minister past or present is responsible for the difficulties in which we are placed, should to the extent of three-quarters of an hour have indulged in recriminations against his late colleagues. The real problem with which we are faced in this discussion is the problem of transport. When did our difficulties in regard to transport begin? When he more than anybody else was responsible in connection with transport, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, when he was responsible for a policy of distant overseas expeditions which in the first place led to a shortage of tonnage and led to a rise in prices.
That is not all. He has given us a totally misleading account of the course of policy on the part of the Government in relation to the building of mercantile ships. He said that in the early days of the War the Government suspended mercantile shipbuilding. That is untrue. Mercantile shipbuilding continued without any check until the month of March, 1915—precisely up to the period when freights began to rise. When it was suspended it was suspended by order of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and it was only after he had left the Government that this suspension was removed and a Bill was passed through this House which made it possible to treat the building of mercantile ships as war work. Indeed, the full effect of that Bill is only now being felt in the course of the present War. What are we to think of the right hon. Gentleman, who, in order to cast discredit on his old colleagues, gives such misleading accounts of events actually within his own cognisance? In my opinion, this is really a question of transport, and the measures which the Government have to take in regard to this are not measures which can be taken by a Food Dictator. The appointment of a Food Dictator is no solution. The mere 1165 announcement that we are appointing a Food Dictator is one which will give encouragement to the Germans. They appointed a Food Dictator simply and solely because of national necessity; but the Food Dictator was no solution in their case, and it will be no solution here. What we have to deal with is to secure an effective way, in the first place, of dealing with the submarine menace. It is no use trying to minimise it. It is perfectly true that the actual number of ships sunk from day to day is not in itself large, if we had at our disposal the whole of our mercantile tonnage; but when you are short every ship counts— every British ship and every neutral ship sunk. It is a matter of urgent and vital importance that every step should be taken by the Admiralty to diminish the losses which we are suffering. We would all be glad if we felt absolutely certain that the present Board of Admiralty was not only alive to this question, but was taking the most vigilant and effective steps to deal with it.
But there is not only the submarine, there is the question of building additional tonnage. It is notorious that the tonnage which is being built is not sufficient to compensate for the losses which we have sustained. That is notorious. Why is that? It is really due to two reasons. First of all, there is the shortage of labour, and, secondly, the shortage of material. It is not at all to the purpose to discuss to-day whether it is because more men were taken in the days of voluntary recruiting or in the days of compulsory recruiting. I am prepared to admit that in the days of voluntary recruiting we acted in a most improvident way. At the time when the late Secretary for War, instead of selecting men from the least vital industries, decided to take men more for their height and chest measurement: in those days the men were coming forward by thousands and hundreds of thousands. I protested then against the improvidence of the method. Nobody would listen to me. Nobody would listen to any talk against the then Secretary of State for War. The failure of the voluntary system was largely due to the improvident way in which it was worked. But they carried on the improvidence in the days of the compulsory system, and the situation has been aggravated because men essential to our vital industries have been taken, and every man under twenty- 1166 six has to go, no matter how vital the industry. Could there be anything more serious? It is only strong men who are able to do the heavy work in the steel-making, shipbuilding, and engineering, yet still the demand comes from the Army authorities for men from these essential trades. It is obviously the duty of the President of the Board of Trade, and of the Food Dictator, whoever he may be, to place an absolute veto on the taking of any single man from any of these industries, and to insist also that men should be brought back to the Army. That is important to the success of the Allies in the course of the next twelve months. It is more important to place 200 ships, representing 1,000,000 tons, on the seas in that period than to place 1,500,000 men in the battlefield. This War is going to be a long War, and it is only to be won by staying power. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Sir J. Simon) very properly said this this afternoon it was not going to be the case of a knock-out blow. We are not going to win by those means. It is going to be a war of staying power, and it is because it is going to be a war of staying power that the attention of the House should be more and more directed to the source of that power. One has to realise that the State in departing from the old traditional policy of husbanding our resources was wrong. As far as possible we must revert to the old policy, for only in that policy does wisdom and safey lie.
§ Major HUNT
I would like to impress upon the Government that the one thing they have neglected to do is to grow as much wheat as possible in this country. Farmers are very much afraid that the Government are going to treat wheat in the same way that they have treated wool. I have talked to lots of farmers and they all say they have no trust in the Government. That is the reason some of them are going to plant oats and barley instead of wheat. They tell me:If the Government will guarantee us 45s. per quarter for wheat for the rest of the War and six months after—And that is not an outside price. Thenthey will undertake to grow more wheat.They also want an assurance that the price for their wheat shall not be under the price paid for wheat coming from abroad. I am sure that practically every farmer in the country, if he got that assurance, 1167 would set to work to grow as much wheat as he could. I would remind the House that in 1846 we grew 22,000,000 quarters of wheat. I feel sure we could have done the same in 1914, 1915, and 1916 if only the Government had undertaken the reasonable course, but, as usual, the Government have been too late. They always muddle things.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That, in the opinion of the House, it is the duty of the Government to adopt further methods of organisation to increase and conserve the national 1168 food supply, and so diminish the risk of shortage and serious increase in prices in the event of the War being prolonged."
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 22nd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One minute after-Eleven o'clock till Tuesday next. 21st November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.