HC Deb 10 October 1916 vol 86 cc18-21

(by Private Notice). asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can make any statement as to the steps taken to ensure that the supplies. of wheat for the United Kingdom will be maintained during the coming year?


Since the outbreak of war the Government have taken measures, which have progressively become more comprehensive, to ensure that the stocks of wheat in the country are sufficiently maintained to guard against any temporary interference with oversea supplies.

In 1914 the Grain Supplies Committee was formed to undertake the purchase of wheat as a reserve against the risk of a. temporary interruption of supplies, but the regular trade was left in private hands. Early in 1915 the Indian Wheat Committee was formed to secure, in co-operation with the Indian Government, that the surplus of the Indian wheat crop was brought to the United Kingdom at a time when by reason of the delay of the harvest in North America imported supplies were somewhat short.

At the end of that year the Government suggested to the French and Italian Governments that co-operation was better than competition between the Allies in the wheat markets, and as a result a Joint Committee was formed comprising representatives of the United Kingdom, France and Italy, which has since met daily in London, and made such purchases of wheat, flour and maize as were requisite for the three countries.

The possibility of large quantities of wheat, which are at present locked up in some grain exporting countries, being freed as the result of military operations has led to a disinclination on the part of the trade to hold more stocks than an absolute minimum, and it has become clear that the supplies during the coming year cannot safely be left to private enterprise.

The Government have accordingly endorsed a conclusion arrived at by the Cabinet Committee on Food Supplies that we must now provide for a further development of importation by the State. The King has approved the appointment of a Royal Commission entrusted with full powers to take such steps as they may deem necessary and desirable to ensure adequate and regular supplies of wheat and flour for the United Kingdom in co-operation with the Committee which, since the beginning of the present year, has been purchasing wheat and flour for the Allies.

This means that the importation of wheat into the United Kingdom will have to be undertaken largely, if not entirely, under the control of the Royal Commission, which will in many respects avail itself of the experience of the Sugar Commission.

In anticipation of this step the Government have made a very large purchase of Australian wheat. The competition of the world for tonnage last season was greater than the eagerness for wheat, and the Commonwealth Government, who had purchased the whole of their crop, found themselves with granaries full, but short of facilities for reaching the European markets. Steps have now been taken to provide all the tonnage required for the conveyance of the wheat purchased by His Majesty's Government.

Tonnage for the carriage of wheat across the Atlantic has been provided for nearly a year, with excellent results, by the Requisitioning (Carriage of Foodstuffs) Committee. As the import of wheat into this country will in Suture be in the hands of the State and the full benefit of reduction in the cost of carriage will accrue to the State and not to private individuals, the system adopted by" the Committee will be continued, with the addition that vessels so requisitioned will be required to provide the space necessary for State importations at fixed and not variable rates of freight.

Further details for the guidance of the Corn Exchanges will be published expeditiously, and arrangements have already been made in co-operation with the trade to prevent any interruption in the regular and adequate supply of wheat to the British and Irish mills during the short transition stage.


May I ask whether this is the statement we were to have to-day, and whether any further statement is to be made during the sitting, and whether the House will have an opportunity of discussing the important statement which has just been made?


The statement made by my right hon. Friend is the statement referred to. If the House desires to discuss it, a question may be put to the Prime Minister to-morrow.


Have the Board of Trade power to make British shipowners carry wheat and flour from New York in preference to other goods which are not so essential?


They have that power and have been exercising it in the Requisitioning (Carriage of Foodstuffs) Committee.


Are any definite steps going to be taken to ensure that when the wheat arrives in this country no increase of prices, beyond what is reasonable, is made by the retailer?


Yes, certainly. The Government have no intention of bringing wheat here under these conditions, and then allowing the advantage which they hope will be derived by the consumers to be filched from them


Can the right hon. Gentleman give the names of the members of the Royal Commission?


I do not carry them all in my head, but I may say that the Commission is an expert Commission, and the connecting link between the Commission and the personnel of the Government is—

  • Lord Crawford, who will act as chairman;
  • Mr. Alan Anderson, a well-known business man, will act as vice-chairman;
  • Sir George Saltmarsh,
  • Sir Henry Rew, and
  • Mr. Royden, who have already done many services for the Government in expert capacities, will sit on the Commission; and there will also be
  • Mr. Oswald Robinson, President of the Millers' Association;
  • Mr. J. F. Beale, and
  • Mr. H. W. Patrick.
  • I think I have given the whole Commission.