§ Resolution reported,
§ "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeling £200,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Experses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1917, for General Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made there for by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business, aid Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and re-sale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for the Ordinary Grants of Parliament, rising out of the existence of a state of war."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The Government are asking us to place at their disposal the largest sum, considering the two Votes of Credit together, for which any Government at any time has ever asked. There will be no unwillingness in any quarter of the House to give them the money they require for the conduct of the. War, but, when we are asked to vote these vast sums we are entitled to ask whether the best use is being made of the money which is being provided, and whether the Government are safeguarding in every way the resources of the country to enable it to bear the great burdens that now rest upon it. A mischievous tendency is growing up of estimating the cost of any enterprise in the number of weeks or days or months of the cost of the War. It is said, for instance, that such and such a thing will only cost a day or a week of the War. It is said that the pooled salary of a Cabinet Minister represents one minute's cost of the War. If that is done to make us realise the great cost of the War there is no harm in such a comparison, but it is dangerous if it suggests that Cabinet Ministers are cheap. Are the 660 Government saving all that they can? Are they leading the country in the path of economy which they invite the people to tread. I do not want to try and answer that question to-day but I do say to the Government: If they are to enforce economy upon the people they must themselves set the example in the first instance. They have certainly not succeeded yet in fully impressing upon the country the great need that there is for saving. I want to draw attention this afternoon, especially to the expenditure of this country upon drink. I regret to have to tell the House that there is every reason to fear, in spite of the appeals that have been made by the Government and by men in authority throughout the country, that the expenditure upon drink in the year 1916 is far and away the greatest upon record. The expenditure in 1915 was £18,000,000 more than the expenditure in 1914, and I think it will be found, when the figures are added up, that the expenditure of 1916 is at least another £18,000.000 more than the expenditure in 1915.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JONES
Certainly, it is the price. The public have to pay the price, and it is precisely that which I am pointing out. The public in the year 1SSI6 paid for drink a sum closely approaching, if not surpassing, £200,000,000. That, as the hon. Member points out, is owing to the price of liquor. It is not owing to increased taxation. There was very little increased taxation put on in the year 1916. There was only the extra shilling upon beer. The net cost of it all is that out of the £200,000,000 the Government have received some £7,000,000 less than they received out of the £182,000,000 expended in 1915. Since the War began the public of this country have paid for liquor a sum not loss than £450,000,000. That is the direct expenditure of the country upon liquor since the War began. What a contribution a sum like that would be to the present War Loan, or what a fund for the taxation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it had been invested in productive enterprise instead of being wasted upon this expenditure upon drink! It has been worse than wasted. It would have been better for this country had that £450,000,000 been thrown into the sea. The country would have been stronger, financially, physically, and morally. No 661 one who has investigated this question puts the indirect cost of the liquor traffic at less than the direct expenditure, and anyone casting up the account, taking the direct cost and the indirect cost in sickness, death, insanity, and disease of every kind caused by drink, will find that the cost since the War began is not far short of £900,000,000. With those figures before it, the House, when engaged in a war of this magnitude, should think once, twice, and three times before allowing the present system to continue any longer.
I will, however, discuss the question today solely from the point of view of the food supply of the country. Last Thursday we had a Debate upon the production of food. All who listened to that Debate received the impression, which I received, that the amount of food we shall grow in this country in the coming year, in spite of the efforts that are now being made, will be less than the amount which was grown last year. It seems equally certain that we must look for a diminished instead of an increased supply from abroad. That being so, we are face to face with a serious food situation. It is not that I attach much importance to the throats which Germany is making of sinking all the ships which come to this country. The Germans have been doing their worst to this country for some time past, and I do not suppose that we owe anything to any forbearance on the part of Germany But it is the case that the menace to our slapping is of a most serious character. It is the case that our depleted shipyards are not able to build merchant ships as rapidly as they are being destroyed by submarines, and, that being so, there is no time to be lost by the House and by the Government in facing the situation and in creating a national food reserve which will make us safe against the starvation of our people.
The Government to-day have a tremendous weight of responsibility resting on their shoulders. I do not know that any man need envy any member of the Government for the task which he has before him, and no sensible man will rashly criticise the deeds of the Government in trying to discharge that tremendous responsibility. I do not think they will find any disposition in any quarter of the House rashly to criticise the Government or to condemn them too quickly for any mistake which they have made. But there is one mistake which this country will not 662 forgive, for which no repentance will avail, and no excuse can be accepted— that is if, being in full possession of the facts of the case, they fail at this moment to build up a national food reserve to sale-guard the people against starvation. If three months hence the people are short of food there will be short shrift for the Government which did not display the necessary foresight in dealing with the case. The Government cannot plead ignorance upon this matter. Months ago four Members of the new Ministry signed a great appeal to the Government to establish prohibition during the War. Among the signatories are the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Food Controller in this House, and the right hon. Member the Under-Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. The First Commissioner of Works warned his colleagues that this is the necessary and right policy for the Government to pursue. He made the speech in November, before the new Government came into office, and I want to ask him now if he is ploughing up Richmond Park in order to grow barley for the brewers or is lie going to give effect to the prohibition policy which he advocated when he was only a member of the Liberal Ginger Group?
But the Government do not rest for information solely upon the opinions of their own members. One of the far-sighted acts for which we owe thanks to my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade was the appointment of a scientific expert committee of the Royal Society to consider the whole question of food supply of the United Kingdom. The Report of the Committee has just been issued. They have made an exhaustive examination of the sources of food available for the people, the scientific value of the different forms of food, and the amount of the different kinds of food necessary to maintain the health of the people, especially of the workers of the country. The Report has been issued by the Board of Trade after a delay, of which I would like some explanation. The final part of it was signed on 9th December, and we have had to wait eight weeks for it. On page 18 of the Report the Committee point out what margin of food there was in the country in normal times before there was any special diminution due to the shortage of the home-grown supply or the failure of the supply from abroad. They say that up to the present the supply of food has provided a general 663 margin of about 5 per cent, above the minimum necessary for proper nutrition. The House will observe that the margin of food in normal times is not large—only, 5 per cent, above the requirements. The Committee warn us that we may have to make a correction for the feeding of a larger population, which would altogether swallow up that 5 per cent, margin. They say if a reduction of 5 per cent, should happen it can be borne without injury to the community, but only on one condition, that is, that the existing food supply should be equally distributed among the population of the country. Under the present system the food is not equally distributed, and there is too good reason to fear that great sections of the community are being insufficiently nourished even at the present time.
The Committee point out the grave consequences of any reduction below this minimum standard. This 5 per cent, is possibly not existing now because of a misestimate of the population of the day, and certainly any reduction below that minimum means a large diminution in the working efficiency of the individual. That is the situation with which the Government of the House are face to face. The Committee go on to consider possible methods of economising food supply. They suggest five methods on page 25 of this invaluable Report. The first is the recovery of 80 per cent, flour instead of 70 per cent, flour. The second is increased economy in meat production. The third is increasing the protein available for human consumption by increasing the manufacture of cheese, if need be, at the expense of butter-making. The fourth is the diversion of a certain quantity of material now used for stock feeding to human food. That suggestion gains point by the statement made by the President of the Board of Agriculture the other day that the animal population of the country is larger than ever it was. But the fifth, and the greatest economy suggested by this Committee, is in the use of food materials used in brewing and distilling.
The fourth section, on page 29, is devoted to a consideration of the economy of food which might be effected by the prohibition of brewing. On that I ask a question of such member of the Government as is able to answer it. On that page it says,The Committee understand that the greater proportion of the distilleries which before the War were 664 engaged in the production of potable spirit are now preparing industrial alcohol. They therefore do not deal at all with the use of food in the making of spirits.I ask the Government is it true that practically no potable spirit is now being made? If not, I want to impress on the Government that they should stop immediately the making of potable spirit. I see no justification whatever for going on with the manufacture of spirits for drinking purposes. There are 140,000,000 gallons of spirits stored in this country at the present time—more than five years' consumption, certainly at the reduced rate, which I hope will be shown for last year, and none of the spirit now made under the existing law can be consumed under three years. That being so, it does seem to be monstrous to allow another bushel of corn to be used in making spirits during the War which cannot possibly be consumed for three years from now.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
Practically no potable spirit is now being made.
§ Mr. JONES
Having obtained that most valuable information from the Government, I will ask another question. Is it not possoble to use the 140,000,000 now in store for munition purposes? Is it necessary to go on destroying food which is wanted for consumption when you have a store of alcohol so vast which might, by rectification, be made available for munition purposes? I understand that this is being done in other countries, in Russia in particular, and I do not sec why the Government of this country should not follow their example, and prevent at any rate this sort of wastage of food material. Now I turn to beer. The, quantities with which we are dealing are very large. In the Report the quantities are given in metric tons, and it should be understood when I merely speak of tons it refers to metric tons. The amount of barley used for the manufacture of beer on the reduced scale of 1916 is given in the Report as 943,000 tons of barley, 55.000 tons of rice, grits, etc., and 118,000 tons of sugar. Those are large quantities when you compare them with the national consumption. The total national consumption by human beings of cereals is given in this Report on pages 2 and 3 as 4,865,000 tons, so that the actual quantity of material used in the making of beer on the reduced scale of last year is in weight one-fifth of the 665 amount consumed by the whole population of this country. I admit, of course, as the Report points out, that we cannot use for human consumption the whole of that weight of barley, but we can use a great deal of it. The Report points out that we might use for direct human consumption 60 per cent, of that barley—you could use the whole of the sugar for human consumption—while the remaining 40 per cent, could be most economically converted into human food indirectly through the pigs. In that way you would obtain out of your barley a total of 70 per cent, for human food. That is the amount given in the Report— a maximum of 70 per cent.
But in addition to that, land is now engaged in growing hops, and that, again, is a matter which must not be lost sight of. The Report states that 31,000 acres in this country are now given up to hops. I do not know how far that has been diminished by any measure taken by the Government recently, but last year the land under hops was 31,000 acres. I put it to the members of the Government who are connected with labour, that the graving of hops is very costly in labour. It takes five or six men to the acre all the year round, and very much less labour could be used on those acres to grow even during the; present year—and that is what the Committee points out—150,000 tons of potatoes, and 300,000 quarters of oats. I ask the Government, is it right, in face of the threatened food shortage, and when they are at their wits' end to know where the people are to get food, to leave for the growing of hops land which could grow 150,000 tons of potatoes and 300,000 quarters of oats? The Committee recommend that barley flour should be mixed with wheat flour. They have tried the experiment on themselves, in a heroic spirit, and they mixed 15 per cent, of barley flour with the wheat flour, which makes a most palatable loaf. And so they built up the case for us. As to barley, they have come to the conclusion that the theoretically best use that can be made of the materials now used in brewing is to use them for direct human consumption in the way of which I have been speaking, and I put it to the Government that the theoretically best use is the only use which they ought to allow in a time of crisis like this. I do not want to argue the point, on which I know that there are strong differences of opinion, but I will read to the House 666 what is the opinion of the Committee in regard to the use of alcohol. They say:Repeated experience has shown that regiments not supplied with alcohol marched farther, and were in better condition at the end of the day, than others to which it had been given. Experiments in mountain climbing have given similar indications, the total work done being smaller under alcohol, and the expenditure of energy greater. In particular, the record a of American industrial experience are significant in showing a better output when no alcohol is taken by the workmen,I will not argue that point to-day; the House knows my opinion upon it; but I remark that the Committee points out that we lose nothing by not using alcohol, and gain very greatly in the condition of the inhabitants of the country. I now turn to the Food Controller, whose appointment is proof of the situation in which we find ourselves. The Food Controller and his colleague the President of the Board of Agriculture, who described this country as being like a beleaguered city, are rationing the people of this country, and they are putting them on a ration which is less than half in the matter of meat, bread, and sugar than is thought necessary to give the soldiers at the front and in our camps at home. The ration is probably not such as the people of this country could take for any prolonged period without suffering in health. The Food Controller, having to deal with the situation, and with this Report before him—because I assume the Report was available to him, although not presented to the public-—makes an Order on 24th January, and gives his reasons for the Order. I will trouble the House first with the reasons which the Food Controller gives, because his reasons are very much better than his conclusions. He says:These steps are in no way to be deemed measures of temperance or social reform.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I do not know why the Food Controller should be so eager to repudiate either social or temperance reform. He goes on to say:The bald fact is I that the barley, sugar, and other ingredients used in brewing are required for food. In fact, I may say it is really a question of "Bread versos Beer.These are words of the Food Controller. He goes further: It is not only food that would be saved, but there is the question of transport. He says:On the transport side there would be, first of all, a large saving in mercantile tonnage: and, further, a very considerable saving in laud transport, such as railway and other forms of haulage. Then will also-be a consequent reduction in the amount of labour employed and fuel consumed in the process of manufacturing beer. It will further have a directly favourable effect on the production of meat and milk.667 And there I must leave him to fight the question with his colleague the President of the Board of Agriculture. The Food Controller claims that as a result of his measures there will be 40 per cent, of offal available for stock, while the President of the Board of Agriculture only makes it 25 per cent, as coming from it. Those are the reasons of the Food Controller on the question of Beer versus Bread, and I submit that all he is concerned with is the safeguarding of the bread of this country. Why should we sacrifice bread for the beer of a section of the community] "We all require bread, and it is for the Food Controller to see that no one goes short of bread in the months that are coming. Why should there be this half-measure? Why does he not make an end of 100 per cent, of this waste? Is there any tonnage to spare? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us where to get tonnage? Are there any transport facilities to spare? Are there railways sufficient to carry this material, and is there labour to spare? Why cannot you turn this labour into more directly useful channels? I put to the Food Controller this: Is he confident that in the months to come even the present rations are going to be preserved, or will he ask for a further reduction of the amount before long? A reduction of 30 per cent, is to be made on the 1st of April. Why 1st April? Why not immediately? Food is required now. The reserves should be built up now. The German submarines are at work now.
§ Mr. JONES
Why do not the Government act now? What are they waiting to see? Whose is the unseen hand that is holding them back? I can tell them that public opinion expects action from the Government—far stronger action than has yet been taken in this matter. I have received resolutions from public bodies throughout Scotland, and throughout even the slower country of England, which is beginning to move in the matter. The Clyde shipbuilders were asked the other day to suggest measures by which the building of mercantile marine tonnage could be more rapidly increased. What was their answer? They said that the first thing you have to do if you want to quicken the building of ships is to prohibit the liquor traffic. I want to know 668 what the Government have done to meet the recommendation from the Clyde shipbuilders. There has been a memorial got up in this country, signed by thousands of people, a memorial which represents the brains of the people of this country, a memorial which the right hon. Gentleman himself signed, demanding prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor during the War. The right hon. Gentleman was not then a Member of the Government. Why does he not now act upon the memorial which he signed when be was not in such a position of power and influence as he now is? It has been said that the country will not tolerate a measure of prohibition. To that I would like to read to the House some words addressed by the Home Secretary to a war savings meeting a few days ago, and appropriate words they are, if I may be allowed to say so, because, if the people only followed his advice, there would be more money to spare for investment in the War Loan. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking at Mortlake on Wednesday night, according to a newspaper report I have here,referred to the need for economy and said he was interested to see with what full acquiescence the cutting down of the beer supply had been received. He had not had a word of complaint. He believed that when the consumer felt the full effect of the measure tie would not complain, but would be content to do away with the drink for the success of the War.I agree with the Home Secretary. The consumer would not complain if the Government were to put it to him clearly that it was the success of the War which demanded the sacrifice. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) has said the worker is not going to have prohibition crammed down his throat by me. Of course he is not. I have no idea of attempting that operation. I should not expect the workers to take it from me. Why should they? Indeed, I gather they are very angry with me for suggesting it, and I received an anonymous postcard only the other day in which it was stated that if I inflicted any more prohibition on this country a prominent politician would be assassinated. I do not know whether I would not take it at the price —if I may be allowed to choose my politician, but I say this the more readily because there was a postscript to the letter which said—Your insignificance saves you.Of course the country would net take prohibition from those who are labelled 669 "Temperance reformers." but the country would take it from the Government if the Government said it was necessary in order to win the War. As one of my hon. Friend's near me reminds me, they have taken Conscription at your hands. They were not eager for it, but they submitted to it when told it was necessary to win the War.
§ Mr. L. JONES
No, a very small minority. I put it to the hon. Member, we were all anti-compulsionists at that time. The bulk of the opinion of this country was against compulsion until it was shown to be necessary for the winning of the War. The hon. Member is a leading trade unionist, ho is an honoured member of the Labour party, he knows how great are the sacrifices the workers have made in giving up trade union rules which were devised to safeguard the interests of labour, and yet they have done this readily at the invitation of the Government. It is for the Government again to came forward on this occasion, or to justify their refusal to do so; but I do suggest that if they come forward and say that in order to win the War, in order to bring it to a more speedy conclusion, it is necessary to adopt this policy of prohibition, I do not believe there are ten, I do not believe there are-five, I do not believe there is even 1 per cent, of the workers who would raise any protest at all.
The Government is upon its trial in this matter. The Prime Minister said at Bangor two years ago that drink was doing more harm to this country than all the German submarines together. That was not a flight of fancy: it was the fact. Drink during the War has destroyed more food than all the German submarines put together. Drink during the War has used up as much tonnage as the Germans have sunk with all their submarines. Drink during the War has killed more men than all the men who have been killed by German submarines. The Prime Minister failed to act upon the advice he gave in Wales. He may plead he was then a subordinate Minister and had not the power to put the measures he suggested into force. To-day he can make no such excuse. He is the supreme head of a small Cabinet, which is obedient to his slightest nod. He will be judged, and rightly judged, not by his 670 intentions, however excellent, not by his phrases, however forcible and eloquent, but by the courage and by the thoroughness with which he gives effect to his often-expressed determination to leave nothing undone that can lead to a complete and speedy victory.
§ Mr. D. MILLAR
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful appeal to the Government, an appeal which he has strengthened very largely by the plain statement of facts he has presented to the House. I desire, as representing a Scottish Constituency, to associate myself with the appeal which has been made, and I do so with the more confidence because I believe that in Scotland public opinion at the present moment is very strongly in the direction of further action being taken upon this important question. If I may do so, I should like to put one or two questions to the right hon. Gentleman, who is leading the House, whom we in Scotland regard as a true Scotsman, who is always prepared to give a perfectly fair answer. I should like to ask him this. We have got a Food Controller and a Shipping Controller. These two Ministers hold very important offices at the present time. What did they report to the Government? Have the Food Controller and the Shipping Controller been themselves controlled? Has effect been given to the recommendations which they made to the Government on this important subject? Reference has been made to the reasons advanced by the Food Controller when dealing with the output of beer. I should like very briefly to refer to those reasons for one moment, because it seems to me that the very reasons which were given by Lord Devonport certainly did impress the country with the view that the Government ought to carry the matter a great deal further than they have gone. Do not the Food Controller's arguments, as submitted to the. War Council, justify the Government in going further than a 50 per cent, reduction on the pre-war output of beer? Why say the "pre-war output"? When the question of the reduction of beer output was under consideration in the Act of last year, the basis of the reduction was not the pre-war output, but the output for the year 1915, which was 6,000,000 standard barrels less. In point of fact, there is a difference of that amount between the two years, and it alters the figures and results obtained under the present proposal to a very considerable extent. The Food Controller pointed out what would 671 be the favourable effect of this restriction on meat and milk production so far as the agriculturist is concerned, and he took the opportunity of again disputing the truth of many statements which have been made by those associated with the brewing trade—that any reduction would have an indirect injurious effect on the foodstuffs used by agriculturists. I think the House ought to take note of the fact that in his opinion, instead of having an injurious effect, exactly the opposite would be the case.
What does he say? He says that these restrictions in the output of beer wouldgive a far greater yield-the difference between 25 per cent, and 40 per cent. of offals for the service of agriculturists.The effect of a 50 per cent, reduction is that it still leaves 650,000 tons of barley, 52,000 tons of sugar, and 39,000 tons of grits employed in the manufacture of beer. I wonder if the Government have taken into account one of the most important considerations of all with regard to food supply, and that is the question of tonnage? I put a question the other day in this House as to the tonnage required in order to provide the necessary materials for brewing and distilling, and the answer which I got from the Board of Trade was that the total tonnage used for conveying brewing materials alone was 900,000 tons net register. Half of that is 450,000 tons, and that represents, I submit, an amount for which a considerable fleet of vessels at the present moment would be required, in order to bring it to this country, so as to enable this trade to be carried on. But we are living in times of war, when the public outside this House are taking these matters very seriously, and I feel that, in discussing a question of this kind in this House, we are bound to take account of public opinion, which is urging individual members, as we all know from the representations sent to us, and the Government to have regard to the seriousness of the situation. It is not a lime for panic, but it is a time for the Government to decide very carefully as to what their action is to be, having regard to the immediate future. If there is likely to be any shortage they alone will be responsible.
What is the position to-day] We were told in another place yesterday that only 25 per cent, of the mercantile marine of this country is available for supplying the needs of the civil population, whilst 75 per 672 cent. is required for the purposes of the Army and Navy and of our Allies. We were told that new construction was needed for 500,000 tons in order to meet the submarine menace. Why are the Government, therefore, not prepared to go further than a 50 per cent, reduction of the pre-war output of beer, although that still leaves 450,000 tons net register required to bring these brewing materials to this country? We have also to take into account the fact that neutral shipping, unfortunately, for the time being is being reduced by the submarine menace, and that the distances required to be covered by ships bringing these materials is very long and in many cases it takes a great deal of time for grain cargoes to be brought here. I hope it is the intention of the Government to act on the lines of the Noble Lords who spoke in another place yesterday. I would like to refer particularly to what was then said by Lord Lytton, representing the Admiralty. He declared:It is now true to say that it is an absolute condition of our success that the whole available cargo supply of the available ships shall be given up to absolute necessities only…. Everything that can be dispensed with must give place to absolute necessities.That was enforced by Lord Curzon in his statement that at the present moment he was engaged with his colleagues in the Government in working out an important scheme for a further considerable restriction of imports and the total prohibition— observe the words—of non-essential commodities now coming into the country; and he went on to say that that would impose undoubtedly a great strain upon certain trades. I hope it may be possible this afternoon to obtain some statement from the Government which will make it quite clear to us how far they are prepared to go. We have had proposals for rationing the whole country, and I find, and I dare say a good many hon. Members have had the same experience, that there is great indignation in many quarters at the proposal to ration the country on meat and sugar and bread, and yet that there is no proposal to deal with this question of the prevention of wastage of foodstuffs required for intoxicants. How are you going to justify to the country the rationing of necessaries of this kind if you are going to allow as much beer and liquor to be consumed in the country without any limit whatever being placed upon it? That is a position which it is very difficult to explain to the workers, and may I suggest that in this matter the real burden 673 is being thrown on the shoulders of those who can least afford to bear it. With a limited supply of foodstuffs available and so much destroyed in the manufacture of certain articles which no one can say are necessaries, the supply is diminished to that extent. Those who can afford to pay the extra cost thereby created are those who suffer least, and the burden falls upon the poorest of the community. We have been told in very influential quarters—and the War Savings Committee has rubbed it in at every point—that if more grain were available, the grain used for brewing purposes, both for man and beast, the prices of bread and meat would be lowered. That is true. We are told also by the Committee to which reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke before, that any curtailment of supplies, even to a limited extent, would result in the poorer classes obtaining less than is needful for the margin of safety. That is a very serious situation for us to face. I venture to suggest to the Government that in this matter they will have to justify their policy to the country, as a whole, and to prove that they have gone as far as they possibly can go to conserve the food supplies, with a view to the immediate emergency. Reference has been made to the question of distilled liquor, and I should like to associate myself also with the questions which were put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Leif Jones) as to the existing stocks. We have got a very large quantity of distilled liquor in bond. I believe the figure is 140,000,000 gallons, and at a time when we are drawing upon the whole of our national resources surely it is a fair question to put to the Government, what do they intend to do with this? Is it intended to continue to destroy foodstuffs in order to distil further liquor? I was very much interested in the answer we got from the right hon. Gentleman as to the position of the output of the distilleries, but may I ask him whether he intended, in his answer, to cover the case of pot-still distilleries? We are all aware that the patent still output has been very largely taken over for munition purposes, but I am informed that there is still a portion of the patent still output which is not taken over, and that practically the whole of the pot-still output has not yet been made available for that purpose, at least so far as Scotland is concerned. If that be so, I may refer him to the state- 674 ment which was contained in the "Times" Trade Summary for the year, in which the following occurs:Nevertheless it has been suggested in authoritative quarters that the output of strong spirit might be increased by passing the product or the pot-still distilleries through the Coffey patent still.I understand that the suggestion is a possible one; and also I would refer to the suggestion in the same statement that other sources of supply for manufacture of explosives are the stocks of maturing whisky in bonded warehouses. May we ask the Government to consider whether these stocks are not to be made available, and, if so, to what extent they will be made available without going on distilling any more liquor at the present moment for munition purposes so long as there is a sufficient supply available in this country. I do not think it is asking too much of the Government to adopt heroic remedies at a time like this. May I remind the House that there is a precedent for the action proposed, namely, that there should be complete prohibition of the manufacture of liquor during the War. That precedent was set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1795 there was an Act of Parliament passed, 35 Geo. III. Cap. 119, prohibitingthe malting of low wines or spirits from wheat, barley, malt, or any other kind of grain or from any meal, flour, or bran,under a penalty of £500 sterling. And that was found to be so successful that in the following year another Act was passed of which I would like to read the preamble to the House:Whereas the Act hereinafter mentioned has by experience been found useful and beneficial and is near expiry,and so forth, and it was continued again for another period, and in that second Act sugar and potatoes were added to the other lists. We have therefore got a precedent which was adopted at a time of war but not nearly at so great a time of crisis as at the present. I would press on the right hon. Gentleman that surely if there is anything that is going to convince the nation of the determination of the Government to see this thing through it is drastic action. I think the most popular thing that any Government could do to-day is to make the nation feel that they are asked to sacrifice. What are the words in the Speech from the Throne? I should like to quote them, because reference was made there to the sacrifices 675 which are being asked of the country, and in the Gracious Speech from the Throne we were told that
"The accomplishment of the task to which I have set My hand will entail unsparing demands on the energies and resources of all My subjects. I am assured, however, that My people will respond to every call necessary for the success of our cause."
That appeal was not made without the personal example of His Majesty, and I think I am entitled at least to suggest to the House that in a matter of this importance, where the Prime Minister himself was the vehicle of communication to the King of the facts which determined him to take personal action, we in this House of Commons and the Government which is in power to-day ought to follow that example and do everything in our power to secure that there is complete prohibition throughout the country. The nation is ready to respond to any appeal made to it I am certain that in Scotland the feeling is strongly in favour of prohibition, and that they are ready for any sacrifice. That is proved when you remember the fact that all the large municipalities in Scotland have passed resolutions on this subject. We had one the other day from the largest municipalities— Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and a number of others—all in favour of the prohibition of spirits; and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not time to give effect to these views which are being expressed throughout the whole country. Is it not time to give effect to the opinion which is held in so many quarters throughout this land, and in this House, too, I believe? If this matter were put to a straight vote I believe you would find that there was an overwhelming body of opinion in favour of immediate action. And may I remind the Government that until something further is done to conserve our food supplies there will be a feeling of anxiety and unrest throughout the country that we have not done all in our power to meet the submarine menace? It is not for us to exaggerate that menace. Certainly my Friend the right hon. Gentleman who spoke, and others who are pressing this course on the Government, do not desire to raise any panic, but we do desire that where all are called upon to make sacrifices there should be no exception made in any one or more particular trades, that all 676 should bear their burden, the burden of necessity which arises, and that the public interest should come first. And we would appeal to the Prime Minister that he himself should fulfil the pledges which he has given, now that he is in a position to do so, and that his Government should take the action which he was the first himself to suggest.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
My right hon. Friend the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones) has addressed this House on innumerable occasions in recent years on this most difficult and complicated question, but I think I may say, as one who has listened to most of his utterances, that he has never previously addressed a House so entirely sympathetic with the spirit and the object of my right hon. Friend. I wish to say at once that in my view no case more logically irresistible has been presented to this House than the case presented by my right hon. Friend. Unhappily, neither executive nor legislative action is, or ever can be, based upon strict logic. If it were otherwise, the whole problem of practical statesmanship would be enormously simplified. What is the real difference between logic and practical statesmanship? Logic would have action and damn the consequences. Practical statesmanship can only act after it has weighed and measured those consequences. Legislative action, especially on this particular problem, must always be based, if it is to be safe, upon a plain and frank recognition of facts. Now, I confess that I find myself in full sympathy with the purpose which my right hon. Friend has in view. When my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade made his notable speech on food supplies last autumn I felt constrained, logically and theoretically, to support my right hon. Friend in the Motion for the prohibition of manufacture, though not of sale, not because I thought it practicable, but because, having listened to my right hon. Friend's speech, I was bound logically to carry it to its consequences, as I thought, on the Order Paper.
The only point with which I am concerned in the consideration of this question to-day is this: Is total and absolute prohibition of all forms of alcoholic liquor during the period of War and during the period of demobilisation practicable? It 677 is obviously an extremely drastic proposal. It covers not merely the period of the War, but the period of demobilisation.
No one can say how long the War will continue, but greater than the importance of the period of the War is the period to be occupied by the process of demobilisation. That process of demobilisation, according to present lines and apparently according to physical necessities, must cover a period—a minimum period—of at least three years. The question I want to put to my right hon. Friend and to the House is this: Is the House satisfied, and is the Government satisfied, that general public opinion in this country—not the opinion of those who have signed prohibition memorials, not the opinion of members of so-called Black Squads, but the opinion of those great bodies of working men in the country who are carrying on its industries in the hour of greatest danger and need—are those great bodies of average working-class opinion, the millions of people who habitually, but moderately, consume alcoholic beverages, prepared to support the Government, and to accept, as a necessary war measure, total and absolute prohibition for a period of four, or it may be five years? I feel bound to say that the prohibition movement, and notably the movement for prohibition during the War, is predominately a middle-class movement. It is not the less patriotic on that ground, but it is undoubtedly less representative, and less authoritative. Take the argument for efficiency. We all of us recognise, as my right hon. Friend has indicated, the urgent need there is to develop the efficiency of the nation to its highest possible point at a critical time like this. It is possible to argue, taking the matter from the point of view of efficiency, that a habit which permits excess in some is illegitimate for all. But would that be a safe argument upon which to base executive or legislative action? Take the argument upon which my right hon. Friend laid the greatest stress—the danger arising from the shortage of the food supply. It is of course always possible to argue—and he has most admirably argued this afternoon—that the use of grain in the manufacture of beer is a waste of nutritive values.
I would remind the House that the view of the Committee of the Royal Society, and the view which the average Member 678 of this House, including myself, is apt to take, overlooks one important, practical fact—that the millions of people who do habitually, but, as I maintain, moderately, consume alcohol take it under the firm conviction that it is a necessary and palatable food; and you will never induce the bulk of the nation, or the average working man, to assume that there is a radical distinction between beer as an article of food and the food supplies in the name of which prohibition is called for at the present time. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he really believes that it is possible to persuade the great bodies of industrial workers in this country that absolute prohibition is a necessary and essential war measure? I want to ask for what has so far been absent—a considered declaration of the advice and the view of the recognised and responsible leaders of organised working-class opinion in this country. My right hon. Friend seemed inclined to impute to the late and to the present Government some species of moral obliquity because they had been so slow in tackling this question. I have never had the least doubt, in my own mind, that both the late Government and the present Government have been careful to inform themselves of working-class opinion in regard to drastic restrictive measures. But I was struck by the fact that my right hon. Friend totally ignored the very real practical difficulties that stand in the way of his proposal. What about the case of the supplies to our Armies and to the Navy? Will the Government propose deliberately to cut off those supplies? Logically they must, if they endorse the plea of my right hon. Friend. The proposal of my right hon. Friend is a proposal for absolute prohibition, in which there is no room whatever for so large an amount of alcohol as that which is represented by the supplies taken by the Government for the Army and the Navy. I think my right hon. Friend and some of his followers are apt to overlook the quantities supplied to the Army and to the Navy, and the proportion which they bear to the total reduced consumption of alcohol during the last year or so.
My right hon. Friend referred, and very properly, to the enormous monetary expenditure upon alcoholic drink during the last few years. I wish he had gone a little further. I wish, instead of merely stating the figures, he had really dealt with the root of the problem represented by those figures. What is the root difficulty which 679 lies at the bottom of this drink business? The root difficulty which has precipitated this problem in an urgent and imperative way upon the notice of this House is also the one which has lain at the bottom of our difficulties for very many years. I think it is extraordinarily important to emphasise this view on the occasion of a Debate like this. In my opinion the real difficulty which has confronted this Parliament, not merely to-day, but for four centuries, lies in the fact that we have never had licensing arrangements which were instantly and immediately responsive to growth in public opinion, or were adaptable to the changed circumstances of national emergency. We have for the last 400 years based our entire licensing system on what I venture to suggest is an utterly irrational and utterly illogical principle. The principle is this: That, desiring to control the consumption of alcohol, desiring to restrict the sale of alcohol, we have, nevertheless, by some hundreds of Statutes, placed the conduct and the control of that trade in the hands of men who are quite legitimately motived in its conduct by the ordinary commercial inducements of profit. We have had thus demonstrated and underlined the irrational principle which lies at the bottom of our licensing system—we have had it emphasised again and again in the struggle for licensing legislation, particularly during the last 100 years. It is a paradox, and it must be faced frankly by this House. Take the most recent experience of the Board of Control. In my view that Board, within the necessary limitation of its power, has done on the whole most admirable work. It has made some mistakes; it made one which I regard as an appalling mistake. I believe the Board of Control did infinite mischief when they issued a regulation prohibiting the off-sale of spirits below a minimum quantity of a reputed quart. The House knows well the motive that inspired that particular regulation. It was a desire to bring the economic check of price to play upon the purchase of liquor, but while that economic check might have operated powerfully under normal conditions, and in a normal time, its force was altogether lost under the abnormal conditions of the Unusually high wages which have prevailed ever since the War began.
Why do we so constantly hear the charge and accusation brought against the Board of Control that, while we have tried 680 their regulations, they still leave us with the problem. Why is it said that in certain areas in Scotland, for example, as well as certain industrial areas in England, there have been evasions of the regulations? The explanation lies in the radical defect of the principle of our whole licensing system. So long as you have a man in control of the sale of liquor who stands to gain by every quart or bottle he sells, so long will the whole of these commercial inducements enter in legitimately and almost unconsciously, but nevertheless inevitably enter in, and operate against the intention of your restrictions and Regulations. If when the Board came into existence and began its work the sale had no longer been in the hands of sellers who had a pecuniary inducement in the amount of their sales, there would have been no à priori obstacle or objection to a loyal obedience to the regulations which the Board of Control enacted. There is a further difficulty, and one which this House will have to face in the consideration of this particular problem. It is this: that by the ambiguities and by the processes of our administration of the licensing law for a very long period, we have quite unintentionally allowed to come into existence, and to develop great strength, vested interests which have fettered and limited the freedom of action of Parliament and of the entire nation. As a matter of fact, to-day, as all through the last four centuries this country has been fettered so far as effective control of the liquor trade is concerned. You cannot enact in this House a single restriction or reform which is not handicapped from the moment of its birth by its conflict with the vested interests that have been allowed to grow up. I always have maintained in this House and out of it that the only fair and only successful way of dealing with these vested interests was to purchase them outright. That is not a new doctrine. I have maintained it on the floor of this House for the last eleven years and on platforms outside. Those vested interests were, in 1904, by the authority of this House, transformed into a virtual freehold.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
My right hon. and hon. Friends say not at all; but in practice that is the fact, and now the grounds upon which you may refuse a licence are strictly limited to misconduct. If you suppress a house because it is superfluous—and it was 681 only originally licensed because it was supposed to be needed—if you suppress it because it is no longer needed, and-is regarded as superfluous, you have to get rid of it by paying the market value of the licence. What is that but a virtual freehold? This House will have to deal with that question as best they can when it approaches the consideration of the main question. I noticed with some surprise that my right hon. Friend made no allusion whatsoever to the question of compensation.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
He asks me "Why should he?" I will tell him—because I regard him still as a practical politician. Does he and does this House imagine that you may by Executive action or, if you will, by legislation here, absolutely and totally prohibit the sale of intoxicating beverages for four or five years from now without the consideration of any claim for compensation on the part of the trade?
§ Mr. SHERWELL
That is a matter on which my right hon. Friend should address a question to the Government.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I have always assumed, and I am still of the opinion, that the interests of all concerned in regard to the whole of the trade will be equitably dealt with when a settlement takes place at the end of the War. It is quite inconceivable that the Government should suppress substantially a trade in the national interest without having regard to the claim of that trade for some form of compensation. The Government, I admit, have the right to call upon the nation for all kinds of sacrifices. But the Government have no right to saddle upon a particular class or upon individuals a disproportionate sacrifice.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
That is a question that those hon. Members should refer to the Government. I am only advancing my argument on this particular point. I believe the House and the Government would be deceiving themselves if they imagined they could entertain the proposal of my right 682 hon. Friend without at the same time considering the question of compensation. It is not justice to call upon a particular trade or class to bear a disproportionate amount of sacrifice. It is injustice, and certainly it is not public policy. However, I have been diverted somewhat by the interruption of my hon. Friend. I want to submit that before we can make any effectual headway against this particular evil this Parliament and this nation must recover entire freedom of action. I had hoped, and I still hope, that we might have arrived at a settlement of this interminable question during the currency of the War. National interests, and, above all political interests, require that this House should at the first opportunity settle once for all this licensing and liquor question. As everybody knows, this question more than any other political question has embarrassed successive Governments, whatever their complexion, for the last fifty years. It is sometimes said that the Unionist party derives some of its electoral strength from the support given to it by the liquor trade. Those who use that argument appear to forget that that is only a recent development, and that at no very distant date it was our own party, the Liberal party, that received the support of the organised liquor trade.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I thought I had said that at no very distant date the Liberal party received consistently, year by year, the support of the brewing trade. The names of great breweries to-day are inseparably associated with the traditions and history of Liberalism in this House and outside. But it does not matter what party. I only want to suggest this: that it is not in the interests of public policy—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will agree with me here—or in the interests of any political party, that licensing legislation should be made a game of shuttlecock between contending political parties or sections of the House. My other comment in reference to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend is this: it does not give us a settlement of this eternal question. It is a temporary expedient. It postpones the settlement. What does that mean? 683 It means that after the War, and after the period of demobilisation, when the whole thought and energy of this Parliament and of the nation should be preoccupied with the burning and vital questions of national reconstruction, we shall be plunged back into the old controversies, the bitter partisanship and sectarianism, whenever any Government, be that Government what it may, attempts legislatively to deal with this complicated and difficult problem. The War and its lessons have brought to us undreamt-of possibilities in the way of reaching agreement upon many vexed controversial questions concerning which agreement seemed impossible but two and a half years ago. Why should not this House, in the interests of good government, in the interests of good citizenship, above all, in the interests of those far-reaching problems of national reconstruction which must be dealt with if the nation is to live, leave ourselves free for a whole-hearted and united discussion and consideration of these great problems by taking advantage of the feeling of unity kindled by this War, the feeling of agreement which now obtains, and use that feeling of unity, of fellowship, and of good spirit, to settle once for all this long, this difficult, this dangerous question?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I want at the beginning to say a few words about the standpoint from which the Government approaches this question. That standpoint is not quite the same as that which has been taken in the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division and I are old opponents on the question of drink. We have often broken a lance on the floor of the House on the questions which used to arise in this matter, and it is with some regret that I noticed the old tone of controversy at the beginning of his speech today. On the general question he appeared to think that it would have been better if, since the beginning of the War, all intoxicating liquor had been thrown into the sea. He may be right or he may be wrong in that view, but I venture to say that this is not the time to urge upon the House general considerations of that kind. You cannot at this moment, in the middle of a great war, even attempt to 684 settle these old temperance controversies. There are arguments to be advanced on both sides of the question. We should not have the right, even if we had the will, to attack this question as he suggests and engage the House in a long controversy upon it. The case presented in the way he has presented it not only does no good; it does great harm. The right hon. Gentleman thinks, and no doubt thinks sincerely, that what he suggests is necessary in order to carry on the War successfully. He would ask our soldiers at the front, our soldiers in training in home, our munition workers, our working men and others right throughout the country to do-without drink altogether. He may be right or he may be wrong, but if he wants to do that, he ought, I think, to put his case upon the ground of sacrifice.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Tell the people the true aspect of the case—that they are asked to give up something which they think is good, for I believe the great bulk, the enormous mass of our people, are absolutely moderate in their demands. You ask the working people to give up what they, rightly or wrongly, think is a good and a desirable thing. It does no good for the right hon. Gentleman to come for ward and to say that those who use drink moderately are the worse for it; that the soldier who is shivering in the trenches had better have a glass of water——
§ Sir G. CAVE
The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was controversial. He suggested that the people would be-better without drink than at present.
§ Mr. L. JONES
I really have not made an appeal to the workers of this country, or to the people of this country, because I recognise the force of what the Home Secretary says, that that appeal, coming from me, would be attributed solely to my temperance views. I make my appeal to-the Government in possession of the facts put before them by the Committee of the 685 Royal Society; in possession of the need for money which the Government knows to exist. It is to the Government that I appeal, to take the action which they think right.
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is the point I am coining to. I am dealing now with the more contentious part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. If he wishes the people to sacrifice in this matter, let him say so quite plainly. But now let me say that if and so far as it is necessary to restrict the output of intoxicating liquor, in order to maintain the food supplies of the country, the Government are prepared to take every step necessary to be taken. There has never been the slightest doubt upon that point. We are calling upon our population for sacrifices in every direction. The Food Controller asks them, so far as necessary, to restrict the consumption of food. If we find it necessary or desirable, in order to promote the effective carrying on of the War, to ask the people to go to further lengths in the direction of sacrifice, I am quite sure we should not hesitate for a moment, and T am sure, also, there need be no doubt as to the response. The country has never failed to respond to any request made in the spirit which I have indicated. We must, however, deal with the facts of the case. We are not entitled to go beyond the needs of the country. We must rely upon our experts, and upon those who advise us, and the question has been, and is, how far is it necessary, for the purpose of conserving our food supplies, to restrict the output of in-toxicting liquor, and to call upon our people to support us in that action? In that connection we have not confined ourselves to obtaining advice, but we have taken a definite step. In answer to my hon. Friend I say distinctly that the announcement that was made, namely, that we proposed to reduce by legislation the output of beer by 40 per cent, on the 1915 figure or 30 per cent, on the output for this year, was made with the full approval of the Food Controller, and on a statement definitely made by him that he considered the reduction sufficient on the facts which he then had before him. At all events we are taking a definite and specific step which imposes considerable loss upon those engaged in the trade, and a certain amount of sacrifice upon the consumers of drink Let me answer another question which has been put to me. The 686 Food Controller added that as he was proposing to reduce the output of beer by that proportion, the release of spirits from bond should be restricted in a corresponding proportion. It would not be right for us, having restricted the output of beer, to leave the output of spirits entirely unfettered, because the only effect would be that a man compelled to forego one form of intoxicating liquor would very likely take the other form, and then we should only be reducing the consumption of beer in order to increase the sale of spirits. With regard to spirits, practically speaking, I do not say absolutely, the figures show that the manufacture of potable spirits has ceased in this country. I know there are some small exceptions, but not many, and they are not really of great importance.
§ Sir G. CAVE
No, there are some pot stills. There are certain exceptions which may be applicable, but they are not very substantial, or really very important, and it is not too much to say that practically the manufacture of potable spirits has ceased. There is a large stock of spirits in this country, sufficient some people say to last for three years, and the hon. Member says sufficient to last for five years. And I am asked, Why cannot those spirits be used in the manufacture of munitions? The answer is quite simple. To-day it would not pay to use them for that purpose; it would not be an economic operation. The cost of the material itself and of the processes required would amount to more than the value of the product, and, that being so, while I have not the least doubt that if the time comes when that operation would be useful for fighting purposes, it would be resorted to; to-day it is not worth while to do it. One more word about the proposal outlined in the announcement made by the Food Controller the other day. My right hon. Friend made great play with the fact that according to the announcement the reduction of output to be proposed is only 40 per cent, on the 1915 figure, and said that the limitation to 40 per cent, had no justification at all and that the reduction ought to be 100 per cent. There were submarines a year ago, and surely a year ago the food question was a matter of great importance. But a year ago the late Government proposed a reduction of 15 per cent, only, and I would like to point out that at 687 that time my right hon. Friend opposite did not say a word upon the nature of the proposal which was made—in fact, as far as I can understand, he was entirely silent about it. Then he says, "If you are going to reduce, why not begin at once? Why wait until the 1st of April?" The answer is quite clear. If a Parliamentary bargain was made last year with the trade that the reduction should be 15 per cent. only for the year, we must observe that bargain.
§ Sir G. CAVE
No, not if the people starve. Steps have been taken to protect the use of brewing materials, and, as was stated to-day in answer to a question, the malting process is finished and no more materials will be used before the 1st April.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The observation which I make is a sufficient answer, namely, that the delay to the 1st of April does not affect food materials. But I want to say quite clearly that we do not bind ourselves to that reduction of 40 per cent, on the 1915 figures or 30 per cent, on this year. The House knows that since the announcement was made the attack by-submarines upon our vessels and upon the vessels of our Allies and neutrals has considerably developed. We know quite well that this attack, like the others, will be met and defeated, but at the same time it is absolutely essential that precautions should be taken in order that by no means shall the food supply of this country be diminished beyond a safe margin. Consequently, we propose to ask the House to give us power to increase the amount of that reduction from time to time and for such a period as may be necessary. If it appears necessary that a further reduction should be made, I have not the least doubt we shall have from the Food Controller a statement of the fact, and we shall not hesitate to take any steps necessary in that direction. For the moment we have adopted the figures given to us, and those are what we have put before the country; but the Bill, to give effect to the proposal, will contain power to vary the figures if the necessity arises. I do not think I need go into the questions of detail which have 688 been argued by my two hon. Friends opposite. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) has always held the view that the right way of putting an end to these long controversies is State purchase. I do not want to shut out anything. It may turn out, as time goes by, that the restriction of the output of intoxicating liquors is not an adequate remedy, but that in the interests of national safety something more is required; or it may turn out that the steps now to be taken impose such great losses on the trade that some other course must be found. Circumstances may change and events may occur which we cannot foresee to-day. If that happens I do not shut out any fair remedy which may be proposed. I do not shut out State control, nor even State purchase. The Government may have to consider these things even in the course of the present War; but, if so, before steps of that kind are taken, they will be fully considered and framed so as to do injustice to no one. But those are matters for the future. Our position to-day is that we shall ask the House to restrict the output of beer to the amount which has been defined, and to give us power, in the interests of the country, to impose any further restrictions which may be required for the conservation of our food supplies. And I can assure the House that, so far as our powers go, we shall omit no steps which we may consider necessary in order to ensure the safety of the country.
The House has heard with satisfaction the statement made by the Home Secretary that whatever steps the Food Controller thinks necessary for the conservation of our food supplies will be taken by the Government, and that we may anticipate that in any new proposals made in the future with regard to the use of materials for the manufacture of beer or spirits, the decision of the Food Controller will, in the estimation of the Government, be final. If that is the decision of the Government, I need hardly say that I hear it with profound satisfaction.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I did not say that. I do not think any Government would say that the decision of one of its members would be final. What I said was, that the matters relating to food control would receive paramount consideration.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not water down the statement he has made this afternoon, because I am sure it must have given satisfaction to the House in viewing this problem from the point of view of our food supply, rather than from those moral considerations which have carried so much weight in our discussions on temperance reform, and the sale and consumption of liquor. The tone adopted by the Home Secretary is preferable to that which has been adopted by the President of the Board of Agriculture, because he has been justifying the continuance of the manufacture of beer on the ground that it enables us to keep up our supply of milk. I have reread the Report of the Royal Society on Milk Production, and I find there no justification for the statement made by the President of the Board of Agriculture, and therefore I hope that in these matters it will not be the right hon. Gentleman who will carry weight with the War Committee when it comes to a decision on this matter, but the Food Controller, whose problems give us and them the greatest anxiety. The Government will be guided, I presume, not only by the views of the Food Controller, but also by the distinguished advisers he has at hand.
Amongst these, some of the most distinguished are members of the Royal Society who, on my invitation last year, devoted themselves to this and kindred subjects, purely from the point of view of the scientist. They were scientific physiologists, scientific statisticians, the whole composing a list of names which no one can call into question either in this House or outside it. Their views are unanimously stated in a Report which has recently been submitted to Parliament, and there can be no doubt about it that the hands of the Government are strengthened by the publication of that Report which has already had a profound effect on public opinion outside.
The decision of the Government and the House in this matter will undoubtedly be affected by its bearing upon the production of food. I must confess that, for my part, I am glad to think that any discussion of this subject will now not be associated in this Assembly, or in any other responsible assemblies, on the ground of the increase of drunkenness amongst the working people. I took a good deal of trouble a year or a year and a half ago to ascertain how far there had been an increase of drunkenness, especially in 690 those trades which were most vital to our national existence. As I stated in public then, I repeat now, that I found there had not been an increase, but, on the contrary, there had been a decrease. It is important that these things should be stated publicly by those in responsible positions, for undoubtedly a great deel of prejudice was raised against any diminution in the manufacture and the distribution of liquor, by exaggerated statements about the increasing drunkenness of the working classes. There were great bodies of the working classes who know it was not true and who resented the statement. Those statements will not be made in this House, and I am perfectly certain they would never be made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Leif Jones) who made a speech which does him the greatest credit, not only because of the weight and the closeness of his argument, but because of the fact that he put on one side what everybody knows are his strong temperance feelings, and aruged his case purely on the ground of conserving our national food supply. If the incidental effect of any restrictions on the manufacture and output of beer and sprits is that there is less available for those who drink too much, we shall all be delighed that we can in that way add to he national efficiency. I have no doubt in my own mind—and I gather that in this view one has the support of the fellows of the Royal Society, who look at this question purely from the point of view of science—that the effect which the consumption of alcohol has on those who are engaged in industries is deleterious rather than beneficial. How far a man is entitled, for the sake of the joy he gets out of it, to take what is deleterious, is quite another matter. I do not think we need argue than this afternoon. The fact remains that, joy or misery, the total sum of national efficiency will be increased and no diminished if we cut down the output of beer and spirits.
Those of us who were members of the late Government have some experience in dealing with this topic. Some good, undoubtedly, has been done by the Liquor Control Board. In some parts of the country it has been most beneficial. What is very remarkable is that in those district* where the Liquor Control Board has exercised the largest amount of control, there are great masses of the people most directly affected, the artisan class, who declare that they do not wish to go back 691 to the old state of things. Again and again that has come to our knowledge, and it has come from quarters which were entirely unexpected—from men who were not teetotallers, and who rather dislike the demeanour of teetotallers, but who do not wish to have in their own streets and in their own quarters the same sort of squalor which used to be found there three or four years ago, and who do not wish to have the hubbub and rows going on in their alleys and courts after midnight in London, or after eleven o'clock in the provinces, as went on before. Those people will not willingly go back to the old state of things. In considering our reconstruction problems we shall be well advised to get to know from those quarters what are the views of he people who live there, before we to dispense with some of the benefitsthat have accrued from the operations of the Liquor Control Board. The Prime Minister and I had some conferences abut the manufacture of beer and spirits, and meetings were held with the trade. I was present at a conference which took place between the Prime Minister and the distillers. The brewers we had dealt with at the Board of Trade. The Prime Minister found that it was possible to use the patent stills for the production of some of the essential elements of explosives. From our point of view at the bard of Trade I wanted to have as little c the imported maize and barley which came into this country and was used for rinking purposes, which did not appear to be primarily essential, used in that way. I knew that a considerable amount of these imported cereals, maize in particular, must be used for explosive purposes, and I thought that if we could transfer the work of these patent stills to the work of making essential elements of explosives, rather than allow them to be used for the making of liquor, of which we had a large stock in bond, it would be clearly a national gain from every point of view. As the result of those negotiations, practically the whole of the patent stills have been out of action in regard to the making of drinkable spirits. Pot stills are in a different position. I was pleased to hear from the Home Secretary that the amount of alcohol in the pot stills is very small at the present time. May I suggest that the Government should take their courage in both hands and go further than we did. 692 They want to improve on everything we did. Then let them improve in this direction and dispose of the rest of the pot stills.
Then we came to deal with the restriction of the output of beer. Hon. Members who were present during the discussion will remember that my hon. Friend, who is now Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Pretyman), piloted a Bill through the House, and he had the most extraordinary difficulties to face. I am sure the House will forgive me if I say that in the matter, of alcoholic drinks we have not got a clean record here. The Leader of the House has told us that an early opportunity will be given for a discussion on the consumption of alcohol within our own premises, under rules which do not apply to any other part of London. The same difficulty which arose over the extension of the Liquor Control Boards rules to the House of Commons produced a feeling in the House over the restriction of the output of beer which the present Civil Lord of the Admiralty found almost insurmountable. He had to carry on negotiations for weeks with those interested in the trade. It was impossible to take up the time of the House of Commons with discussion, week after week, of the details of this measure. Time was required for other Parliamentary purposes, and my hon. Friend did his best outside. Greatly to his credit, he was able at the end to come to complete agreement with the trade and with the Army authorities, both at home and abroad, and to make a start, at all events, in the reduction of the output of beer. He secured a reduction which gave us, I think, a diminution of 33⅓ per cent. of the imports of brewing materials and of 15 per cent. of the output of beer. If, acting on the advice of the Food Controller, the Government is prepared to go-further, as they appear to be, I believe they will find an entirely different atmosphere in the House of Commons.
The position of the food supply is not what it was last year. Last year we had larger margins to work upon. It was possible for us to get through our cereal year without cutting off rations. We were able to foresee our supplies of wheat, and, but for insufficient harvests, and but for the great diminution of the available amount of tonnage, both British and neutral, we can lay our hands upon for the carriage of cereals to this country, we should probably have been in the same position this year. But all the world knows 693 that there is not the same amount of tonnage available. The pressure is becoming greater. I do not think we can give the Germans all the credit for the whole of that. It certainly ought not all of it to be put down to the effect of the German submarine campaign. The submarine losses are great from week to week and from day to day, and the cumulative amount of destroyed tonnage is great But what has to be considered also are the necessities of the Allies in various parts or the world and the enormous amount of shipping that has had to be taken up for purely Government purposes, which is far greater than it ever was before, and which is leaving a comparatively small percentage of our total mercantile marine free for our civil needs. I believe Lord Curzon, in the House of Lords, said that only about 25 per cent. of our total mercantile marine was now free for civil needs. He did not define what was actually meant by civil needs, but if the figures included the carriage of foodstuffs it is a far lower figure than we had to deal with last year at this time. I am relating these facts in order that I might bring out this fact, that our needs now, owing to one cause or another, are far greater than they were then; that our available supplies of food in this country, owing to other causes, are less than they were then; that the amount which we are likely to be able to bring into this country is much less than it was then, and, above all, the failure of the harvest in the United States of America and the diminution of the harvest in Canada has had a great deal to do with driving us into the more distant routes, thereby reducing the efficiency of our tonnage.
All the circumstances accumulated together make this question of food supply much more urgent and imminent than it was before. If, then, there is justification for the Food Controller saying that he must have set free for the primary foods of this country the large amount of tonnage which has been absorbed in the carriage of materials for the production of drink, the Government may have to face a process of rationing—something much more severe than the voluntary rationing which has been the subject of an appeal from the Food Controller and which is interpreted by various people in their own way and by some people totally ignored. If it has to come to that I would suggest to the Government that in the industrial districts, where the first duty of the people is to 694 provide for their own families, and especially for the young of their own families, they will find that the feeling of those people will be strained to the uttermost, and they will be unable to justify any form of rationing, particularly of cereals or flour, unless they have done their utmost in the rationing of cereals for the production of drink. Whatever may be our opinions as to liking or disliking alcoholic liquors, I am sure that the people of this country are far more sensitive on the subject of food than they are on the subject of drink. Those who like drink best can get on perfectly well without alcohol. Body and soul can be kept together without it, but I am afraid we cannot apply that statement to flour and wheat. Unless you have flour and wheat, or an efficient substitute—and the only substitutes are potatoes or cereals—it is impossible for the efficiency of our people to be maintained. On every ground— on the ground of public opinion not standing any rationing of food, so long as our manufacture of drink is maintained at anything like its present level; on the ground of the necessity for maintaining at the fullest our food supplies, not only for our security but in order that our working classes may be maintained in their maximum of efficiency; on every ground economy points in one direction, and that is in the direction of a reduction in the amount of cereals used in the manufacture of drink. As the need becomes greater, necessity will point in the direction of the total suspension of the manufacture of drink during the present War. I forgot whether my right hon. Friend (Mr. Leif Jones) urged the total prohibition of the sale of drink. Personally I do not believe-that any particular harm would be done if the sale of drink were totally prohibited; on the contrary, much good would be done. But whether public opinion would stand that or not I am quite unable to say. What I do say is that the total prohibition of the manufacture of drink is a different matter. It is the easiest way to approach this question and it provides the most direct remedy for the very evils we are trying to avoid. How long is this total prohibition of the manufacture of drink to proceed. Everybody knows that the greatest strain, military, food and mercantile marine, is going to fall on the people of this country throughout the present year up to the conclusion of the War, whenever that may come- 695 The end of the War cannot be indefinitely deferred, but the period during which the total prohibition of the manufacture of alcoholic liquors nave to be imposed would not be an indefinite period. It would be, comparatively, in the history of industries, a short period, and during that time everybody knows that our stocks are quite ample for the moderate consuming needs of the population. It would mean an enormous reduction in the consumption of beer, and that would mean a considerable revolution in the habits of immense bodies of our population. If the sacrifice is put to them on the grounds stated by the Home Secretary that they must have less drink in order that they and their families must have more food, I have no doubt as to what the answer will be. I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, and would not have done so had it not been for the absence of the late Prime Minister, who, I regret to say, has been detained in his house owing to a chill. He would have taken part in this Debate had he been present. I am sure I am voicing not only his view and those of my colleagues, but of the great body of opinion outside, when I support most cordially the steps taken by the Home Secretary, and urge on him and his colleagues not to be lacking in carrying out the recommendations of the Food Controller to the utmost.
§ Sir JOHN M'CALLUM
Our discussion this afternoon has been most satisfactory from the Government point of view, as well as from that of those who introduced the subject. I congratulate my right hon. Friend (Mr. Leif Jones), who opened the Debate in a speech which was not only informative, but whose arguments prove the case in such a way that we all feel proud to be associated with him in raising this subject. I would like simply to refer to the position of Scotland in regard to this question. We know full well, according to experience, that the real remedy for drunkenness, and likewise for the many points that have been submitted this afternoon is in going the whole length in the form of prohibition. It would tend, I think, to a certain extent, to improve the health of the people. It would certainly reduce our death-rate, and we may say it would shorten the War. Restriction so far has been beneficial in Scotland, and where the restricted areas have adopted prohibition the result has been that drunkenness 696 has been reduced through the influence of the Central Control Board by seven-eighths, against the other improvements that have been made to the extent of from 25 to 35 per cent. On this subject we are in this position in Scotland, that we are seething with discontent in connection with the question. I have not the slightest doubt in saying that a large proportion, a very large majority in Scotland, are in favour of total prohibition. I have never seen the country so earnest and so sincere and so determined as they are in connection with this question. All ranks and classes have taken part in demanding drastic remedies in the way of prohibition. Our leading men connected with the universities and with the churches, employers of labour, and moderate drinkers who were formerly not in favour of prohibition, are now coming forward demanding it in public meetings, and the populations of every city in Scotland have demanded that we should have prohibition. I think it right therefore that in discussing this question we should understand that whether England is ripe for this or not, we in Scotland are quite ripe for the most advanced view, believing that by going in that direction certain things will be accomplished. We insist upon it because no Government has a right to subordinate the interest of the State to the selfish interests of a class or trade. It is as much the duty of the Government to safeguard the interests of those at home as well as of those on the field of battle. If the War conditions are putting up the price of food and stopping food supplies, and if the cost of living has advanced by 65 per cent, and in some instances 85 per cent., and if the value of the pound has been reduced in its purchasing power to only 12s. 6d., and if the Government and the Central Control Board do not see in the face of those conditions the need for prohibition, how can we expect them to see the need for considering our food supplies and food prices? The Government and the Central Control Board could solve the problem if they cared in Scotland by a stroke of the pen.
Let me give the House one or two figures with reference to Edinburgh. In Edinburgh the other night they had an address on the prospect of being able to maintain matters so that they would be able to save money. There seems to be quite as much overcrowding of public-houses in our industrial centres there, even in the West End, as there is in the homes of the people. A census taker stood at the door 697 of two large public-houses on two evenings with the following statistical results: On Monday evening, between the hours of six and seven, two public-houses had 575 customers, including 527 men (nine soldiers and one sailor) and forty-eight women. On the same evening, mark you, just next door to the public-house, was a thrift shop at 92 Dairy Road, and there were ten depositors from six to nine o'clock, and the amount deposited, apart from buying certificates outright, amounted only to £1 11s. 4d. What is the use of talking about thrift in any shape or form when those influences are at work? In one direction you have opportunities for full wastefulness, and, while you are insisting on people cultivating habits of thrift, the temptations are so enormous that it is impossible for the people to overcome them. I hope the result of this evening's discussion will be that we will rise to the high ideals of Russia. For twenty years Russia tried simply to control the trade. She has abandoned that attitude and taken up strong and determined opposition to Vodka. The result has been that her most sanguine anticipations have been realised, and she has even surpassed her visions. Ninety-eight per cent, of the peasantry there now are totally avoiding drink in any shape or form, and their former savings of from five to seven millions in the banks have now risen to one hundred and sixty-five millions during the War. The habits and the customs of the people now are of such a nature that their homes have been brightened and cheered. Russia has not only seen a vision and felt influences at work which will aid us in the future of this War, but it has progressed in character and dignity far beyond the position in which we formerly looked upon it as being years behind us in civilisation. As an Ally we welcome her, and trust that the example she has set will inspire others to follow it, and in that way to help the great cause for which we are fighting.