HC Deb 23 February 1917 vol 90 cc1591-649
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

In rising to move, "That this House do now adjourn," I, first of all, must apologise for my not being prepared yesterday, as I had anticipated, to make a statement. As a matter of fact, at the very moment that I should have been making the statement, I was engaged in discussion of this very problem with Ministers from France, who had come here concerned with exactly the same problem as has been engaging the attention of the Government here for some time.

The ultimate success of the Allied cause depends, in my judgment, on our solving the tonnage difficulties with which we are confronted. Before the War our shipping tonnage was only just adequate. There was a very large shipbuilding programme, but it was to a very considerable extent suspended after the War, owing to the essential activities of the Navy. Since the War began there have been enormous increases in the demands upon our tonnage. There is transport for the Navy, transport for the Army, and for our expeditions in France and in Eastern waters. Our Allies have made very considerable demands upon British tonnage. Over a million tons of our shipping have been allocated to France alone. There is a very considerable tonnage set aside for Russia and also for Italy, and the balance left for the ordinary needs of the nation, after providing for these War exigencies, is only about half the whole of our tonnage. The shipbuilding capacity of this country has been considerably limited, I might say enormously limited, by the greatly increased demands for shipbuilding for the Navy, and the ordinary wear and tear of the Navy. On the top of that there has been, undoubtedly, a very considerable tonnage of our shipping sunk by submarines in the course of the last two and a half years of warfare. In the last four or five months, as my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty stated in his speech yesterday, the ratio of the sinking of our tonnage has in- creased, and this month, owing to the very special efforts made by Germany, has been the worst.

The Germans have concentrated upon the building of submarines in order to destroy our mercantile marine, fully realising that that is far away the most effective way, and the only effective way, of putting out of action what they consider to be the most formidable item in the Alliance. There has been for some time, and I think the House must know it, and the country must know it, a shortage of tonnage for the ordinary needs of the nation, and even a certain shortage for the military exigencies of our Allies and ourselves. My right hon. Friend made a very frank statement the other day as to the facts. He withheld nothing from the House, but there is always a disposition to dwell upon what is pleasant in a statement, and rather to ignore the graver or disquieting aspects of a statement. Undoubtedly that is so, and I regret that I noticed a little of that even in the comments on my right hon. Friend's statement. It is far better that the nation should realise absolutely what is the position. I have nothing new to-say, but I do ask you to read, and read a second time, the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and you will then get a perfect view of the state of things, and it is undoubtedly one that calls for the gravest measures to deal with the problem. If we take it in hand, and take it in hand at once, and take very drastic measures, we can cope with that peril. If we do not, I am not going to withhold from the House the fact that if the nation is not prepared to accept drastic measures-for dealing with the submarine peril, there is disaster in front of us, and I am here with all the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown to tell the House and the nation that fact. The Government are proposing measures. We mean to propose measures which we think will be adequate. It means enormous sacrifices on the part of every class in the community, and the national grit is going to be tested by the answer that is going to be given to the statement I make to-day on behalf of the Government.

I will give the House an indication of what the shipping position is, by reading the figures of the tonnage of British ships that entered our ports twelve months before the War and during the last twelve months. I want you to bear in mind that very nearly half of our tonnage is engaged in war work. In the twelve months before the War about 50,000,000 of tonnage entered British ports. During the last twelve months that was reduced to 30,000,000 tons. That is not submarine work. That is almost exclusively attributable to the fact that a very large proportion of our tonnage has been allocated to the Allies. A very considerable proportion of our tonnage goes direct to France with commodities from America and elsewhere, and a good deal of our tonnage goes to Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and Salonika. But that shows the extent to which the tonnage available for carrying commodities to the United Kingdom has been reduced owing to the inevitable operations of war, apart altogether from the German submarine menace.

I have only one or two words to say about that matter. It was dealt with very frankly in the able statement of my right hon. Friend. The Government are hopeful of finding means of dealing effectively with the German submarines; but we should be guilty of criminal folly if we rested our action or our policy on a tranquil anticipation of being able to realise that hope. We must be able to carry the War through to a victorious end, however long victory may tarry, even though we fail to hunt the submarine out of the deep. There is no sure foundation for victory except that. I want the House and the country to realise that. We cannot build on anything else. A great deal of our tonnage has been sunk, and I dare say a good deal more will be sunk before we shall succeed in overcoming that menace. But even if we succeed, there is one warning which is quite necessary. The command of the seas has never been absolute. You cannot achieve complete immunity from piratical attacks on your ships whatever you do. That is the lesson of history. The sea is wide, and it is trackless. In the wars of Louis XIV. we had command of the sea as we had at the Battle of Trafalgar. Still, hundreds of our ships were sunk every year. You cannot command complete immunity on the sea, and if we are able to discover something that will make the life of the submarine almost impossible on the sea, even "then you cannot guarantee that ships will not be sunk by these piratical methods. Therefore you have got to deal with the problem of tonnage ruthlessly and promptly. And I say so now because, on behalf of the Government, I am sub- mitting measures for dealing with that shortageߞmeasures which, as I have already stated, involve great sacrifices on the part of the community.

Now, what are those measures? They are divided into three categories. First of all, the measures to be adopted by the Navy for grappling with the menace. My right hon. Friend dealt with those very fully in his statement, and I will not say anything more about them. The second is the building of merchant ships wherever we can get them. The third is to limit our needs for oversea transport by dispensing with all non-essential commodities now being brought from over the seas and by producing as much of the essentials of life as we can at home. There is one thing which I must say about shipbuilding, because here I have got to make a special appeal to labour. I am convinced, after a great deal of examination of the problem, and hearing what has been said by both employers and working men, that the output can be very considerably increased by an alteration of the methods. Wherever payment by results has been introduced there has been an increase in the output of shipbuilding yards, sometimes of 20, sometimes 30, and sometimes even 40 per cent. We have made a special appeal to the great trade unions concerned in shipbuilding to assent to the introduction of these methods. In some yards they have already been introduced. I was very glad to get a telegram from Liverpool yesterday stating that the Liverpool trade unions had agreed to recommend to their workmen that that course should be pursued. It also involves an undertaking on the part of the employers that if large wages are made by men as a result of special efforts ho advantage must be taken of that to reduce the rates, and I am perfectly certain, from what they told me, that they have no intention of doing anything of the kind. And if they do, I want them to feel that not merely the Government, but the House of Commons, would be behind the Government in attempt to penalise by reducing the rate has been the great and that is why the fear of these piece rates has simply bitten into the workmen's mind. In America they have never made that mistake. The result has been that huge wages are earned, but in the long run the employers have discovered that it pays them better. That is all I want to say about shipbuilding. It is really essential that we should get as much work as possible out of the yards, not merely for shipbuilding for our mercantile marine, but for the building of craft for coping with the submarines at sea. Our shipbuilding capacity, the greatest in the world, is barely adequate for the gigantic task which has been thrown upon it, because we have practically to sustain the whole of the burden ourselves. The Italian, the French, and the Russian contribution is a very substantial one, but, in the main, the burden is on the shoulders of Britain; and if workmen and employers in all classes of the community strove to do their utmost I believe that Great Britain can bear that burden successfully right to the end.

Now we come to the second method of dealing with this problem of tonnageߞthat is home production. Let us take the articles of the greatest bulk which consume our tonnage. The first is timber. Last year we imported 6,400,000 tons of timber from abroad. That does not include what was taken direct to France. That means that there is still another very considerable figure to be added on to that. Therefore the figure for the tonnage of timber brought to these islands in the course of last year is 6,400,000 tons. Of these two millions are pit props for our collieries. The bulk of the remainder is used for the military forces here and in France. Some of this has been sent direct to France. That is necessary for the efficiency of the Army, for the construction of dug-outs, for railway sleepers, for trench boards, and for a variety of other things. It is quite obvious that if tonnage is to be saved, this is one of the first problems to be attacked. We have had a very able Committee, presided over by Sir Henry Babington Smith, one of the most capable servants of the State, who have gone into this amongst other questions. The first suggestion that they make is that a good deal might be saved by increased economy in the use of timber. They do not suggest waste, but they are convinced, in view of the importance of setting every ton of shipping tonnage free, that if an appeal is made to those who are using timber substantial economy will be effected. Arrangements have been made for going into the question, both here and in France, as to the best method of economising the use of timber either behind the lines or in this country. The second method is by making the Army in France self-supporting. The Army in. France is a very considerable consumer of timber, and here appeals have been made from time to time to the French Government, and the French Government have been extraordinarily liberal in responding. They have already placed two forests at the disposal of our Army, and I am afraid we shall have to appeal to them to make greater sacrifices of their beautiful forests, as tonnage is as vital to them as to ourselves in order to conduct the War successfully. If we can manage to secure a sufficient number of forests in France, and also secure labour for the purpose of the cutting down of trees, there will be an enormous saving of tonnage in respect of timber.

The third method is by developing some home supplies, and making this country self-supporting during the War in timber. I do not think it is very long ago, so the Colonial Secretary assures me, when the collieries in this country got practically the whole of their pit props here. The woods are here, and there is no doubt at all that if we have the labour and the means of transport the whole of the enormous tonnage now used in importing timber could be saved, and that is one of the questions to which we are devotng ourselves. By and by we shall have to make an appeal to find the necessary men, who are just as essential, in order to enable us to get pit props in this country. There is a good deal of other timber in this country, and, in fact, I am not sure that we have not got practically-all the timber we require for the duration of the War, provided we can get the necessary labour for the purpose of cutting it and transporting it. So far as pit props are concerned, you need not have skilled labour. It is not a very highly skilled operation, and, in fact. I believe that boys, who are used in some cases, enjoy themselves very much in cutting these lengths of timber. We therefore do not require skilled labour for that purpose. But when we come to the cutting of other timber you must undoubtedly have the introduction of a certain percentage of highly skilled labour. I am told that we have got a considerable number of woodmen and foresters not of military age on the large estates of this country, and if they volunteer to assist us then you could dilute their labour with unskilled workmen, and by that means, I think, we have sufficient labour here. In due course, to cut down pit props for practically the whole of our collieries, and also to cut down a sufficient quantity of other timber, would enable us to set free hundred of thousands if not millions of tons of shipping. Therefore, I trust when the appeal is made to woodmen and to foresters to enrol themselves in the new army for the purpose of assisting the State at this critical juncture, both employers and workmen will render all assistance in their power for the achievement of this end. We will also need thousands if not tens of thousands of unskilled workmen, who will be able to assist them in work which does not require high skill, because there is no branch of our national facilities where so much tonnage can be saved as in the cutting down of timber and carrying it to the necessary points where it is to be used.

The next heaviest item is iron ore. We are melting millions of tons every year of iron ore, and we cannot cut down the supply by a single ton. It is essential for munitions of war, essential for shipbuilding, and essential for the machinery required in agricultural work. Therefore, we must find ships for this work at all costs, in order not to diminish the efficiency of the Army and Navy, which would be folly. There are means for finding these minerals in this country; as a matter of fact, there is plenty of ore in this country. It is rather low-grade ore, its quality is not so good, and, being low-grade ore, it did not pay, as a commercial proposition, to dig it. It was cheaper to get the better class of ore from Spain. Rut this is not a commercial question. This is not a question of getting ore, it is a question of getting ore at all, and getting it without using up our tonnage. It involves, unfortunately, the increasing of our number of blast furnaces. That means more labour for building and carrying on the work, and there is a very limited supply; in fact, there is no margin of supply of highly-skilled men who work these blast furnaces. We have protected them against recruiting for months. In spite of that fact, we are short of the necessary supply of labour for our blast furnaces. What is required for the purpose of increasing our supply of ore? There are mines, I am told, in Lincolnshire; there are mines in Cumberland, and there are the famous Cleveland mines, all producing excellent ore; and I am told that if we could increase the labour in those mines we could augment by millions of tons a year the quantity of ore which can be produced in this country. Here, again, you require skilled labour as well as unskilled labour. I want to make a special appeal to both classes. The skilled labour is only available in the stone and slate quarries of North Wales and in some of the collieries where at the present moment the mines are not working full time. There are, I am told, a certain number of mines from which they might be able to spare a few miners for this purpose. In those two directions we might be able to secure the necessary number of skilled men, and for the unskilled men we must trust the people of this country to place their services at the disposal of Mr. Neville Chamberlain for the purpose of assisting in this all-important task. I have named only two directions where we can, if we put forth reasonable efforts, secure tonnage to the extent of millions of tons per year. Unfortunately in those cases the saving can come only fairly late in the year.

I now come to the third, and perhaps the most important, direction in which by home production we can assist to enable the country to overcome its difficulties, and that is in the production of food supplies. Twenty years after the Corn Laws, were abolished in this country we produced twice as much wheat as we imported, and that twenty years after the abolition of the Corn Laws. Since then four or five million acres of arable land' have become pasture, and about half the agricultural populationߞthe agricultural labouring populationߞ has emigrated to-the Colonies. No doubt the State showed a lamentable indifference to the importance of the agricultural industry and to the very life of the nation, and that is a mistake which must never be repeated. No civilised country in the world spent less on agriculture, or even spent so little on agriculture, either directly or indirectly, as we did. I ventured to call attention to this in 1909, but inasmuch as my statement was mixed up with a good deal of controversial matter, it was not in the least acceptable to the very people for whom it was designed. Between 70 and 80 per cent, of our staple cereal for consumption has been imported yearly, and at the present moment I want the country to know, our food stocks are low, alarmingly lowߞlower than they have been within recollection. That is very largely due to the bad harvest. It is not altogether submarines. It is in the main due to our having had about the worst harvest within our recollection. Last year's crops were a failure, and that, of course, is a very serious fact when our tonnage is absorbed to such an extent by war exigencies, and when our tonnage is diminishing. It is essential, therefore, for the safety of the nationߞfor the maintenance of the nation, for the life of the nationߞ that we should put forth immediately every effort to increase production for this year's harvest and the next, and that we should do it immediately.

The immediate concern is this year's harvest. It would have been easier to have done it had we done it some time ago, but some of the measures we have had to take have had to be crowded into a few weeks, and I ask, when that occurs, that some measure of indulgence should be given to a man who, like the President of the Board of Agriculture, is working under very difficult conditionsߞI say working under very difficult conditions and crowding into six weeks' work that ought to have been done two years ago. [An HON. MEMBER made a remark which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.] It is true I am speaking for him and myself; I am entitled to do it all the more because I was a member of that Government, and I hope every other member of the Government at that time, and every supporter of that Government at that time, will extend the same indulgence which I think ought to extend to the right hon. Gentleman. There are only a few weeks in which to sow the spring wheat, the oats, the barley, and the potatoes. The winter wheat season has gone, and it is urgently necessary that the farmers should be induced to increase the area under cultivation at once, otherwise the nation may have to choose between diminishing its military effort and underfeeding its population. That is the choice which Germany is taking, the choice of giving too little food rather than to diminish its military power and strength and striking power. That is a choice we wish to avert if we possibly can in this country, and we can do so. What is the main obstacle to inducing farmers to increase cultivation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Lack of labour!"] Partly lack of labour. In some counties under the voluntary system labour has flocked to the Standard and farms were left derelict. Some of those are about the most important corn-producing districts in this country. There was no system. When the labourer chose to go there was no one to stop him, and there is no doubt at all that a good many districts have been depleted owing to the over-zeal and patriotism of the labourers themselves. Since the Military Service Acts there has been some discrimination exercised. At any rate, there are tribunals who have been sitting in judgment in these cases, and considering the facts placed before them. May I say, with regard to the 30,000 men called up out of the 60,000 whom the tribunals have dispensed with, only 10,000 have really been called up. If you travel across and athwart France you will find no able-bodied men of military age engaged anywhere. All the cultivators of the soil are engaged in defending that soil, and there the farmer is dependent almost entirely upon men over or under military age, upon women working on the farms, and upon substitutes. But the greatest obstacle to taking immediate action to meet this exigency is the timidity of the farmer when it comes to cutting up his pasture. He has been caught twice with too much arable land, and caught very badlyߞonce in 1880 and the other time in 1890ߞand then he had years of anxiety, depression, and insolvency, his savings completely absorbed, and very often he himself for years waterlogged by debt.

There is no memory as tenacious as that of the tiller of the soil, and the furrows are still in the agricultural mind. Those years have given the British farmer a fright of the plough, and it is no use arguing with him. You must give him confidence, otherwise he will refuse to go between the shafts. Now the plough is our hope. You must cure the farmer of his plough fright, otherwise you will not get crops. What does he say? The farmer thinks in rotations; he is not thinking merely of what will happen next year. When he is cutting up his pasture he has got to think of years ahead, otherwise he is a loser. It is no use promising him big prices for next year and then dropping him badly for the next few years. He has got before his eyes a picture of accumulated crops across the seas, ready to be dumped down in this country the moment the War is over. He says, "Prices will break; I shall have to cut up my pasture, and I shall be done for," and he thinks of 1880 and of 1890 and what happened then, and he cannot face it again. That is the real fact. Every farmer we have appealed to has always talked in that sense, and we must get over that, otherwise he will not cut up his pasture land.

I do not agree myself that prices are going down immediately after the War. I think the farmer is overlooking two or three important facts. Germany after the War will be a greater purchaser than ever, because her land has been let down, and that is true of the whole of Europe. The crop-raising land of Europe will net raise as much per acre as it did before the War. The land has been impoverished and has become unclean, and it is poorer, and it will take years to make it as good a harvest-raising soil as it was before it was devastated by war, so that the demand for foreign food will be greater than ever immediately after the War. Then, of course, there will be a year of demobilisation, and our tonnage will be down, and not merely ours, but neutral tonnage as well, because there is a far greater percentage of loss amongst the neutrals than there is amongst us, because we are protecting our ships by means of guns. All that must necessarily produce, I think, high prices for some time after the War. You cannot persuade the farmer of that, and it is essential that we should get him persuaded, and persuaded within the next few days, and it is no use going on to argue with him. My right hon. Friend has done his best to persuade him, but, after all, you have got to cover a very extensive country, and therefore there is only one way of ensuring immediate action on the part of the farmer, and that is only guaranteeing prices for a definite period of timeߞminimum prices.


What about labourers' wages?


And rents?


I am coming to that. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. He must think of something else. Before I come to the actual prices which we guarantee, I was going to say that there are two or three corollaries to a guarantee of prices. The first is that if the Government guarantees prices, labour must also be guaranteed. I do not believe any farmer, looking at the prospects, can fail to see that the old wages are goneߞ and a good thing, not merely for the labourer, but for the farmer. The best farmers in a district are those who give the best wages. Take Scotland for example. A guarantee of minimum wages will hardly touch Scotland.


Ten shillings too low.


There is no better farmerߞI do not say anything about other farmersߞbut there is no doubt the Scottish farmer is about the best in the world. There is another point which the farmer must realise. The agricultural labourer has flocked to the standard in shoals. His wife is getting a bigger separation allowance than the poor fellow earned as wages before the War, and can anyone imagine that in face of that the first thing the man will do will be to start work at a figure lower than the allowance which was thought to be the minimum which the State ought to give to keep his wife and family going? It is utterly impossible; you will not do it; you will not get the labourer back to the land unless you pay him a minimum wage, and the farmer must see that. There is also another fact which has brought it home to the farmer, and that is that in Mr. Neville Chamberlain's scheme for National Service a minimum wage has been fixed at 25s., which is obviously applicable to the agricultural labourer, and every farmer knows that, and we propose to take that figure. We discussed for some time the question of whether you should have a Wage Board to fix wages or whether you should have a fixed minimum. That is what influenced us eventually in not setting up a Wage Board during the War. The farmerߞI will not say preferred to know the worst, but he preferred to know exactly what he had to face. He did not want to be bothered with Wage Boards: he preferred to concentrate the whole of his mind on ploughing the land. After the War Wage Boards can be set up, and the farmer will then, of course, make use of them. A difficulty here arises in respect to Ireland. Wages are low in this country, but they are sumptuous compared to those paid in Ireland. There is also the difficulty there of special conditions. We were assured that in Ireland they preferredߞwhether I am right or wrong, those best acquainted with Irish feeling will be able to inform us in the course of the Debateߞbut that in Ireland they preferred Wage Boards being set up to consider the local conditions. They are more accustomed than we to tribunals fixing agricultural prices. Therefore they will take more readily to it than perhaps would those concerned in England, Scotland, or Wales. A wage of 25s. per week will be guaranteed to every able-bodied male between the ages indicated in the scheme of Mr. Neville Chamberlain.


Who is to decide whether a man is able-bodied or not?


If my hon. Friend will just wait a moment I will come to that. Then comes another question. There will, of course, be disputes. I should hope there will not be many. But there may be disputes. It is obvious that when you guarantee a minimum wage of 25s. old men who have been taken on and kept very much through the charity of the farmer and whom the farmer could dispense with readily will come into account. Such an old man might very well be worth 10s. or 11s. a week for just dawdling about the farm, and liking it, but if you say a man of that sort is to have 25s. a week it is the greatest unkindness you can do him. There are other similar cases of men who are not old, but who may be inefficient or crippled, but who would be able to render a little assistance about the farm. It is obvious that cases of this kind must be exceptions. We propose during the War to adopt a rough-and-ready method similar to the machinery set up by Mr. Neville Chamberlain to decide similar questions under his scheme. That is an answer to my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend beside me (Mr. Balfour) reminds me that it is not merely during the War that this guarantee of a minimum wage will be given, but during the period when there will be a guarantee of prices. I will come to that period later. There is a second plan, a corollary to that guarantee of prices which was mentioned by Lord Lansdowneߞwith approval, I was glad to seeߞthis week in the House of Lords; in fact, he also mentioned the minimum wage as practically a corollary to the fixing of prices. There must be a guarantee, if the State is going to guarantee a minimum price, that it shall not inure to the advantage of any individual or of any class. There must not be any return to what happened during the Napoleonic Wars. There was an enormous increase in prices, and rents were practically doubled at the end of the war. It would be obviously unfair that any class should take advantage of war conditions, and especially that they should take advantage of a guarantee by the State by which the State might lose moneyߞshould take advantage of that State guarantee to raise rents.

1.0 P.M.

Let me say at once that I have not hoard of such cases. No complaints have reached the Government of anything of the kind, and in all the meetings we have had with the agricultural community no one has ever suggested that anything of the kind has happened. When, however, the House of Commons is asked to guarantee prices, I think it is entitled to have a guarantee that even in exceptional cases ߞcases, for instance, where estates are sold and a new owner comes into possession and proposes to raise rentsߞthere should be some opportunity for review, and that in these cases rents shall not be raised in consequence of this guarantee of price. Of course, there are some cases where rents would have been raised even in times of peace, and even under old prices. For instance, you have the case where the old tenant has been allowed to remain for forty or fifty years at a very low rent, and it has been thoroughly understood that once there was a change of tenancy the landlord intended, and rightly intended, to put up the rent to what was just and fair between the parties. In those cases there is not going to be any interference. Another case is a rather complicated one. The tithe rent-charge has gone up enormously since the rise in prices. It is obvious that the landlord should have the right to, at any rate, adjust the rent in consequence of the rise in prices which brings better profit to the farmer himself. There have not been many cases, but the way in which we propose to deal with these cases is to say that the landlord shall not be allowed to raise his rent except with the consent of the Board of Agriculture, so that each particular case can be examined by the Board of Agriculture to see whether there is or is not a case. Powers are to be given to the Board of Agriculture to enforce cultivation. It is obvious that it is an injustice to the community that a man should sit on land capable of producing food when he is either too selfish or too indolent to do anything. So that the Government must have the right, through the proper Department, to enforce cultivation in these cases. Now I come to the question of prices.


Will the right hon. Gentleman consider a scheme of the distribution of flour under his proposals?


I am coming to distribution later. I have got to get through many points. I would rather deal with it as a whole. I come now to the question of prices. In 1915 the price of wheat was 52s. 10d. a quarter; in 1916, 58s. 5d.; in the last quarter of 1916 it went up to 68s. 2d.; it is now 76s. 3d.


What was it before the War?


Thirty-four shillings and eleven pence. Let me, however, say this, that the price of everything has gone up, and has gone up, not merely for the ordinary community, but for the farmer. The farmer has had to pay very much higher wagesߞand I am glad of it. He has, however, got to pay much higher prices for everything which he uses on his farm. He has got to do with less labour, and with inferior labour. I was assured by a farmer whom we consulted, and who is one of the most upright men I have ever met, and who, I am perfectly certain, would not mislead the Government, that on the prices we were guaranteeing the farmer, on the whole he would not make much out of them, having regard to all the conditions. That' was, he said, the very minimum you could give him if you are going to induce him to cultivate at all. Oats in 1915, 30s. 2d.; in 1916, 33s. 5d.; last quarter, 38s. 4d.; and for the week ending the 17th February, 47s. 3d. Barley has gone up correspondingly, and potatoes, well, the House knows fairly well what the price of potatoes is. I can assure the House that I know fairly well all about the price of potatoes.

But let me say just a word about that, because there has been a good deal of trouble about it. The moment you interfere with the price of potatoes it becomes a very difficult thingߞit is the most difficult thing in the world. My hon. Friend knows very well that if we had not interfered the price was going up to £20 a ton. Potatoes had been sold at £20 a ton. Were we to allow that to be done? There is a shortage of potatoes, but that has nothing to do with the submarines. The potato crop is raised here mostly, and the price is determined by what you have got In this country. It would have gone to almost any figure because the potato crop was a great failure here. It was a great failure in Ireland, and Ireland, instead of being a contributor to this country, had almost ceased to assist us. My right hon. Friend Lord Devonport was bound to interfere or to allow the price to get completely out of hand. Of course the moment you begin to interfere with prices there is always a conflict, and everybody who knew nothing about it begins interfering, and here we had the usual results. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right in trying to cut down the prices, and the farmer on the other hand was equally right in trying to get as good a price as he could. At any rate the matter has been fought out, and I believe it has been substantially settled though we had not much time to settle it in. That is the position in regard to potatoes; but the great advantage has been that we have managed to keep down the prices, and, on the whole, we have managed to satisfy the farmers as well. So much for the vexed question of potatoes.

These are the guarantees we propose to give. We propose that in the present year we shall guaranteeߞ

  • For wheatߞ60s. a quarter of 504 lbs., that is the minimum;
  • For 1918 and 1919, 55s.;
  • For 1920, 1921, and 1922, 45s. Then the guarantee comes to an end.
  • For oatsߞin 1917, we propose to guarantee 38s. 6d. per 336 lbs. That is higher than the minimum price we arranged with Ireland some months ago.
  • The guarantee for 1918 and 1919 is 32s., and
  • For the next three years 24s.
  • Potatoes we simply propose to guarantee for this coming season at £6 per ton.
The only guarantee we have given of the maximum is this, that if the State commandeers either potatoes or cereals, the prices will not be fixed without the coil-sent of the Boards of Agriculture of England, Scotland and Ireland, and, therefore, there will be an opportunity of consultation before the prices are fixed. Obviously, you cannot limit the power of the State to commandeer for national purposes.

I hope and trust that, with this guarantee, the farmers will put their backs into it. We are having excellent reports from Scotland. In Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Forfar and other counties, they are cutting up pasture on a very considerable scale to sow oats and plant potatoes. Although it is now very late, the farmers could increase even now by hundreds of thousands of tons the food of this country this year. And thus they can help to defeat the grimmest menace that ever threatened a country's life. I do not believe that they will fail us. Substitutes are used in every other country. Women are working now on the land, and I hope the farmers will assist to make the best of the labour which is available. They need not apprehend that in the future the country will be indifferent to the importance of the agricultural interest to the State. The country is alive now as it has never been before to the essential value of agriculture to the community, and whatever befalls it will never again be neglected by any Government. The War; at any rate, has taught us one lesson—that the preservation of our essential industries is as important a part of the national defences as the maintenance of our Army or our Navy. So much will I say about food production.

If these plans are carried out in respect of timber and minerals and food a very considerable quantity of tonnage will be saved. But the extent of the saving in timber, minerals, and farm produce cannot be measured or depended upon at this stage. There are so many uncertain elements. There is labour, especially skilled labour, and in the case of the land there is the clement of the weatherߞthe weather for ploughing, for sowing, for ripening, and for the reaping of the corn, so that even at the best the fruition of all these plans must come late. Timber is a relief to tonnage in the summer. Our plans with regard to all may not develop for months, and the farmers' efforts will not help us until the harvest. Meanwhile tonnage is neededߞurgently needed. The French Ministers have been with me two days begging for more ships. The Italian Minister has only just left. He came here on the same errand. We ourselves are short of tonnage for certain important commodities. Therefore, we must save tonnage, not in the summer time, not in the harvest, but we must save tonnage now and save it on a considerable scale.

That brings me to the next series of questions. We must have an immediate substantial saving of additional tonnage. What are the methods we propose? The lives of our sailorsߞour gallant sailorsߞ and the life of this gallant country must not be risked on the carriage of any goods not essential to the national existence. What are the essential commodities? Let us cut down ruthlessly things that are not necessary. The essential com- modities are food and clothing necessary for the maintenance and equipment of the civil and military population both here and abroad, and that touches everything: raw materials for our munitions and equipment of war, and for the industries essential to the national life or the national credit. Those are essential commodities. Anything beyond that is not essential, and it is running an unnecessary risk, because the nation can do without them during the War, and if it cannot it ought not to wage war. War is a grim business. We have no right to delegate our sacrifices. We must share them as far as we can, and we ought to be proud to share them with the fine fellows who represent us abroad. It is idle to suggest that, whilst millions of the best citizens of this country are facing discomfort, privation, and death abroad for the great cause, we who are comfortable at home should not be prepared to surrender things which are not necessary to our well-being. We therefore set up a CommitteeߞI have already referred to itߞ presided over by Sir Henry Babington Smith, who entered into the whole question of our dispensable and indispensable imports. They knew the tonnage we had to save, for that was given them by the Admiralty. They were told, "Cut down until you save that tonnage. If you do not, you are impairing the strength of this country in the War." Acting on those instructions, they went through the whole of our imports and made recommendations. A Cabinet Committee, presided over by Lord Curzon, went through the recommendations of the other Committee, and the Cabinet acted upon the recommendations of these two Committees. One Committee was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir Thomas Whittaker).

First of all they considered the question of timber. That I have already alluded to. Then there is the question of our minerals. There we acted on the recommendation of the Minister of Munitions. The next question we had to consider was the question of paper, which absorbs a good deal of tonnage in this country. I mean paper for newspapers and paper for wrapping packages. I had no idea that such a quantity of paper was used for that purpose. They both consume an enormous tonnage of paper. Now I cannot say whether I ought to keep newspapers as a luxury, a comfort, a stimulantߞ[An HON. MEMBER: "Or a nuisance!"]ߞbut I think if men had to choose between their breakfast and the morning newspapers they would choose the former. But still there is no doubt at all that they have been of enormous assistance to us in the effective waging of the War. There is no better proof of that than the brilliant success achieved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent War Loan, and I am sure that he would be the first to acknowledge that that success is in a very large measure due to the patriotic support given to him by the great newspapers of this country. But still, in war, when we have got to choose between very stern alternatives, I am afraid we shall have to deprive ourselves to a very large extent of a certain number of pages of the prints which we peruse with such satisfaction and instruction every morning.

In France, the newspapers have been cut down to practically two sheets. I find the same thing in Italy, and we have come to the conclusion that we have got very substantially to reduce the paper and the paper material imported into this country. In 1914, 1,800,000 tons was imported. I think my right hon. Friend was responsible for bringing that down to 1,200,000 tons in 1916. We propose to halve that supply and reduce the annual import to 640,000 tons, the reduction to be distributed equally between the printing and the packing trades. We recognise that it is a very serious hardship, but a saving of 640,000 tons is a very important addition to our national security, and I feel it is imperative that it should be made at once. The importation of printed posters, paper hangings, and certain kinds of foreign printed matter, such as books and periodicals, will be prohibited; otherwise it would be unfair to our printing trades at home. Restriction in the use of paper for posters, catalogues, and Government Departments will also be made. Now I come to a reduction in food and feeding stuffs. The first is in fruit and vegetables. All the essential articles of food will come on the free list. But there are certain articles of diet, of which we import a large quantity, which are not essential to the national living, although very desirable, and which we think it necessary to diminish the import of or prohibit altogether. The principal articles on this list will be as follows: Apples, tomatoes, and certain raw fruits. We have very reluctantly come to the conclusion we shall have to prohibit altogether and depend upon our home supplies; oranges, bananas, grapes, almonds, and nuts will be restricted to 25 per cent, of the 1916 imports. Aerated mineral and table waters will be prohibited, and we shall have to depend for them upon home industries; canned salmon 50 per cent. tea we shall have to reduceߞforeign teas altogether. They have to be imported from a very considerable distance, and to a certain extent Indian teas will be reduced. Of coffee there is a very large stock in this country, and that stock under ordinary conditions would have passed on to Germany, but it is stuck here, and therefore we have enough to get along with until probably after the War. Cocoa has also got stuck here, and for the time being I am afraid we shall prohibit both coffee and cocoa because there are very large stocks in this country. Then there are meat and feeding stuffs. We think that we could now to a much larger extent depend upon home-grown meat, because we have a larger stock than I think we have ever had in this country. That will save a good deal of feeding stuff. Taking together all these categories of food and feeding stuff we hope to able to save over 900,000 tons per annum, which shows the extent to which we have relied upon foreign countries for commodities of that kind.


Are you going to prohibit the import of feeding stuffs?


If you slaughter the cattle here, then that is a saving of the feeding stuff that you want to a considerable extent. There are then the manufactured articles, articles of luxury, which run to very much bigger figures than I am sure the House quite realises. I certainly did not realise it until I went into the figures. We shall have to stop the importation of a very considerable number of these various articles. I regret it deeply in some cases, because a good many of them come from France and Italy. There is no doubt at all that it will be a blow to certain industries in France. Unfortunately, we are driven to do it for the sake of saving tonnage, not merely for ourselves but for France and Italy as well, and I am sure, if they had to choose between the two, that they would infinitely prefer having the ships for other purposes.

I now come to another very severe restriction upon an article of national luxury. I am referring to alcoholic liquors. The food stocks in this country, as I have already said, are lower than they have ever been. They are perilously low, due not merely to the difficulties of tonnage, but bad harvests. Under these circumstances, we cannot justify the utilisation of such a large quantity of foodstuffs, except for the feeding of the people. I say at once that we are not approaching this question from the point of view of temperance, or national or increased sobriety, however desirable that may be in itself, but purely as a method of combating the submarine menace, and guaranteeing the nation against the possibility of famine or privation. The Committee who recommended this entered into it purely in that spirit and with that purpose, and they found that it was impossible for us to continue to sanction the absorption of such an enormous tonnage of foodstuffs in grain as long as the nation was faced with a prospect of shortage of essential foodstuffs.

The quantity of barley used for brewing and distilling has already been reduced. In 1914 there were 36,000,000 standard barrels brewed in this country. The standard barrel, I think, is fifty-five, but that does not mean in bulk. I believe the average is much lower than the standard, and the result is that 36,000,000 barrels mean a good many more barrels in bulk. In 1916 that was reduced to 26,000,000. It was reduced to 26,000,000, partly, no doubt owing to the fact that about two or three millions of the adult population left these shores, and most of such beers are brewed in France. I do not believe that there is much beer exported from this country to France, and certainly none that the Army needs. Early this year, on the advice of the Food Controller, who had gone into our stocks of food, it was proposed to reduce this 26,000,000 to 18,000,000. Let me say this at once. The Government are bound to recognise the patriotic spirit in which those who are engaged in this business have faced all the restrictions which have hampered them and reduced their profits during the War. It would not be fair for me not to recognise that at once. It is a powerful trade, and no one knows better than my old colleagues and myself what it can accomplish when its interests are menaced. They have accepted all these interferences in a most laudable spirit of determination to do all that is in their power to contribute to the safety of the nation, and they have done it great as is-the hardship inflicted upon them by the last restriction.

We have to go beyond that last restriction. We have to cut down the balance of 18,000,000. It is absolutely impossible for us to guarantee the food of this country without making a very much deeper cut into the barrelage of the country, and we must reduce it to 10,000,000 barrels. That means that you will save nearly 600,000 tons of foodstuffs per annum, and that is nearly a month's supply of cereals for this-country. That is the direct saving. The indirect saving amount to something which is a good deal greater. One of our difficulties has been horse transport from America. This and the fodder for those horses have been a serious drain on our shipping, and it will undoubtedly release horses for use in France. That is saving transport and large quantities of food for feeding purposes. It will reduce the barrel traffic on our already congested railways, and we are sadly in need of locomotives and wagons for the Army in France. Although it undoubtedly involves a heavy sacrifice upon a large and important branch of the community, there is no question that it is one of the most effective contributions that could be made at the present time towards a victorious ending of this War. In doing this we must guard against the danger of driving the population from beer to spirits. That would be a serious disaster. Above all, whilst we are cutting down the barrels that can be brewed in this country, we must have a corresponding restriction on the placing of spirits on the market. There are one or two other restrictions in leather, boots, raw hides and bottles which will be found in the Proclamation, but that in the main gives a summary of the restrictions which we propose to impose immediately upon imports, restrictions which we regard as essential in order that we may have the necessary tonnage for the purpose of conducting this War successfully.

It is necessary to secure that there shall be no speculative buying or cornering of supplies so as to raise prices above the level of the prices at the beginning of this week. That will not be permitted or tolerated, and the Food Controller, therefore, in any such cases will assume entire control of supplies, fix prices, and issue them as circumstances and his judgment warrant. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Long) reminds me of another matter, and I think it will come in very well in the statement I am going to make now. These restrictions have been very carefully considered, and I appeal to the House, and through the House to the country, to take them as a whole. It is very easy to pick any one out and say, "You are not saving very much tonnage here; cannot you let that go?" One man appeals for oranges. Another says, "Why not let bananas in? You don't save much tonnage." Another says, "What about French bonnets? It is rather hard on France." Well, that is true. I do not mean to say that if you cut out one of these the nation sinks, but if you begin giving way the whole fabric will go. I have seen it tried before, and that was the difficulty that confronted us then, as my right hon. Friend knows. There was, first of all, an attack on this, and a good case made out. You can make a good case for any one individual restriction, and so somebody could make an equally good case for another. It is perfectly true.

It is with the deepest regret that we are inflicting an injury upon the Frenchߞ upon the industries of some of our Allies. It is inevitable. We have got to cut down imports from France, and to that extent there is no doubt at all that there will be a certain amount of suffering in that poor, devoted country. Then somebody may say, "There are the Coloniesߞ are you going to deprive British Columbia of the chance of sending her supplies? She has been very loyalߞvery patriotic." So she has. No part of the Empire has shown greater patriotism. The same thing applies to the other Colonies. My right hon. Friend has just told me that he has seen one or two of the Premiers who have at rived here, to whom he has explained the matter, and they met it in a spirit of loyal patriotism. They said that whatever temporary hurt it might inflict upon important industries in their country, if it is essential to enable the Empire to win, they felt certain their people would agree to it. So will ours. I have never had the slightest doubt about it.

If all this programme is carried out; if all those who can help us with production do help; if all those who are called upon to suffer restrictions and limitations will suffer without complaint, then honestly I say we can face the worst that the enemy can doߞthe worst! And that is what we ought to be prepared for. If we are notߞ if it were conceivable that the nation was not prepared to do and endure all these things, then I say with all solemnity I do-not know the body of honourable men who would undertake for one hour to be responsible for the conduct of this terrible War. It is essential. There are millions of gallant young men in France, in Salonika, in Egypt, in Mesopotamia facing-torture, terror, death. They are the flower of our race. Unless the nation at home is prepared to take its share of the sacrifice, theirs would be in vain, and I say it would be a crimeߞa black crimeߞfor any Government to ask them to risk their brave lives in the coming conflict if they knew that the nation behind them were faint-hearted or selfish. Their sacrifice would be thrown away. We have no right to ask it. For that reason I have come down, after long deliberation and thought, careful and searching, on behalf of the Government of this country, to submit to the House of Commons, and through the House of Commons to the nation, proposals which I hope the Commons will approve, and which I hope the nation will carry out with an unflinching and an ungrudging heart.


We have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with great interest, and I hope appreciation, but what struck me was the unanimity of feeling in the House with regard to the general conclusions. I do not believe for a moment that there is a dissentient voice in this House or in the country with regard to the necessity for sacrifice. I do not believe there is any difference of opinion in this House with regard to his general conclusions, but I respectfully submit that there may be a considerable difference of opinion as to whether the basis upon which he founds his speech is a correct one, and whether the remedy which he proposes is the proper one for the great trouble and menace which we are facing at the present time. He told us there was a very admirable Committee which went into this question.

Notice taken, at thirteen minutes before Two of the clock, that forty Members were not present House counted by Mr. SPEAKER, and seventeen Members only being present, Mr. SPEAKER retired from the Chair.

At Three minutes after Three o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean) again counted the House, and, forty Members being present, took the Chair.


When we dispersed an hour ago I was saying that I did not for one moment believe that there was a dissentient voice in this House or in the country in relation to this question of sacrifice. I would, however, respectfully submit that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman gave us sufficient information as a basis on which to pass these very drastic proposals, which must interfere with the delicate mechanism of international trade. He based his appeal on the factߞwhich, of course, is a factߞthat we have to face the submarine menace. He did not, however, in any sense of the word controvert the statement made the other day by the first Lord of the Admiralty; on the contrary, he said, in effect, that, on the whole, it was a gratifying statement. With regard to that statement, may I say that since we dispersed I have had a conversation with the First Lord of the Admiralty, and he corrects one little misstatement which appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT in regard to the ships arriving and clearing out of our ports. I will only deal with one particular fact. The right hon. Gentleman said that in the first eighteen days of February we lost 134 vessels, amounting to some 304,000 tons. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say: Having stated those losses, let us now turn to see what these losses were out of, and what was the volume of the trade. From tile 1st to the 18th FebruaryߞI am talking now of the daily number of vessels over 100 tons net arriving and sailing into United Kingdom ports, exclusive of fishing craft or sailing vessels and exclusive of estuarial trafficߞfor the first eighteen days of February we had arrivals in port— As reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, it is "of 607 ships," whereas the right hon. Gentleman, with whom, as I say, I have just had an interview, corrects that statement, and says the number ought to be 6,000. I think it will be agreed that that is a very considerable difference. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech went on to say that we had clearances for the same eighteen days of 5,873 ships. Further on the right hon. Gentleman saidߞand it confirms the statementߞ Twelve thousand ships in and out in eighteen days does not look anything like a paralysing effect or a sweeping of the seas."ߞ[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1917, col. 1367.] I mention these facts to show that, while not minimising in any sense of the word the submarine menace, for us in a panic to rush through panic legislation, or to indulge in drastic interference with our imports without sufficient data, would be, I think, a most unwise proceeding. The Prime Minister did not give us either these facts I am now stating, or in any way, I think, make out his case for the very drastic proposals which he submits. If I may say so, the whole thing depends on what is your basis of facts, and, as I hope I have demonstrated, while there is no doubt need for caution, there is no need, in my humble opinion, for panic.

Then the Prime Minister, when he referred to this Committee who had examined the evidence, seemed to be utterly ignorant of what constitutes commerce and trade. After all, imports do do not come into this country without corresponding exports going out to meet them, and surely when you are considering a drastic interference with your import trade you should have some regard to what effect it will have on your export trade. In the first place, I submit there is no case for panic. Many of us have confidence in the Admiralty and believe that this menace will be overcome, and, in any case, when we know of only 134 ships being lost in that period when we had 12,000 ships in and out, there is on case yet for panic legislation. I have said that the effect of drastic interference with your import trade may probably endanger and very seriously cripple your export trade, and I think we are all agreed that, if there is one thing that is essential for our financial position to-dayߞone thing, in fact, upon which depends our ability to continue this War to a successful conclusionߞit is the maintenance of our export trade.

Perhaps I may give one or two simple examples of how a drastic prohibition of imports affects that. For example, the principles and the ideas adumbrated by the Prime Minister of interfering with the import of fruit, wine, or some other article from our Allies, has this effect: Suppose we are importing from Italy dried fruits, or from France some of their light wines, when the exporter sells those goods to this country he draws upon his London correspondent and he endeavours to sell his draft on London. He sells his draft to the Italian or French importer, as the case may be, who is taking from us our export of, say, Bradford goods or Manchester goods. I think it will easily be seen that if you interfere with the import of light wines from France, and therefore curtail the supply of drafts which the French people have to sell to the people of France who are willing to import woollen goods from Bradford, if those people are unable to purchase drafts, except at a very high rate owing to scarcity, that will curtail the export of the manufactured products of this country, and that will cripple your manufacturing trade. Unfortunately the tariff reformersߞand I suppose they are a considerable number in this countryߞdo not seem to understand, or they do not admit it, and they seem to have impregnated our worthy Friend the Prime Minister with the same doctrines, with the result that a Prime Minister, once a Free Trader, comes down to us and makes a very eloquent speech, in which, when discussing national trade, he entirely ignores this factor. He condenses his whole speech into an analysis of our import trade, forgetting that trade is a system of barter, and that, as I have said before, if you plunge a crowbar into the delicate machinery of international trade and commerce in your anxiety to save tonnage and reduce your imports, you may seriously cripple your ability to export. Therefore, I submit that the proposals the right hon. Gentleman has outlined this afternoon deserve, and no doubt will receive, from my right hon. Friend opposite, and from the other Members of this House, a very careful consideration.

I submit that there is no real case for panic legislation, such as the right hon. Gentleman would have us pass. The very lucid, frank, and able statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty showed that, while there is undoubtedly a menace, we hope that menace will be overcome, and, therefore, we should pause before interfering with what, after all, is the very basis and bedrock of our financial system. I have said, I think, sufficient to show the importance of that fact. I do not propose, in a case of this sort, to delay the House on a Friday afternoon, but I do hope there will be some other opportunity given when we may have a definite statement of what exactly the right hon. Gentleman meant. He did not go into details, but I have no doubt he does not propose to effect the prohibition under the Defence of the Realm Ad, and that there will be some legislation proposed in this House, so that those interested in industries will "have an opportunity of expressing their views, and always having regard to the fact that it is not a question of imports only. Therefore, I would ask His Majesty's Government, when they bring their proposals before this House in a very definite form, to have regard to what our exports are to those countries with the imports from which they propose to interfere.

I hope that these few observations will receive some consideration from the Government. I regret that the Prime Minister has not seen fit to be present, and while we welcome his statement, I think we are entitled to have his presence when views are expressed by hon. Members of this House. Again I wish to reiterate and emphasise that any crude or hastily conceived policy of interference with our import trade must boar in mind two considerations. The first is, while we do believe that there has been a very considerable damage to the mercantile marine, on the other hand we think that the comparison between our pre-war trade and the present is not a fair comparison, because the volume of trade in time of peace naturally commands a much larger tonnage than when the trade is curtailed and limited to only a few countries outside the orbit of the War. Consequently such comparisons are misleading. I think we ought to have regard to that fact, and to the favourable statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and also to the fact that, in considering the imports, we should have some regard to the export trade of this country.


As it was not convenient for me to intervene immediately after the Prime Minister had resumed his speech, I take the earliest opportunity of saying that the statement made by him to-day we believe to be one of the most important and gravest which has been made by any representative of the Government since the War began. The subject is of the first importance in every aspect, and it would have been dealt with here this afternoon by the late Prime Minister had the indisposition from which he has recently suffered not affected his voice and made speaking out of the question. I hope the House will forgive me if I have to take his place inadequately. The gravity of the statement made by the Prime Minister is by no means fresh. From the very beginning of the War it has been clear that tonnage problems would of necessity dominate the power of the United Kingdom and our Allies if the War was prolonged. As we cast our memory back to the early months of the War it is clear that very large numbers of people approached our responsibilities with the view firmly fixed in j their minds that the British mercantile marine was inexhaustible, and it was not until there came a very grave rise in freights that the people of this country realised how grave was the shortage of tonnage. Again and again we have discussed the subjects of freights in the House, but "always from the point of view of the immense profits made by those interested in shipping. But there was a graver point of view, and that the point of view of the nation, for these high freights were indicative of the immense strain being put upon our merchant navy, which even the incursion of an immense number of foreign vessels into our trade was not sufficient to alleviate. That was the great problem, and so great has it become that the policy adopted by the Government eighteen months ago, and again a year ago, and throughout the whole of 1916, has of necessity become more severe.

The statement made by the Prime Minister in opening his speech this morning was, if I may say so, somewhat on the same lines as that which I adopted when I addressed the representatives of the newspapers, and invited them to enter into an arrangement with me for the diminution of the importation of pulp and paper. That was at the beginning of 1916, and I then detailed to them privately, not for publication, but with the object of bringing home to industries which would be most affected by the restriction of imports, the paramout necessity of our sacrificing even some of these great industries with the object of maintaining our tonnage supplies. My recollection is that from the very first they behaved with the most complete patriotism, and that is particularly true of the proprietors of the smaller newspapers. My right hon. Friend has referred to the restriction on newspapers this afternoon, and I am sure he must have had in mind those innumerable provincial prints which do not carry large stock, which have not great capital In reserve, and to whom any restriction of supply of paper means an absolutely certain dead loss on their undertaking. We might have been justified a year ago in cutting down their supplies much lower than we did, but I think at the time we went far enough, for two reasons. In the first place, it is necessary for these industries to adapt themselves to straitened conditions, and, in the second place, the newspaper Press is of use not only for advertising the Government loan and National Service, but also for the preservation of a healthy public opinion. Some people think that public opinion is not always kept in the most healthy state by the Press, but without the Press there would be practically no expression of public opinion throughout this country during the War. The steps that we took then, although they were drastic, were nothing like as drastic as those proposed to-day, carried with them certain risks.

In the first place, it became absolutely necessary to have some judicial body which could deal with the accumulation of great stocks. If, for instance, it had been possible for the large and more wealthy newspaper proprietors to have controlled great quantities of paper, and to have starved out their minor competitors, public opinion would have been expressed through two or three channels only. Not only would it have affected the small proprietors, but the provinces would have been absolutely starved of the possibility of the expression of local opinion. Now, my right hon. Friend has gone further to-day, and I suggest that it would be as well for the Government to take into careful consideration further dealings with great accumulations which are known to have taken place in one or two quarters. It is within the power of very wealthy men to make such a complete corner of paper as to absolutely cripple nearly all their competitors. I do not suppose that these corners will be made maliciously. All I do suggest is that if they are made, the Government should see to it that there is a pooling of the paper supply on some equitable basis which I have no doubt their advisers can devise. I said a year ago the newspaper Press took the restrictions imposed upon them in very good part. I believe that the same spirit has been shown throughout the country with regard to the hundred and one restrictions imposed on them last year. I hold in my hand a copy of the reprint from the "Board of Trade Journal," circulated by the Department of Import Restrictions, a Department which I set up in February, 1916, and page after page records the number of articles which may not come into this country at all. I think in all there are something like thirty-one cases of articles which were prohibited last year. We went in for drastic prohibition last year covering this immense number of articles, some of them semi-essential, and some of them luxurious and totally unnecessary during the War, and all these interfere with industries all over the country, with employment all over the country, and with consumption all over the country. So far as I know, the country has borne it all with fortitude.

I know that the Government have difficult negotiations with our Allies on this subject. It is particularly difficult for Italians and Frenchmen to understand what we are bearing in this country. Our hardships may not be as great as they are in Italy. We have a longer' commercial history behind us and greater accumulations of wealth. But, as a matter of fact, there is a difference in temperament, which, I believe, deceives our Latin neighbours. We do not make the same fuss about restrictions as they do. I have told Italian and French Ministers that in England you have an immense underground movement, but as for declaring that you feel the restrictions too harsh, why every man is ashamed of giving expression to his own feelings. There is a difference of temperament, which I believe our Allies never take into account, and, if I had a chance of addressing them again on these subjects, I should point out this immense list which has been in force for nearly a year and that we have taken it throughout the whole of those twelve months without going into paroxysms of complaint, bearing it is well as we can. And, now that we are in negotiation with them on the question of tonnage they should not imagine that their hardships and their pains are the only ones borne by the Allies. I say that here without compunction, because I have said it to their faces, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have had to say it to them in much better language during the past few months.

I want to refer to the shortage of tonnage as it directly affects our traffic. There has been an immense reduction in the shipping clearances even during the last twelve months. The latest returns I can get are for the year up to the end of January, and the reduction is very nearly 9,000,000 tons. Those are the principal imports. The reduction is from something like 29,000,000 to about 21,000,000 tons. That in itself has not been done without great hardship; but what is important is that the whole of the shipping entering into our ports during that period has been doing better and more complete work than it ever did in the past. It is a very remarkable fact that for every 100 tons of net shipping clearances just before the War we were getting about 118 tons dead weight of imports, and now, to-day, we are getting something like 140 tons. The strain on our shipping, therefore, is not only on the number of ships, but on the space available in those ships. There is not a liner arriving in this country which is not packed. There is not a single vessel coming across the Atlantic which is not having to shut out goods for the voyage. If that is to go on it is perfectly obvious that there must be some regulation of imports coming in here. I am not in a position to say whether the Government have chosen the best articles. I should like to ask for particulars about some of them. In the first place, I notice that all apples are to be excluded. It will be interesting to know whether that will entirely cut off the Australian supply. I believe the amount of Australian apples coming over here runs into 100,000 tons, and, as I am reminded, from Tasmania too Does it moan the entire cutting off of all Australian apples? The right hon. Gentleman, so far as I remember, referred to the diminution in the imports of canned salmon by 50 per cent. Have the Government decided that canned salmon shall be cut down by 50 per cent., but that canned fruits shall come in on the old basis? The right hon. Gentleman might give us some information on that point. It would be interesting if, next week, we could be told exactly how that trade stands, because any uncertainty on the subject is bound to lead to manipulations of the trade and speculations which will be of a most detrimental character. Then my right hon. Friend said that foreign tea was to be prohibited. I presume that will only be tea from China, Assam, and Java, but will not refer to tea from India and Ceylon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not Assam!"]


There is a reduction in the amount of tea from Ceylon.


If I might make a suggestion to the Government, it would be that, if possible, there should be issued to-night a printed statement of every one of these particulars; for, naturally, my right hon. Friend, covering a great deal of ground, could not be precise on every one of these articles, and it is of the utmost importance, before business is resumed on Monday morning, that it should be generally known exactly how we stand.


Before Monday?


I suggest before opening business on Monday. That is an important point which, naturally, should not be forgotten. There was a suggestion that there ought to be a reduction in the imports of liquors. I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman mention rum, but does he know that rum occupies a large amount of room?




I think it should also be on the list except for Army and Navy purposes.


There are sufficient stores in the country for the Army, and it is absolutely unnecessary to import any more for that purpose. I had forgotten wine and brandy, but my right hon. Friend will deal with them.


If we can have a printed list as soon as possible it will be a guide to the country. The sacrifices which have to be made will naturally press on our people in many quarters, but they will be nothing like as serious as would be a compulsory rationing of our people. Let the country clearly understand, if the shipping is not available, that these bulky articles will of themselves have to be reduced; and I regret to say, from all the information I can get, that the invitation of my Noble Friend Lord Devonport for a voluntary rationing of the country has been in many quarters entirely ignored, and the consumption of grain-stuffs and flour is going on in many districts just as it did before. Unless there is a reduction there, the country may clearly understand that we shall find ourselves before the arrival of our next harvest very short, and we may have for some little time to be put on compulsory rationing much more severe than the voluntary rationing suggested by the Food Controller. The effort that is being made by the Government to cut down the amount of unnecessary imports is in my opinion absolutely necessary if the amount of available tonnage is to remain what it is at the present moment. My late colleagues ߞ those who are now in the Government and those who are notߞwill alike remember that I never on any occasion lost the opportunity of impressing upon them the necessity of utilising what vessels we had in the most economical manner. I make no charge against either those in office or those who sit with me on these benches when I say that I bored them to death on the subject, but I fully realised from the very first day that unless we used every ton available to the best advantage we were bound to land ourselves in difficulties. In what direction can that best be done? I believe, so far as the general trade of the country is concerned, we are getting the maximum amount of space used. But in the turning round of these vessels delays in ports, bad as they were at one time, still remain. They turn, "as nearly all these questions turn, on the supply of labourߞnot only labour in the docks, but labour on the railways, labour for the wagons, labour for the working of motor lorries, labour for distribution outside. The turning round of vessels in the docks, if it were up to the normal speed, would increase the value of shipping, not by a million and a half or a million and a quarter tons dead weight, but by millions of tons in the course of the year. That was one question which led ultimately to the starting of the Dock Battalion. This was only a small body at first, but we pressed for it to be raised to larger numbers, and the last thing I heard was that the War Office had agreed to the numbers being raised to 10,000. Since then there has been no definite statement as to the figures, and it would be interesting to know whether it has been raised to the 10,000 agreed to in the month of November last.

That is one of the ways of meeting the pressure. When you turn to the other I should like to be quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not a little understating the fact when he said that only one-half of our shipping was being used for Government purposes. Last week the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller informed the House that 63 per cent, was used under this heading. If there is any difference in the definitions used that would account for the discrepancy, but I think the Parliamentary Secretary explained that the difference between the 63 per cent. announced by him and the 75 per cent. announced by Lord Curzon in another place was the difference between the freights carried and the amount of goods for civil consumption, and that really 63 per cent, did represent the Army and Navy needs.


That is so.


The effect of absorbing such an enormous amount of tonnage as 63 per cent, of the total merchant navy on services of this kind is bound to lead to congestion in our ports, congestion in the ports of loading, and of course, a great shortage in the carriage of our goods here. Is it not possible in any way to reduce that 63 per cent? I am not putting a new point to right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I used to ask this question in the Cabinet. The pressure to-day makes it just as incumbent on the Government to reduce the amount of tonnage employed by them as upon the civil population. The work of the Shipping Controller, which had been initiated under Sir Joseph Maclay, is no doubt being directed largely to these details. If Sir Joseph can reduce that 60 per cent, to 50 per cent., the supplies necessary for our civil population will come in freely this summer. If it cannot be done, then I do not think we have heard the last of the shipping difficulty.

The next direction in which relief can be given is in accelerating shipment. A good deal has been said about that in the course of the last week. Here, again, one finds oneself up against the labour problem. Wherever you turn it is abundance of labour that is required. If production in this country, to turn to the other important section of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, can be increased, whether in timber, or ore, or agricultural produce, of course the demand made upon our shipping will be reduced. Great efforts have been made already to that end. In the case of timber, I think as long ago as in the winter of 1915 the French Government agreed to hand over two at least of their great forests for our use. They acted with admirable loyalty and generosity, and the amount of timber got from these French forests during the whole winter released large numbers of vessels which otherwise would have had to be employed in carrying wood for us. Any extension of that will, of course, reduce the number of vessels bringing wood across the Atlantic. In this country we all know the excellent work done by the battalion of Canadian lumbermen. They have taught many of our woodmen what speedy tree-cutting is. It must not be supposed it is unskilled work. Anybody can cut a tree down if you give him time enough, but what Canadian lumbermen have shown is that speed is the very essence of their art. They have already cleared large forests in Scotland, and in the colliery districts immense quantities of timber have gone into the pits. That is one direction where it is just possible a saving can be made in tonnage. We are greatly indebted for the work done by Mr. Sutherland, who was released by the right hon. Gentleman and has acted as Chairman of the Timber Committee and I believe as director under the Board of Agriculture for something like eighteen months or more without much public acknowledgment, so far as I remember, having been given of his excellent service.

May I be allowed to come to the most important category under which production can be facilitated, namely the production of cereals and in particular of wheat and oats. There is no more difficult thing to be undertaken by this Government than the providing in the middle of the War for the solution of agricultural problems, as well as the increase of agricultural produce. It will tax the ingenuity and energy equally of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University. While the Prime Minister was speaking I think he mistook the cheers which were the result of the mention of that right hon. Gentleman's name. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University has toiled unceasingly ever since he took office, and there is no public man who, during the last three months, has put a larger amount of public work in than he has, and when the House cheered the mention of his name this morning it did so not only in acknowledgment of that work, but also as an expression of its understanding of the immense difficulties with which the right hon. Gentleman had had to contend. The right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly knows what is the crux of the whole agricultural position. He said himselfߞI think I am quoting his words-rightlyߞ"labour is the crux of the position." I come back again to labour. It is the abundance of labour in this as in everything else that is alone going to provide the solution. I should like at once to say that during the War undoubtedly the supply of labour will have a greater influence on agriculture than will prices. What hap pened in the year 1915? In that year there were actually half a million more acres bearing wheat than in the previous two or three years. In the following year, with higher prices for wheat, the acreage was down by a quarter of a million. The explanation of that was very simple, partly because there was likely to be a slight reduction owing to the great excess of the previous year, but in the main it was due to the fact that there was less labour to deal with it. That undoubtedly shows that while prices during the War had been tempting enough, and if there were the required means for farmers' work, horses, ploughing, and so on, undoubtedly the agriculturist would have taken full advantage of the high prices prevailing. But if such processes are not going to provide us with a way out of our difficulties, it may be that during the War we may have to resort to others. I could mention others which in times past we should have regarded as obnoxious. Such processes alone will not do what is required. Labour must somehow or other be provided for the farmer.

The Prime Minister reminded us that the 30,000 men whom the War Office were going to take from agriculture—that is, the half of the 60,000ߞwere men who had been already earmarked by the tribunals for the Army. It is true that the tribunals undoubtedly had said that these men were to be exempted for a limited period only, but, of course, it must be borne in mind that the tribunals were acting very largely under directions given to them. What is quite certain is that the tribunals recently have declined to extend the exemptions, because the military representatives have urged that the case of the Army was greater than the case of agriculture, and that the needs of the one were greater than the needs of the other. It is impossible for me, standing here, without the inside knowledge possessed by those who sit on the Treasury Bench, to say whether the needs of the Army are greater than the needs of agriculture, but I must point out that if they are, they must not be surprised if there is a diminution in the output of our farms. You cannot have it both ways. The last of the men to be called upߞI would like to press this stronglyߞ were the men who were most necessary to farming. They were not the least necessary. The least necessary have gone some time ago. The most necessary were kept to the last. If these men are called up, you have only unskilled substitutes or women to put in their places. They cannot supply the need. Where the President of the Board of Agriculture requires all the support he can get is that he ought to be put in the same position, if I may say so, as the Prime Minister was put when he was Minister of Munitions. He safeguarded the interests of munitions, with the result that we got a magnificent output. I do plead that the President of the Board of Agriculture should have the same powers given to him with regard to agriculture which the Prime Minister enjoyed. He would never have attained his success as Minister of Munitions if he had not been able to make sure of his labour and of his skilled labour. If the same powers are given to the President of the Board of Agriculture, I believe it will revolutionise farming in a great many districts of England.

The Prime Minister approached this subject from the point, of view of increasing the national production. During the War it would be impolitic to approach it from any other point of view. We are working at too high a pace. I know from personal experience that Ministers themselves cannot give all the attention that is necessary for the solution of immensely difficult, complex and profound social problems and, at the same time, wage a great War. The Government, therefore, must restrict themselves to getting the maximum production from the land. That must be their primary object. If they are going to do that, and do it on the plan suggested by the Prime Minister this afternoon, it will be necessary to assure, even under that scheme, that the farmers get the labourers they want as well as the machinery they want. I do not know whether any estimate has been made of the effect of tin; Prime Minister's scheme or of how many more acres will be brought into bearing by giving the farmer 60s. this year, 55s. for the two following years, and 45s. for the three years afterwards. It will be interesting to know what is the estimate of the extra production, because without that estimate it is impossible for us to judge of the adequacy of the proposals which the Government have laid before the House. For my own part, I would be prepared, if I thought it would increase the amount of wheat produced in this country in the coming season by something like another 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 quarters, to give the farmer, I would not say a guarantee of 60s., but I would be prepared to give him 70s. hard cash, because it is far better to give him a certain price and making a contract with him throughout the whole country and be done with it, than merely working on the basis of a guarantee. It might in normal times be quite unsound for the Government to enter into this bargain, but in times of war I believe it to be absolutely necessary, and I would be prepared to make a bargain of that kind with those other contractors from whom we wish to buy the necessities of life. It would be of the greatest importance if we might know how many extra acres it is estimated will Toe brought into bearing by the Government's proposal.

Might I ask whether the guarantee is extended to other agricultural commodities as well as wheat and oats'? One of the dangers we runߞthis has a very strong bearing on the health of the peopleߞis a real shortage in the supply of milk. Is it proposed to have any guarantee in regard to milk? Without being at all captious, I would ask if not, why not? Is it proposed to have any guarantee with regard to the prices and cost of feeding stuffs? This has a most intimate connection with the business of farming, and I feel sure that if the President of the Board of Agriculture has time to go into this problem and can elucidate it for the benefit of the House we shall be able to form a much more fair and just opinion on the advantages to be drawn from the Government's proposals than it would be possible for me to describe in the course of this afternoon.

I hope that whatever proposals are ultimately reached will lead to a large amount of land which at present is under grass being ploughed up. A great deal of rubbish is talked about the ploughing up of grass lands. In some cases the ploughing up of grass would be no earthly good for the growing of wheat, but undoubtedly there is a great deal of grass land in this country which can be ploughed up which can produce other good root crops now and would give us wheat, say, next year. [An HON. MEMBEB: "Or oats!"] And oats. If that grass land is put down to wheat it will yield far more than the datum line of 27 bushels an acre, which is regarded by authorities on the land as the line below which land has economically gone out of wheat. Much of the good land is under grass. It must be within the knowledge of everybody in this House that immense quantities of grass lands, which are let at £3, £3 10s., and £4 an acre, especially in the North of England, would make excellent wheat land. Why is it not now growing wheat? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Control Department, who is one of the first authorities on the growing of wheat, knows perfectly well why we in the North, who have rich grass land fattening beasts are not growing wheat. He knows it is because that, not in the days of the agricultural depression, but even after those days, when the competition of the other industries with agriculture for labour was great, the farmers then farming great tracts did not like the labour conditions. They thought it must lead to rising and high wages. They turned from farming wheat to grass with the direct object of getting rid of their labour. That is absolutely well known in many parts of the country. How are you going to get that back again? In these districts you will only get it back to wheat by some form of compulsion, and you must, at the same time, see to it that we have some chance of getting the requisite amount of labour.

I believe it will be impossible this season to plough up a good part of that land with any degree of success, partly because the season is so far advanced and the ploughing has been delayed by bad weather and the shortage of labour, and partly because we cannot, at the present time, supply anything like the requisite number of men to plough up the land. I speak in the presence of many great authorities on agriculture and hesitate to embark on these subjects at all. I am sure it must be obvious to the House, looking at the question purely from the point of view of increasing the amount of our food production, of relieving the strain on our shipping, and of relieving those who are responsible for our food supplies from anxiety that you must have a considerably larger acreage bearing wheat this year than last year, and there seems no prospect of that unless you can solve or soon, solve the labour question which the President of the Board of Agriculture is never tired of mentioning at his public meetings in the country. I will not say anything at present on the subject of the guarantee and the basis on which it is described until I and my colleagues have had some further time to consider it, but I must point out that the basis on which it is described by the Prime Minister naturally provides, if the price falls below the guarantee, for a larger amount of the bounty to be so given to go to the good farms, bearing as much as 6 quarters an acre, than would go to the poor farms bearing 28 bushels to the acre. That is an obvious difficulty of all these bounty schemes, and it is not peculiar to this. How that is to be met, if it is to be met, perhaps we may have explained to us later on, when I presume the House will have an opportunity of discussing these proposals in detail. I do not know whether it is proposed to proceed by way of Royal Proclamation or by Regulation, but I presume any commitment of this kind must of necessity call for legislation of some kind or another. If there is legislation, and I presume there would be, naturally the country and the House would alike have a chance of examining the proposals and looking at them in their various aspects, and the only appeal I would make to my colleagues and those outside would be that they would keep paramount in their minds the necessity for increasing the food supply and allow no other consideration to vitiate their judgment.

4.0 P.M.

When that is said and done, let us consider for a moment what is the quid pro quo to be given by the farmers for the guarantee which is to last for this period of six years. My own view is, and here I speak without consultation with others, that the proper quid pro quo for the guarantee is better tillage and increased production, for higher wages are not a proper quid pro quo. The farmer ought to pay higher wages anyhow. I do not say this for the first time. I have said it from that box and I have said it at farmers' gatherings all over the country, not because I wished to press the natural humanitarian feelings that one has towards the agricultural labourer, but for the simple reason that the farmers cannot get and cannot retain the best labour unless they pay for it. The reason why labour has left the farms for other industries is that larger wages are paid in other industries, and not that the amenities of country life are not the same as those of town life. I believe the great mass of our population would prefer to live in the country if they could make anything like the same living that they can in the town. The mistake which has been made by agricultural districts in regard to wages is that they have kept wages down to the old level, instead of raising them continuously. It is quite trueߞit was said, I believe, earlier in the Debate by the right hon. Gentleman himselfߞthat the best farming is to be found in the districts where the best wages are paid. That is absolutely true, and I believe if the best wages were paid now in some of our counties which are supposed to be yielding nothing like enough in foodstuffs, there again you would have prosperity restored to the farmer, for you will combine with those high wages the necessary degree of intelligence which must accompany good farming. Twenty-five shillings is not a great guarantee at present. It will no doubt, after the War is over, have a better effect, for we hope that the cost of living will have gone down as soon as peace is attained, but at the present moment 25s. is only equivalent to something like 15s. or 16s. of pre-war prices. I am glad to have the chance of saying that to the House now, because it was so often said to me when I was responsible for the administration of the Board of Trade. But there it is. A farm labourer will know that perfectly well, and I think we should be mistaken if we imagined that a quid pro quo, for the guarantee given to the farmer, of 25s. for his labour is sufficient. The proper return is increased production and better farming. However that may be obtained, it is the first necessity to this country on every ground that that should be the consideration paid by the farmer for the-guarantee given him by the State.

The position of women is also uncertain. I quite recognise that the Prime Minister could not deal with every point to-day, but it would be interesting to know exactly how women are to be dealt with under this guarantee. Are they to-have a minimum wage, and is that minimum wage to be on the basis of the 18s. which at present, I believe, is the wage mentioned by the Board of Agriculture in inducing them to go on the land? In a great many parts of the country it is an urgent necessity that more women should be attracted on to the land. If it can be done by higher wages, let those higher wages by all means be paid. I feel that in addressing these remarks to the-House, I may appear to have been in a critical spirit. I am sure the Government, will recognise that I have in no way addressed them antagonistically. I believe that so far as they have taken the step of the restriction of imports they have done the right thing, and I think they have done well to warn the country that if this strain goes much further there will have to be a greater restriction of imports. I think they have done well in the course of their agricultural proposals to hold out some hope for the agricultural labourer of some of the things which my right hon. Friend used to describe with great fervour only a few years ago, and which I have no doubt he intends to carry out at some time or other. I know what a tremendous impetus he gave agricultural feeling all over the country. These proposals maybe all to the good, but they must be examined from every point of view by those who are engaged in agriculture as well as by those in this House who are responsible for larger interests. I would urge that they should give every assistance they can to the Shipping Controller, who has one of the most difficult tasks ever given to a man, and that, by pressure on the shipyards and by pressure on the Servicesߞfor their point of view, naturally, is not quite the same as oursߞ he should be given every support and everything should be done to restore the efficiency, the bulk, the volume, and the carrying capacity of our mercantile marine, without which we cannot exist.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Long)

The Prime Minister desires me to say a few words in regard to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, and also to add one or two statements to those which he made in his speech. I need hardly say that the Government recognises entirely both the tone and the spirit in which my right hon. Friend spoke, and we acknowledge the claim which he made that nothing that he said should be regarded as being antagonistic to the Government's general proposals, nor were the comments which he made such as to justify anybody contending that they were not only justified but fair, and the answer to them, which cannot, as he will understand, be fully given to-day, will tend to elucidate, as is necessary, the general proposition which the Prime Minister has made. We regret the absence of the late Prime Minister, and especially the cause of his absence on this very important occasion. In regard to shipping control, my right hon. Friend made an appeal which I hope will meet with a response not only in the House but outside. Of all the difficult tasks that is probably the most difficult, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who was for a long time connected with that great Department, made the appeal knowing how necessary it is that the Shipping Controller should have the support of everybody. The Shipping Controller has not only succeeded in making very considerable advances in regard to the availability of shipping, but he has done something already to prevent the increase in the demand for shipping for what are called the military needs, which is probably the most difficult part of his task. He has done a great deal in conjunction with the Admiralty to help in the turning round of ships, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, is a very pressing need. The Shipping Controller, as the Prime Minister reminds me, has given complete control, so that he is himself able to deal with the whole shipping problem, which includes what is called the military side of the problem. He has already made considerable improvements in the amount of available shipping and in what is probably the most important point of all, the time in which a ship is turned round and made available for its nest voyage.

My right hon. Friend asked for certain particulars. I think the best answer to that is that the Proclamations are already in the course of preparation. I think they will be issued to-night, and they will contain all the information for which my right hon. Friend asks as regards details. He asked about rum. It was impossible for the Prime Minister to cover everything in the statement he made. He desires me to say that in regard to wines and spirits there are very large reductions, and rum is stopped altogether, because the stocks in the country are so great that there is no necessity to import more. The reductions in wines and spirits are 75 per cent, on the 1913 basis. May I say in this connection something in reference to what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to rations? He told the House, quite truly, that the choice is between drastic legislation of this kind and some form of rations. I think he was inclined a little unduly to criticise the policy of the Food Controller in regard to what is called the voluntary system of rationing, or the "honour" system of rationing. No doubt, what he said is true, that there are parts of the country where this voluntary rationing is not strictly observed, and there are individuals who do not observe it. But let me ask, If you make rationing compulsory in a country like this, accustomed to free institutions, and without the local machinery which is necessary if you are going to impose any compulsory system, does anybody believe that you would not have evasion? I am not sure that there would not be even more evasion under a compulsory system than you have under a voluntary system. Remember that Germany has already tried many of these plans, and we know quite well not only that they have failed, but that they have resulted in diminishing the productive power of the German people Therefore, let us learn from our enemies and let us not be driven hurriedly into proposals which would not get rid of the evasion which is to be found, but which might have worse effects in the opposite direction.

I want to go a bit further than this. In what I say I am really impartial, because the post which I have the honour to hold in the Government does not bring me into direct official connection with this subject. I am not a member of the Cabinet, and therefore, although it is my duty to support the Cabinet, I am not bound to say more in their support than I chose so long as I fulfil my obligations and do not run the risk of dismissal at the hands of my hon. and learned Friend. Therefore I am quite impartial. As my hon. Friend knows, I took a very keen interest in this rationing question from the very earliest date. When I was at the Local Government Board it was my duty to consider, and I considered the compulsory system of rations. And when the present Food Controller introduced the present system to put the country on its honour I made it my business to institute, as far as I could in a small way, inquiries in different directions. You cannot judge of a great proposal of this kind by the results of a few weeks. Remember that the people who bad to adopt these rules had great difficulties to meet. We have not been accustomed in this country to train our people in those domestic habits which enable them suddenly to reverse all their procedure and cut their household consumption down by 30, 40, 50 or 60 per cent. I believe that if everybody would do what I have done since this thing came in, make inquiries from time to time from those you know and those who live in the neighbourhood, of different classes, I should be surprised if he did not find that the result of the Food Controller's action has been to bring a totally new spirit into the domestic economy into nearly all our classes of people who had never thought of such problems and are thinking of them to-day.

After all, probably there is no article of food in which there is so much wasteߞI do not mean waste in the sense of throwing food into the gutter which ought to be used for human consumption, but I mean food, more of which is used than need beߞthan the article of bread. Let anybody go round an ordinary lunch table after lunch and see how much bread people have crumbled to waste beside their plates. Nobody ever thought of that. They are thinking of it now, because the Controller has issued his instructions. People never thought of the difference between one particular kind of joint or food and another. They are now turning their attention to substituting one article of food or dish for another. It was not necessary for them then. Now our newspapers are full every day of suggested dishes and alternative foods. All this is the immediate and indirect result of the Controller's action, and if the House and the country are a little patient, and they will both by their example and precept support the Controller in the work which he is doing, they will find that the present form of rations will be, in my belief, sufficient for our purposes, and I think that the success of this method has already far exceeded anything which anybody could have anticipated as possible one or two years ago. My right hon. Friend asked some question with regard to canned salmon and fruits, and so on. We had better leave that to the Proclamations. They will all appear with very little delay.

With regard to tea. The only further statement which it is necessary to make is that we are to stop foreign tea, and there will be reductions for instance in the tea from Ceylon. Nobody regrets it more than I do. Naturally in my position as Secretary for the Colonies I have discussed these questions with representatives of the Colonies, some of whom are here, while more are coming, and I may perhaps be allowed to say that nobody can realise who has not himself been engaged in the task how stupendous has been the work thrown on the Prime Minister and those working with him in the examination of these subjects and in the compilation of a complete statement. It is quite impossible to have all that consultation beforehand with foreign countries which we would naturally desire, and which would help us in ordinary circumstances. We have done our best, and, as Minister specially responsible, I would like to say this, in addition to what the Prime Minister was good enough to say, that our Dominions and our Crown Colonies are affected by these restrictions and feel them severely. What seems to be a small thing to us, and is a small thing in the point of view of tonnage, hut still more in point of actual value, may be a great thing to them, not because the actual money is so important, but because it may mean the revival of a particular industry which is suddenly showing signs of fresh vigour that interference of this kind may check, like a plant, in the most difficult stage of its growth. I do not think that we can pay them too much honour for this self-sacrifice, for the extreme generosity and good will with which they meet us on every occasion, even when it has been possible for them to put their own case before the Government so that it might be adequately discussed. I should only spoil what the Prime Minister has said if I were to describe how we have been met in a spirit that, I will only say, is worthy of the greatest traditions of the British Empire, and of the British people in all its history. I am confident that so long as they are satisfied that these proposals are made from the most profound sense of duty, as the Prime Minister has declared to the House, I am satisfied that they will be prepared to bear their share of the burden along with us.

May I turn to the latter part of my right hon. Friend's speech in which he dealt with home production. In regard to timber, I agree with him that when you are dealing with the heavier timbers, that, of course, involves a skilled operation. As he said, not only does it involve a difference in the length of time to cut a tree down, but you must have skilled labour. Of course it is not a child's pastime. It is a very dangerous occupation. Unless you understand how to set about the work, you may spoil a tree, and may have a very bad accident. That, of course, only applies to the heavy timber. We want a great effort made to provide the labour for supplying pit props, and there is no doubt whatever, if we get the co-operation of our fellow countrymen at this supreme moment, that we can supply all the pit props we shall require for home consumption. That, as I have said, is not a skilled operation; it merely means cutting down saplings, and both axe and saw work is very simple. As the Prime Minister said, we want to get the co-operation of the woodmen still on our estatesߞmen above military age, and each of whom would be superintendent of a gang of unskilled men, who would provide pit props without any difficulty at all to supply all our requirements for home consumption. With regard to the second part of the business, the heavy timber, that is in the hands of my right hon. Friend, who told us that we have already got men from different parts of the British Empire and from abroad who are very successful in felling timber, and we hope to increase their number. I do not believe that the labour question in regard to timber is an insuperable one.

The Prime Minister wishes me to say this, that in his description of our proposals with regard to home production, he omitted to say that while our proposals are definite, and while they will last for the period which he prescribed, that two years before that period of six years comes to an end the Government propose that the whole thing should be reconsidered, not as to the period of six years, but with the view as to what will follow afterwards, and with the view of seeing that subsequent stages are anticipated and provided for before the period of six years comes to an end. The right hon. Gentleman opposite dwelt on the production of cereals, and he told us that it is really a question of labour. I suppose I am as much entitled as any man in the House to speak with practical experience of agriculture. I have been connected with it all my life, and some of the oldest and best friends I have in the world are amongst the farmers and agricultural labourers. I do not think my right hon. Friend's criticism is really quite just, quite accurate. There has, of course, been a labour difficulty, and it may be that people now criticise and say you ought to have done this, that, or the other. It is very easy to be wise after the event, and to criticise when you have a whole picture of the past laid out before you. If you take agriculture as a whole in this country, I do not believe you have given more men than agriculture was bound to give if you were going to put in the field great armies, and if you were going to defend the Empire as you mean to. What has happened? Those men have not gone quite equally. There are districts absolutely cleared of men, and also districts in which there is still a sufficient supply. What we want and what we hope under the scheme of the new Director of Labour is that we will be able to equalise that.

I do not think quite enough credit is given to the War Office for the share they have borne in finding labour for agricultural purposes. Even the 30,000 men which the Prime Minister mentioned, and whom they had a right to takeߞ[An HON. MEMBER: "Sixty thousand"]ߞthat was reduced to 30,000, which they were given authority to take, and of that number they had taken 10,000. In addition to that there is an arrangement by the War Office under which 15,000 men are to be found out of the men under the Field Officer Commanding-in-Chief here at home. It is said that a great many of those men are not trained agriculturists. I know that, and I know that men for ploughing and making ricks, and so on, is not of the same agricultural value unless he is trained. But I say that you can dilute trained agricultural labour with a great deal that is not trained, and I say if the spirit of the people is right we can do these things. A great deal of the spirit of the public depends on the spirit of this House, if we are determined not to make difficulties, not to indulge in criticisms which any one of us could make. I could find criticisms of the policy of any Government, no matter how it was composed, even if it were composed of nothing but archangels, and in that event I dare say I should be able to say still more. What you have got to do is to recognise that we are faced with a great Imperial crisis, and that we must meet it as best we can. It is no good saying we have taken too many men from the land. We are making every effort; the War Office, in addition, are undertaking to do a great deal of the cultivation of the land, and with the new efforts made by the Director-General of National Service, with the additional assistance given by the soldiers, with the special efforts made to supplement labour from other sources, I believe yet it will be found that the labour problem can be solved if it is decided by the farming community to increase the arable land. My right hon. Friend told us of his experience in the North, of England. I know my country pretty well, and I must say that my experience has been different. I never heard before of the story he told us, which only shows how little we know, particularly about the subject we have studied most, but I can safely say that to the greater part of England the description which my right hon. friend gave does not apply. The land was not allowed to be put down to grass because the farmers desired to avoid paying their men better wages or to avoid labour troubles.

The land went down to grass for three reasons. The first and foremost was that there was a steady decline in prices, and then when prices remained steady for a time everybody in this Houseߞwhen I came here first, twenty years ago, it was a common subject of Debateߞused to tell the country that "prices of corn now are nothing to what they will be in five years' time, when wheat will be half the price it is now, and it will be no use growing cereals at all." That was the first cause. The labour difficulty was that labour began to leave the land, and not merely because of wages. I remember a remark made by the late Lord Salisbury, which produced a great deal of laughter at the time and some criticism, and gave some of us supporters of his on our platforms occasionally a difficult moment. When parish councils were first talked of, he told us that parish councils were all very well, but that to give them a parish circus would be more likely to interest them. It was the dulness of country life, the absence of any amusement, the constant strain of agricultural labour and the monotony of it, and the fact that the railways and telegraphs had brought communication close to your villages that made migration easy; and the men by degrees drifted away, and the farmer was daily confronted with the fear that the labour was decreasing and that he must turn his attention to some other form of farming. Now we are told that by fixing the price of cereals we are not going to increase the amount of land under corn. My right hon. Friend opposite said that two years ago the price of wheat began to rise, that it rose last year, and that the amount of land under cultivation has not shown a corresponding increase, and he said therefore that it is not prices. He has failed, I beg to say, to hit the mark, which was hit by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement. The difference was this: that those were prices rising without any security at all as to what they would be next year or next month. I discussed this question of prices here in this House on one occa- sion, and who was there then who foretold that wheat this year would be at the price it is? On the contrary, I heard of men going to the farmers and saying, "You had better make the most of your opportunities; you are getting 50s., and you will never get such a price again." It was the doubt in the farmer's mind as to whether there would be a continuity of this price which made him hesitate before he broke his land up.

My right hon. Friend asked two very pertinent questions. He asked about milk and feeding stuffs. It is impossible for the Food Controller's Department or the Board of Agriculture to do more about these two articles than this: In regard to milk they have come to an arrangement with the farmers in regard to prices which the farmers accept, and regard as thoroughly satisfactory. That being so, there is every reason to suppose that the milk supply will continue. In regard to feeding stuffs it is impossible to do more than to say that the Food Controller's Department and the Board of Agriculture are watching the matter very closely, but for the moment they can do nothing whatever, because it all depends upon the question of tonnage. Obviously we must try there, as we are trying in other respects, to see if we cannot help the farmer by our home production. In all these matters, as I often said before, we must not be too critical here in this House. I am not afraid but that the British farmer knows his own business as well as anybody, and he is not going to break out grass land which he knows can produce milk and dairy produce better and more satisfactorily to him and to the community than it will produce as corn land merely because you have fixed the price of corn.

There is a certain amount of land in the country which has tumbled down to grass which has never been sown down, and to my knowledge has never paid for the care and manuring that it has received. Nobody knows that better than the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Devonshire (Sir J. Spear). There is some land which when bad times come also falls down to grass, which was never sown or properly treated, and from which you have never been able to get a real good growth of grass out. That land had better go back, and will go back, under the security which is given by the fixing of prices for a period of time. I am not, however, afraid that our farmers who are producing milkߞand I may say that I live in a milk-producing districtߞwill break up their grass land which is paying them very well for the sake of new experiments. I assure the Houseߞand I speak as a practical farmerߞthat what the Prime Minister said as regards the position of the farmer is literally true. It will be confirmed by all those in this House who know exactly through what trials the farmer is passing. Sixty shillings and seventy shillings sounds a great price for wheat. There are, however, two things to be considered. The one is that wheat is a' very speculative crop. You may get ten sacks to the acre or you may get five. Last year, in the early part of the season, almost up to the day of harvesting, it looked as if we were going to have the heaviest wheat crop we ever had. Two or three days of disastrous weather came and the crop was not more than 50 per cent, of what we had anticipated.

Then there are two causes to which the Prime Minister referred. There is the extra cost of production and the extra cost of labour which must follow a vast Army in the field. There are all these difficulties to be reckoned with, and I assure the Houseߞand anybody can find the thing out for themselves if they could get a practical farmer to give them the figuresߞthat these prices are not offering such a golden prospect to the farmer as to make it in the least likely that he will break up land which he knows will be more beneficial under the hoof than it would be under the plough.

We must give him credit for some common sense and intelligence in managing his own business. What we are doing really here is to say, "We give you security for a period of years, and we ask you, in return, to put more ability and energy into this business of producing food for the people." We say in conjunction with that, as regards rents and as regards labour, there must be conditions which landlords on the one hand will accept and farmers on the other. I think I have dealt with most of the points raised by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman apart from those which will be found in the Proclamation. Speaking as a farmer and one who has lived all his life in the country, I make no secret of the fact that these new Regulations entail sacrifices all round; these prohibitions entail sacrifices upon our Allies and upon the great Dominions for which I have the honour to speak. They entail sacrifice upon all those who have strong convictions and who dislike certain kinds of reform, who believe in policies which may be considered different from the one which we have heard advocated to-day. All this is quite true. There is sacrifice for all of us. Is not this House in itself representative of the great sacrificeߞthe supreme sacrifice the country is making? Think of our own story here. Think of the story told on the walls of St. Margaret's Church! Think of the toll of suffering in this House! Think of the toll of suffering in this country! Think of what those nearest and dearest to us in the world are going through in foreign parts, and what we are going through when we think of their heroism and supreme suffering.

Must we not ask ourselves whether in face of this it can be thought a sacrifice to abandon a conviction or put on one side a prejudice? It may be that our plans are open to criticism; I dare say they are. I can answer for it that they have been given the fullest consideration, and labour unequalled by the Prime Minister himself and those working with him. He has consulted farmers, landlords, experts, and people of all kinds, and it is a marvel to me how he has found time to see them and pick their brains, as he has most successfully done. These proposals may be easy to criticise, but, as I say to the House, andߞif I may venture to say soߞto the country also, when we talk of sacrifice we have no right to use the word in connection with what we are asked to do in this House. We are only asked to put ourselves as one man into the effort, to abandon for that purpose our prejudices and convictions, to support those who have thought out this problem, and make up our mind to make, if we can, a policy successful, which, I firmly believe, will tend move to the attainment of that great victory for which we are all working than anything else it is possible for the House to do at this moment.


I should not myself have risen to-day to take part in this Debate had it not taken the turn which it has. I felt when the Prime Minister first made his appeal to the Houseߞand I think everybody will agree that it was a great and a moving appealߞthat if we had parted for the time being, and had come back to consider those proposals some other time, it would have been as well for the House to do so. But the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman opposite have both had a good deal to say about labour. The Prime Minister has made an appeal to labour, and therefore it is absolutely necessary that I should say one or two words in response to that appeal. I think, if I may say so, that the dependence of the House and the whole of this country upon the loyalty of labour is perhaps the most significant fact which has been brought out to-day, and, just as in all other departments and classes of our national life, there are some little flaws, so perhaps in this there are some; but nobody who looks at the magnificent service of labour, and the magnificent loyalty with which labour has met all the appeals which have been made to it in the course of this War, can deny that that response has been magnificent. And I believe this appeal will be met in the same spirit. Already I believe that the project which has been put forward with regard to the dilution of labour, and also the acceptance of the principle of piece-work by men who for many, many generations have been fighting it most bitterly, and would never accept it as a principleߞI think already their acceptance of it has been, at any rate, partial, and I believe is proceeding now at a very rapid rate of agreement.

Hon. Friends of mine associated with the shipbuilding industry are doing all they can to secure that their members, who are Conservatives in this sense, at any rate, that they do not like to part with old habits. They are trying to secure an agreement to enable them to have this piecework rate in regard to the shipbuilding industry. At any rate, it is clear that the leaders of that industry are satisfied that an increased production is possible, and they are willing to do all they can to secure it. With regard to that, I am glad to welcome the Prime Minister and the late President of the Board of Trade to the ranks of labour leaders, for they have said to-day, what we have said over a year ago, that if fair treatment were guaranteed to labour and the labourer was assured that the products of his increased skill and output would be guaranteed, the great difficulty hitherto in the way would have been wiped out long ago. I hope it is clear that all the responsibility for this want of output does not rest upon labour; in fact, I should repudiate entirely that very little of the blame is upon labour.

I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke with regard to one's experience in industry, for I also could tell a tale. All I want to say is that there was no encouragement given to labour for many years in any attempt to secure an increased output when all the time there was some foreman standing over the workman with his watch in hand in order to ascertain how much it was possible for the workman to do in a certain time, and then to fix the very lowest wages for that work. Therefore, we are reaping now in industry the same results we are reaping in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that to some extent low wages in agriculture have something to do with the problem as it presents itself to-day. That policy with regard to agriculture and industry has had a prejudicial effect upon the labour position of this country, and the right hon. Gentleman must admit that but for that policy during a time of war we should not have had to adopt the expedients which are now put forward. With regard to many of those expedients I will not say anything to-day, but certainly one of the cardinal doctrines we have always preached is that high wages are a real economy, not only for the worker but for the manufacturer, the employer, and for labour generally throughout the region of its activity. That being now accepted, I think we can rest assured, that given fair treatment, and, above all, given security to labour as well as to the farmer, and a removal of all the suspicions which have been sown in the past, which have led the workman to believe that whatever he did would never be secured to him, this state of things can be altered at any moment, and then you will have the result you desire, so far as labour is concerned.

Nobody denies that the question of labour now is exceedingly difficult. The supply is short. You cannot grow workers like you can grow mushrooms. You have taken away large numbers of them. They have willingly and gladly gone to serve their country, and their places have not been filled. Some of them cannot be filled. Therefore, you have to make expedients. If those expedients can be made in the manner which is suggested, I do not think any opposition will come from us or from labour in the country; but we must ask for a clear definition of policy, particularly with regard to the employment of women on the land. There must come some regulation and some statement as to policy with regard to women who are to be employed on the land, and we have a right to ask that that statement should be put forward at the earliest possible moment and in the clearest possible manner. How is this supply of labour to be got? Will this minimum wage of 25s. per week be a sufficient attraction to get men from other industries? Because, after all, the men have to come from somewhere. Will they go back to the land for a minimum wage of 25s. per week? If they will not, I beg the Government not to hesitate to raise that minimum in order that they may get the men, because, whatever happens, you must make it worth the while of these men to come. I admit that where you take them from other industries you are going to give a subsistence allowance if they are married and have to keep two homes.

I admit, and I think everybody must admit, the immense difficulty of improvising schemes of any kind whatever during a great war. All sorts of problems arise. There is the problem of housing, which is a very great problem, and must be faced; there is the problem of the women, to which I have already referred; and there is the problem of ascertaining where the labour is to come from. I do not know whether there is sufficient labour left in the country or not. The Government have got to find that out. If there is, I am not sure that the attraction is quite sufficient. I hope that there will be no hesitancy with regard to the alteration of the conditions if the labour is there and it is not attracted. I do not want the Government to come and say that it is unwillingness oh the part of labour when it may be that the conditions they have themselves laid down are not sufficiently attractive. It is no use saying that you must bring in compulsion until you have made your voluntary conditions so attractive that they will bring the men or women to the employment which you desire them to enter.

I have only one other word to say on this subject. So far as I am concerned, and I hope I am speaking for my Friends here, I trust we shall face any restrictions which may be imposed upon us in the same spirit as we have faced the other problems which this War has brought before us. We recognise that we have not made either the same sacrifices or the same degree of sacrifice as our Allies or as our soldiers and sailorsߞ those who are bearing the great burden of this War. I do not want to detract by one word from the moving appeal which the Prime Minister has made to the country; indeed, in any way I can I should like to emphasise that appeal and to say: Let us all stand together, and whatever we may be called upon to bear, let us bear it with that magnificent spirit which has carried this nation through its trials in the past.


I wish to offer one or two observations, and the first is with reference to what I consider the most drastic and revolutionary proposal made by the Prime Minister to-day In the list of all the sacrifices which he recounted as likely to fall on every class of the community, he announced a guarantee of security for one class only. I was anxious to find, either in that speech or in the speech of the Colonial Secretary, justification for that policy, but I found none. To me it seems that this guarantee for agriculture is absolutely without justification, and is likely to have no result in relation to the immediate national problem that we have to face. That immediate national problem is the greater production of food in this country, and that does not depend on the number of acres broken up for tillage. It depends on having suitable land at present unploughed put under the plough. You do not need a guarantee extending over six years for that purpose. It is actually arable land to-day which is not being tilled, and it is simply throwing dust in the eyes of the country to say that it requires a six years' guarantee in order to have it tilled.

What is required is that certain steps should be taken during the next four weeks, and I make this practical suggestion to the Government, that they should place on the land during the next four weeks every skilled agriculturists who today is wearing khaki. By so doing they would make a far greater contribution of the problem of food production for the current year than can be obtained by a guarantee extending over a period of six years. It is all very well to talk about sacrifice. I admire it, of course, but I do not like the talk about it being spread over a period of six years, because then it becomes a sacrifice at the expense of the rest of the community. The real problem is that at present there is neither labour nor machinery available. The Government have under their control to-day the labour with which to make good the deficiency, and it is useless to assert that this offer of a guarantee has any relation to the problem. It is not as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said a question of prices to-day. In 1915 the acreage under wheat was largely increased. It was increased by 500,000 acres. It went down last year when prices were high. Why? Because there was less labour in 1916 than in 1915. The farmers did not require any guarantee in 1915 to put 500,000 more acres under cultivation. Why should they require it now? Until we get an answer to that question I do not think this House will be justified in assenting to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

But there is an even more immediate problem than the problem of production, and that is the problem of supply in this country during the months intervening between the present day and the coming harvest. This is not a new problem, although to some members of the present Government apparently it is a new problem. Last year in the Debate on the Address my hon. Friend the Member for the West Toxteth Division (Mr. Houston) dealt with the whole shipping problem and then foretold the whole of this scarcity. He was then met by the hon. Gentleman who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller with the answer that it was all a question of the greed of shipowners in the matter of freights. We all know who was right. He pointed out then that what lay at the root of our trobules was the waste of tonnage and very largely a waste of tonnage by the Government. It is gratifying to know that the new Government have taken a step towards meeting that situation. They have appointed a Shipping Controller and have given him far greater powers than were ever exercised by the late President of the Board of Trade. That is not all. The amount of shipping used by the Government for the Services depends upon policy. It depends upon whether you have large, unnecessary and wasteful distant expeditions. If you go to Salonika, if you go to Mesopotamia, then, of course, your tonnage is bound to be short and your people here must submit to either voluntary or compulsory rationing. That is the root of the difficulty. If you have a wise policy, a cautious policy, a policy in accordance with the traditions of this country and in accordance with the wise axioms of our statesmen in the past, you would have none of these difficulties, but if our Government in its folly will have luxuries in Salonika and Mesopotamia, then our people at home must do without necessaries.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned at Two Minutes before Five o'clock till Monday next.