§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I gave notice to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food last week that I would draw his attention to a Regulation which has been made under the Cattle Sales Order, 1917. The Noble Lord who is at the head of the Ministry of Food is at the present moment addressing a meeting in Committee Room No. 14 composed of almost all the Members of this House who are in the Service who are at present attending at this House, and he is explaining to them some of the conditions under which he has made certain Regulations respecting the Cattle Sales Order and other matters of essential food for the people. The facts to which I have to draw attention will probably explain some of the things which are apparently a puzzle to the Noble Lord. For example, on 28th January this year there were offered for sale at Birkenhead Cattle Market 160 head of Irish cattle. On the same date last year there were 2,000 head of Irish cattle offered in the same market. That is a very great discrepancy. It needs explanation, and I shall endeavour to give the House an explanation which those who are concerned in the trade are unable to give the House. It is all due to the new Regulation which was made under the Cattle Sales Order and which came into operation last December. By this Regulation there was adopted by the Ministry of Food the Birkenhead Irish Cattle and Meat Supply Association, which was given powers for the sale, the purchase and the distribution of Trish cattle. This fact in itself has had a most disastrous effect upon the trade. A document has been issued under the authority of the Ministry of Food which declares that this association and the control by this association shall come into operation after Monday, 31st December, 1917. This association is composed of dead meat sellers, cattle salesmen and cattle dealers in Irish cattle, and under the authority of this association there is a committee. I attribute to the operations of that com- 2214 mittee the enormous discrepancy which I have pointed out. It would. be at once apparent that this association is composed of people whose interests are at variance with the producers of cattle in Ireland. It is quite possible by this arrangement that you create a close co-operation, a monoply, in fact, I may call it a ring, and the worst feature of that ring is that their interests are opposed to those of the producers of cattle Ireland. They have power to divide cattle into certain classes, and I am informed by those who know all about it that this classification of cattle has operated very much against the proper supply of the markets. The. classifiers are the committee and their decision is to be accepted as final. The association, as I have said, is composed of certain people. It may well be that the cattle salesmen and the dead meat sellers, if it is to their interests to do so, might possibly act in collusion with each other. The retail butcher is prohibited from buying live cattle at the Woodside and Wallasey lairages, and he can only purchase supplies of dead meat from the usual source, the wholesaler. It will, therefore, be seen that the retailer is entirely shut out from this association; so also is the producer of cattle in Ireland. In this connection I should like to read a letter written to a very large firm in Dublin on behalf of the Birkenhead Irish Cattle and Meat Supply Association. This letter was written to Messrs. Beatty and Malone, Dublin:In reply to your letter of the 7th inst. I have to inform you that this Association is being formed under the direct control of the Ministry of Food, and that it is incumbens upon you to join in order to do business at Birkenhead.There we have a pistol held at the heads of people engaged in this trade. Here is a large firm compelled to join, whether it likes it or not. What are the conditions upon which they can join? Perhaps the hon. Member (Mr. Clynes) has never had before him the conditions of membership.The members of this Association will be admitted by the committee of the Association, and will be required to sign an agreement of membership and to observe the rules and regulations of the Association. Entrance fee, £25, subscription £5, guarantee £100.So that in the first instance there is a charge of £30 and also a guarantee of £100. Unless you join the Association under these conditions of membership you cannot trade in Birkenhead. Who are eligible for membership?Companies, firms, and persons regularly carrying on business as Irish cattle salesmen, dealers selling 2215 their own cattle, and dead meat salesmen having a recognised place of business in Woodside and Wallasey lairages.Therefore, it is circumscribed. By these means you exclude a number of persons in Ireland who are most important for this trade, namely, men who produce their own cattle, but who do not trade in cattle—men who have large tracts of land, many of whom are in my own Constituency, and who bring their own cattle to Birkenhead, and there sell them, and have sold them in the past. These men are excluded from the association. They are to be compelled to hand over their cattle to salesmen who may be in collusion with the dead meat sellers, or those who buy them to take away by rail. It is only a few weeks ago that I had a conference with two brothers in my Constituency, who very often sold in one day at Birkenhead no less than £4,000 or £5,000 worth of cattle. They are excluded. There is another man in my Constituency who raises cattle. He is not a trader. He has been in the habit all his life of bringing large quantities of cattle to Birkenhead, and of selling them to the retailers who come to buy there. That man is excluded from this market. He will not be allowed to transact his business there. He cannot join this association, and he will not hand over the cattle which he has raised with so much care on his own land to salesmen who may possibly be in collusion with the dead meat sellers or the man who is going to buy the cattle to put on the land.
This exclusiveness promotes a monopoly which this House has always set itself against. The general policy of this country has been against monopoly. I shall be told that this restriction upon trade and the other restriction upon trade under the Defence of the Realm Act are justified by the condition of things. There are, I admit, restraints upon trade, but this is a restraint upon the transference of essential articles of food for the people, with the result that I have indicated. The exclusion of this class of men, who largely exist in the county that I represent and in neighbouring counties, should be removed. I tell the representative of the Food Controller that, great as is the discrepancy which I have pointed out, it will be still greater, because I know—I have had a conversation with the Cattle Association of Ireland last Monday week—they will retain their cattle rather 2216 than submit to the tyranny of this association, a tyranny under the direction of the Food Controller himself. I know that this position has been arrived at. Having regard to my own opinion of this Regulation, which I think is quite unjustified and unnecessary, and, in fact, vicious, I would encourage the boycotting of Birkenhead as a port of arrival for these Irish cattle and a place for their distribution. How am I justified in assuming that attitude'? Because in the neighbouring city of Manchester there is the old freedom of trade which is now extinguished at Birkenhead. In Leeds, in Norwich, and in other markets the old freedom of trade still exists, although I do not know how long it will be allowed to exist. This much I say, that the men I represent here to-night, the strong, substantial men who have supplied this country with their food, and who are anxious and willing and able to do so at the present time, will transfer their trade to some other port, where at least they will not be faced with these restrictions.
According to the Regulations which I attack, there is an arrangement which provides that, in order to provide a flat rate covering insurance of cattle, cattle salesmen's commission, railway charges for cattle and of dead meat, and wholesale dead meat salesmen's commissions, the seller on the one hand is to pay to the banks, to the credit. of the committee's account, 10s. per head and the purchaser 20s. per head. I submit that that is an imposition which affects the free sale and purchase of cattle. There can be no doubt that the 10s. to he paid by the seller and the 20s. to be paid by the purchaser comes out of the price of the cattle. It must affect the mind of the purchaser and it must affect the mind of the seller, and it is utterly ridiculous to say that it cannot affect the price of the beef. On the face of it it must come out of the price of the beef. If this flat rate were extended to the whole journey, from the time the beast leaves its stall or its grazing ranch, until it reaches the point of slaughter it would not be so bad, but this 30s. fiat rate is to affect the carriage of the beast only from Birkenhead to its destination. That destination may be the lairage only a few hundred yards away, yet the 30s. is charged. The beast may be bought by the retailer in the next street or the next town, yet this restriction is placed upon the 2217 dealer and the producer. I have here a bill furnished to one of my Constituents the other day, a man who, on his immense tracts of land, raises large numbers of fat beasts and has brought them over here and sold them here up to the present, and who dare not now put a footing into the market though he is getting on in years. He has been carrying on these transactions since he was a boy, and he has this bill from the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, Limited—"Government levy, 10s." That. will have to come out of his pocket, out of his price, and this man is excluded even from the association, or, if he were admitted to the association, it could only be on the payment of a fine of £25, an annual subscription of £5, and a guarantee of £100.
All this is done under Government Regulations and by the Ministry of Food. and, for the benefit of those who were not here when I began my observations, I may say that it is no wonder that there should be the discrepancy between the 28th January this year, when there were 160 head of Irish cattle offered for sale, and the corresponding date last year, when there were 2,000 head of Irish cattle for sale. I regret that. owing to circumstances over which I had no control I have been unable to present this as a sufficiently consecutive case in a sufficiently comprehensible form, but I trust that I have said enough to show that you are in restraint of trade and against the public policy of this country by issuing this Regulation, creating a monopoly to the detriment of the friendly trade which bas existed 'between England and Ireland in this most essential article of food, beef and mutton, for the people of this country. There is at present in. Ireland, I am glad to say, abundance of cattle, but as regards people who have traded here up to the present, who are well disposed towards the people of this country, and who in their own interests, even if it were for nothing else, are anxious to carry on their trade in the smoothest possible manner, I can scarcely convey to the House the strong feeling that exists among this very important class of our community on account of this very vicious Regulation. I can see no justification for it, I do not know what justification the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) is going to make. I would ask him to take note of what I say, and advise the Food Controller in regard to this very mischievous Regulation—that bad as has been its effect up to the pre- 2218 sent, it is likely to be worse, because these people in Dublin and throughout the country will not rest under this Regulation, and Birkenhead and his association will be boycotted and the cattle will be taken elsewhere where there can be freedom of trade as there has been in the past.
§ Sir J. D. REES
If the House will allow me, the only reference I will make to Ireland is to express the hope that the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench will ask the Food Controller to consider again the question of removing the embargo upon the export of Irish butter. Great damage is done to that trade by that embargo. Butter is far scarcer here than it is in Ireland. By the present arrangement you are taking away from people who are poor butter that is distributed when it arrives here, and you are hitting trade in Ireland which is prejudicial to an established. business like that of the creameries, and bad for the poorer classes in Ireland. I do not pretend to be an expert on Irish questions, and I only make this suggestion because I think that this is another unnecessary Regulation, and I hope that the Food Controller will remove it.
The question which I want to raise is one to which I need not refer to at any length, because I have already put questions on the subject. To-day I asked and received a written reply to the question whether the Minister of National Service has cancelled the exemption from military service obtained by Mr. MacDougall, Commissioner for Live Stock in Scotland, who is of military age, and three of the six Sub-commissioners who are also of military age? I asked whether he would cancel these exemptions as soon as the Military Service Bill becomes an Act? The answer which I have received says that if these officers are exempted it will be on -the ground that their services in their present capacity are indispensable to the State, and certificates will be issued under Section 2 of the Military Service Acts which will supersede the exemptions previously held; but the Minister of National Service goes on to say the issue of such certificates requires his consent, and he is carefully considering all the circumstances in conjunction with the Minister of Food. There we have the Minister of Food, and I want to press upon. him that he shall not ask for these exemptions. I cannot believe there is 2219 any case of indispensability. Scotland is not a country where farmers are as rare as black swans. East Lothian is full of the finest farmers in the world, and in Perthshire and in many other counties there is an abundance of farmers over military age who could very properly give their services at the present time, and are far more experienced in connection with live stock than these gentlemen of military age who, it is suggested, are indispensable. It rests now with the Minister of Food to say whether he is going to press for the exemption of these gentlemen, in which case I may refer the hon. Gentleman to the fact that one of them has been refused a renewal of exemption by his own agricultural committee.
It might be said, what has a Member from the Midlands got to do with this matter? The fact is that a case like this becomes known all over the United Kingdom and prejudices the cause of recruiting. It detracts very much from the special value of an Act like this for combing out the dark places if, when the House of Commons passes an Act for the application of the comb in one Government Department, another Government Department keeps in clover at home five gentleman of military age. These gentlemen did not volunteer before Conscription came in, and when Conscription came in they obtained exemption in the beginning on the ground that their services were indispensable on their farms, but, though they could not leave their farms, they took these posts and draw, one of them, £1,000 a year and the others £500 a year. They can leave their farms to draw salaries. Such a case as this is resented bitterly by men like the one-man business men. There are many of them in my Constituency, and though I admit that the Department concerned is behaving with consideration to them, yet when these men go to the War they have no one on whom they can devolve their business, and they will come back, probably, to a cold hearth and an empty shop with their business gone, while a Government Department is exempting those farmers, those young, strong men of that Scottish breed who make some of the best soldiers in the world.
It is a most serious matter, and cannot escape attention. I receive sheaves of letters about it. The Scotch papers are 2220 full of it. It is regarded all over the country, from Nairn to Nottingham, as a scandal. It is known everywhere, and it is said here is a Government Department conniving at exemptions on the plea that these men are indispensable, when it is perfectly obvious that in many parts of Scotland there are men of far greater experience than these gentlemen, who indeed are not particularly experienced in regard to live stock. This is not the only case in which unfortunate events have occurred. I was told, in answer to a question, that the Department of Agriculture know of no farmers who dismissed their hands above military age and obtained exemptions for their sons of military age in their places. I could myself, in my own experience, travelling about the country, give the Department information regarding cases in which this has happened. This matter is certainly one in which the Ministry of Food must be closely interested if they do not actually have to deal with it. It is folly to keep strong, able, young men on Scotch crofts to scratch the surface, which is called agriculture, and keep them out of the Army or from doing agricultural work elsewhere where they could make something, while on the crofts they can make nothing at all as the crofts hardly feed the people who are on them. The Ministries of Food and Agriculture should recognise that crops and deer forests cannot be scratched and made to smile with crops of corn. I would ask them to act as I have stated in regard to these men, and, above all, I would ask the Minister of Food to abstain from pressing upon the Minister of National Service the exemption of the farmers to whose cases I have referred.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARI to the MINISTRI of FOOD (Mr. Clynes)
With respect to the second of the two questions raised by my hon. Friend (Sir J. D. Rees), the case of Mr. MacDougall, being now in the keeping of the National Service Department, will be dealt with by my hon. Friend (Mr. Beck), who may have more up-to-date information than at the moment I possess. I have answered some half-dozen questions put by my hon. Friend, and I can only say, for the Minister of Food, that we have endeavoured in this case, and in the others that may be similar to it, to keep in mind only the public interest, and in no sense to shelter any of the 2221 strong, young Scotsmen referred to in the speech of my hon. Friend. The ultimate decision in these matters must rest with some tribunal, and it must be left to them to say finally what is their decision.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I can only say that the view of the Food Controller up to the present has been that it is in the public interest that these men should be retained in their present position, and in view of the food situation the whole country over, and particularly so in regard to the situation as to supplies and distribution, it is essential to have the most competent men for the purpose of increasing our supplies and assisting us in a more skilful and equitable distribution of food. With regard to the point raised as to the Irish butter Regulation, I can well understand that, in the opinion of many people, these Regulations are regarded as unnecessary, but the public Departments in these days must do many things that are found to be unnecessary. These Regulations were not entered into until representations were made from Ireland that Ireland would be depleted of her butter supply, and that it was in the interests of equitable sharing that the available butter under these Regulations should be retained there, and that such surplus as there was for trading might be brought here under the scheme of Regulations and certificates already laid down. With regard to the question of the Irish cattle situation raised by my hon. Friend on the Irish Benches, I can assure him that I should despair of any arrangement whatever being entered into between the Food Ministry and the interests concerned if the promoters of the Ministry of Food were in any case really described by the number of statements which he has made. As to a number of his descriptions as to what takes place, I repudiate, on behalf of the Ministry of Food, the idea that the Ministry of Food is encouraging or is proceeding to establish anything in the nature of a ring. It is not true. Trade in these days, especially in respect to food, is a matter of association and mutual effort, arranged jointly between the Ministry, the trade, the great consuming public, and the different classes of food producers who work on our farms and in other ways produce food so that instead of dealing with small individual 2222 traders, the business has to be done to a great extent through associations, and it is impossible for the Ministry of Food to settle each matter directly with every separate large and small trader who has some article which the Government, in the interests of the consumers, may require in bulk. When it is proposed to establish an association it is not in the exclusive or private interests of a circle of individuals, who will ultimately gain personally by what has been done.
§ Mr. CLYNES
And that is exactly what I deny we are doing. I think my hon. Friend will agree that he has overdrawn his descriptions of what we are proposing or purporting to do in the case of the supplies of Irish cattle. Our object is not to repress food supplies, not to divert them—if that were physically possible in the case of Ireland—to other countries; our object is to take such steps as have already been adopted to encourage supplies further, and to increase those supplies in view of the present and prospective shortage from which we may suffer, But we are bound to direct those supplies through a channel of better organisation, and by means of the associations that have been suggested. The lion. Member referred to the charge of 30s. which is suggested to be paid as between the seller and the buyer. The seller is to be charged 10s. and the buyer 20s. That sum of 30s. which is charged is not indefensible taxation on, those who sell or buy in the first instance; it is a payment corresponding to the payment now incurred. between the seller and the buyer, and it is to cover charges for labour, tolls, in live-stock markets, distribution, and other charges, which have to come out of the 30s. At Birkenhead the cattleman charges take the place of the auctioneers' charges. A very considerable item covered by this 30s. is the charge for insurance against possible condemnation of animals suffering from tuberculosis. There are the various items covered by the transactions as between the buyer and the private owner, that is, the seller of the cattle. They are necessary and unavoidable, and in this respect it cannot be said that the charge is another injustice to Ireland, because this provision already exists in the English cattle markets. The English seller of a head of cattle in this country can now dispose of 2223 cattle without placing the cattle, so to speak, in the pen of the Government, and meeting charges to the extent of 30s.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Why should 30s. be flat rate to be applied only to the cost and expenses of carriage only on this side? Why riot also before the cattle arrive at Birkenhead?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I have already pointed out that the charges at Birkenhead on this side are also incidental to the Irish side. The charge is intended to cover the deal as between the seller and the buyer. Steps have already been taken in England—
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from the statement he has made, will he allow me to read a paragraph from his own Regulation?In the above scheme both the seller and purchaser, in addition to paying all the other expenses connected with their particular branch of business as heretofore.
§ Mr. CLYNES
That does not dispose of my statement; there are certain and numerous charges in addition to those I have already named. The circle which has been established by the Government in this matter was to some extent broken through during the month of December last. Had that not been the case, it is highly probable that the buying by deadweight as well as live-weight would have had to be agreed to. In addition to the Committee which it is proposed to set up, the Birkenhead cattle salesmen and the meat salesmen have been authorised to form an association. That is the body announced by my hon. Friend. We suggest that the association should be established at Birkenhead by those who have been and were now doing business there, so that more effective control may be exercised over the operations of the various trades. Any cattle dealer or salesman can become a member of this association. These associations have become a practical need in these commercial and trading transactions, and I am certain that Irishmen have long ago learned the value of such associations, not only in trade, but politics. With regard to the charge of £25, it is to cover the running expenses of the association; and the guarantee of £100 is required by the Ministry of Food for its financial protection in the event of anything going wrong on the financial side. It is contemplated that the association, when formed, will act as agents of the Ministry of Food, and 2224 the guarantee of £100 is not thought to be excessive, in view of the circumstances. As to the constitution of the association, and the question of membership, the matter has not yet been definitely settled by the Ministry of Food. Apparently the Irish cattle dealers are not satisfied with the suggested arrangement, but nothing will be finally settled by the Ministry of Food without consultation and in a spirit of give and take—
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I am sorry to interrupt so often. Were the Irish cattle trade consulted before this Order was issued?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I could not, for the moment say, but I am certain that since it was discovered that the regulations were not satisfactory, efforts were made to consult with the dealers and to arrange a conference with them, and in the meanwhile no action has been taken to apply these Regulations. Before finally deciding on the present arrangements we invited the Irish cattle dealers to send a deputation to London to lay their views before the Minister of Food on this important matter. This is a business which we thought could best be settled by technical men who would have regard to the immediate present interests of the consuming public in this country as well as those of Ireland. I am sorry to say our approaches to the parties concerned to send a deputation were met in the first instance by a refusal. Whether that refusal was dictated by motives which to some extent have been stated by the hon. Member opposite, I cannot say, but we felt it our duty to press them to confer with us, and it was therefore decided by the Food Minister, as our chief desire was to settle matters amicably and fairly, to send, as his representative, competent mere who have long had in their keeping the arrangements applying to England and are well versed with the Irish situation, and send them over to Ireland, to confer with the interests affected before any decision was reached. I should like to make it plain that we want to get into touch with the responsible cattle dealers who are resident in Ireland, and if it is necessary at a later stage to have a further discussion with outside buyers of Irish cattle, who are for the most part resident in England, we shall invite them to a special conference in London. We have no doubt that as a result of these meetings it will be possible to come to a satisfactory 2225 settlement. I wish the House to understand that at the moment there has not been any arbitrary decision come to. We are anxious to discuss and amicably settle these matters, our object being to increase the supplies of food by mutual goodwill as between the buyer in England and the seller in Ireland.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
Will the hon. Gentleman answer this question as to the arrangements for dealing with Irish cattle traders? Is it the case that the cost of the carriage on live stock from various parts of Scotland to the markets in Glasgow is borne by the Government, while the whole cost of sending cattle from Ireland to markets in this country has to be borne by the owners of Irish cattle?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am not quite clear on points of detail as to the comparisons between England and Ireland, but I have given the House a general assurance that there are the same charges already in operation in England as it is proposed to apply to Ireland, and that the charge of 30s. per head in both cases covers exactly the corresponding items of expenses in the two countries.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
But this is a definite question. I take it that in England and Scotland the Government defray out of Government funds the cost of the transit of cattle from the farm to the market. There is no cost to the seller. But in Ireland the whole cost of sending the cattle from the farm by Irish railways and by cross-Channel steamers has to be borne by the seller. If this is so, and I have good reason to think it is, will the hon. Gentleman, if he sees the injustice of it, take steps to provide a remedy?
Mr. C LYNES
This certainly is a question which I cannot be expected to answer without notice. I will get the facts and let my hon. Friend know.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of NATIONAL SERVICE (Mr. Beck)
I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) to say a word about the case of Mr. MacDougall, which has been on many occasions before this House. Mr. MacDougall, as I understand it, is an agriculturist of military age, but of great ability in securing live stock for the distribution plans of the Ministry of Food. It is perfectly true that the Minister of National Service has a right to refuse military exemption to Mr. MacDougall or any other person covered by exemption, if he be of military age, given him by a Government Department. We are prepared to take the full responsibility of exercising the right to remove such exemption when we are satisfied it is proper it should be removed. On the other hand, my hon. Friend must realise that in so vital a matter as the food supply of the people it is really almost impossible to expect us to entirely overrule the Minister who is carrying out food control, and therefore, though the question is not yet decided, although we have made the fullest representation to the Noble Lord the Minister for Food, I feel that if he and his Ministry deliberately state that Mr. MacDougall and the other Live Stock Commissioner are essential to the work which the Ministry of Food has in hand, it would be extremely difficult for the Ministry of National Service to refuse exemption, because, after all, the responsibility is almost greater than we, with only a partial knowledge of the exact facts, can be expected to take.
§ House adjourned accordingly at Eight minutes before Eight o'clock.