§ Mr. LOUGH
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:But this House regrets that the continuous fresh Orders in Council interfering with the regular course of trade and industries has unnecessarily diminished importation and production and done much to increase the distress prevailing in many parts of the country owing to the shortage of food and other vital necessities.314 I notice a comment on our proceedings yesterday that they were a little marred by the introduction of a slight party element. Let me assure the House I am not going to raise any party question to-day, but I am going to make an appeal to all parties on what is purely a. business matter. I can; assure the Government that if they can see their way to accept the conclusion's which I suggest they will be doing a great deal to strengthen the position of the Government. The Amendment contains three statements. It first refers to the daily stream of new Orders in Council being put forward by the Food Controller among other Government Departments. In the second place there is the statement that the issue of those Orders is doing a great deal to embarrass the great industries and importation and production on which the country at present depends. In the third place there is the statement about great dissatisfaction and resulting famine among many classes of the people. After I put down the Amendment I got a bundle of those Orders yesterday which it would take a week to read and many weeks to understand. I therefore adopted the sample expedient of weighing them and I found that the Orders from the Food Controller weighed nearly half-a-pound. There were eighteen of them. I do not wish to suggest that they were all issued fresh yesterday morning; we saw about some of them in the newspapers in the way in which they are now issued. They are issued in a furtive manner, without any previous consideration by this House, or by the important classes with whom they deal. They are thrust upon us in the most extraordinary way.
Of these eighteen Orders I find that two of them deal with milk and about a dozen others deal with milk, two of them deal with margarine and one Order deals with edible offal. That is a matter of which I had n previous experience, and I examined that Order with more care than any other. It referred to livers, lights, tripe, guts and other things, and fixed prices for all those extraordinary commodities ranging from twopence to four shillings. There was an Order about fish and one dealing with intoxicating liquors and public meals and one about sheeps' heads and two or three about meat or cattle sales, and restricting still further the production of feeding-stuffs for cattle, which are bad enough at present. There is an Order of seven pages dealing with. 315 the Sugar Commission, a matter which I thought had been settled by the present Chairman of the Commission, and an Order of nine pages dealing with sugar rationing and an Order about coal. That was one day's post of the issue of Orders. I wish the House to realise that each of those Orders is a law binding on the unhappy people of the country, on whom most harassing sentences are being imposed for breaches of many of them, which are brought to their notice for the first time when they are brought before the Courts which deal with the charges. These restrictions affect classes of people on whom the nation is most dependent. I am glad to say, and that is one of the reasons why I appeal with confidence to the House, that there is a great change of public opinion with regard to what is going on. I desire to found myself, although there may be some who will criticise me for doing so, on a most excellent article which appeared in the "Times" last Saturday morning. The "Times" has got a vast load of responsibility to bear with regard to the Food Controller and all his experiments. A glimmer of sense has at last broken in on the "Times," and at the end of the article in which it defended the new Order about meat rations are the words which I am going to read to the House, and I hope they will give effect to the excellent principles which are there laid down. This is what the "Times" says:We are not satisfied that the energies of the Ministry of Food are sufficiently concentrated upon the larger aspects of their task… there is a danger that attention may be too much diverted to minor matters …The real necessity is a widespread awakening to the paramount importance of larger food production. This is á matter which the Ministry of Food has very seriously neglected. We need a great crusade in favour of food production and development of every kind… They talk so much on comparatively trivial subjects that they are losing sight of the really big issues.4.0 P.M.
That is the statement. I could not say anything more sensible or more expressive than that. The mistake that the Food Controller is making is in going into too narrow detailed regulation of prices and rationing, while he is not thinking of the great matter of increasing the stream of supply and production in every part of the country. I suggest to the House that this is not a casual matter in the policy of the Food Controller. I say it is in deference to a policy which has been laid down, and which has 316 at last been stated for us with the greatest clearness. This policy was indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in Manchester last Saturday. My hon. Friend there said:The middleman and a certain type of dealer or merchant who merely bought to sell again—Mind you, that is the crimes—he buys to sell again—have been thrust aside… The critics of the Ministry might grow in number—I think they will grow in number; they are growing in the Press, and I think they will grow in this House—because an expansion of its work would mean even greater interference with private interests, and with business and trade as it has been normally carried on for the purpose of profit.That was the statement of my hon. Friend, and I have only to make just one other short quotation. The Leader of the party to which he is attached made a statement in a similar sense the next day in an interview in the "Observer." The right hon. Member for Barnard Castle said:The Labour party's programme necessitated that the nation should take no step back from the policy of controlling the great industries and services they had taken in hand during the War.I am not here to find fault with the candid expression of my hon. Friend's opinions. On the contrary, I praise him for it, but I say to the House and to the Government that a great momentous issue has been raised here, and that some member of the Government—a member of the War Cabinet for choice—ought to be here to state whether the policy expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary is really the policy of the Government. Let me look at it in two respects. It was at a meeting of two important societies in Manchester that this remarkable speech was made. And what was the crime made against the merchants and traders of this great country? The great crime is that they bought to sell again. What do the co-operative societies do? Do not they buy to sell again?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of FOOD (Mr. Clynes)
They sell to the consumers.
§ Mr. LOUGH
To whom do the merchants sell? Do they sell to people who burn the stuff? Goods are bought to sell again, and to make this a crime will be to' strike at the foundation of every class of trade carried on in this country 317 at the present time. I direct attention to another point in my hon. Friend's statement. The next sin of anybody is to carry on trade for the purpose of profit. There is the attack plainly made. I wanted that funny word, "profiteering," defined. My hon. Friend has done it. There is nothing here of fabulous profits. It is any transaction which is carried through at anything but a loss. If it is carried through at anything but a loss it is a criminal transaction, and the Government declares it is only in favour of loss and failure as the foundation of all business. I want to know from my hon. Friend if he accepts that interpretation?
§ Mr. LOUGH
I say he is on the horns of that dilemma. If he will commence to study this economic question he will find that even in his ledger there are only two columns—one is profit, and the other loss. If you have not profit, you must have loss; and if you have loss, the great commercial prosperity will vanish away. You must carry through a transaction at some profit or else it cannot be carried through safely. I would be glad to make a convert of my hon. Friend. I want to keep the whole House in good frame on this matter. My hon. Friend is beginning already. He says he does not mean loss, but he does not tell us what he does mean. I say you have nothing to choose between profit and loss. If you have no profit, and are not allowed to have a profit, you must have loss, and that will incur national disaster on the widest scale. I think I have made good to the House that we have got a definite programme laid down in the clearest language by the hon. Member, and I suggest that is the programme of the Ministry. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is going to do it, but I want this programme either endorsed or disavowed by a Minister. What about the First Commissioner of Works? What about the Postmaster-General? What about the Comptroller of the Household? What about all the business men who are in the House? I wish we had a few of them here. Are they prepared to accept these definitions that have been laid down in such careful language by the hon. Member? If not, they ought to be here to repudiate them, and to tell us what they actually mean.
318 I suggest the whole proceedings of the Ministry of Food are giving practical illustrations of this revolutionary doctrine and that the merchant is being swept away. When the Minister of Food sees a merchant approaching in the distance he rings the alarm bell, and when the unhappy man comes in he is put into the porter's lodge while they discuss what official will see him, and when at last he has received his interview he is gratified if he escapes without being cast into the oubliette. On the other hand, when a Pressman comes they say: "Here is a member of the Press," and the porter bows low and says that His Lordship will immediately receive him, and Lord Rhondda is willing at any time to give half an hour's interview to any respectable member of the Press. I suggest that a more disastrous doctrine for the people of this country to adopt could not be enunciated. We are an island nation, and ail the prosperity we have enjoyed has been owing to the efforts of two classes, namely, the enterprise of our importers who have gone to every part of the earth and have raked the whole earth to get the provisions from every clime to bring them here to enrich our people. The prosperity of this great class is being undermined, their business is proscribed, and then, having dealt a fatal blow to the great class of importers, they have turned on the home producer, and every home producer is so harried and attacked that even the simple beverage of a glass of milk will soon be a great rarity in this country, which was once the home of plenty. I suggest that the programme laid down, of which I have given sufficient examples already to the House, is an impossible programme, and that it will not do for this House to leave it to run its course and let the Press put an end to it, but I would implore Members of this House to treat the matter seriously, and consider what is being done with regard to this matter. So much, then, for the extreme Orders, and the nature of the Orders and the principles on which they are founded.
I will give one or two examples of the effect that the Orders have produced on importation and production, and I want to guard myself. I believe that this conspiracy at the Ministry of Food— this conspiracy against the life of the nation—has been carried so far that whenever we make a general address, as I am trying to make, one runs the risk 319 of wearying by mentioning a particular business. They say, "This is a grumble about tea," or "This man has lost something over butter, or he is interested in meat, and he is simply coming here grousing and grumbling at a time when every man ought to be willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the country." Although I mention something I know about—tea or sugar — I do not do so in any selfish interest. The steps taken have not injured me, so far as I know, and I would like to assure the House most honestly and sincerely that I have endeavoured to view the matter from a broad public point of view.
Look at the question of tea. Until this Ministry came into power, tea was as plentiful and cheap in this land as when war broke out, allowing for the increased tax and increase in the freight. Could more be desired? Here was the most ruinous war ever heard of, and tea was here in abundance, and at the old prices. That was the situation the Ministry found when they came in with their revolutionaries, of whom we have one or two on the Front Bench opposite. They immediately prohibited the import of tea. Why? Because they were misinformed as to the quantity of tea in the country. Some said there was enough tea for two years; others said for nine months, but a great mistake was made, and the importation of tea was stopped. The result was that the stock of tea ran down from 130,000,000 to 30,000,000 lbs., and the House may calculate when I tell them that for every million you have a working day's supply. Ten thousand chests are used in this country every day. Perhaps the House will excuse my mentioning that detail, because it shows what a mighty work is done for the community by this class, which is now despised and persecuted. They brought the tea in, distributed it, and kept everything on the old basis, and that appears to be the crime for which they were interdicted by these new lights of the Ministry. No tea was to be allowed to be brought in for eight or nine months, until at last stocks fell so low that the cup of tea began to disappear from the breakfast table, and queues began to form, and then there was a change. When large numbers of American soldiers were being brought over and shipping was wanted more than ever, the Government began to bring in the tea neglected last year.
320 I would only mention one other point in connection with this matter. There was a great charge made against the tea trade about a million pounds of China tea remaining in the country. It still remains in the country. People who stay at home think a million pounds is a great deal of tea. A million pounds! Those people who talk that way do not know anything when they mention a matter of that sort. You really want to take the merchant into your confidence. He will tell you what it actually means. This million pounds was nothing. It is only one day's consumption, if the consumption were confined to it. It was all that was left of 30,000,000 lbs. of China tea that existed when this precious Ministry came into power. What did they do? We cams to the last moment, and they suddenly decided that this tea was not to be sold at any price about 2s. 8d. per 1b. But it cost a good deal more than 2s. 8d., and the people who held it could not sell it at the price. It is now held up, and is going bad every day because of the folly of the Ministry. I want to bring one other example in regard to this matter before the House. When a number of Members of Parliament met the Food Controller we were told by him that he recognised now that he had made a mess of China tea, and that he was going to bring in some. What did he tell us? He said that it would be sold at a higher price. Mark that! The Food Ministry would not allow honest people to have tea in the country; they were not to sell it at any higher price. When they themselves bring it in they will sell it at 4s. or 5s. per 1b. That is what they have been doing all along. They have not lowered prices, but have raised them. I said that I wanted to make my case good, because in my old age I have got to doubt my capacity to persuade the House. I told the House at an earlier stage that the Press had taken up these matters. A very remarkable thing has occurred. I mentioned the "Times" a little time ago. Now I am going to mention the "Daily Mail." [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I do not want any groans at the "Daily Mail." I pronounce it. especially when it agrees with me, a great organ of public opinion. I quoted the "Times" of Saturday. I am going to quote the "Daily Mail" of Monday. In the "Daily Mail" of Monday we find a long article headed "Food," by Mr. Lovat Fraser. [Hon. Members: "Oh ! "] Some hon. Gentlemen 321 seem to object to the name. Others appear to admire it. I know nothing of Mr. Lovat Fraser. I never had the pleasure of reading anything he wrote except this article. Upon this article I say he is a man of extraordinary common sense. I say that for two reasons.
First, he went to the Ministry of Food. He admits it in the first part of the article. He received that welcome which the Press always receives. He did not, however, allow his common sense to be undermined; so though he pays the Ministry some compliments at the beginning of his article, he begins to talk sense when he gets about half-way down. He gives us a bit of information in regard to tea which has been refused to this House— and important information it is! What was the old method of legislation in this country'? Whenever a revolutionary project was brought forward, or any great change suggested by a Ministry, it was always very soon and very candidly told to the House. The Ministry said what they were going to do. Why? In order that the House might think it over, and in order that the people of the country might know it. What does the Minister of Food do? He boasts of the secrecy with which he makes revolutionary changes. Nobody would have known this that I am going to read if this journalist had not wormed it out of the Minister of Food. This is what he says:The proposal to cast all the tea in the land into one common blend seems to be almost incredible.I was suspicious of that, but this is the first time I have had the matter confirmed.It gives the clue—Mark the words—since I am only mentioning this as an illustration—It gives the clue to the great defect of the Ministry's policy—Mark that. This intelligent Ministry of Food!which is that it lacks flexibility. The Ministry's tea scheme is just the kind of inhuman—Mark the words again: the language is now getting strong—is just the kind of inhuman expedient which you would expect from the Sydney Webb's.That is the worst he could say!Mr. Sydney Webb is the sort of man who would like to cut down all the trees in the land because they are not the same shape and do not look as though they came out of Noah's Ark. The theorists of the new State will shout with joy at the thought of every kind of tea, Caravan, and the sweepings of the Ceylon go-downs, Kuisow and Kangra, Souchoung and Formosa, Hyson and Orange Pekoe and Darjeelind—in one swift mixture blent."322 I would not say that. Nothing would clear me from the charge of being interested, but Mr. Lovat Fraser may say it. The sentiments are splendid—The Ministry's tea scheme perfectly symbolises the ideal of State Socialists, which is that the earth shall be ' flat, and flat for evermore.'This is a casual article produced by a journalist. You have got this description of what the Ministry are going to do with tea. What they are going to do is the height of folly. It will do nobody any good, and it will do a good deal of harm. It will be one addition to the wretched policy they have perpetrated in regard to tea. I would ask this House, even at this late moment, to exercise its mighty power and put a stop to this sort of thing. I have quoted Monday's "Daily Mail." The paper follows it up—for it always does things scientifically—on the Tuesday with a leading article. That article is headed, "Fixing Prices too Low: Result, Scarcity." That is just what I say. It is as great a mistake to fix prices too low as to fix them too high. It is the most delicate thing in the world to fix prices. Here you have an ordinary journalist, Mr. Lovat Fraser, and the writers of the "Daily Mail" teaching us those good old economic principles which we might have learned from Adam Smith, if we took the trouble so to learn. I suggest that it is little short of a crime to deprive the people of this country of tea in the way the Ministry have. They have created a famine. They have created queues when there was abundance of tea. You have only to restore the control of the merchant over this great article and within six weeks you will have pre-war conditions prevailing and pre-war prices, and abundance in the country until the end of the War, however long it may last. If that should appear to the House a very strong statement, I am willing to mention another article, sugar. I am glad to mention it, because the House will see how fair I am. I desire to compliment the Ministry on its dealings in regard to sugar. The position of sugar in the last six months has been the only bright spot in the Ministry's dealing with food. I give the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Chairman of the Sugar Commission (Colonel Bathurst) credit for the great work he has done in this matter. When the Prime Minister asked him to take up the question of the shortage of sugar the position was as bad as it is with tea, and with everything else. He 323 replied to the Prime Minister, in his cheerful way, that on one condition would he attend to the matter. The Prime Minister did not like any condition, and inquired, "What is the condition?" "That you bring in the sugar," was the reply of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Prime Minister did not like that kind of talk, but he had to deal with a man of some experience, who said, "No, Sir, if I have to deal with the matter, you must bring the sugar in." The reply was, "Oh, very well, I will order the sugar to be brought in." It was settled. The sugar was brought in. There were stocks then of sugar for only three days. We have now three months' supply of sugar in the market, and everybody has plenty of sugar.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Anyone who knows the situation will confirm what I say. A friend of mine went into his grocer's shop the other day and the grocer said to him, "Do not forget your sugar." He answered, "What sugar?" The grocer said, "I have all those half-pounds standing there for you; they are yours." My friend replied, "I have plenty at home." "But you will have to take it," said the grocer. Everywhere there is plenty of sugar. If sugar could be brought in, so could other things—if Ministers liked ! The whole thing is a gamble with the food of the people. What Ministers have ordered to be short is short. What they wish to bring in, they have brought in. We heard from the Food Controller the other night—those Members of this House who went to listen to him—that there, was three times the stock of sugar in this country that there was a year ago. There is abundance, yet tea could not be brought in, nor the materials for margarine. Burmah beans have to be banished from the land, and other things. Why was there an exception in the ease of sugar? Simply because there was an honest man at the head of the Commission who said," I will not go into the Ministry to be a puppet, and to take my salary for doing nothing" —though I believe he takes no salary; all the best men do not." I will not be there unless you bring in the sugar." The same thing has taken place in regard to rice, beans, and other vital articles that come to this country. 324 I want to turn for a moment to home production. I hope I will not anticipate the remarks of my hon. Friend who will support this Amendment, and who has an Amendment in somewhat similar terms on the Paper. The little experience I have had in regard to home production has been gained in Ireland. I understand that my hon. Friend who will support desires to speak mainly about England. What took place in regard to the great article of beef, which I will take first; then I will have a word about milk. Beef is a simple commodity which it takes three months to produce. What did the Ministry do? The Food Minister three months ago fixed the price of beef for January at a figure at which it could not be produced. It was merely a conspiracy to create a famine. He has created a famine. If he had not done what he did, there would be plenty of beef to-day. If he will remove his meaningless restrictions, plenty will be restored within six weeks. Three months ago he fixed the price of beef at 75s. per cwt.; it cannot be produced at that price now. His low prices have led to starvation. He said he would reduce the price to 67s. in November, and 60s. in January— the lowest price in the dearest month ! In a month of the greatest difficulty and the greatest scarcity he said. "I will reduce it to the lowest price." Another thing. The Government through him ordered immature cattle to be killed. What are immature cattle? They are cattle ready for the stall. There were 20,000 tons of beef lost by the slaughter of immature cattle at the order of the Food Ministry. In my own Constituency I have one farmer who told me that he was preparing to feed 245 bullocks, and had 600 tons of turnips ready for them. He calculated what the cost of feeding the animals would be. and then found that if he had to sell them at the official price he would lose £10 per head, or a total of £2,450. He did not bring in a single one. There was never such a conspiracy against the lives of the people tolerated as this one. What did Lord Rhondda say on one occasion? He said," I am a farmer." I take leave to doubt that! He is one of those fancy farmers that we have in England who keep some prize cattle, managed by his steward, and he thinks he is farming because he goes out occasionally to look at them. He is not a farmer in the sense of that great community who have done so much 325 for England, Scotland, and Ireland for centuries, and who have to live by the thing. Lord Rhondda said," Nothing will induce me to raise the price of beef." He always pretends to be a strong man, but something did induce him, and it was the kicking he received in the Press that induced him to alter the price, and he said, "Well, now, if I alter it in January, I will move it to June." He thought that because January wag winter and June was summer that he must be right, but everybody knows that June is the worst month for beef, because in June feeding-stuffs are scarce, and you have no grass. That was what this practical farmer suggested. He pretended to chuck up the sponge, but he has not done so. He said, "I will allow the present price of 75s. to stand all the year," but that is no use. May I point out that only last week, at one of the largest cattle markets In the country, 86s. a cwt. was paid?
We are going to be asked to consider a Bill inflicting pains and penalties upon those who break these Orders, but I say that those Orders fixing prices, as far as farmers are concerned, have been repeatedly broken in the public interest. If those laws had not been broken, and if they had not been broken almost every day, we should all hare been starving now. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the name of the market to which I refer if he likes; it is the largest fat tattle market in the United Kingdom, and this week prices there have ranged from 82s. to 86s., which is 10s. above the price fixed by those wretched people in the Food Control Department. What is the Food Controller doing now? I have mentioned the Order dealing with turnips and limiting the price in Ireland. The price has been fixed at 25s. per ton. With increased wages and with a horse costing nearly 30s. a week to keep you could not lift the turnips for 26s. a ton. That is an impossible price. An Order has been issued fixing the price of onions. A friend of mine told me the other day that he had a 3-acre field in which he was going to put in onions, but after seeing that Order he said, "I am off onions." Every step the Food Controller takes you would think is conceived to create famine in the land.
I will now take the case of milk. Milk takes twelve months to produce, and it has to be very carefully arranged on account of the risks and the price of feeding-stuffs and their scarcity. We had 326 a series of Orders dealing with milk twelve. months ago, and there were two Milk. Orders issued yesterday. This is the reason that the supply of milk is exposed to such great risk. The price has been fixed at 2s. a gallon in this country and 1s. 8d. per gallon in Ireland. At that price it is extremely difficult to produce milk, and it must be remembered that this price has to be reduced to 1s. in May—that is, it is to be less in May than in June and July, according to the new Schedule. Now everybody knows that there is no grass in May and there is no real flush of milk till the end of June and July, and therefore, if there is to be any difference, it ought to be cheaper in July than in May. But the Food Controller is always making these experiments and restricting the supply of our vital necessities
. Take butter. It requires 2½ gallons of milk to make a pound of butter, so that the cost price of butter is now between 4s. and 5s. per pound. The Food Department has fixed the price of butter at 2s. a pound. There are now 30,000 casks of butter in Copenhagen which I could get over here, were I allowed, but I should have to pay for it like the Germans. The Germans have sense in matters in which we are foolish, and the result is that they have thousands of tons of splendid food, such as bacon, butter and eggs from Denmark and Sweden, which this country in its folly has rejected, and which is not allowed to be imported because of this wretched experiment of the Ministry of Food. I might give one or two illustrations, but I will not go further on this point, as I think I have said enough to justify those articles in the Press.
I make a solemn appeal to hon. Members. Let this House use its own good sense and say whether in a great War and in a time of great scarcity you are going to harass the importer and fight with the producer in this way. Remember what is taking place outside. This Parliament is in its eighth year, and some hon. Members think it will last for ever, but let me tell them that it will not. There may be a great many hon. Members here who do not intend to come back, but I appeal to them to have a sense of patriotic duty, and I appeal to them to listen to the agitation which is going on outside. If they do so, they will hear the mutterings of the storm of revolution. You can hear it in the Press 327 and amongst the people, and if this House is not careful those forces will be lashed into activity in order to check the work of a Department which has proved itself totally incapable of dealing with the great task entrusted to it.
§ Captain WRIGHT
I beg to second the Amendment which has been moved by my right hon. Friend, who, if he will allow me to say so, has once more delighted the House with his knowledge and common sense and his keen sense of humour. I do not propose to cover the same ground as the right hon. Gentleman. The points I wish to make will be confined to those which are mentioned in the Amendment which I have put on the Paper, and which relate simply to the question of the increased production of home-grown food, and to the present system of dual control of that production by the Ministry of Food and the Board of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman has given many instances of the effect of the Orders that have been issued by the Ministry of Food upon the food supply in our various markets. Lord Rhondda has, I think, earned a reputation which is not altogether enviable, in fact, his policy has invented a new word, and if any English soldiers in the hospital or elsewhere happen to lose a box of matches, they say it has been "Rhonddaed." We have seen in "Punch" the cartoon of the Food Controller producing 1s. 9d. and the rabbit disappearing; and it is a fact that since the Order limiting the price of rabbits was issued they have almost entirely disappeared. I think that is sufficient justification for the cartoon. It is obvious that rabbits cannot be sold at that price, because farmers have to pay 1s. 9d. for the man who traps them.
I wish to confine myself to the question of the increased production of home-grown food. The importation of foreign food has been brought down to a low figure, and we are far more dependent, and we shall be more so as time goes on, upon the food which we ourselves grow in this country. On the admission of Lord Rhondda himself in the House of Lords, the fixing of prices by the Ministry of Food has a tendency to restrict supplies and to increase the demand. He admits this at a time when of all things it is necessary to increase supplies and to restrict demand. If the Food Controller had last year devoted himself to restrict 328 ing the demand by a system of rationing we should be in a much better position than we are at the present moment with regard to the supplies of essential food. The original Meat Order is perhaps the best instance of what may be called the folly of food control. I would point out that, on the admission of Lord Rhondda himself, that Order was never approved of by the President of the Board of Agriculture. It fixed a scale of 75s. for September, going down to 60s. in January, the high price being at the time when meat was cheapest to produce, and the lowest price at the time when it was most expensive to produce. What the object of that Order was I do not know, and I have not any idea, but I know that it was issued in spite of the protests of agricultural representatives from all over the country. Deputations went almost daily to the Food Controller, but he turned a deaf ear to them, and that Order was issued. It was pointed out to Lord Rhondda what the result would be. It was shown to him that the effect would, in January and February, be that there would be hardly any home-grown meat in the country.
Lord Rhondda said "the full effect of this Order will be discerned in the months of January and February," and never was a prophecy more fully borne out, because the full effect has been that in January and February in every market town there has been practically no meat at all upon the market. He was told that would be the effect, but nevertheless the Order was issued. Three months later he saw the mistake, and changed the Order; but it was too late, because the trouble had been done in September and October. It was simply asking the farmer to send' all his animals into the market in September and October, and that is what actually occurred. The worst of it is that our stocks and herds have been largely reduced owing to that action. Lord Rhondda has issued figures to show that, by this means, only a small reduction has taken place in the number of our herds. But if you analyse the figures you will find that the number of two and three old animals on which we depend for our more immediate supply of meat is enormously reduced, and the reason why there is only such a small general reduction shown is that there are so many more calves in the country—a result of the original Order or appeal by the President of the Board. 329 of Agriculture, addressed to the farmers, not to slaughter their calves. There is a very serious position, and we shall have to wait a long time until we get proper meat supplies. Another point arising out of the figures put forward by Lord Rhondda is the comparison between the compulsory census taken jointly by the Ministry of Food and the Board of Agriculture in December and the voluntary census taken in the previous June. Anybody who has any acquaintance with farmers knows that the voluntary census forms very often are not filled up, and consequently, the December census really does not give a true indication of the state of affairs.
My contention is that the whole policy of fixing prices has restricted the supplies of home produce, and the remedy which I suggest to the House and the Government is that the matter of home production should be left to the Department which does know about agriculture. I suggest that the Board of Agriculture should have the duty of fixing the price to the producer, and I am absolutely certain we can trust the President of the Board of Agriculture and his expert advisers who know their work to fix those prices in a manner which will be fair both to the producer and to the consumer Agriculturists are not out to make unfair profits. They are asking that they shall have prices fixed which take into consideration the cost of production, with some profit on the top of it. They ask that they shall not have prices fixed which, in their opinion, be it right or wrong, do not remunerate them in a fair way. I suggest further that after the President of the Board of Agriculture has fixed his prices for the producer, and for the producer only, it shall then be the duty of the Ministry of Food to take care of the distribution and rationing and to fix the prices to be asked by the wholesaler and the retailer and to be paid by the consumer. The right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment has shown that the Ministry of Food has far too much to do—more than it is able to handle with satisfaction—and if the suggestions which I make were adopted by the Government it would be relieved of a considerable part of its work, and if I may say so respectfully, it would be better able to look after the distribution and rationing of food.
330 The farmer is a man of slow mind. He is slow to form opinions, but when once he has made up his mind it takes a lot to induce him to change it. He has lost all confidence in the Ministry of Food Control. He is critical of anyone who comes to him and talks about farming, or who seeks to regulate agricultural affairs. Once a man has made a mistake the farmer will never believe in him again. Everyone admits that this Beef Order was one of the greatest mistakes that has ever been made, and that it is responsible for the position in which we find ourselves to-day. In addition to the making of mistakes, there has been a kind of atmosphere of suggestion that the farmers are profiteers. That is an imputation justly and keenly resented by the farmers. I do not think there is any class in the country which can show a better record than the farmer with regard to what it has done during this War— and done under the greatest difficulties. The farmers have been short of labour. They have been short of machinery and implements. They have been short of fertilisers. They have been short of everything they want to carry on their industry. But, in spite of that, the farmers of this country have done what I believe the farmers of no other country engaged in the War has done—they have increased the supply of home-grown food during the period of the War. They are at this moment engaged under the Board of Agriculture and under the war agricultural committees which represent that Board in ploughing up 3,000,000 more acres of their grass land. They are doing that in spite of the attitude of a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members of this House towards the Corn Production Act when it was before the House; they are doing it in spite of the fact that they thought that in proportional representation they saw some chance of getting better representation in this House in the future than in the past; they are doing it in spite of the fact that by the Representation of the People Act the number of seats for Members who represent agriculture has been reduced. In spite of all these things, the agriculturist is doing his best and is taking upon himself the risk that if the cry of cheapness to the consumer is to be the only consideration in the future with regard to food, then the expense to which he is now being put in ploughing up his grass lands will have been lost, 331 and he will certainly be faced in years to come with the great cost of again laying down these arable lands to grass. They are doing their best to help the country in its time of need.
As the Amendment which I have on the Paper is much narrower in its scope than the one moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough), and as my Amendment is particularly concerned with the relations between the Board of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, I ask that some reply may be given to my suggestion as to the administrative change as between the two Departments by someone who can speak for the Government as a whole; not merely by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Minister, but by someone with authority. I put a question to the Leader of the House the other day founded upon a resolution which was passed by a federation of all the war agricultural committees throughout the country, which raised the two points I have laid stress upon. I will read the resolution, as it is very short—With the importation of foodstuffs so greatly reduced, if cheapness to the consumer without regard to the cost of production is to be the sole consideration, the effect on home production must be disastrous.Further, the Committee consider that the dual control of home production is detrimental, and urge that the stimulation of production and the fixing of the prices to the producer for his produce should be left entirely to the President of the Board of Agriculture, and that, on the basis of the prices go fixed, the distribution of all produce and the fixing of prices for the wholesaler, retailer, and consumer should be alone left to the Food Controller.That is a deliberate opinion arrived at after the resolution had been circulated to every war agricultural committee in the country, and copies of the resolution have been laid before the Prime Minister, the Food Controller, and the President of the Board of Agriculture. I ask the Government to consider whether an arrangement of the sort I have suggested cannot be put into force and the question of encouraging production be left to the Department which knows about the subject—the questions of distribution and rationing to be in the hands of the Ministry of Food, which has at the present time far too much to do and has not the knowledge which justifies its interference with production.
§ Major TRYON
I wish, at the very beginning, to say that I cordially agree with a large number of the very admirably-expressed criticisms of the Food Con 332 troller made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lough). I only differ from the right hon. Gentleman in his conclusion, as I take it the whole purport of his speech was that restrictions of every kind should be swept away. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, because he advocated the retention of some form of control and urged that it should be. in the hands of a Department specially qualified to deal with the subject. I agree, too, that production should be encouraged.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Perhaps I may be allowed to say—I did not want to detain the House too long—that I guarded myself against the suggestion that I was opposed to every form of restriction. because in the early part of my speech I urged that the restrictions should be directed towards increasing production rather than towards worrying interference with it.
§ Major TRYON
I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember he began his speech with criticisms, which produced much laughter, on details of the various regulations with regard to prices. But how are you going to regulate the prices of food if you do not go into details? You must necessarily, when dealing with a matter of this sort, go into details, and, therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman objects to the detailed classification of food, he necessarily disapproves of all Regulations that apply to the food question. After all, there is another side of this question which has not been touched upon up to the present, and that is that before the War there was a very great scarcity of food in this country. I remember a speech by the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) on that subject, in which it was pointed out that there was unquestionably a very great shortage. I do not believe we shall be able to get the people of this country to accept in a patient spirit the hardships which are before us unless they feel, as I think they have a right to feel, that the food is evenly shared all round; and I think it possible there is some danger to this country unless we can create the feeling that the rations are properly shared. 5.0 P.M.
If you are going to criticise the proposed Regulations, you must remember that without those Regulations it is not possible to secure a proper distribution of food, 333 and for that reason, and almost only for that reason, I am opposed to the right hon. Gentleman's Motion. I agree, however, with the Seconder of the Motion that you must encourage production, and that, after all, the proper solution of food scarcity is an increased supply of food. That is common sense. The remedy for scarcity is food and not food tickets, obviously. I cannot help remembering that this demand has been put forward, and legitimately put forward, by the working classes and by their representatives. It is owing to a Labour demand, and I think a just Labour demand, that this principle of rationing is being put into force. I cannot help remembering, also, that Labour is represented, and, if T may say so, most ably represented, by the hon. Member (Mr. Clynes), who is, I believe, the right-hand man of the Food Controller. I do not wish to go into too political and party questions. I will safeguard myself by saying that I believe you must have Regulations. If you are going to sweep all Regulations away, are you going to stand the enormous rise in prices which will occur all over the country? You have now huge sums being expended, sometimes well and sometimes badly; you have a diminished supply; the prices of commodities will go up to an unheard-of extent; wages will go up, and rightly, to meet that; and the increase in the capital cost of the War to this country will be augmented to an extent upon which we have never calculated, and which I venture to say never entered into the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman.
What are the facts? We have an Island which used to grow in the old days three times the amount of wheat which it grew just before the War, and it is from causes for which the right hon. Gentleman himself is largely responsible that this agriculture has gone down. You have encouraged, as Rome did, what you thought was cheap wheat, and the result is scarcity and dear food; and no one is more responsible for it than the right hon. Gentleman. I have noticed in this Debate that, with the exception of my right hon. Friend, there is one thing which all the speakers on the Address have done. In every case there have been violent attacks on the Government by hon. Members who have been largely responsible for the scarcity and the difficulties which the Government have to face. I need hardly remind the House that we have had a Cabinet Minister speaking of Cabinet Ministers 334 making mistakes which occurred during his own period of office. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of sugar and the scarcity of it which at one time existed. I can remember the days when he and his party actually asked for taxes on sugar produced in this country to prevent the springing up of the production of sugar here. It was known that industries were springing up in the Eastern counties for the production of sugar. The right hon. Member and those who supported him, and the "Manchester Guardian," demanded taxes in this country to prevent sugar being produced here.
§ Major TRYON
I am sorry if I misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman or misled the House, but I have a quotation from the ''Manchester Guardian," and both he and the "Manchester Guardian" are typical and eminent representatives of Free Trade principles. I cannot help remembering—though I mention it in no spirit of reproach—the right hon. Gentleman's opening words. He was positively insulted at having been given a, card which held out a prospect, if he filled it in, of getting a certain amount of offal. I think if it is wrongly filled in you get six months', but that if you fill it in properly you get a certain amount of offal. I cannot help remembering a day when that would have been regarded as typical of the kind of food you got in protected countries. But. I do not bear any malice in that respect, because I want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and those who hold his economic views on the suggestion that it is desirable on light, sandy soil to grow as much rye as possible, as the growing of rye produces such excellent bread—that we ought to grow as much rye as possible because of the excellent and nutritious quality of this kind of food.
§ Major TRYON
I was not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman did, but I am suggesting that he is a Free Trader. I wish now to support the right hon. Gentleman on one or two points that he made. Take the case of pigs. In the country, as everybody knows, there are cottages where people live and keep pigs. As long as they grow the pig and kill it themselves—if they escape the Food Hoarding Regulations and keep it—the 335 price does not very greatly matter to them, but with the present low price fixed for the sale of pigs, and the enormous cost of food for surplus pigs beyond what you can produce from the scraps from the table and the house, I believe it is the case—and I am sure hon. Members for agricultural— districts will correct me if I am wrong that the production of pigs is being very gravely discouraged. What has happened is what always happens. In the agricultural districts when it comes to scarcity they fare better because they are producing, and the towns suffer more because the towns necessarily live on the surplus of the agricultural districts. If by putting the price of the sale of pigs too low you discourage their production it is obviously the towns that suffer. Then, as to the production of poultry. The history of poultry in this matter has been most extraordinary. We have never been able to ascertain whether poultry ought to be killed or preserved, but I think it is a great fault to throw any difficulties in the way of maintaining poultry at the present time because they have been fed all through the winter, when they do not lay, and it is just now when they will be a very profitable source of food supply. I think, therefore, every effort ought to be made to keep them going now. I should like to say one thing which perhaps may be new to the House. I do think that maximum prices are necessary because otherwise the cost of living will be enormously increased, but the history of food control and the attempts to regulate prices do not give one much confidence. It has been tried in the past, time after time, and in every case it has failed. It is a somewhat distant date, but we all know that in the days of ancient Rome they relied, mainly for political purposes, on food supplies from overseas. The supplies for Rome were kept out by enemies of Rome, whom—as we do to-day —they described as pirates. Then Rome endeavoured to keep herself going by the subsidised production of corn—which is what is going on here now. Then in Rome they did what we have done here, they appointed a Food Controller. I will not follow his career beyond mentioning that they began by putting up a statue to him, and ended by his decapitation.
I have only one other thing to say. This Debate has been illuminated by many happy expressions from the right hon. Gentleman opposite of a humorous 336 nature which we all appreciated, but I know that he and all of us realise that this is a desperately serious subject. We have an island with its sea communications gravely imperilled, and we must feel that production is the vital thing that is going to save us. We believe that some restriction of excessive prices is necessary, but you must guard at every point against these Regulations checking production, and I would like particularly to suggest that we should, if possible, consider the question again of the children. It is a very serious thing to limit the amount of food granted to growing children. Whether additional supplies could be available or not I do not know, but I think it is a great pity, if it can be avoided, to discriminate against the children who are growing, and who are granted such a small supply of meat. I would remind the House that the policy of the Government on this subject is not altogether sound, because in the case of soldiers the young and growing soldiers are granted additional rations. If that is so, I think it may be proved to be a very grievous mistake to cut down as much as they have the rations for the children. I would urge this additional consideration, that whereas grown-up people may suffer temporary, and even grievous, discomfort from a shortage of food, such a shortage of food for children means the permanent disablement of the most precious thing that we have got in this country.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
I have listened with the very greatest possible interest to the extremely able speeches that have already been made on this subject. The very forcible and humorous speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough), I am sure, commanded the sympathy and attention of the whole House, while the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded his Motion (Captain Wright), and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who supported him (Major Tryon), will carry great weight, I am sure, both in this House and in the country. I was very much struck with the concluding remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down when he pointed out that the question of our food supply is of vital importance to this country, and to our ability to carry on the War. There is no doubt that the question of production is of far more importance than the question even of distribution. Some very foolish person questioned that statement when I made it the other day, and I 337 pointed out to him that, of course, if there were no production in this country, no amount of distribution could relieve the present tension with regard to our food supply; and if, on the other hand, we had four times the production, the need of distribution would be very greatly done away with. I cannot altogether agree with every point that was put forward by the Mover of this Amendment, although with most of his contentions I am substantially in agreement. I should like to, point out that in this I hold no brief for the farmers, but, representing, as I do, one of the largest industrial constituencies in the country, it is my duty to see that there is the largest production of food possible in the country, in order to protect their supplies, and to see that they are deprived as little as possible of their necessary food. The point I want especially to emphasise this afternoon is a point which is felt very deeply by the producers all over the country and which very nearly and very greatly concerns the consumer. It is this point, that every single Order that has been issued by the Food Controller with regard to the food production of this country has diminished the production and not increased it.
I should like for a moment to consider what some of those Orders have been, and what the result has been on production here. Let us take some instances. There is the question of sugar, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. We were told there was so great a shortage of sugar last summer when people were applying for sugar in order to preserve their fruit that it could not be granted. The right hon. Gentleman says that there is plenty of sugar. If that is true, the Food Controller was certainly wrong in withholding sugar and allowing an enormous amount of fruit to go bad. When he did issue an Order releasing a very considerable amount of sugar, it was too late, and an immense amount of fruit had already gone bad. I would like to take the question of potatoes. No potatoes, especially those of certain grades, were allowed to be sold by the farmers unless they had obtained a permit, but the permits in many cases were so delayed that hundreds of tons of potatoes which otherwise might have been usefully employed in the country went bad and were wasted. Other potatoes that were put on trucks after being released were 338 frost-bitten owing to the delay at the depots, and were lost as food to the country.
The other day, as we all know, 1,200 tons of wheat were sunk through being taken oversea instead of overland. I know that the answer will be that there is a shortage of transport, but we know that in many instances supplies are being brought very long distances overland. They are being brought from Scotland to Leeds, and locally grown supplies are taken away from the Leeds area and distributed in the South. Surely that is extraordinarily bad management of the transport of this country. If it were better managed, and if supplies for each large town were drawn from the immediate area and not from a distance, the shortage in trucks would be very much relieved, and it would be possible to move all our supplies overland instead of running the risk of bringing them coastwise. Imagine the irritation that is caused to farmers, who are liable to be very seriously fined if they give a handful of wheat to their poultry, or if they use offals, which may be declared afterwards not to be offals, in feeding their pigs, to read of 1,200 tons of wheat being sunk and wasted altogether. It also causes great irritation to the farmer, who is told that he must plough out grass land in order to grow wheat when he sees it wasted in this way. The Government are very much to blame for throwing this wheat away. The meddle and the muddle of the Food Control Office is causing the greatest irritation, both to the producer and to the consumer. The Orders for ploughing out grass land were issued in October last, which was already late, but it did enable a considerable extra area to be brought under crops this spring. Supplemental Orders to plough out grass land did not reach the producers until the third week in January. Any Order then to plough out grass land, and especially land on which slag had been put, simply meant an absolute waste of the nation's resources. It is quite impossible for that land, being ploughed out so late, to produce efficient crops. The produce of milk and meat from the land would have been enormously in excess of the scratch crop that you are likely to get by ploughing out the land so late. I know what I am talking about, because I have farmed for forty years, both in New Zealand for a living and in this country. I am sick 339 and tired of being told about calories or units of heat which you get out of books when I know from practical experience what can be done, what is capable of being done, and what mistakes are being made. Lord Rhondda, I suppose, knows something about coal. Is he aware that the calories or units of heat in a pound of coal are greater than in a pound of wheat? Can he feed the country on coal? Coal contains all the elements of food, but, unfortunately, you cannot digest it. Coal is made to be burned and wheat is grown to be eaten. The people who dictate the policy with regard to agriculture in this country are absolutely ignorant of real, practical farming. It is perfectly pitiable that at this time we should be wasting the food and the production of this country at the dictation of people who do not understand what there are talking about.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
The meat shortage and the milk shortage now is entirely the fault of the Food Controller. On 15th February last year, just a year ago almost to a day, I brought up the whole of this question and set out at great length what must inevitably happen. I spoke in this House about the third week in August last year—I think I spoke about half or three-quarters of an hour—and I went into full details pointing out that this 60s. order in January must inevitably cause a famine in milk and meat in January this year. No notice was taken of anything that I said or wrote at that time. The result has absolutely justified every word that I then said. I do not go into all this for the purpose of destructive criticism. I do not know Lord Rhondda. I have no personal animosity against him. I do not want to rake up all the mistakes that he has made, but I see that the same mistakes are being repeated now, and. the result will be disastrous to the food supply of this country if they are not corrected, and corrected immediately. I should like to make a certain definite suggestion. In the first place, you must have a constructive policy. It is no good haphazard orders being brought out one after the other contradicting one another. Last autumn we were told that we were to kill cattle as fast as we could. Cows 340 and heifers were killed, and now there is a shortage of milk. Calves were even killed, and cattle were rushed to the market. Do hon. Members realise the effect of killing immature beasts? If you take a beast such as we have in July or August, it is capable of laying on one or two hundredweight additional meat by the late autumn fed on grass alone. If you kill the beast two or three months too soon, you are throwing away hundreds of tons of meat which could be reared on grass alone. It is therefore a sheer waste to kill them. If you encourage the killing of heifers and cows, and if you plough up too much grass land so that they cannot be kept, you reduce your supply of milk. It is said that you can obtain more produce from rotation crops than you can from permanent grass, and that you can feed more cattle in consequence and have more meat and milk. I can assure the House from my personal experience that you must have a certain amount of grassland in proportion to arable land, and that if you do not preserve the balance a number of cows and heifers will not be kept, and the supply of milk will suffer accordingly. That is a practical point. I know myself of an instance where in January an Order was issued to plough out land which had been slagged in the autumn. The President of the Board of Agriculture has told us that it is very difficult in many instances to improve the grass land of this country, because slag is short, difficult to get, and not good in quality, and because the means of transport are difficult. Good God, is it not criminal to plough out land which has been recently slagged and waste that when you cannot get fresh slag to put on other land? I would issue an Order that no land slagged within the last three or four years should be ploughed out now, because otherwise you are wasting it at a time when it is impossible to get a fresh supply of slag. How do all these mistakes arise? They arise—and this question has been brought forward already—from the dual control. It results in endless mistakes, and seriously embarrasses the President of the Board of Agriculture. The first duty of the Government is to see that for the purposes of production the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Food Controller are one, and he should be a man who understands agriculture, and not a man who is entirely ignorant of it. People say, "What are you going to do? What could he do, even supposing you 341 gave him a free hand?" The chief need at the present moment which is felt on all hands is to consult the producers and the consumers. I would consult the mayors and other influential citizens of all the large towns, and ascertain how they think they could best supply their towns from their own area. I would decentralise very largely. I would let the produce be sent always to the nearest centre, and so save unnecessary transport. You say it has been done. I know the way that it has been done. I attended a meeting upstairs last week, when Lord Rhondda came to consult the Members of this House. He made a statement which, with all due respect to him, was so confused that I do not think anybody could understand it. Members were invited to ask him questions. If any Member wanted to explain why he was asking a question he was told that he was making a speech. The meeting was absolutely useless. I have had a good deal of experience in organisation, especially during this War. and will only give the House one instance. I was asked by the War Office to raise certain units of Artillery, which were extremely urgent at that moment, and I was told by the War Office that every one of the Lord Mayors and Mayors applied to had turned the thing down and would not attempt to raise them. I went to the Mayors and the other influential citizens in each place and asked them how they considered that the units should be raised. Most of them told me, in the first instance, that they could not be raised and that they were not going to undertake the job. I asked them why, and they said they had a large mass of papers sent down from the War Office which they could not understand and they were afraid to tackle the job at all. In the end, when I had explained the matter to them, in every instance they took it up. I was successful in raising five brigades of Field Artillery and six heavy batteries in the very places where they said it was impossible to do it.
It is entirely a question of organisation. If the Food Controller, or, better still, the President of the Board of Agriculture, would go to the towns and really consult them. the difficulties would largely disappear, and the towns would be more efficiently and less expensively supplied with food than they are at the present time. I should then consult Sir Eric Geddes, or someone of that kind who is an expert in his trade, as to the best way 342 to regulate the traffic. We all know that the railway transport in this country is in a most hopeless confusion at the present moment. Trucks are hung up all over the place which ought to be used for food traffic. If you have a real consultation and not a sham one, the difficulties would largely disappear. Then what you have to do is to create a feeling of confidence in the country both on the part of the producers and of the consumer. The consumers are irritated because they think they are not getting the. supplies which they could have if the food control was. better organised. The producers are uneasy because they never know what fresh Order is going to be brought out. They are afraid of rearing pigs now, because they do not know whether they will be allowed to eat them when they rear them. They are afraid whenever there is a suggestion of a new Order coming out and they rush beef and mutton into the market and there is an extraordinary waste, a want of confidence on their part and a great feeling of irritation. All this, I am quite certain, could be reduced to a very large extent if there were better organisation of control. The only way to get that is that the food control with regard to production and the Presidency of the Board of Agriculture should be merged in one person. I suggest he should be a person who understands the question, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture has the confidence of the whole House and of the country. If this policy of meddle and muddle continues, I do not believe we shall win the War. If it is at once altered and the matter put on a proper basis, we shall have taken a substantial step towards winning the War. No hesitation is possible. The question is urgent, and I beg the Government immediately to give their most earnest consideration to the speeches which have been made this afternoon and to act on them quickly and thoroughly without any further loss of time.
§ Major E. WOOD
I listened with considerable attention to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Meysey-Thompson), with a great deal of which I find myself in agreement. I feel some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government at the moment, as he has had to listen to what in effect constituted a severe attack upon one of his colleagues for whom, I imagine, 343 he is only partially and indirectly responsible. The hon. and gallant Member for Brighton (Major Tryon) made one remark in the course of his speech that would carry the assent of all Members of the House—namely, that the problem we were considering this afternoon is one that is extremely serious, extremely difficult, and in which criticism, if I may so put it, ought to be tempered with sympathy, and one with regard to which it was the duty of all Members representing particular interests and feeling, with whatever strength, to give the utmost of their assistance to the Government and to refrain, as far as they possibly could, from embarrassing criticism. With that I agree. It has been made quite clear that the problem the House is considering is a double one. It consists, firstly, in the encouragement of production, and, in the second place, in the purveying to the consumer of something to eat at a reasonable price. I cannot follow the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough), who opened the Debate even so far as he would wish to lead me to the conclusion that regulation and control were almost wholly bad. I agree that in a sense they are wholly bad, but he would think they were much more inevitable than I should be prepared to assent to. Therefore, the problem is in what way you can be reasonably sure of securing a moderate price for your consumer while encouraging the production on which it depends. It is clear to everybody that you are not likely to succeed in purveying an article to your consumer, even at a fancy price, unless you have been successful in solving the first part of your problem, which is encouraging production. It is in that connection that I would like to reinforce the plea of, the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke second in this Debate (Captain Wright), and who has a considerable title to speak for agricultural opinion, at least in the Midlands, as I know, with regard to the almost essential need of some clear definition of function between the two Government Departments that are at present concerned with this problem.
I would ask the House to approach it from this end. If the House admits, as it generally does admit, that one of the main factors in the whole matter must be and always will be production, then the fixing of the price to the producer can only rest upon the cost of production. If you Attempt to depart from that basis, and if 344 you neglect the cost of production in fixing the price that is to be paid to the producer, the result will be what it has been, namely, the disappearance of the article from the market. If, therefore, the House generally accepts that the cost of production should be the basis of the price fixed for the producer, then I would submit that my hon. and gallant Friend had considerable ground for suggesting that the right authority to fix that price was the Board of Agriculture, leaving to the Food Controller the subsequent duties of distribution and of fixing wholesale and retail prices for the later stages on the part of the consumer. It might well be asked, what is the remedy if the cost of production is so great that to do justice to your producer you have to fix as the price to him, such a price as makes it impossible to purvey at a moderate price to the consumer? In reply to that I would most unhesitatingly say that, rather than run the risk of cutting off production at the source, I would adopt, as a temporary war measure, what is undoubtedly a vicious expedient in itself, namely, an expedient we have already adopted in regard to our bread, that is to subsidise in order to be able to place the article on the market to the consumer without turning off the tap of production by making it impossible for the producer to grow it at a profit.
I want to explain in a few sentences why I think that this administrative question, as it is, the question of the allocation of power between the two Departments, is of first-rate and vital importance, and why it is the Board of Agriculture which should be entrusted with the function I have mentioned. It is essential that the work, which is strange and novel to the farming and agricultural community, should be done by people in whom they have confidence. The Board of Agriculture is in touch in a variety of ways, which will be familiar to hon. Members, with the farming opinion throughout the country. The Board of Agriculture is in a position to estimate the various factors entering into the cost of production, upon which I think most opinion would agree that the price and control must be based. As to the time required for each agricultural operation, the reasonable margin of profit the farming community may expect to make, the risk they run, the capital necessary to run farms, and therefore the reasonable return the farmer may expect; all these things are the A, B, C of the daily life of the Board of Agriculture, but 345 they are following the instructions of another Department which should be concerned with a wholly different subject.
Lastly, and not least important, the President does possess in a unique degree the confidence of the farmers That is an immense asset for him in endeavouring to secure the adoption by farmers, patriotically, of a policy designed to further the national interest. The Food Controller, Lord Rhondda, through no fault of his own, is not similarly placed. I have no wish at all to discuss, because I am not qualified to enter into them, all the technicalities of the various ways you ought to be able to sell or buy meat or pigs or anything of that sort. But as a general principle I am convinced that if we are going to get this thing working smoothly and successfully, it is before all things necessary that you should enlist for your policy the co-operation, the sympathy, and the support of the average working farmer. We have heard some talk from uninformed quarters about farmers being profiteers. That has been officially denied on the highest authority. The Prime Minister has said they are not, I think Lord Rhondda has said they are not, and everyone who knows anything about the subject knows they are not. But anyone who knows the farmer also knows that he is very suspicious of the complexity of varying Orders which are thrown at his head weekly and daily and which he imperfectly understands, and I think this House could do no one thing which would more reassure agricultural opinion and do more to lay the foundation for a sound condition of things three months ahead than if, on behalf of the Government, the announcement could be made that some such policy as has been suggested to-night of a more satisfactory delimitation of functions between the Board of Agriculture and the Food Control Department could be adopted and asserting that in future the Government was going to take the cost of production to the grower as the basis on which they were going to fix controlled prices for what he grew, and make it perfectly plain that if their policy led to the price to the consumer being too high in the opinion of the Food Controller they would not hesitate to call upon the general taxpayers so to reduce those prices as to bring the articles of food within the reach of the poorer classes, and thus avoid the mistake of turning off the tap of production, which would have the 346 result that the poorer classes, even if they were able to buy them, would have in. many cases nothing to buy.
§ Major HUNT
I should like to bring to the notice of the Board of Agriculture a question of milk production which I brought before the Food Controller and which I understood him to say had more to do with the President of the Board of Agriculture. The farmers in Shropshire came to me about the matter and they said they were losing a very large percentage of their best milkers because when they sold them—they admitted that they picked out the best—they sold them in the market to the town dairies. According to their account something like 70 per cent. of the best milkers were sent to these dairymen. who always fattened and killed them, and would not allow the farmers to buy them back again. In that way they said they were not only losing their cows, but they were losing their best cows, and they asked me if I could not persuade the President of the Board of Agriculture or the Food Controller to stop these cows under ten years old, if they were sound for milking purposes in every way, from being killed, and let the farmers buy them back. I understand that the town dairymen find it cheaper to feed very highly and milk at the same time, and to have their cows sold as beef when they are dry. In these days, when so many things are controlled, I do not think there would be any very great hardship if these cows were not allowed to be killed if they were sound and under ten years old. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider this matter. The farmers are very strong on the point indeed, especially the point that these cows are almost always the best milkers.
I hear on all sides from people who go amongst the working people in London that these new food tickets for meat, butter, and so on, are absolutely hopeless. They cannot make anything at all of them, and unless rationing is put off till something better is arranged you will have food riots in London, because people will not be able to get food. How is a poor working woman with six children to go to the butcher and sign her name every time? The thing is impossible! It cannot be done. I hope it will be reconsidered, because I do not see how you can help having trouble and riots if people are unable to get meat. I do not wish to be controversial, but the matter is so im 347 portant that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider it, and try to find out from the working people themselves whether it is possible for them to follow the Regulations. The tickets alone are enough to puzzle anyone, with a whole lot of numbers all crossed out.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
The whole question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) in a way which I am sure has given the tone to the subsequent discussion. The suggestion made by several speakers is that the President of the Board of Agriculture, as the head of the Department responsible for food production, should also be the person who is to fix prices to the producer, leaving to the Food Controller all the prices regarding distribution. There are, of course, obvious disadvantages to the proposal. In the first place, the head of a producing Department necessarily has interests which are in some degree, at first sight at all events, antagonistic to those of the consumer. Where they unite is that unless the thing is produced there is nothing to be consumed. But at the same time there will be in the minds of many people that necessary antagonism, and therefore some difficulty in appointing the head of a producing Department to fix prices for the people in whose interests he is acting. There is a further difficulty. I am only the head of the Board of Agriculture in England and Wales, and I should very much doubt whether Scotland would accept the prices that I might fix for Scotland. Equally, I doubt whether Ireland would do it, and that is a very serious practical drawback to the suggestion.
It is not my province to defend all that the Food Controller has done in the past, but the position is very different now from what it was, say, six months ago. The producer in this country has got a price for wheat, barley, and oats, which offers him a reasonable profit, and he has a price now for beef, which similarly offers him a reasonable profit. He has got a price for potatoes. I hope it will satisfy him and that we shall have even a bigger crop than we had last year. He has also got a price for milk, which within certain limitations satisfies him. If corn, meat, milk, and potatoes are fixed on fairly reasonable terms right away to the end of this year the attack—for it has been an attack— which has been made on the Food Controller is a little late in the day. I should 348 find it very hard indeed to say that I wag satisfied with some of the prices at the end of last year, but neither am I absolutely satisfied—I have not got the price I should like for milk, for instance, but that may come. Many things have come in the course of the twelve months since I have been at the head of this Department. Things which I thought I was never likely to achieve have been gradually attained. These are two difficulties in the way of the President of the Board of Agriculture being entrusted with the task of fixing the prices of production. The other is a reason which ought to be considered by those hon. Members who have attacked the action of the Food Controller, who occupies what we must all admit to be the most difficult and delicate position a man could possibly be put into. He is treading an altogether untrodden path, and that there must be mistakes made is inevitable.
May I come to a few of the prices with which I am more concerned, and which have been singled for some comment? Though I do not profess to give you the motives of the Food Controller in each instance, perhaps I may throw some light upon them. Take the case of butter. It is quite true that English butter has practically disappeared from the market, except what I may call week-end butter. When a farmer cannot get rid of his Saturday milk he may make it into butter. Now the price not only affects the consumer, but acts in the direction of the producer, and what the Food Controller, in fixing that price, virtually says to the producer is: "I want your whole milk more than I want your butter. Your whole milk is so difficult to procure and so essential to the child-life of the country that I want you to produce it and not butter.'' You may use the same argument with regard to the price of cheese. The producer loses money upon making cheese at present, just as he loses it upon making butter; but, again, the Food Controller's argument is, I assume, "What I want is your whole milk, and I want it more than I want your cheese and butter." At the same time he wants the cheese more than the butter, so as a consequence the producer loses less on his cheese than he does on his butter. That is an aspect in regard to the fixing of the price which is rather ignored, and which I am sure has to a certain degree influenced the Food Controller. Some 349 thing was said about the price of pork. A similiar statement might be made as to the price of pork. If you take the price as it now stands, it does not pay the producer to produce the pork if he feeds his pigs on the system which has been very generally adopted for many years.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
Yes. The fact is this, that for many years past the natural food of the pig has been absolutely neglected. It has been put into a stye and stuffed with meal of various sorts, barley and maize, with the very best sorts of millers' offal, and with cake. That feeding has been tremendously expensive. At the present moment human beings compete for breadstuffs with the pigs in respect of barley, maize, and the better qualities of millers' offals. When you mill wheat more closely, what was formerly the millers' offal passes into the human bread. It comes to this, that at the present moment the pig has 5 lbs. of meal and it makes with it 1 lb. of pork. All this is material for breadstuffs. Some people say that it consumes more, but I do not believe it does. That is to say, five people are deprived of bread so that one person may have I lb. of pork. That is wrong, and if it were necessary to feed pig in that way it would be better to do away with the pig; but it is not in the least necessary. If you turn the pig to natural use and make him a forager and a scavenger and give him the waste products which are unfit for human food, and also give him a smaller quantity—say, 1 lb. instead of 5 lbs.—of human food, then the position is completely altered. Then five people lose one-fifth of their bread supply and they get one-fifth back in the shape of pork, the ration of meat, bread and pork is so much better, and the nation is the gainer.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
There has been some misapprehension on this subject. All the large farmers feed their pigs in the farmyard, and the greater part of the food consumed by the pigs are the waste turnips and other things which have been thrown out in order to clean the tumblers for the beasts' food. We have given the pigs very little of the food of the people.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
That is my argument. If everybody would adopt the hon. Member's plan, then the pig is the most economical animal in the world. You can produce that pork at a cheaper price than 350 the man who feeds it on all this meal. If the Food Controller's price can be justified it is on that ground, that he means to tell the pig-feeders all over the country, "You must alter your mode of feeding pigs if you are going to make them pay." That is the point, and I think it is right. Then there is the price of milk. If you take the price of milk all over this country, you probably find thirty different prices and thirty different costs of production. The worst of the Food Controller's position is that he has to deal with flat rates. Supposing he takes any particular flat rate, fifteen will suffer to whom the flat rate is not enough and fifteen will gain by it, because the flat rate is more than they used to get. His difficulty is that he has got to keep the milk producers still in the trade and yet work a flat rate which shall not give an extortionate profit to those who produce the milk most cheaply. That is one of the difficulties which confronts this most unfortunate of Ministers in his most difficult and delicate task.
Something was said by the hon. Member for Handsworth (Colonel Meysey-Thompson) about ploughing up grass land, and he characterised it as almost suicidal. Of course, for a person of his experience I have every respect, but it must be remembered that the Orders to plough are issued by practical men in his own county, men of local knowledge and experience, and, though there may be a conflict of opinion, it is perhaps upon the question in the particular case that he quoted of grass land being ploughed, and there may be some other side to the story which I do not know. Our real trouble with the milk supply is not the summer supply. There is always a surplus of milk on the summer supply. The great difficulty is the winter supply. Our concentrated foods have fallen off to such an extent that at the present moment we are not able to get anything like the quantity of concentrated food that ought to be raised for milch cattle. We have heard of the town dairyman who is dependent almost entirely upon the food which he purchases for his cows. If we cut off, as in fact, we are cut off, from the greater portion of our concentrated food, what is to become of the town dairy? If, again, we are to be cut off from our supply of concentrated food what is to become of the milk producer who produces milk exclusively on grassland and what is to become of the meat producer who produces it upon grassland in the winter. That is the great 351 difficulty that I have had to face in framing any policy of agriculture in this tremendous crisis. There is very little doubt that in the summer we shall lose some of our milk, in the summer also we may lose some of our meat, and we shall lose it in the very cheapest form in which it can be produced. I admit that fully, but both the milk and the meat are produced on grassland, and when the winter comes and when grassland is no longer forthcoming and the dairyman or the grazier can no longer buy artificial food from abroad we shall go short of winter milk and winter meat unless you do what we did in the seventies, and that is to grow all the crops that we want on our own land and to grow it in the form of forage crops and so supply the concentrated food of which we are deprived.
§ Colonel MEYSEY-THOMPSON
What I want to point out is that we must maintain the balance of ploughed land and of grassland. I have at the present moment one hundred in-calf cows and heifers running on grassland.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is rather unusual to carry on a dialogue. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has had his say. He was given a good hearing, and he might accord the same facilities to the Minister.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I quite agree that you must maintain the balance, and I have said publicly that the maintenance of the balance of the farms is one of the things that have to be considered. The point is that you must plough up considerable quantities of your grassland in order to make up for the winter food that you are losing by the loss of concentrated food. That is of the essence and lies at the root of the ploughing up programme which we have adopted. Another reason why we want to plough more grass land is because arable land feeds a very much larger number of people than grassland. But quite apart from that there is the very material question of tonnage. Supposing we are able to raise from the ploughed up land an extra million of tons of grain, essential grain, that is necessary for our population, we are able to set free a very large amount of tonnage. To bring that million tons of grain to these shores you would want 350 ships of a carrying capacity of 5,000 tons dead-weight each. Supposing you had left that land as grassland and that you had produced upon it the amount of meat which it could pro 352 duce, the amount of meat that it would produce, if it is fairly good land, is something like 75,000 tons. That could be carried to these shores in forty ships of the same carrying capacity. If then by our programme we are able to set free 320 ships to bring to these shores the American Army and its equipment and its war material to help us on the road to victory, we shall have done a very great thing. That also is at the root of the land policy which we have adopted.
I do not know that there are any further material points with which I can deal. My hon. and gallant Friend alluded to the case of the dairyman who bought these cows and after they had served his purpose during the winter months they were slaughtered. That has always been a practice and a rather disastrous practice. The town dairyman has continually to renew his cows and when he does so he has at present to pay a tremendous price. I am glad to state that my hon. and gallant Friend s constituents are making a very good thing. The price of a dairy cow now is anything from £60 to £70 or even £80. It is the town dairyman who is suffering, and I think that it is much more likely, owing to the present state of things, that the dairyman will be able to sell back the cows at the end of the period, because formerly when they sold them as now to the butcher and bought a renewed cow the difference between the price he got for the animal from the butcher and what he paid was not so great as to make the transaction unprofitable, but now if you have got to pay from £60 to £80 for a cow when it is alive, and you are only to get the reduced price of cow beef which was allowed by the Food Controller, the thing will correct itself, and the town dairyman will find it a great deal better to sell the cow back than to kill it. I am afraid that is a very small and technical point to make to-day, but it is an answer.
One word further I would like to say about poultry. Pigs and poultry are two of the most economic of our domestic animals. Neither sheep nor cattle are in it with them, nor yet the cow unless it produces a very large, yield of milk. It is all a question there again of grain and feeding. You want every head of poultry and every pig in the country, provided you give up the old expensive way of lavishing upon them grain which is wanted for human beings. Of course this question of the food supply of the country is to my mind the gravest one 353 which we have to face. have felt it so now for a considerable time. I should like to say that throughout the country I have spoken to agriculturists on both sides of England and I had the greatest encouragement at all these agricultural meetings. We have asked the land-owners to make very heavy sacrifices, sacrifices of the capital value of their land, and we are asking farmers who have led easy-going comfortable lives on grass to take all the hard risks and liabilities and responsibilities and expense of increased arable farming. They have accepted those risks and accepted those losses of money universally in the most patriotic way, and I believe that throughout the length and breadth of the country farmers are working as they never worked in their lives before, and are bearing all this added burden without complaint.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I desire to take this opportunity of telling the right hon. Gentleman, in reference to the position of the farmer, that, so far as the prices for milk are concerned, they are, in the opinion of milk producers in my county, extremely unsatisfactory. We also differ entirely from the views put forward by him as to the price for pigs. As to the ploughing up of grass land, we approve of the policy generally, but we think that that process is being carried to an extreme. I would like the House to understand under what conditions the farmer is now carrying on business. Both the Food Controller and the President of the Board of Agriculture have a very prolific printing press, and in the last year or so—I am speaking now up to last November — no fewer than 130 different Orders in Council have been issued regulating the conduct of the farmers' business down to the most minute particulars, and since November there have been further Orders: I cannot give the exact number, because they are so numerous. Speaking, if I may, for the benefit of those engaged in town industries, of whom mainly the House of Commons consists, I trust that those engaged in agriculture will pardon me for explaining, what is to-day common knowledge, that practically the whole of the products of the farmer—hay, straw, corn, horses, cattle, pigs, poultry, milk, butter, and cheese are all controlled, controlled as to the price at which we have to sell them, and, so far as live-stock are concerned, they are controlled as to how we are to feed them, while so far as the other articles which we have to sell are concerned, they 354 are controlled as to where and when we shall sell them. There is no industry in the country which is so impeded by these restrictions, no industry in which the people carrying it on are so harassed as the farming industry. It is simply throttled. The President, who is a friend of agriculture, knows that. If that is so, how can you get the best production out of the farms of this country? How can you get the food produced when you are harassing the farmers in every direction?
Let us look for a few moments as to how it is working. Take corn. The prices of corn have been fixed by this House, after a great deal of opposition, and in my opinion those prices are fair, and have encouraged the production of corn. Look now at the Orders made by the Food Controller, and the result of these Orders, apart from the price fixed by the Act of Parliament. To-day we get 75s. a quarter for our wheat, and for our damaged wheat that is not fit for human consumption we can got 90s. Is that a reasonable thing? I want to buy my seed wheat to sow, and I have to pay, even when the Government sell it, 95s. I am a small farmer. I have oats, and I have horses to feed. When I thresh I have more oats than I have accommodation for in my granary, and I have to sell half the oats which I have threshed at 46s., the controlled price. In a few months, when I want to buy oats for my horses from a neighbouring farmer, I am not allowed to do so; I can go to a corn merchant, and I can buy oats from him, and I have to pay 60s. or 70s. a quarter for them. Those are the conditions under which the farmer has to carry on his industry. I want some seed oats. For the benefit of town people I may say that it is not advisable to sow the same seed that is grown on a farm every year, and I want to change my seed corn. I have to buy seed oats to sow on my farm, and under the Regulations which have been made I have to pay 60s., 70s., and up to 80s. a quarter, though I am compelled to sell my own for 46s. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he desired to encourage poultry, but when I asked a question the other day he did not give the same answer. I asked him what were we to do with what was called tail corn. Tail corn is the damaged corn that comes from the threshing machine after the good corn is taken out by the machine. I got the answer that if it was fit for human consumption I must not use it either for pigs or poultry. but if it is not fit for human 355 consumption, then I can use it. Anticipating that answer, I asked in the same question, "Who is to decide the point whether it is fit for human consumption or is not?" and I got the reply that the Board of Agriculture is the person to decide.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I beg your pardon. Do you say you asked the question of me and not of the Food Controller?
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
My recollection is that I asked the question of the President, but I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement. I cannot charge my recollection. I thought that it was the President, but, whoever it was, that was the answer I got. The point of my observation was not that the President gave that foolish answer but that every farmer in the country— because everybody who grows corn has tail corn—is in the position that he is liable to be summoned and fined or imprisoned for an offence against the Order, or he has to send up a sample of his tail corn to the Board of Agriculture to get an answer back as to whether this corn is to be used for one purpose or the other.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
In the same question I asked whether it was the policy of the Board of Agriculture—I feel certain for this reason that it was the Board of Agriculture—that poultry keeping was to be encouraged or not? and I got a non-committal answer. It is not a year ago since everybody was encouraged to keep poultry. It was said, "fill up your backyards with poultry." A number of small people, agriculturists and otherwise, did so. They bought the apparatus, they bought a few pullets to start with and began poultry keeping. Then we are told "we have no corn, and you must not feed your poultry even on damaged corn." Look a little further at the conditions under which we are carrying on this industry. I will not repeat what has also been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire. I have already said it 356 myself, in a less forcible way perhaps, at the end of last year, as to the ruinous effects in regard to the production of beef. The Cattle Order reduced the price from 72s., in the summer months, to 67s. and 60s. And mark this, while that was going on, and it has been going on ever since — and this applies to the whole of the articles I am speaking about for the moment—while they were cutting down and fixing the sale prices of the articles produced by the farmer, the Food Controller did absolutely nothing to control either the price of the store stock the farmer had to buy or to control or limit the prices of the feeding stuffs and concentrated foods which the farmers had not got themselves, but which they had to obtain and use. I appeal to every business man in this House whether any manufacturer could carry on his business if, before he manufactured his product, whether cloth, cotton, or iron, he had to fix the sale price, and yet nothing was done to control the price of the articles or materials he employed in his manufacture!
That is the position, however, in which the farmer has been placed, and is placed now. But very late in the day, after the Food Controller had recognised that a mistake had been made in the fixing of prices last year, he fixed other prices which the President of the Board of Agriculture, out of loyalty to his brother Minister, says give a fair profit, but which I tell him, speaking for the county which I represent, and which has not rich feeding land, and which is not specially adapted by nature to the raising of cattle, that these prices do not give a fair profit, and that they are not encouraging and stimulating production. But having fixed these prices, the Food Controller then does take some steps, though as usual too late, to limit the price of feeding-stuffs. I think that was only done about a month ago, or a short time before that, and he fixed the price of cotton cake and linseed cake, with the result, as has happened in nearly every article he has touched down to rabbits, that they disappeared almost directly from the market. I see one Gentleman, a Member for Liverpool, present, and I think he will bear me out that there was a large meeting held of the seed importers and cake importers in Liverpool, at which they were unanimous in their resolution that what I have described was the effect of the Food Controller's 357 prices. When the price of pigs was fixed by the Food Controller the fattening of pigs was rendered impossible, and the importation of seed was also rendered impossible. Sharps, middlings, and offals from wheat have absolutely disappeared; bran is very difficult to obtain, and barley meal, on which pigs feed, has equally disappeared. Foodstuffs having been rendered impossible, and grass land having been taken which was used for feeding cattle, we are then told by the President, out of loyalty, as I say, to his colleague, that the feeding prices as fixed are satisfactory, though our means of feeding are worse than they were last year, and the prices are practically no better. Let us now look at milk.
The shortage of milk in this country has been due, and I say it without hesitation, to the Food Controller. He fixed prices a year ago, and I would like to call the attention—I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food is present—to words which the Food Controller is stated to have used. I did not hear them myself, but it is reported that the Controller in one of his speeches said, "I do not care a hang for the producer; I am going only to consider the consumer." I do not suggest. I do not want to say—I do not want to do anything unfair—that these are the exact words, except about the "hang"—I think that was correct—the Food Controller used. He fixed the prices a year ago, and they were totally inadequate and did not pay for the cost of the milk produced. All that time the prices of foodstuffs were steadily rising, wages were steadily rising, and every item of the cost of milk production was steadily rising. The price of beef was also steadily rising, because that was uncontrolled, and numbers of cattle out of the dairy herds were taken and killed and turned into beef because it paid the farmer better than it did to make milk. That was the first origin of the shortage of milk. This last winter reasonable prices were fixed—I think they are reasonable. When we come to this summer the prices are actually lower than they were last summer. The difficulties of production in every trade have increased this year from what they were last year, and I venture to say that not one person in this House will contradict me when I say that, yet the Food Controller and the President 358 of the Board of Agriculture—I am sure he cannot believe it—actually tell me that the summer prices are fair. We are now in milk production allowed 1s. 9d. per gallon during the winter months. Nobody in the farming industry will dispute that the month of April, if not the most expensive, at any rate is as expensive as any month in the year for milk production. In April there is no grass, in April the haystacks are depleted or have disappeared, and any article of food, either hay or roots, has to be bought by the farmer at prices which have enormously increased. The price for milk in April is 1s. 6d; in May and June it will be 1s. per gallon—it was 1s. 2d. last year; in July it is to be 1s 2d., and in August and September 1s. 3d., and they work out in those five months at less than they did last year. I ask anybody here—and we have all more or less some knowledge of this matter—whether this is likely to encourage production?
There is only one other item I wish to deal with, and as it is one which contains a vital principle, I would like to say a few words about it. We heard what the President of the Board of Agriculture had to say about the production of pigs. He did not intentionally mean to mislead the House—perhaps he did not mislead it, but I think he did—when he referred to the question of pigs. The right hon. Gentleman said that 5 lbs. of meal are necessary to produce 1 lb. of pig. This is the misleading impression which he gave to the House—that each pound of pig meant 5 lbs. of meal to produce that pound of pig. But that is not what happens at all. What happens in the production of an animal is that it costs a good deal until after it is weaned. While it is delicate and in need of care the animal costs a good deal for a few weeks. After that it is fed on the refuse of the farmyard, on any turnips or roots that may be on the farm. It is only for the last six or seven weeks of the pig's life that it is fed on meal stuffs, just to finish it off, as it were, and to make the pork. But it is quite a mistake to suppose that of the whole weight of the pig, each pound has been made with 5 lbs of meal. If that were the fact a very different result would be shown in the animal. But the point of principle I want to call attention to is, that the pig is the best fat-producing animal you can have. It produces meat more quickly than any other animal in the farming 359 industry. It is a matter of common knowledge that the one essential thing to the health and feeding of the people is plenty of fats. We know that fats are consumed, and are more highly prized in Germany than anything else. Yet in this country by the fiat of the Food Controller, we are depriving ourselves of the best supply of fat that we could possibly have.
I have already in this House objected very strongly to arbitrary powers being given to the Food Controller, or to any single individual. I object strongly, and still more strongly, to the excessive powers given to one Minister, and I urge, as a matter for the consideration of the House, whether it is advisable to leave a question of policy like this to be decided by the Food Controller's voice, and whether we should not have some better evidence, either of a scientific character, or by some practical committee, as to whether it is in the public interest that we should have driven pigs out of existence by the order of the Food Controller. There is no doubt of the truth of my statement that the pig is driven out. It is impossible, and I defy the President of the Board of Agriculture to deny it, to make a profit on the prices fixed. It is quite true that you can feed pigs on house scraps and finish them off with a little bit of meal or cereals at the end, but that does not provide the pork, fats or bacon that the people want to get, and I think it is a serious matter for consideration whether it is advisable that all these strong powers should be given to the Food Controller. Another observation I should like to make, and it is more directed towards the Food Controller, is this: I tell the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food that the Ministry adopt a wrong line with the farmer. I urge, as I have urged before, that the essential thing before considering prices is to get production. It is no use going into a restaurant, and ordering steak and onions as advertised for 1s., and then to be told there is none. You must have production. The attitude adopted by the Food Controller towards the farmer has not encouraged production. First of all, the prices are not sufficient; and, secondly, his attitude has not been sufficiently sympathetic, and it has not been encouraging. What is the good of the Food Controller fixing these descending prices and at the same time saying, "If you do not send 360 your stock to the market we will go and commandeer it"? The obvious result was that the prices fixed were so bad that they made the farmer sell, and he said, "I will not have any more." I do beg of the Food Controller to pay attention to this matter. The President of the Board of Agriculture adopts a totally different line and he is getting the farmers to work wholeheartedly with him. He appreciates the difficulties and approaches them with a different attitude. Both as a landlord and a tenant farmer, and as one who has farmed his own land. I have been amongst agriculturists, and if prices are such that a reasonable profit can be made you will have every farmer doing his best to assist you, but they are not going to do this, and will not do it, unless they see something for their trouble and for the work they put in. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to bear this more in mind and endeavour to get the farmers to work with him as the President of the Board of Agriculture has done.
§ Mr. CLYNES
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has touched all the points I think it is necessary to touch upon with regard to the side of the question relating to food production, and whilst I may have to touch on one or two matters very slightly under that head I propose to limit my remarks mainly to the other questions of policy as criticised by most of the hon. Gentlemen who have already addressed the House. All the speakers have complained of the numerous Orders which are being issued from day to day from the office of the Ministry of Food. My right hon. Friend who submitted the Amendment discovered that the Orders arriving at his office on one particular day weighed nearly ½lb. All that only illustrates the complexity and vastness of the task in the hands of the Food Controller. Those Orders are not issued as part of the daily entertainment of the officials at the Ministry of Food and of its various heads. They are the necessary expression of the variety of work and of the multitude of problems which the Ministry has to deal with from day to day. It seems so simple, say, to fix the price of bacon, but you take a side of bacon and experts will show you that it consists of at least ten different cuts or qualities, and undergoes several different processes in its stages of treatment before it finally reaches the table to the consumer. Every one of those differing and varying processes and changes must 361 be provided for, if your policy of fixing prices and controlling supplies is to be made effective. It is because, that is the character of the work of the Ministry that those Orders are numerous. Supposing you drew up a simple leaflet and came down—I do not say it offensively—to the intelligence of hundreds of thousands of people who are parties to these food problems as well as we are, what would we find? We would be asked why it was that we had not provided for this contingency and that contingency, and how it was that in the issue of the Order every single feature of the problem had not been covered by the documents issued from the Ministry of Food. It is due to the large numbers of foods and the variety of character that the number and weight of those Orders accumulate. Let me further illustrate that side of the question. When we proposed to fix the price of fish there were seventy different kinds of fish which had to be investigated, with all the circumstances as to catching, landing, transport, treatment of the fish after landing, preserving, and other details; and those alone could have been covered by the number of Orders issued.
The hon. Member who has just spoken complained that in some quotation which I used recently in public I expressed the policy of the Food Controller as being that of not caring what interest he hit or what damage he inflicted on the food producer if he could make his task a success for the consumer. That is a misquotation, and the statement has been misquoted in another place and in many different parts of the country. What the Food Controller did say, and what I have represented him saying, is this, that he did not care whose private interests suffered if he could make this task of the Food Ministry a success for the consumer. Hon. Members will readily see that this is a public service, and that the producers and the consumers must be taken in the mass as all being consumers, and that the food producer has no right to expect to be placed in a privileged position as compared with any other worker or the producer of any article in the country. My hon. Friend who spoke last, in extending his complaint, said that the poor farmer is controlled and conditioned in a way which is in no sense comparable to any other person or industry in the country. The very contrary is the fact. Instead of the farmer being at the head of the procession of controlled industries in this 362 country he comes at the very rear. Your building trades, the engineering trades, the general trades, the cotton trade, and all the principal industries which stand next in size and importance to that of agriculture were controlled from top to bottom from the beginning, and long before any kind of order or control reached the farmer at all. Why, a man could not have repairs effected to his house, or build a dwelling-house unless he got the necessary permission from the proper authorities. People were not permitted to secure petrol, or even the necessary conveyances in connection with any one of those other industries, unless by permission. It is for the reason that we are at war that you cannot leave even agriculture as an industry free to do what those in it might like to do. The farmer has not been prejudiced in this matter. In the engineering trade and the cotton trade and the building trade nothing whatever can be done except by order of the Government, and all the old freedom of business has been, absolutely taken away in those various industries.
My right hon. Friend who moved the Amendment also quoted something as part of what I said with regard to eliminating the profiteer and the unnecessary middleman or dealer. What I have said repeatedly at Labour Conferences, where I had to face a large number of critical delegates who had insisted that we are not going far enough and that our policy has been too kind and too friendly towards the interests of the producers and the farmers as a whole, has been this, that we are most anxious as a Ministry to encourage the production of all articles of food, and to see that farmers and food producers are paid fairly and reasonably for their work and labour. I emphasised as well as I could at those conferences this fundamental fact, that you can fix prices so low as to repeal the very thing which you want to attract. I have been in some Labour quarters strongly condemned for taking the side of the capitalist and the farmer for offering this argument which, as I say, forms the very foundation of the policy upon which any Ministry of Food must base its work. But whilst we must encourage production and not fix prices so low as to be unfair or unprofitable so as to secure food, yet it is a necessary feature of our policy that men who need not be in the business and who cannot in war-time render useful service should be no longer retained. Therefore, 363 We have pursued the policy of leaving, as it were, in the stream which separates the producer and the consumer only those stepping-stones which were absolutely necessary for the crossing. I mean by that, that the sort of merchant or importer or dealer who can remain casually in an office and work through a telephone or telegraph, and by order of purchase or sale cause food to pass from hand to hand, not necessarily along the line of any direct passage, but along whatever line he can compel, for the purpose of increasing prices, it has been our business to deal with. That is what I have said in all quarters, and that is what I have said frequently in this House. The Government has had to take the place of the private trader and the merchant and importer. Control must be real. It is no use having a form of control that will leave everybody substantially where he was, free to get whatever profits his own private processes can exact, and when hon. Members talk about the rising discontent due to the fact that somebody dislikes the shape or form of a rationing card, and when they tell me about coming near to revolution because the public has to submit to certain inconveniences, I say that the talk about revolution, the signs and symptoms of serious discontent were revealed to us when that class of person, the man who merely bought to sell again, as I say, was seen to be making enormous profits, and thereby causing an immense increase in the retail price of the articles of food. It was the revelation of the enormous profits that were made that caused organised Labour to threaten the Government with serious consequences unless this policy of control in prices was undertaken by some food controller. I am aware well enough of what is the main cause, and what was the cause earlier on, of the discontent manifested in Labour quarters. That discontent arose, as I say, because of the revelations of those great profits, and because when the business of food supply was left entirely to the food wholesaler, importer, and retailer, without control, and when prices were determined by what is known as the law of supply and demand, a level of prices was reached which became absolutely intolerable, and which the public showed it would no longer silently stand. So that this business of food production has received only its 364 necessary meed of interference of control like any other business or trade during the term of this War.
The Government has taken the place, as I say, of merchants and importers, and to some extent even of wholesalers and dealers. This Government is dealing with other Governments, and it is saving an enormous amount of money to the consumer, and preventing prices going up and up merely because a condition of scarcity exists. Take one or two simple illustrations. Very little was added to the cost of production for producing an egg or a chicken. The cost might be, at most, say, 20 or 25 per cent., but a penny egg jumped up to 4d., and a chicken, which you could get for 2s. 6d., could not be bought for less than half a guinea. The increased cost, therefore, of some of these articles cannot be traced to any serious extent to the cost of production. On the other hand, the Ministry of Food in fixing any price has always given first consideration to that important underlying point of the cost of production, and it has consulted people with all the available information acquainted with any article of food and the details of the business. The Food Controller has not settled his points by tossing a coin in the air; he has not settled these matters on any process of guessing what the price should be. Not merely weeks, but even months of time have often been taken up by the Food Controller in securing the best information on which to reach a conclusion before settling any one of these important matters. I know of no occasion on which the price of an article has been fixed, with regard to which other Boards like the Board of Agriculture had to be consulted, when we have not received the assent of the Board of Agriculture or of any other State Department to any price which has ultimately been fixed. Take, to illustrate what I mean, what was done in the case of meat. As a matter of fact, that principle of a scale of meat prices was fixed and agreed to before the present Food Controller assumed office. It was fixed after lengthy and frequent consultation with the various interests that were concerned; and I must ask again, if it be true that that price operated in a way to cause the farmers to rush their cattle on the market at a time when prices were high, whoever saw those great quantities of meat which would certainly have been the result of that line of action? We cannot recall any period during the term of office of the 365 present Food Controller when meat has been so plentiful as to cause the price to decrease. And if it were true that this course of action had been taken by the farmers, that action would certainly not be one in support of that proper claim they are making to be regarded as quite a patriotic section of the community. The prices, then, have not had the effect which has been alleged by those who have criticised the operation of that policy.
§ Captain WRIGHT
May I ask the hon. Member if the fixing of the scale price of January was with the approval of the President of the Board of Agriculture?
§ Mr. CLYNES
I said the Board of Agriculture. I do not want to commit my right hon. Friend personally, but I assume—
§ Mr. CLYNES
Certainly my information is that the principle of the scale received the assent of the Board of Agriculture.
§ Captain WRIGHT
May I ask whether the Food Controller did not himself state, some three months after fixing those prices, at the meeting of the representatives of the Royal Agricultural Society and Central Chamber, that the President of the Board of Agriculture had not agreed to those prices, and that he was absent when it was decided?
§ Mr. CLYNES
Certainly I am not aware of that statement. If that statement be correct, it is in direct collision with the information I have recently received, and I no longer press the argument I was adducing.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I say my information was to the effect I have already stated, and if the question which has been now put to the House is well founded, I repeat that I no longer press the argument, and my Noble Friend the Food Controller must accept responsibility for what was done in this instance. Towards the close of the speech of my right hon. Friend a great deal was made of the effect of our policy of fixing the price of an article like butter, and it was alleged by my right hon. Friend that Germany, for instance, was able to get butter from Holland and Denmark, whilst we could not, owing to some peculiar trick in our manner of fixing prices. My right hon. Friend is very much misinformed. The fact is with regard to maximum price, that that maximum price is the same to the retailer, and is an 366 average price based upon the average price of butter which we are able to import, so far as we can secure it, and so far as our ships can bring it from all parts of the world. It is untrue, then, to suggest that the import of butter from markets where the price is high is stopped because of our maximum price. As a fact, we are importing from France all the French butter that is available at what is the market price in France. The same applies to Holland and Denmark. I cannot for the moment give the market price. But whatever is the market price is the price at which we are securing as large quantities as we are permitted to buy by the Governments in those countries, and we are bringing as much of those articles as our shipping facilities will permit.
§ Mr. CLYNES
There is no loss to the Exchequer. The loss may occur in that pooling of interests whereby, say, a consumer might get an article slightly inferior to another article which a consumer might obtain for exactly the same price. In that way, by this process of pooling the interests, and averaging the price, there is no loss to the Exchequer, and there is no check whatever on our power to purchase in any foreign market in the world. We are buying, as a fact, all the Dutch and the Danish butter that the Government of those countries will allow us to buy at exactly the same market price that is obtainable by any other competitor. The quantity of butter we can get through is limited by only two considerations—the amount of shipping available and the amount of butter, whether it is Colonial, whether it is Allied, or whether it is neutral, that we may be able to obtain by the consent of any Government or by the market conditions. Now a word or two about tea, the article that at great length my right hon. Friend dealt with in the, earlier part of his speech. He complained that the effect of our Orders in respect of tea had been enormously to reduce the supplies of tea, and to be a contributory cause of the food queues.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The answer to my right hon. Friend is this: So far as there was any reduction in the importations of tea, 367 that reduction applied only to the months of July, August and September, and was due to quite special and outstanding shipping difficulties which prevailed at that time. And, as a fact, the Orders had not had the effect alleged, as was shown by this fact, that the first Order issued was in October, 1917, and if you compare three months about that period with any preceding three months, it will be found that the increase in the importation was actually over 51 per cent. Other conditions have contributed to the reduction in our tea importation, but it has not been due to the Order to which my right hon. Friend referred. He further criticised the proposal which has been before the Ministry of Food for a considerable time past to simplify, if I may so claim it, the whole situation with regard to tea. We have found that tea varying in quality, differing in many other respects, has been offered at different prices to different classes of consumers, but whilst the price of the most inferior tea was fixed at 2s. 4d., many a poor woman went into a shop and found she could only get tea at 3s. 8d. or 4s. The Ministry has been engaged in devising a method for offering tea to the public at one price only. We are, therefore, about to offer a price for tea, an average retail price of 2s. 8d. per lb. Of course, a reasonable time will be allowed to retailers to get existing stocks off their hands. This price of 2s. 8d. will not show any profit to the Government, but it will show a substantial reduction on the retail price of the last seven months. It will accomplish what some experts among the traders in the tea trade have alleged was quite incapable of attainment and an impracticable thing. By the processes of blending we are assured that it is not only possible, but quite a reasonable thing, to standardise and so arrange the tea as to give confidence to the purchaser and to bring down the average price. I do not know whether or not every sort will be put together, but I do not think even if that were done the consequences would be as dreadful as my right hon. Friend has pictured when he compared the blending of tea with the process of blending some six or seven different Kinds of champagne or wine.
The Food Ministry is constantly faced with the difficulty of overcoming deeprooted prejudices and personal and trading interests. Whilst I said long before this 368 job of food control was undertaken that the big profiteer was doing great harm to the national interests, I have now to admit that in the place of that big profiteer a large number of lesser profiteers have appeared, increasing the difficulties for all consumers and making a great deal of trouble for those of us who, have to conduct this business of regulating food prices and arranging distribution. We see the small shopkeeper, in some instances, has not been above a manœuvring which would enable him to sell a rabbit, not as a whole article, but in parts, in order that he might exact a higher price for the whole weight or quantity. We have seen that, whereas beforetime he never thought of charging anything for the skin of the rabbit, he now demands 3d. or 4d. for it. That is only one instance of quite a large collection of instances that could be adduced to show how difficult it is to exact obedience from the masses of traders as well as from the consumer.
I am afraid that many of my Labour Friends, who, in this House and in the country, have sought to solve this difficult problem by the simple process of rationing everybody for everything on every day and at every meal, will find when they get some of this rationing process applied to them that they will not much like it. We have been trained in this country to exercise a very considerable measure of individual freedom. We do not want to be interfered with very much. But public opinion has created this Ministry. Parliament has accepted the general policy of controlling prices. Prices, I assert, in the process of control, have not kept out important food that we otherwise could have got. If my right hon. Friend went on his knees and told me that if we left this job to private traders, importers, and merchants, they could get more food into this country than the British Government can get I would not believe him. I would, of course, believe that he believed what he said. I am certain, however, that the power of the Government, aided by its Navy, can accomplish for our people at least as much as any body of private merchants. Our great task, next to that of prices, and the securing of supplies to as great extent as possible, is that of satisfying the public that we are fairly and equitably sharing out what we have got. That is the branch of the question that we have now reached. In connection with that branch the processes of rationing are being developed. I am glad to inform the 369 House that nearly the whole of the local food control committees and municipal bodies are responding admirably to the suggestions made to them to begin the process of rationing in regard to foods that are short under the scheme that was issued as a model scheme in December last from the Ministry of Food. We ask for the continued support of the House, which, I must acknowledge, I have received in abundance. Work of this kind could not have been carried on without the sympathy and support which each Member of the House has extended to the Ministry of Food.
We have reached a point where really the patriotism and endurance of the civic population is to be tested. We shall have to go short in respect of some articles of food. The citizen will have to submit to what he asked us to impose upon him. The average man said to the Government, "Let the Government tell us what to do and we will do it; let the Government see that we are rationed and treated equally so far as there may be a shortage of certain articles." To secure equity and to give confidence that process of rationing is being developed. All I can say is that I hope, with the services and the loyal cooperation of the various local food control committees, we shall succeed in convincing even the very poorest people that they are going to have an equal chance with their richer brethren; that men. women and children, and not money, shall be the consideration which determines the apportionment of the foods which are available.
§ Colonel YATE
We all sympathise with the hon. Gentleman to whose speech we have just listened. We thoroughly realise that he is sharing out what he has got, as he says. After the very interesting and most conclusive speeches to which we have listened to-day I think the House cannot help coining to the conclusion that there ought to be some change in the present system of dual control of home-grown food. I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Board of Agriculture has not said the last word on that subject, when he said that the drawback to that suggestion was that he only had powers over England and could not do anything for Ireland and Scotland. I can only speak for my own agricultural Constituents. The President will remember that he and I were present at a great meeting of agriculturists at Leicester the other day. The chairman of that meeting was the Lord Lieutenant of the county. He 370 pointed out to that great conference of agriculturists how urgent was the question of the abolition of the present system of dula control. It was pointed out, too, that though the two interests of the producer and the consumer were antagonistic to a certain extent, in the long run they were allied, and it was suggested that the whole of the Orders relating to agriculture should be left entirely in the hands of the Board of Agriculture. That suggestion was received with enthusiasm. I ask, and I hope, that the Government will consider this question, not in connection with the distribution or the rationing of foods or of imports, but simply in connection with home-grown products. I suggest that the present system of dual control of home-grown products should be changed, and that the whole thing should be brought under one authority. I hope the Government will consider this, and see whether that cannot be done over the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I have listened with that interest with which we always listen to the statements of the Secretary to the Food Controller. The hon. Gentleman always speaks in a reasonable, a thoughtful, and a conciliatory manner. At the same time, I am bound to say that he did not carry conviction to me. The hon. Gentleman in the beginning of his speech dealt very fully with a question— which was not really the essential question— about the complaints of the large numbers of Orders issued. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) no doubt made a very serious point of that; but, after all, that is only the fringe of the question. It is not the number of Orders that we are speaking of. It is the question as to whether they are right or wrong, and whether these Orders are doing the good that they ought to do. I have listened to the arguments brought forward to-day, as I listened to the statement put forward to Members of this House the other day by the Food Controller. I am not persuaded that Lord Rhondda is on the right lines, or that he is doing what is really good for the country. One reason that I have for this is what we know to be the case: that there is no unity of action between different Departments of the Government. It is no use hiding the fact. There are two dissonant voices in a matter of such vital importance as this, when it is highly important that there should be one voice. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman 371 to say, as he did say, that they are not subserving any private interests. There is not a single Member of this House who wishes either that private interests or the interests of any small class should stand against the large general interests. It is not in that respect that we complain about the Food Controller. It is because we think his actions have been ill-considered, haphazard, and empirical; not that they are injurious to the interests of any class in particular, but to the interests of the country as a whole. We suggest that he is running us into very serious danger, which may lead to very serious disaster.
A comparison was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Ministry which did not, I think, carry conviction. He compared ordinary industries with farming. I look upon this simply as a question of political economy, and I fail to see the relevance of the comparison, The hon. Gentleman said that every trade had to be regulated as well as agriculture. The Regulations in the building trade refer to the amount of labour which may be employed and the amount of money that may be spent upon building at the present time. There is no Regulation fixing the profits of the builder to any particular amount. If that were so there might be more reality in the comparison. Besides, it is necessary that if we are to see the reason of rationing that we should consider the great masses of traders, and the fact that any industry, be it the building trade or agriculture, is and must be moved by the ordinary business instincts of the country. No man can be expected to carry on any business or pursuit if the result of his labours is a loss and not a profit. The hon. Member, with all his reasoning, never showed us anything to disprove that agriculture has been called upon, in some cases, to work at a loss. To ask any commercial industry to work at a loss is simply to ask it to come to an end, and it is hopeless under those circumstances to expect that it will continue. What we ask is that the Food Controller should bring us some assurance that his action would be guided not simply by the plausible pretext of lowering prices, but that he will keep in view the necessity of increasing the productive resources of the country. You can only do that through the industries concerned. If the Food Controller or his representative here thinks that he may 372 disregard the necessity of increasing production, then his action may lead to very serious disaster. We have to limit the quantity consumed and not the prices paid. This is not the time to take artificial means for cutting prices. This country has plenty of resources, but it is far more important that you should increase production and limit consumption. These two things are matters upon which the absolute salvation of this country may depend. You must increase your production and restrict your consumption. Some of the methods pursued by the Government at the instigation of the Food Controller, in order to produce a cheap loaf at an enormous cost, have given rise to serious doubts as to whether calm and considered wisdom have been regulating our action in this matter. I confess myself as an impartial observer, and as one anxious to give loyal and undeviating support to the Government I cannot hide from myself the fact that uneasiness is caused by the present action of the Food Controller, and this is deepened by the fact that there appears to be a wide divergence of opinion on some of these questions between the Ministry of Food and the Board of Agriculture.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
I cannot agree with what has been said by the hon. Member opposite that it is undesirable to regulate prices. I am not here to put forward any such plea, as the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Ministry of Food seems to think, that farmers desire that they should be free from Regulations. I do not think that farmers make any claim of immunity from burdens which are placed upon other classes of the community. What the farmer has a right to claim is that the Orders which are issued shall be clear and unambiguous and that pledges which are given shall be kept, otherwise you may get a very serious state of affairs indeed. I will take one illustration of this general proposition The hon. Gentleman will remember the guarantee which was given this time last year with regard to the production of potatoes. A statement was made by the Prime Minister which contained a promise guaranteeing a certain payment to the farmers for the potato crop, and it was made without any sort of condition whatsoever. Two other pledges were made by Ministers relating to the same matter which contained a condition as to the quantity in which the potatoes were to be placed upon the market.
373 What happened? Not only large but small farmers, I expect in this country and certainly in the West of Scotland and the West of Ireland, did in fact increase their production of potatoes very largely, relying upon that pledge. I can only suppose that the Treasury got frightened and said they were going to have too much to pay because, first of all, they disregarded the Prime Minister's pledge altogether and they said, "It is only the Prime Minister, and he does not count." Then they seized upon a condition contained in the other version of the guarantee that the potatoes were to be placed on the market in 4-ton lots, and they then said, "We will not pay in respect of lots of 6 or 4 tons." Then they said that the small men could have them in 4-ton lots, and in Ireland, and I expect elsewhere, co-operative societies made arrangements to hold them, and put them on the market in the quantities required. Then the Food Controller said, "I not only must insist upon those conditions, but, I make a new condition that they shall not only be placed on the market in 4-ton lots, but they must have been produced by each separate grower in those quantities." That has struck a very serious blow at the production of potatoes in many parts of the country.
The policy pursued has been unjust to the individuals and most impolitic. It is highly desirable that small growers should place their produce on the market in small quantities, and the co-operative societies were a ready means of encouraging what is a very desirable development. Moreover, the country wants all the potatoes it can get and nothing can be more unwise as well as unjust that, after men have engaged upon work relying upon the pledge of a responsible Minister, they should find in the end that that pledge is broken. I do not know what is going to be done this year— I will say no more about the past— but I do beg in the interests not only of the men themselves, but in the interests of the country, that whatever is done this year should be put forward in a clear statement. I am not complaining about prices, but I beg that whatever statements are made shall be so clear that, to begin with, the Department concerned shall know what they mean, and that has not always been the case; and, secondly, that whatever pledges are given shall be kept in the spirit as well as in the letter, and that you will not allow anybody from the Treasury to go behind the pledged word of the Govern- 374 ment and thus defraud men of that to which they are clearly entitled in the plain meaning of your own words.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.