HC Deb 09 March 1920 vol 126 cc1163-200

Motion made, and question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £6,500,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Cost of the Bread Subsidy.


I beg to move, that the Vote be reduced by £100.

6.0 P.M.

It must not be assumed that we are against a subsidy on bread. As a matter of fact what we view with apprehension is what will take place when next year the subsidy is reduced to £45,000,000. We realise that it would strike an effective blow against the poorest of the poor, against the old age pensioners, the soldier and his dependants, the police pensioner, and those who are in receipt of insurance benefit.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not now discussing what the policy should be in the future. We are discussing only a Supplementary Estimate of £6,500,000 to the original Estimate, which was £50,000,000. The only point at the moment is whether the Committee shall agree to the granting of that extra £6,500,000. If the hon. Member wants to reduce that sum, or thinks that some step taken by the Government might have prevented their asking for this supplementary sum, he would be in Order, but to discuss the whole question of the bread subsidy is not in Order.


When Mr. Whitley was in the Chair, I asked him whether on this Vote we should be in Order in discussing the question of the price of wheat and the guarantee to the British farmer, which is a question of policy, and the Chairman indicated that we should be in a position to discuss that.


If the hon. Member wishes to show that by some step the Government might have taken they might have prevented the necessity for asking for this supplementary grant, that would be in Order.


I appreciate the point of Order, and I will attempt not to transgress again. Whatever subsidy is given, we believe that there; ought to be some differentiation as to the manner in which it is administered. We have abundant reason for criticising the manner in which the £50,000,000 has been administered. There was a Committee on National Expenditure appointed some time ago, and they reported that, had this subsidy been used only for bread, instead of for pastries and sweetmeats as well, there would have been £14,500,000 saved to the community. Therefore, instead of the Government having to appeal for an extra £6,500,000, there would have been, approximately, a credit balance of £9,000,000. We have had much talk of economy. It is no good appointing Committees to go into expenditure and to suggest ways and means whereby we can effect economy if the Government totally disregard the recommendations of those Committees It was suggested by the Committee that the subsidy was not used for bread for the benefit of poor people at all. They said: Moreover the price of cakes, pastry, and other goods, or smalls, which are produced by bakeries is uncontrolled, and no doubt very large profits are made by the sales of these articles, which are now produced from subsidised flour. Last week I asked a question as to the proportionate quantities used for bread and for pastries. We were advised by the Food Controller that about one quarter went to pastries and the remainder to bread. That being the case, strong efforts ought to have been made by the Government to have saved that amount for the benefit of the nation. There is another aspect of the question as to which the Labour party brings forward criticism. We were told some time ago that by the policy of the Government the cost of living would be reduced by 4s. a week for the average man. We are anxiously waiting for that reduction. Instead of it, the policy of the Government is leading to a substantial increase in prices. We have suggested a means whereby the subsidy might have been reduced. That is, by opening up trade with Russia. Time and time again the Labour party and other Members on this side of the House have recommended that policy. It has been totally disregarded by the Government. We press the proposal forward again and we say that the time has come, if we are to save this country, if we are to effect the security and happiness of the people, to remove unrest and discontent and prevent the social revolution, then we must re-establish trade with Russia and remove the blockade. The Prime Minister said last month: The withdrawal of Russia from the supplying markets is contributing to high prices…

Captain S. WILSON

May I ask whether this question of trade with Russia is not a question of policy and therefore out of order?


The hon. Member is endeavouring, I understand, to show that if the Government had obtained more wheat from Russia they would not have required to ask for this £6,500,000.


We suggest that if the policy we advocated had been put into operation there might have been a substantial balance to the credit of the Government, and we might have reduced the cost of living. Instead of that our policy has been ignored. Let me complete the quotation which I was about to read. The Prime Minister said:— The withdrawal of Russia from the supplying markets is contributing to high prices and the high cost of living, to scarcity and to hunger. The corn bins of Russia are bulging with grain. We believe that statement is substantially true to-day and we believe it was true 12 months ago. Complaints have been made that we cannot act for want of transport. When there was a railway strike we utilised the ships of the Navy; we put into operation 22 sweepers and 42 other vessels and ten destroyers. If we could use those ships of the Navy when there was a strike, in order to break the strike or to supply food, surely we could utilise them to-day to bring food into the country? We ought to exert every energy and to utilise the surplus food which is in other countries. We are told by the Committee on Expenditure that there is an abundance of food outside the United States of America to supply our requirements, if we would utilise the transport. Why not? Surely the policy we are pursuing is simply guaranteeing high prices for British farmers at the expense of the people? That is a policy which is not likely to maintain peace and to remove unrest. We believe that greater control ought to be taken. We have been subsidising the millers. Taking the case of Spillers & Bakers, in two years they put £250,000 to reserve on a capital of £500,000 and they continued to pay 15 per cent. We suggest that you are taxing the nation for the benefit of those you are subsidising. That policy we consider is not in the interests of the nation. I beg to move:—


I rather wish that in raising this question it could have been done on a wider issue on which we could have discussed the whole question and policy of the bread subsidy and guarantee. I do not think, however, that even this limited opportunity should be allowed to pass without saying a word on the effects of the bread subsidy; and the guarantee and the price, from the point of view of this increase which is now demanded. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has fallen into an error because he suggested that this large sum in the way of a subsidy for wheat was being paid by giving guarantees to the British farmer and that that was causing unrest in the community. I am sure his intentions are excellent, but immense harm is done by statements of that kind. It is absolutely without foundation. If unrest and jealousy between different sections of the community is at this moment our greatest danger, surely it is our duty to see that the facts are placed fairly before the country and the different sections of the community. My hon. Friend must know that not one single farthing has been paid to one single farmer under any guarantee of this subsidy; but, on the contrary (as I hope to show) this increase which we are now asked to vote, is mainly and directly due to the neglect of the Government to support agriculture and home production.


I suggested that the blockade of Russia was really maintaining high prices and that that was assisting the British farmer.


I do not know what my hon. Friend intended to say, but what he did distinctly say was that it was the guarantee to the British farmer. If he desires to withdraw it, I hope he will do so.


I suggested that the policy pursued was bound to maintain high prices, and that those are going to be paid to the British farmer. If we remove the blockade and get more wheat from Russia and the Argentine, it will reduce the price.


That is an entirely different matter. My hon. Friend suggested that it was the guarantee to the British farmer that was the cause.


No, no?


If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to suggest that, perhaps he will withdraw it?


I do not wish to suggest that.


Then that matter, at any rate, is cleared up, and it is not the guarantee to the British farmer which is the cause of this. As far as we can ascertain them, we find that the wheat subsidy has cost about forty-five million pounds per year at the old rate. If it were continued, on the present rate, and the increasing rate, it would be about ninety-five million; and this Vote of six-and-a-half millions really represents the increase at the high rate for a short time. If that were continued for the next financial year the increase would be forty-five millions. Unfortunately, the result of that financially is this: That even with this forty-five million saving which the change adumbrated by the Prime Minister will bring about, we shall still have to pay the same subsidy as before of about 45 millions—even when the loaf stands at a shilling instead of ninepence. What we are really doing in the policy indicated is not actually saving, but merely shifting on to the consumer all that additional part of the subsidy which would be incurred owing to the policy which has been pursued in the past. I desire to point out what has been the disastrous result of that policy on the general finances of the country and on the price of bread and of wheat. One reason why I think the increase in the price of bread to a shilling will have a good effect is that it will make people realise what money is being spent. What has been the policy? The policy has been to buy this wheat overseas. What has been the result? The reason why this additional expenditure has been incurred is mainly because the effect of this enormous buying abroad of wheat, though, of course, not only of wheat, but very largely so, which might be produced at home has put the exchanges constantly against us.

A very large proportion of this money which we are now voting does not represent money paid at its ordinary rate for value received. It simply represents the fact that instead of getting in America five dollars' worth of wheat for a sovereign, you are only getting three-and-a-half dollars' worth of wheat, and that is where the money goes! Look at the figures—the price of wheat in this country at the present time is about 76s. per quarter, which is the price at which the Government takes it compulsorily from the farmer and sells it to the miller. Therefore, the farmer has his wheat taken from him at a figure which is from 40s. to 50s. below the price which the Government is paying for foreign wheat delivered in the ports of this country. The effect of this, in the first instance, is that the subsidy on wheat, instead of being paid by the taxpayers as a whole, is largely paid by the British farmer. I do not think I shall be transgressing the rules of order if I remark in passing that it is suggested that the farmer can afford to pay the agricultural labourer the same wage as a railway porter—which he would be very glad to do—but it must be remembered that the railway companies are receiving a subsidy of forty millions, whereas the farmer has got to pay a subsidy to the Government of about ton millions. The British farmer has in this manner paid part of the subsidy. I do not want to exaggerate the figures, but I will take the lower figure of £2 per quarter which is being paid for foreign wheat more than the price which the British farmer is allowed to charge. That represents 160 shillings per acre on four quarters to the acre which is being sent abroad, while the British farmer is compelled to take a price which is unremunerative, under present economic conditions. The consequence of that policy is that this subsidy is being forced up in every direction—not only by the exchange directly, but also because less and less acreage of wheat is being grown in this country year by year. The price at home is maintained at the same level, and we have the Agricultural Wages Board putting another four or five shillings upon the wages which have to be paid to agricultural workers.

The direct effect of this subsidy policy is that more and more land will go out of cereal cultivation, and for every acre on the figures I have given of British land which goes out of wheat cultivation you have got to pay an extra 160 shillings to the foreigner, at the present rate of exchange. That really is not a policy which can possibly commend itself to the country as a whole. Now we have an announcement that the present price of wheat of 76s. is to remain as the maximum price which the farmer can charge for the harvest of 1920. I may say, incidentally, when we raised that point in debate the other night, we were told that the British farmer might hold the 1920 crop to 1921, in the hope that he might get 100s. per quarter. I cannot think that that suggestion could have been seriously made. If anything was likely to breed ill-will between the farmers and the rest of the community, it would be to hold up one year's crop to the next year in order to get a higher price. The thing does not bear talking about. It is quite obvious, if we are to be saved this kind of Supplementary Estimate, something must be done to enable the British farmer to grow wheat in this country at a profit, and that not only on the best land. Whatever you may do, you will always get wheat grown on the best land where you have six quarters to the acre. We live on margins; where it takes, say, four and a half quarters, to pay the cost of cultivation, under present conditions, the land that can only grow four quarters will have a loss. The land which grows six quarters will have quite a big figure compared with old prices; and with three sacks of a margin will have a profit. The poor land will grow inferior crop. It does not help the farmer on the poor land that people are making a profit on the good land. The unfortunate thing about all these controls and subsidies and guarantees is that everything is done on averages. The man who is above the average is all right; but those below are knocked about and the land goes out of cultivation; and the whole country loses.

I venture to point this moral, that through this policy, which is largely responsible for us now having to vote 6½ millions of money in excess of the original estimate, in addition to this subsidy, the consumers in the country will have to pay another 45 millions in the course of the next 12 months for their bread, because of the exchanges and because of this policy. I suggest that the Government should really re-model their agricultural policy. I know this is an industrial country and that this House makes laws for an industrial country which agriculture has to put up with. We have, of course, to legislate for the benefit of the people as a whole, but it is surely just as much in the interests of the industrial majority as of the agricultural minority that we should produce our food at home instead of having to buy it from abroad, and it is no use tinkering with the question. We must have an agricultural policy which will really make it pay, and the kind of feeling which was expressed by the last speaker is really a bad omen. It is that the industrial community look with some jealousy and suspicion upon the agricultural industry, that they think the farmers are trying to profiteer at their expense, and that they make quite large sums of money out of agricultural land. I can assure them that, although on some of the best land, with special crops and under special conditions, big profits may be made—I do not deny that, but I have no experience of it, because I am not fortunate enough to own or to cultivate any land of that description—but from my own knowledge I know it is absolutely impossible under present conditions to cultivate poor land and make both ends meet, and pay the present wage and the present cost of cultivation under the conditions imposed on us now by Parliament.

I am farming a large area of land of that description. I was able to farm it without serious losses all through the nineties, which are looked upon as the very worst times that agriculture has ever been through, but I tell the Committee that under present conditions I am far worse off than I was in the nineties. There was land which throughout the War was kept in good cultivation and was producing large quantities of food, as much as you could get out of that poor land, for the people. Now that land—large areas of it—is going straight out of cultivation, and no corn is being grown upon it, and it will not grow grass, and surely it is a short-sighted policy for the industrial community to say that it is in their interests that, in order to secure some fancied advantage, that land should be kept out of cultivation. You have either got to enable that land to be farmed cheaply, or you have got to enable a good price to be obtained for what can be grown upon it. What the Committee is' now being asked to do is an illustration of the difficulty we are being brought into by being afraid of facing the consequences of our action. The Government are to blame, because instead of following the best policy with a view to the future benefit of the whole community, they have followed the line of least political resistance. That is really what it has been. The line of least political resistance seemed to be to give the least possible subsidy, which would not raise the cry of profiteering, and to buy our wheat from abroad. Now we have the Nemesis, and I only hope that the Government and the country will see where this is leading us.

If we are to avoid such Supplementary Estimates as this in future, and try to get the price of bread down, let us keep it down by natural means, by competition in wheat growing, instead of by taxes and by subsidies, the only result of which is to pile up the expenditure till it overflows, and then you have to go and throw it on the consumer after all. If I had to suggest a policy for the consideration of the Government, it would be this. Do away with your control altogether, and instead of spending your money on a £45,000,000 subsidy, which grows to £95,000,000, it would be much better to let the country pay the natural price for the loaf, and realise what that natural price is, and let natural laws work, and then take the best measures possible to mould them to our requirements. We could then spend the £45,000,000, or such part of it as might be necessary, in giving temporary assistance to pre-war pensioners and such-like poorer classes of the community, upon whom the burden would fall most strongly, and as the prices of bread adjust themselves again naturally and get back to some figure which could be previously stated, those grants should automatically cease. They would not cost you any more, you would get the thing into its natural groove, this artificial machinery, which involves endless expenditure in many other ways than those indicated in this Debate, would come to an end, and we should get agriculture put upon its natural and proper footing.


I am sure the Committee has listened with great attention to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I understand the Government is paying considerably more for imported wheat than it is paying to the farmers for wheat. That in itself is discouraging the growth of wheat, and I am sure we all agree that the sooner that kind of control disappears the better for the trade and prosperity of the country. With regard to the remarks of the previous speaker (Mr. Swan), I think he omitted to remember that the reason why we could not get supplies from Russia, even if they were there, is the difficulty of transports. Even in Russia itself the difficulties are such that there are people starving in one part of the country while there are plenty of corn and provisions in another part. The point that I want to raise now particularly is one of vast importance with regard to the health and physique of the people of this country. The responsibility of the Food Ministry and the Government at the present time is very grave indeed, for they have control over the wheat supply and over the milling of flour, and they can therefore do practically what they like to ensure that the people of this country shall be supplied with the most nutritious kind of flour, and therefore of bread. Those Members who have read the memorial and the report which I hold in my hand will have noticed the names of many of the most distinguished medical men, analysts, and scientists of the day, a report in which they all agree that the vital elements in bread are frequently and generally taken out, are not left in the flour, and therefore the people of this country, especially the poor, are not provided with the most wholesome and nutritious form of bread. When we consider the vast number of C3 men who could not be considered fit for Army service, when we consider the medical reports as to the low condition of the national physique, and when we consider that this is shown by the most eminent medical men to be due to the children not having provided for them the most healthy form of nourishment, then I think it will be realised that it is the duty of this House and the Government to take such steps as shall ensure that the essential elements in the flour shall not be taken out.

A number of us have considered that the question of providing the best and most nutritious flour might well be made to represent great financial economy to the Government. Flour could be made of one quality, or a quality which could be subsidised, which would contain in it all these elements which are so necessary for health. This flour, which I am suggesting should be standard flour, would be the only class of flour which would receive the subsidy. The poor would then be certain of getting the best kind of bread for their children and for themselves. It has been proved beyond doubt that when ordinary white bread is given to the lower animals—experiments have been tried on various animals—they become rickety, and they eventually die, unless they have some substituted food; but, on the contrary, directly they are provided with the real bread containing the essential qualities for health they begin to thrive at once. It is known that a case of beri-beri has been brought about by the use of polished rice, and that when the rice is supplied unpolished the disease disappears. I think it would be very wise of the Food Ministry if they would get their officers carefully to consider how this policy might be carried into effect, for it would produce very valuable results. One would be that those who most require cheap food would get the healthiest food at the cheapest price, while those who want fancy cakes and other delicacies would have to pay the full price. After consulting a good many experts, I suggest that the means could be found by which the Government could, with their control, make it absolutely certain that the flour provided to the people in this country should be the standard flour Some years ago the "Daily Mail" started what was known as—


This is only relevant to the subject now before the Committee in so far as it would save money in the Subsidy.


Perhaps I was wrong in mentioning any particular newspaper. I want to try to show the policy I am now enunciating was a failure when enunciated by some daily papers. The reason was that the bread was called standard, but there was no standard. No one knew what it contained at the time. Some was good, some bad and some indifferent, and the worst millers, I am told, took the opportunity of putting into this standard bread all the rubbish they could find and, of course, the result was disastrous. What I am proposing now is that the Government should see to it that the standard flour I am proposing should be absolutely pure and of the best quality, and there should be no doubt that when people got this bread it would be of the best possible quality. With regard to standard bread, to have a standard by name only and not in effect is, of course, bound to produce failure. I hope the attention of the Government will be very closely given to this very important subject, which, if carried into effect, would make a very large saving in the subsidy and provide people of this country with a healthy and nutritious form of bread.

Lieut.-Colonel W. GUINNESS

I do not propose to follow the last speaker in his very interesting discussion as to the quality of bread. It seems to me we have got to consider something far more fundamental, because if we go on with the present Government policy, we shall not have any bread at all except at a most terrible cost to the British taxpayer. It is not often that I venture to take part in any discussion about agriculture, except as a listener, but really this matter of a bread subsidy seems to me so vital, that it should be dealt with on proper lines, and the injustice of the present system is so patent to those who represent agricultural constituencies, that I hope the Committee will forgive me just saying a word or two as to how it looks to us in the Eastern counties. I was down there last week, and saw a good many farmers, and the farmers, generally speaking, in the Eastern counties are a very patient and long-suffering race of people who do not expect very much from politics or from Parliament, but I have never seen them in such a state of anger and disquiet as they now are. We object to the wheat subsidy under the present system, because it makes no provision for enabling this year's wheat to be sold by the farmers even at a price to cover the bare cost of production. The facts as to this are not in dispute. Lord Lee, in his Memorandum published about a fortnight ago, said that The price of 76s. per quarter, which is in effect the maximum price, was fixed in 1918, when the costs of production, and notably wages, were far lower than they are to-day. It has been ascertained that the equivalent of 76s. in 1918 is not less than 95s. in 1920.". The position is very much worse since Lord Lee made that announcement, because we are informed in Suffolk that we are likely to have a further rise of 5s. 6d. in the agricultural wage, and, therefore, the 95s., which Lord Lee mentioned as being the equivalent of the 76s., which was supposed to give a fair price to the farmer in 1918, is now increased to a figure well over 100s. before the farmer can be assured of a reasonable return for the money he sinks in the cultivation of wheat. When the farmers sowed last year's crop, they thought that 76s. was going to be the minimum, and not the maximum. That is the invariable opinion given. They may have been wrong, but they only took the statements of Ministers at their face value. They have been let down once, and they are very suspicious as to the Government getting into the habit of letting them down year by year. The announcement which was made to the Prime Minister yesterday is going, I think, to be the last straw, because the farmer will see that the new flour price of 63s. 6d. is about equivalent to a wheat price of 100s. a quarter. The farmer is now subsidising bread under a system which forces him to sell wheat below the cost. That, I think, is contrary to all sound canons of taxation, because it is entirely against the system of equality of sacrifice. If there is to be this burden to give cheap flour, it must be borne by the whole community. Any how, the farmer has had this burden put upon him for the last two years. He was already very restive under it, but when he sees that this new wholesale price of wheat justifies a price to him of £5 a quarter, the hardship will become so obvious as to be quite intolerable.

I think if there is to be any wheat grown in the Eastern Counties in future, it is imperative at the earliest moment to cancel the instructions to millers to keep down the price to 76s., and immediately to authorise them to pay 100s. for the wheat which is now marketed, failing which I do not think there can be any home-grown wheat sown this autumn on a great deal of land which would otherwise be put under this crop, and if we do not have this home production, it is obviously going to be a very terrible burden either on the consumer or the taxpayer. This House cannot make the farmer grow wheat against his will. D.O.R.A. in her most exacting mood only insisted on good husbandry, and it has never been held to be good husbandry to grow good crops at a loss. Already there is a shrinkage of half a million acres in the cultivation of wheat, and it is perfectly certain, from all present indications, that that process of shrinking is very rapidly increasing. The only way to get farmers to grow wheat in future years is to save them from an unjust loss on the wheat they are growing this year. They do not ask for a profit. I do not believe that, as a whole, they expect what the right hon. Gentleman just now suggested, that the control should be taken off altogether, and that they should get world prices. I think they would like that, but they recognise that, in return for the minimum price which they ask for, it is reasonable that they should have a maximum. Therefore, I believe it would quite meet the case if they could be allowed to get the 100s. a quarter, which I believe this new flour price would justify.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture has suggested keeping wheat in the stack. That was a good deal talked about in Suffolk this week-end, and small farmers told me they cannot possibly afford to lock up money in that way. It may be possible for the big farmer, but the small farmer cannot afford it, and, besides, he wants the straw. I believe that if you treat farmers in this unfair way in future years, it will be no good appealing to them to grow wheat on patriotic grounds. They have been very receptive to that appeal in the past, and I do not think it fair of the community to take too great advantage of them. In view of the importance of home-grown wheat, I believe if the Government insist on their present policy it will be worse than merely unfair—it will be stupid.

Lieut.-Commander C. WILLIAMS

I only wish to say a few words on this particular subject because I am perfectly convinced that a considerable portion of the blame for this enormous rise in the Estimate, although not entirely due to the fault of the Government, can be directly placed on the Government. It has been quite evident to any of us who, since the War has been over, has had any connection whatever with agriculture, and particularly with big agricultural divisions, that unless the Government did everything in their power to endeavour to make those engaged in the agricultural industry absolutely convinced that there was a future for them in the growing of wheat, you would reduce the wheat supply of this country, and I maintain that we can only hope in the immediate future to reduce prices, particularly the price of wheat, by putting into cultivation every acre which ought to be under wheat at the present time in this country. I do not care to what party you belong, you can only reduce your prices by increased production on every line. We have got this very large increase in the Estimates, and I would like to know one or two things from the Government. First of all, as they foresaw, or should have foreseen, during the last few months in which this very large increase was going on, would it not have been possible rather sooner, or, shall I say, at a rather greater rate, to have reduced the standard of flour? I do not believe for one minute that by taking out a higher percentage of flour from corn it would do anything actually but increase the food value of your flour, and by working it at 78, 79, or 80, I am perfectly certain you would have been able to save a very considerable sum. One of the Members of the Labour party said just now something about the amount of flour being used for pastry. This is rather a difficult question, but I would like to ask the Food Controller whether it was not possible in some way, or by some means of co-operation, to have reduced the amount of flour that was used in that way? I do not know if that is the case, but I think the House might be told something on this point.

7.0 P.M.

May I mention one or two things which are opening at the present moment which I think it is to the interest of us here to realise? I think it is fairly common knowledge that at the present time a very large number of farmers are growing barley and wheat together, the result of which will be that they will be enabled to sell it, or use it, as dredge corn, instead of selling it in the market as pure wheat. That is in its turn, I understand, bound sooner or later to have a direct effect on next season's corn supply, and a very direct effect on the amount of corn you will have to go towards relieving your bread subsidy. Then, again, the position in which the farmer has repeatedly found himself is that he has had to sell his wheat and then to buy feeding stuffs, which are of far less value for nourishing purposes, at a higher price, than that which he has been able to get for his grain. It does not seem to be wise to allow this feeling to go on among the farming community. They were asked to grow wheat during the War, and they responded to that request to a very large extent, and now they feel that as the War is over their interests are to be left on one side. They have been actually penalised over and over again. They have to go on buying things to replace the grain that they have to sell. I would really urge that on the Government. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture here. I know he has done his best for the agricultural community, and I welcome what he has been able to do. I hope the Committee will urge upon the Government that the position of the price of wheat must be cleared up, particularly with regard to wheat grown in this country. We may be quite certain that the subsidy cannot be reduced permanently. If we are to have more food the whole world must do its best to produce as much as it possibly can.


I only want to emphasise two points. The first is that in this question we are all interested, not merely some of us because we represent agricultural constituencies who are vitally interested, but primarily we are all interested as consumers. The second point is the interest of the taxpayer. I heard some remarks by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) with very great satisfaction. He said that it was particularly vital in carrying the agricultural policy of this country into effect that we should carry with us the assent of hon. Members who sit opposite and the body of opinion outside which they represent.

I have always maintained that what the agriculturists have to contend with in this House and in the country is not ill-will but, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, lack of knowledge. If a Debate like this does nothing else it will serve to remove some of the misconception with which this question has been surrounded nearly always. I would lay down two propositions which, I think, can hardly be disputed. The first is from the point of view of the taxpayer. He knows that for every quarter of wheat from abroad you will have to pay from 25 per cent. to 40 per cent. more than for a quarter of wheat grown here. Secondly, I would ask hon. Members to listen to the words which I have taken down about the "bursting granaries of the world". I think that was the expression used by the Prime Minister not long ago and repeated by the hon. Member to-day. It leads to the impression that the world is bulging with wheat and does not know what to do with it. I have no special knowledge on the point, but I should be surprised if that were a correct impression to give of the wheat position of the world. I do not know what the position may be in this or that country at this moment, but I believe that the big movements of the wheat forces of the world are against and not in favour of cheap wheat.

The United States and Canada, year by year, find it more difficult to increase their wheat supplies. I believe it is correct to say that Roumania is not to be counted on for the wheat production which it had in the past. Great parts of Europe are in a state of disorder and temporarily out of gear and, what is more vital than any of these things, you have not only a change in the production of the world but you have a change in the taste of great masses of the population. I believe that in China, Japan and India they are now going in for eating wheat instead of for eating rice. In view of all this I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they are really straining at a gnat. They should not regard the old shibboleths about the cheap loaf, but should look at the real economic forces which affect this question, not only in this country, but all over the world, and which are likely to affect it not only next year but for the next four or five years. On these grounds I deplore very earnestly the position of the Government with regard to wheat in this country. I do not want to develop that point, Mr. Chairman, although you have allowed others to develop it, perhaps further than you might allow me. Even the patience of Mr. Whitley may have its limits. I would conclude by saying that these larger general considerations shall be taken into account by all those who are trying to judge the Government policy, and if they are I shall be surprised if hon. Members do not arrive at the same conclusion as myself, which is that that policy has largely failed.


I did not intend to take part in this discussion. The Vote is one affecting the Food Controller and therefore I should not intrude. I did not expect to speak again this evening, but as the Debate has ranged largely around the question of home wheat prices for this year the hon. Member who represents the Food Controller has asked me to say a word on this subject. I listened with a great deal of interest and attention, as I always do, to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Chelmsford, and I can assure him and other Members of the House who have spoken that we do most earnestly desire to encourage the home production of wheat. That is our agricultural policy. We have shown that by passing the Grain Production Act some time ago, and by giving a guarantee of minimum prices, and we intend shortly to propose to amend that Act by provisions bringing up the minimum price to a figure commensurate with the cost of production. That shows that we are anxious to pro- mote wheat production at home. During the War it was necessary for the national safety to make an appeal to the farmers, and we appealed most successfully to them to produce more wheat. If we had not made that appeal, especially if the War had gone on longer, we might have found ourselves in a position of having to face starvation. When that particular danger had passed away we had to recognise the fact that in the present economic conditions, which have been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, and the position of the wheat production of the world generally, we could produce wheat cheaper in this country now than we could import it. Therefore, from the point of view of the consumer and the taxpayer, the more we could encourage home production the better it would be for them. At the present moment so long as we have the subsidy it is more a matter for the taxpayer than for the consumer, but if the subsidy were taken away it would be more a matter for the consumer. Therefore, we wish to see more wheat produced in this country, in large quantities, and at a price that will give a fair return to the farmer. At the same time it should not be an excessive return.

We could not be a party to allowing the farmer to get the full world price which has been swollen by the change in the exchange, now so much against us, and which has also been swollen by the high rates of freights. I think it would be a mistake on the part of the farmers if they were to attempt to take advantage of such exceptional conditions which have grown out of the War and which have had an effect upon world prices at the present moment. But, speaking generally, there is no doubt that the more wheat we can produce this year, next year and the next few years, the better it will be for the taxpayer and the consumer. With reference to the urban population, I dislike any attempt being made to draw a distinction between the interests of the urban and the rural population. I believe that from the point of view of the urban population, nothing better could happen than that we should stimulate the production of wheat in our own country I am here as the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture from an official point of view, but I represent a constituency which is purely industrial I have put the view which I am now putting before my constituents over and over again, and I think I have got them to realise that their interests as a purely industrial population is bound up with that of the rural population. I think that is the right line to take. The other evening I was arguing against a proposal for the removal of all food control. We could not accept that without giving the world price to the farmer. I made an announcement with reference to the price of wheat for 1920–21. My Noble Friend the Minister for Agriculture (Lord Lee) hoped that that announcement would help to stimulate the growing of wheat in this country. I think that as far as 1921 goes it is generally conceded that the proposals of the Government are fairly reasonable. Those proposals are that, if control is still continued up to the time when the 1921 crop is harvested, the farmer shall have the world price, with a maximum of 100s., and I understand that there is very little quarrel, in this House or in the country, with that announcement so far as it affects 1921. I realise, however, that the fact that a similar concession has not been made with regard to 1920 has not been well received. I should be simply blind, and unable to appreciate the feeling of agriculturists, if I did not realise that the announcement as regards the 1920 crop, so far from being likely to stimulate the production of wheat, is likely to have the opposite effect. The Committee will realise that I am placed in a difficult position. This is not a matter that I can decide; it is not a matter that my Noble Friend the Minister can decide; it is a matter for the Government as a whole. But I am prepared to say that, so far as the Ministry of Agricultuure is concerned, we are fully conscious of the effect which the announcement has had. We realise that our very announcement, in saying that 78s. in 1918 is about equivalent to 95s. to-day, has rather given the policy away, and that the matter, therefore, will have to be further considered. I cannot say more than that, but I can promise, as regards the particular Ministry which I represent in this House, that we shall ask for further consideration of the matter.


I will be content to leave where it is the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has just made, feeling well satisfied that he has been—I will not say induced, but has come to a better frame of mind with regard to this question, and is prepared to reconsider it. The Debate which has taken place has been an extremely interesting one from the point of view of agriculturists, and I am glad to see that, towards the end of the Debate, hon. Members seemed to realise more and more that this was much more a consumers' and taxpayers' question than a question purely for the agriculturist. I do not know whether hon. Members of this House are aware of the anomaly that is created by the present position. Formerly farmers were unable to grow wheat because the price was too low; now they are unable to grow wheat because the price is too high. That is a position which anyone reflecting upon it must see is absolutely absurd. I have heard some arguments from the other side of the House which, I think, were made without giving due consideration to this most difficult question. I agree with the remark that was made that our object ought to be to increase the world's supply of wheat, but although that, no doubt, is the proper policy to pursue, and one that is most desirable, surely, if we want to safeguard ourselves, the policy is to increase the supply of home-grown wheat to the greatest of our ability. Even if we come to the more happy state of having a larger world supply, we must not forget the fact that over that world supply, other than our own, we have no control whatever, whereas we shall always be able to have and maintain a control over our own home supply. That is a consideration which should not be lost sight of in advocating increased production of wheat in this country. It is obvious that, as the position is now, with the exchange against us, we are a loser every time we have to purchase a quarter of wheat from overseas, especially from places where the exchange is against us. For that reason alone, if for no other, it is important that we should increase our home supply, so as to be able to give the people of this country wheat at the cheapest possible rate. I am delighted to hear that the Government have thought fit to reconsider this question, and I hope that without any unnecessary delay they will tell us what they are proposing to do. I am told, and I believe there is some truth in it, that the position of farmers with regard to wheat is so difficult that, at any rate, some of them are taking advantage of the existing absurdity that a mixed crop will fetch a larger price than a wheat crop might sell for, and some of them have, I believe, drilled in some other crops across their wheat crop, so as to ensure, when the harvest comes, that they get the full advantage of the market. I do not advocate that system myself; I think it is most unpatriotic; but it is the kind of thing that people are led to do by these ridiculous policies which the Government pursue. As this is going on, I hope the Government will tell us what their decided policy is without any delay, so that this evil may at the same time be put a stop to.


I just wish to ask my right hon. Friend a question with regard to the announcement which ho has just made, and which is of deep intent to the House and to the country. As I understood it—I did not quite catch what he said—the Government are going to reconsider the announcement which was made by the Prime Minister a couple of days ago in this House.


No, no! I was not referring to the announcement of the Prime Minister, which had reference to the bread subsidy. I was referring to the announcement made by the Minister of Agriculture, about a week ago, in reference to the price of home-grown wheat. That is quite another matter. I did not say that necessarily the Government were going to reconsider it; I said that the Department which I represent, realising the bad effect that that announcement had had in some quarters, were going to ask for its reconsideration.


In view of the Debate which I understand is to take place next Monday on High Prices, I think it would be very useful to hon. Members to know what the new development in the mind of the Government is before that Debate takes place, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that, if I put a question to him by arrangement, say on Thursday, and if he could tell us what the proposals of the Government are, it would be a very useful factor in next Monday's Debate.


I am very glad to hear the statement that, as far as the right hon. Gentleman's Department is concerned, this matter will be reconsidered. I do not think the House quite realises the position of the practical farmer in regard to this question. In farming myself I have always kept most careful records of the cost of growing wheat and of the results I have obtained by selling that wheat. In 1914 I found that the cost of growing wheat was £7 9s. per acre. In 1917 that figure had reached £11, and in the autumn of 1919 I arrived at a figure of no less than £14. Fourteen pounds per acre is the cost of growing the wheat which will be harvested this year. According to the figures that we have at the present moment we cannot receive, on the average of the United Kingdom, more than £15 2s., that, is to say, the 75s. 6d. which the millers give—they will not give the 76s.; they will never give more than the 75s. 6d.—on an average of 4 quarters to the acre. If that is the fact, then the farmer can only make a profit of £1 2s. per acre for growing this wheat at the present moment; ho cannot do more on the average of the United Kingdom. If that is so, is it to he wondered at that farmers immediately think whether it would not be a very much better plan if we could make this wheat into a selling commodity for the feeding of the stock that we have on our farms? If we sell the wheat we only get 75s. 6d. for the 504 lbs. If we buy back the thirds from the mills we have to pay 75s. 6d. for the 504 lbs; and if we buy back the bran we have to pay 67s. 6d. for the 504 lbs. Those are the figures that the ordinary farmer is giving to-day: but at the same minute he has to give £26 5s. per ton for his cake, when he is only selling his wheat at £17 per ton. Therefore he is losing no less than £8 15s. per ton on the difference between the selling of his wheat and the buying of the cake. If that is true, and those are figures that can be verified by anyone, is it not an undoubted fact that, instead of growing wheat, the farmer would be very much better off in his own pocket if he grew the dredge corn that has been mentioned by my hon. Friend behind me (Captain Fitzroy)? In order to do that, he has only to strike the wheat that is growing at this present moment with a mixture of barley and oats, and he immediately turns his figure from £17 to the value of £26 5s. This is a business transaction, and the farmer is a business man, and therefore, if the facts are as I have stated, can we be surprised when we are told that farmers are contemplating at this present moment the action I have tried to describe? I believe myself that the average price of wheat can be brought down in this country by better production. It can be got if the Government will only put this matter on a business footing.

I am perfectly aware that it is no good for farmers to appeal to the Food Controller. They have always known that the Food Controller was out against the farmer and for the producer. But, on the other hand, we have the Ministry of Agriculture—which ought to be for the producer—to counter-balance the Food Controller. I was very much struck by the statement made at the beginning of the War by one of the chief secretaries in the Department of the Food Controller. He said that the farmer was profiteering and he would smash the farmer down to prevent his doing it. I suppose that attitude was followed by that gentleman, if he remained there, though it is likely he is no longer in that Department. But I do ask at the present moment: Can the Food Controller tell me that the cost of growing wheat, and the value of selling an aver ago amount of wheat per acre, is profiteering when the farmer only makes £1 2s. for doing it?

If you want wheat—and we are told that we do, and I believe myself that if more wheat be produced in this country it would be not only better for the consumer, but certainly better for the rural district and better for the worker—then we must appeal for fair play. The wheat grower to-day is not getting fair play. If he did get fair play I believe that this large Supplementary Estimate would never have had to be asked for. If you take the figures of wheat grown in 1916 and compare them with the decrease in quantity grown in succeeding years, instead of the £6,500,000, the Food Controller need not have come to this House for anything like this figure, but for something between one million and two millions. If that is so, I make the serious accusation against the Food Controller that it is through his manipulation of the figures, and the very great uncertainty in the mind of the farmer, that the community as a whole is made to pay this figure. I tell him straight to his face that in the future there will be practically no more wheat grown by British farmers in this country.


I do not intend to attempt to cover the whole ground raised by previous speakers in regard to what is or should have been the policy of the Government for the purpose of encouraging the growing of wheat by the British farmer. I could not do so for two reasons: firstly, because it has already been dealt with by my right hon. and gallant Friend (Sir A. Boscawen), and secondly, because, after all, Government policy in regard to agricultural production is a matter which affects the Ministry of Agriculture rather more than the Ministry of Food. The latter Ministry does, perhaps very imperfectly, endeavour to represent in this country, first and foremost, the interests of the consumer. Perhaps this is necessary, because in the observations made by various hon. Members to-night in a Debate which concerns the price of one of the necessaries of life of the people of this country, although a score of Members are heard explaining fully the special position, the special difficulties, and the special grievances of the producer, I have heard only one Member, or at most two, who have been moved to deal with the position of the consumer. [HON. MEMBERS: "They have not been called!"] I apologise; I should have said of the Members who rose.


Of those who have spoken!


I would just say this much on this question of the price of English wheat, as seen from the point of view of the Food Controller, though not in any way discounting the claims for consideration which have been put forward on behalf of agriculture, but merely by way of rebutting the suggestions which have been made, notably by the last speaker, that in the course of the past year the farmer had really been badly treated in this matter. The position is that we derive four-fifths of our supplies from overseas, and I do not think anybody would suggest that by any stimulus to production we shall be able to dispense in the feeding of our people with a great importation of foreign wheat in the future as in the past. As regards the price paid to the British farmer, it was settled in November, 1918, at 76s. I am not suggesting that that is a fair figure now I am bound to say, however, that during the whole of 1919 no representations were made to the Minister that that price was an improper one, that it was a price that ought to be reconsidered. If it has to be reconsidered it must, I venture to say, be reconsidered upon principles other than those which have been adduced in support of their proposals by some of the speakers this afternoon. It can be properly considered on the ground that agricultural prices do not afford the farmer a fair profit or proper inducement to cultivate wheat, and are not calculated to stimulate the best use of the English soil and the highest production of English crops. These are all proper grounds. It is not proper ground to say, because, in the purchase of foreign wheat, we find ourselves suddenly compelled not to pay the foreign grower of wheat a higher price, but to lose heavy sums of money upon the fortune of the exchanges, to be mulcted in exceptional sums of money for freight charges—because we find ourselves in that embarrassment—because we find ourselves purchasing foreign wheat loaded with these conditions that, therefore, on that ground, we should at once be prepared to revise the prices for crops to which these considerations do not at all apply.

One word in conclusion upon that part of the case. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that there was an official at the Ministry of Food who once expressed some strong views detrimental to the British farmer or to British agriculture. I can assure him there has been no such official at the Ministry of Food since I have been there more than a year ago. No such policy or feeling has ever animated orders put forward by the Food Controller. We do primarily represent the consumer, but we never lose sight of the fact, in fixing the prices for the production of home products, that it is in the interests of the consumer, taking a long view, just as much as in the interests of the whole community, that no price should be fixed which would ever deprive the home producer of a fair profit, or would tend to diminish home production.

In the reduction moved by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Swan) there really seem to be two complaints against the policy of the Government. He put forward first the view that if trade relations with Russia could have been resumed the result would be to open to the Western World boundless supplies of wheat. I cannot to-night enter into the general question of the policy of the Government as to our relations with Russia; but I should like to say, in order that hon. Members may not cherish illusions which are, I am afraid, fated to be dispelled, that although from time to time the information reaching us in regard to the state of affairs in Soviet Russia and the territories of Southern Russia have been extremely varied and often unreliable, the latest information to which I have had access does not encourage me to suppose that the resumption of trade relations with Russia, which is the policy of the Government, is likely to open up any very large stores of wheat or grain in the near future.

In regard to the second complaint, that £14,500,000 would have been saved on the bread subsidy if the recommendations of the Select Committee on High Prices, which some time ago reported in favour of the restriction of the subsidy to the strict purposes of bread making, as distinguished from the use of flour—which is used for making pastry and confectionery—had been adopted; which recommendations of economy have been disregarded by the Government, I assure the hon. Gentleman he is mistaken. A Departmental Committee, over which I myself presided, was promptly constituted by the Food Controller, on the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That Committee had a considerable number of meetings, and most carefully surveyed and explored every possible suggestion for reducing the burden of the subsidy to the taxpayer. The real trouble about attempting to limit the subsidy to the loaf is, of course, that you have parts of the country where the population buy the flour and bake their own bread. The real objection to endeavouring to eliminate from the benefit of the subsidy that portion of the flour which goes in the making of puddings, pastry, and other domestic uses other than bread-making, was that you would have to set up a great and costly machinery of supervision and checks for that purpose, a machinery which in time of peace would be very much resented. We came to the conclusion that when you had done it the total possible saving to be effected, after allowing for inevitable leakages, would be more likely to be five millions than the suggested £14,000,000.


On that point the recommendation was that the scheme administratively was quite feasible, and could have been put into operation at a cost of not more than £200,000. Surely it would have been well worth while to do that in order to save millions.


You would not have had the difficulty with Lyons and firms of that description. Your only difficulty would have been in dealing with the small trader.


The large factories art-dealt with in another way. They are excluded from the benefit of the subsidy by a system of issuing licences. But the real point raised by my hon. Friend was as to what would have been saved if the flour sued for domestic purposes were not subsidised, and if the subsidy had been confined to the loaf baked by bakers. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member says, that it was the desire of the Committee to try and find a solution on these lines, and in proof of that desire they most exhaustively examined the whole problem. But we came to the conclusion that though administratively the thing could be done, the objections on the other hand outweighed any advantages that would be derived. But the matter did not stop there. After that Committee had prepared its Report, some time elapsed and again we took up the whole question. The Committee was re-constituted and we considered no fewer than four separate and distinct possible ways of reducing the burden to the taxpayer, and it was only after the most elaborate and careful consideration that the Committee for the second time came to the conclusion that they were unable to recommend the adoption of any of the schemes or of any modifications whatever.


Did the Committee ever consider the possibility of controlling the price of pastry so that the profits would go to the Government instead of to the miller?


I do not think that any proposal of that kind was made, and, personally speaking, I am not of opinion that it is a very helpful proposal.


It could have been tried.


I think I have dealt with the hon. Member's point, which was that the Government had lightly thrown away the possibility of saving 14½ millions, which could have been done by adopting the recommendation of the Select Committee. My answer to that is that that recommendation was subjected to long and patient investigation on two occasions, and it was decided not to adopt it. Therefore, it cannot be alleged that the Government were guilty of negligence seeing that they acted on the best advice they could got. I pass from that to the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Haslam). The, hon. Member spoke of the great merits of flour of higher extraction than that which the country had been using in the past. I may say that not to the full extent to which I understand the hon. Member suggests, but to some extent the policy of the Government will be found to carry out the views he so ably advocated. I believe the standard bread of which the hon. Member spoke, and which was somewhat fashionable, a few years ago, was bread of the extraction of 85 per cent. The present bread is something of the extraction of 78 per cent., speaking from memory, and I believe an extraction of 30 per cent. will be arranged for without interfering with the fineness or whiteness of the flour, while I am advised that on medical grounds it will prove more healthful and more nutritious. I suggest that I have answered the points as to whether it was possible to reduce the subsidy by an alteration of the, standard of flour or by altering the incidence of the subsidy. My reply is that all these points were carefully considered by the Department, and under the circumstances I hope that the Committee will now feel that this topic has been sufficiently discussed.


I only want to deal with two subjects. I am very interested in the controversy, or difference of opinion between the representatives of the Food Ministry and the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Swan), who, I gather, urged that we ought to have been able, if things had been differently managed, to get, a greater amount of wheat from Russia. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle has evidently been misled by the Prime Minister. If my hon. Friend will carry his mind back to the Debate we had in this House on the Address on the 10th February, he will remember that the Prime Minister used these words: The grain and flour of Russia of all kinds, maize, barley, outs, &c, come to nearly 9,000,000 tons. The figures are prodigious in every direction. The world needs it. There are high prices in Britain, high prices in France, high prices in Italy, and there is stark hunger in Central Europe. The corns bins of Russia, are bulging with grain. That is our report. You never can get all the facts. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Ac-land) seems to have other information, but that is not my information. I at this point asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would give the source of the report, and he replied: No. I am just taking the information given to us by the Russian co-operative societies upon the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1920. Volume 125, Columns 48–9.] I am rather gratified that the information of the representative of the Food Ministry given to us this evening so completely bears out the doubts I ventured to express on that occasion as to the availability of these great supplies from Russia. I am sorry the hon. Member has been misled by the Prime Minister, who now stands corrected by the information we have had given us this evening. On the main subject on which we have been debating I do, not think there ought to be any great cleavage of opinion. We may all differ as to the permanent policy to be adopted in this matter, but as to whether it is necessary, m view of subsequent dangers, that we should make this country far more self-supporting in the matter of its food supplies than it has hitherto been there need be no difference of opinion. There are certain elements in the present situation which may be more or less temporary, but may exist for some years to come, which ought to help us to come to a general agreement as to the desirability of encouraging wheat growing in this country, quite apart from the permanent policy of making this country self-supporting in the matter of food. Unless we pay unreasonable prices for it, the more we can produce at home the more it will save us having to import from abroad, and the better it will be for everybody. The balance of trade is against us, and the only way in which we can get rid of our foreign indebtedness is to decrease our imports and increase our exports. Therefore, within limits, it is well to encourage the home production of wheat for some years to come, at any rate, because the lower is likely to be the price you will have to pay for your aggregate supply. That is rather difficult to be realised by those who cannot have sufficient information on the point. If it is represented to a man that a farmer is asking 100s. a quarter for his wheat, that necessarily means to him that in one way or another ho is called upon to pay the extra charge, either in the price of the loaf or in the bread subsidy through the taxes. If you have to pay a great deal more for the wheat you import then it becomes of real importance to get a cheapening of the aggregate amount of our wheat supply, and, in that case, home production should be encouraged. As long as we are preventing anything which can be called profiteering on the part of the farmer, it is really an important matter that the policy of the Government should be to encourage the production of wheat in the years immediately before us. It is not as if we were permitting, as long as these anomalous circumstances continue, the farmer to take advantage of the open world market. There must be some limitation, and it should be realised that it is to our interest to get the largest stock of wheat at the most reasonable aggregate and average price, and it is, therefore, of direct importance that home wheat growing should be encouraged as much as possible and discouraged as little as possible.

8.0 P.M.


I was rather surprised at the statement made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. McCurdy) upon the question of dealing with pastry and pastry cooking. I am under the impression that this £0,500,000 could have been more than saved if the subsidy had been dealt with from that point of view. It takes an old poacher to make a good gamekeeper, and in the same way I think, perhaps, the experience I have had in the past has given mo some insight into this particular question. I understand that in some cases licences are given to factories where biscuits and similar goods are made But there is, and you will see it all round London and other large towns, a very large quantity of pastries and cakes which I do not think are entitled to have this subsidy at all. The subsidy shall go entirely to bread. The Government have neglected that point of view. Some years ago, when the bread subsidy first came in, I was connected with a concern which was dealing very largely with bread, cakes and so forth, and we viewed with very great pleasure the fact that we should have the advantage of the subsidy for our cakes and pastries. In the last few months there has been a large extension in that way. Everyone is going in for sweet cakes, not only the flour, but the sugar as well, and I press on the hon. Gentleman the idea of looking further into the matter. He says a Committee has been set up, not only once but twice, and has looked into it. I do not know where they get their information from, but, looking at it from the other side, there would be a considerable sum, quite sufficient to save this Supplementary Estimate, if he had dealt with this question of cakes and pastries and other goods which are sold which are not really bread. They certainly take the place of a certain quantity of bread, but if they think they are going to deal with small people who bake their own bread, and the people who bake their own pastries, that is going to absurd lengths. I suggest that it should be limited to those who sell them in the open market, and it is always the case, wherever you deal with the bakers' trade you first of all deal with the bread trade and then with his smalls. I am convinced that there would be a considerable saving if that line was looked into more than it, has been. I know something about the subject, and I feel that it is not fair for those companies who sell these commodities that they should have the advantage, and that it should be taken out of the ratepayers' pockets.


The moderation of view which has been expressed ought to do a good deal to enable the House to arrive at a wise settlement of this question. We all have the same object. We all desire to see an increased quantity of wheat. We recognise that the high price of bread is a danger and a great hardship to many people, and when we see foreign wheat imported at something like 120s. per quarter, it would be very much better if we could get an increased home supply and save some of the money. I do not think the agricultural industry desire to get a high price. All they desire to get is a fair price. We do not want to see wheat de-controlled altogether. But we think that the promise made by the Prime Minister of a price of about 100s. for 1921 should be available for the cop of 1920 also. If that was done it would give some encouragement to producers, and if suit- able fertilisers were obtainable and the same time on fair terms, a great service would be rendered to the agricultural community. It is an undoubted and a proved fact that the increased use of fertilisers has an enormous effect in increasing production, and if sulphate was obtainable at a controlled price that would have an effect on the supply. I only hope this Debate will result in the farmers getting fair treatment as regards the price of the article for 1920.


A casual observer coming into the House during this discussion might imagine that we were back in the bad old days of the Debates on the Corn Laws. We have had over and over again the antithesis suggested between the position and the rights of the consumer and of the producer. As representing a large urban constituency and with no financial interest in agricultural land, my sympathies are with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of agriculture. But I oppose this subsidy because I feel it is going to the wrong address. We should like to see it if it were helping the farmers of Suffolk and Essex. At present we are subsidising the bill brokers of New York and the farmers of Minnesota. That is what is wrong with the subsidy. Those hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies who have told us we want a new agricultural policy, are probably not very far wrong. The point I want particularly to reinforce is that made by the hon. Member for Newport. (Mr. Haslam). I do not think it has been answered. He says, "Do not subsidise unless you are getting the proper extraction from the wheat." The Prime Minister announced yesterday in the House that the extraction from wheat was to be increased from 77 to 80 per cent. But what are we going to extract from the wheat? You might raise the extraction from 77 to 80 per cent. and yet fail to take out what is the most valuable constituent of the grain. At present the children of the poor are being starved for want of the active principle of the. wheat which is not in our bread at all. The Bread and Food Reform League three months ago-brought a deputation to this House consisting of men of science. Sir James Crichton Browne was the principal speaker, but there were numerous others famous in science, and they told a large attendance of Members of the House of Commons more about food and bread in the course of an hour or so than we had learned in our lives before. They told us about vitamines. Five years ago we did not know what vitamines meant. All over the world people were dying for want of vitamines without knowing what they were dying for. The Japanese were dying by hundreds of thousands of beri beri without knowing that what they wanted was vita mines. They were being presented with a civilised product known as polished rice, which deprived them of the husk and also of the germ which was the vital principle of the rice, and as they had no other food except rice their physique deteriorated and they died by thousands before this discovery was made.

The same thing on a smaller scale is happening in England to-day. You and I, Sir, can cat white bread with absolute impunity, because we have plenty of other food which contains the necessary vitamines. The children of the poor very largely live on bread and tea, and if you take out of the bread the vital principle as it is taken out at present, the result is that you get a class C generation—a rickety generation. The bad physique of the children in the back streets is very greatly due to the fact that they are not given proper nutritive food. These leading scientists who came to the House, men of European reputation, one after another got up and said it was essential that the germ should be left in the flour if we were to get proper nutrition from the bread. It is essential to those who have no other diet. This is a matter which affects the poorest of the poor more than any other class in the community. We are asked today to vote £6,500,000 more as a supplemental bread subsidy. We ought not to vote a penny unless we are sure that we are going to get the most economical extraction from the wheat, and that we are retaining this vital factor, the vitamines. Hon. Members laugh when I mention vitamines, but it is a most serious subject. There is a great deal of nonsense talked in this House and elsewhere about the evils of alcohol and the necessity for prohibition. There is more harm being done in England to-day by bad bread-making than by all of the drink that is sold. It is essential that the children of the poor should be given bread that contains these vitamines, which are an absolutely necessary constituent. The suggestion has been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, why should we not have the subsidy dependent not only on the extraction of the 80 per cent. which the Prime Minister mentioned yesterday, but also the retention of the germ and the rich glutinous substance called the flesh of the wheat. Let us have in that 80 per cent. what the scientists say is absolutely essential to life and to the proper nutrition of children. The children are suffering for want of this vital principle, and if the new regulations as to milling were slightly modified to include the necessity of the inclusion of this germ, a very great thing would be done for the life and the physique of the people of England.


I rise to emphasise one point in regard to this Vote of 6½ millions. The hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood) raised one point of which the Government must take cognisance, and that is, not only the amount they are asking for to-night, but if they do not take some clear definite policy in regard to a vast increase of the production of wheat, the price of wheat during the next ten years will be exceedingly high, and will press with very great hardship upon the poor of this country. While they are considering the Estimate for a subsidy for bread, they might also consider whether in their Estimates they could also suggest some means of developing the reduction of wheat very largely. I have plans in my mind, and no doubt other hon. Members have plans, so that by opening up new railways, by irrigation and by many other means, the production of wheat could be greatly increased. The world price of wheat, after all, is what the English people in their bread will have to pay. The hon. Member for Ripon pointed out that all over the world with the increased standard of living the people are leaving the lower grades of food, such as rye bread, and corn bread, and are turning to the consumption of an increasing quantity of wheaten flour. I can confirm that from many directions, and the result must be that with the higher plane of living that so many people in the world are now reaching this enormous increase in the consumption of wheaten flour must be considered not only by our Government, but by other Governments, because there will be a great scarcity in the years that are coming. We cannot look to Russia to supply 4½ million tons of wheat annually as she has done in the past. It will be years before society and agriculture there reaches the position that it was in in 1912–13. I do urge upon the Government this great question of development within the Empire of our own resources in order to supply the food that we Must have in the years to come.


It was very satisfactory to hear from the hon. and gallant Member (Major Barnett) who represents an urban constituency such a satisfactory statement about the interests of agriculture, because we have always felt that the representatives of urban constituencies were not altogether in sympathy with the great industry of agriculture. I am certain that in the next few years the country will have to make very large payments one way or another by subsidy or in the increased price of the loaf owing to the world rise in wheat prices. I should like to urge upon the Government that if we have to pay this increased price the money should go to our own producers rather than to those of foreign countries. Whatever we have to pay there is every reason to suppose that the price is not likely to fall for some time, and that there must be a wheat shortage owing to the difficult situation in Russia. If only not only by propaganda, but by offering higher prices, we could persuade our own agriculturists to raise more wheat it is obvious that we should not have to pay any more in the long run, but it would simply mean that we should be paying the money to our own people rather than to the foreigner I hope the Government will take that point into consideration, and if they can see their way to pay for this year's crop what they propose to pay for the 1921 crop they will be benefiting the industry of agriculture, they will not be paying so much to the foreigner, and they will be doing the country a very good turn.


I do not agree with one or two speakers who suggested that the total foodstuffs that could be produced in this country was an insignificant item. It is quite true that our climate does not favour wheat growing but rather oat growing, and that growing oats is a more profitable occupation than growing wheat, but, given certain conditions, this country ought to be able to increase very considerably the quantity of wheat grown and also the quantity of oats grown. I do not wish to discuss the question of subsidy, but rather the possibility of an increase in the production of wheat. We require to have, not only the scientific knowledge that is necessary, but to apply the proper chemicals in order to increase production, and also to have the practical experience that enables men to produce the greatest amount of wheat to any given acreage. In my experience as a practical farmer we used to be able to grow something like five quarters of oats per acre and thought that was a very good yield, but by scientific search, by plant breeding, by hybridising, etc., we are able to produce something like 10 quarters per acre, an increase of 10 per cent. The only cereal grown in this country the development of which we have not increased is wheat. I do not think this is an impossibility. If those who have been raising new agricultural plans devote their attention to giving us a wheat that will produce 30 or 40 per cent. more per acre, it would make a tremendous difference to the yield of the country. The farmers of this country have been slow to move—


We are getting rather wide of the subject under discussion.


My point is that increased production in this country, and the cultivation of a larger number of acres, would help materially in the matter of home foodstuffs. The House and the country wish to have as few subsidies as possible, and given certain conditions, the development of wheat growing in this country and increased production can be brought about. We have been promised by the Prime Minister—and I for one trust absolutely every promise which be makes—security of tenure, and when that is given I think that we shall have a very largely increased production.

Amendment negatived.