Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £393,350, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Food."—[Note.—£850,000 has been voted on account."]
§ The MINISTER of FOOD (Mr. McCurdy)
I am sure that in all parts of the House, it will be recognised with satisfaction that the Estimates of the Ministry of Food for this year show a progressive and satisfactory reduction upon the Estimates of the last two years. The Estimates for 1918–19 were £4,270,000, for last year £2,752,000, and for this year £1,243,000. When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. George Roberts), who was my predecessor as Food Controller, introduced the Estimates for the Ministry of Food last year, we were all, I think, hoping that it might be possible to avoid the necessity for those Estimates being introduced again. Last year, not only the Members of this House, but the British people generally, were in an extremely optimistic frame of mind as to the rate at which the wastage of war would be made good, and as to the rapidity with which world prices, not only of food, but of all essential commodities, might be expected to fall. At that time the Ministry of Food was engaged, and, indeed, has been engaged ever since, in a persistent endeavour to hasten, as far as might be, the time when it would be possible, without injustice to the consumer or the public, to remove all those irritating restraints upon trade which have been endured with patriotism and cheerfulness during the stress of war. We recognised that the Ministry of Food was 2282 a war Ministry. We also recognised, however, what is sometimes overlooked, namely, that it was not exactly the Germans against whom we were waging war, but against high prices, and the exploitation of the difficult economic situation to the advantage either of the speculator or the profiteer. I regret that it has not yet been found possible to declare an armistice against those enemies of the public welfare.
Last year we were engaged for a considerable time in attempts to de-control commodities, which attempts, for a time, appeared to be fully justified by the course of food prices throughout the world. It was, I believe, about this time last year that the Prime Minister predicted that the then continuing fall in food prices ought presently to result in a reduction in the expenses of the ordinary household by something like 4s. a week. That prediction was, in fact, verified almost to the letter. For the first six months of last year prices were falling. About August of last year that process ceased, and from that time up to the present moment the contrary process has been in operation. There has been, as every householder knows, a steady but continued rise, not only in food prices but in the prices of all essential commodities. Of the bonâ fide attempts on the part of the Ministry of Food to remove control where it seemed to them possible, ever since the Armistice, there really can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who will take the trouble to follow the course of the policy pursued by my predecessor in office. I am bound to say that some of our attempts at de-control were followed by results which were by no means encouraging. I need only refer to an instance or two. During last summer, urged by all our expert advisers, we thought the time had come when we could safely remove the control of home-killed veal; but within a week or two the price of veal, which under control had been 1s. 8d., had risen to 4s. and 5s. in different parts of the country. In a few days we were receiving communications from distressed representatives of agriculture, complaining that that premature de-control had led to such a slaughter of immature calves that, unless the policy were reversed, there would be grave danger to the milk supplies of this country in four or five years' time; and my 2283 predecessor found it necessary to re-impose control. We have been criticised for first de-controlling and then re-controlling bacon. I know of no commodity in which the trade interests, acting most legitimately and as they were fully entitled to do, have been more active in placing before the public their view of what should be the policy of the Ministry of Food with regard to that commodity.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that de-control did not relate only to the retail trade and not to the wholesale trade?
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. McCURDY
No, it was a complete de-control. It was carried into effect by my predecessor in office, acting on the competent advice of trade interests that the result would be freedom of competition and the restoration of normal trade conditions, and a consequent fall in price. In the five months of decontrol the actual result was that wholesale prices were raised from 15 to 25 per cent., with no justification in the state of supplies or in the exchange position. Forward quotations were higher still. Quay congestion rapidly increased and valuable stores were clogged with bacon unsuitable for this country. So far from the quality improving, nearly half the bacon privately imported during the months of decontrol, August and September, was actually landed from the ships in bad condition. The resumption of control eliminated speculation and at once brought about a break in hog prices and bacon prices in America. Since the Ministry have regulated shipments, quay congestion and wastage have been eliminated, as I know from personal observation of the great docks during the last few weeks, but I am sorry that the resumption of control was not, of course, sufficient at once to change bad bacon into good bacon or immediately to liquidate the accumulation of food which was causing loss and inconvenience to the people and traders of this country. From time to time, I see suggestions as to the wastage of bacon that has taken place. It generally refers to bacon which has been privately imported, thought it is very often put forward as though it refers to supplies secured by the Ministry of Food, and, as a matter of fact, the wastage has been most grossly exaggerated. Between 2284 7th August and 12th March the quantity of bacon sold by the Ministry of Food at £60 per ton or under, including inferior qualities as well as actual wastage, was only 1½ per cent. of the sales made during that period. All this bacon was privately imported, and, so far from holding back stocks, the Ministry compelled the actual importers to handle those stocks from the time that they landed, and forced their clearance by every possible means. That wastage has been entirely stopped since the Ministry commenced—
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the loss will fall upon the private importer or upon the Ministry?
§ Mr. McCURDY
We have requisitioned it, the price being its market value, and I have no reason to doubt that the loss in respect of that bacon landed in comparatively unmarketable condition will fall upon those who imported it and not upon the taxpayer or consumer of this country. I say no more about our experiments in decontrol. Many of them have been more fortunate in their results than the two instances which I have mentioned.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Can my right hon. Friend give us an instance in which the decontrol has been fortunate?
§ Mr. McCURDY
It is easier to find examples where the results have been of a striking and unfortunate character. They meet the eye more readily. I may say that, as far as I am aware, the decontrol of tea has had no ill-effects, so far as either the consumer or the trade is concerned.
§ Mr. D. IRVING
The fortunate instances do not alter the fact that there were unfortunate instances.
§ Mr. McCURDY
Nothing can alter it. All that we can reap by way of harvest is an added store of experience which, I hope, will enable us to avoid mistakes in the future. I want to say one word about the present world prospects, both with regard to supplies and prices of foodstuffs in this country. We should do well to realise that the hopes and expectations of twelve months ago were indeed founded on no solid basis, and that they ought to be entirely put on one side. I cannot quite 2285 understand how it was that business men and statesmen the world over were able to take such an optimistic view of the progress of reconstructing a world devastated by war as was taken by all countries twelve months ago. To-day we are awakening to the fact that you cannot make good the injury done to the productive machinery of the world by five years of most destructive war in a few months, or, indeed, in a few years.
I will deal with one or two of the main items of food supplies, taking sugar first. There is no prospect of any immediate improvement either in supplies or prices with regard to the sugar which is required in this country. The world's production of sugar is down approximately by £3,500,000. The price of sugar in America to-day is more than nine times the pre-War price. In the United Kingdom we have by a rationing system succeeded in economising the consumption of sugar to the extent of 700,000 tons, which, unfortunately, is almost exactly counterbalanced by the increased consumption now taking place in the United States of America. If I might give an illustration of the slowness of the world to re-establish the productive conditions which have to be re-established before supplies can be once more made normal and prices brought down, I would refer to the unhappy fact that last year there were something like 4,500,000 tons of sugar beet grown in Germany, but owing to the disordered industrial conditions in that country, only 3,500,000 tons were converted into sugar. The rest, for want of labour, was left to rot upon the fields. There is a further difficulty with regard to the re-establishment of the European sources of sugar supply, in the fact that sugar beet is an industry particularly suitable for cultivation on large estates. The division of the large estates all over Germany into small estates arising out of political changes, will be another obstacle to the restoration of Germany as a sugar-producing country.
Let me turn to wheat, which, after all, is perhaps the most important commodity to consider in the world if you are trying to estimate the future course of prices, because wheat prices are the most important factor in determining wages all over the world. Wheat prices determine the prices of feeding-stuffs. They determine the prices of other cereals and of 2286 alternative foods in a large measure. They determine the price of milk produce. It is unhappily clear that we are faced in the coming twelve months with reduced world crops of wheat. In the present cereal year the imports of grain into Europe amounted to 18,000,000 tons, of which 9,000,000 tons came from the United States of America. Prior to the War the average export of grain from the United States was 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 tons. It was due to the exceptional efforts in stimulating production of foodstuffs carried out by Mr. Hoover and the American Food Ministry during the War that they were able so largely to increase their exports. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of war has worn thin in this respect, and for the coming cereal year the United States of America will have 4,000,000 tons less to export than they are exporting to Europe in the current cereal year. There is a reduced production in the Argentine, and there is a large fall in the supplies of Australian wheat; in fact, the only wheat-producing country in the world in which there is any increase is India, where there is an increase of something like 1,500,000 tons, which will not, I am informed, be wholly, if to any large extent, available for export. We are, therefore, faced with the prospect of a considerable reduction in the amount of wheat available for the needs of the importing countries the world over, and I am afraid, in the absence of wise and prudent statesmanship on the part of all the importing countries, that a consequent rise in price will be reflected in the price of every other commodity.
I will just mention one other commodity as illustrating the question of supplies. The world shortage of supplies of butter is consequent on two main causes: the depletion of dairy herds in Europe during the War, and the cessation of Siberian supplies, which formerly furnished about 40,000 tons of butter yearly to this country. The estimated supplies from imported butter available for this country this year will be 100,000 tons as compared with 200,000 tons in the year before the War. British butter, I am sorry to say, is still well below the pre-War rate of production and the Irish supplies which formerly gave an import to this country of about 40,000 tons a year will not, as I am advised by the Irish Board of Agriculture, be more than about 25,000 tons in the coming season. I give those as illustrations of the general fact, 2287 as far as some of the most important foodstuffs are concerned, there is undoubtedly still a world shortage, and at present no very clear signs of such improvement in production as will enable us to give any estimate as to when the situation will be materially improved.
I propose now to give a statement of the activities of the Ministry of Food, in order that the Committee may understand clearly what is the work for which we ask this sum of money, and how the cost is distributed among the more important items of the work that remains to be performed, and to what extent we may anticipate a further reduction upon the cost of the Ministry of Food in the near future. Since the date of the Armistice the staff of the Ministry has been reduced by 50 per cent. I see several former Food Controllers here, and I think if we were to meet together and discuss this matter there would be agreement that the work of the Ministry has certainly not suffered correspondingly to the diminution during that period. We do not limit ourselves at the Ministry of Food to trade union hours of work. Of the total current cost of the Ministry about one-seventh is incurred by the supply services, which represent the activities of the Ministry in procuring supplies of essential foodstuffs from every port of the globe. Of the total expenditure on the supply services three-fifths are accounted for under the meat and live-stock division, which will, as at present arranged, come to an end in July, and that will at once effect a very considerable saving upon the expenditure of the Ministry. The meat and live-stock division is responsible for a staff of nearly 900 persons, and unless hon. Members should imagine that a staff of 900 persons is at all incommensurate with the work that section has to do, I may say they have had the supervision of the sale of home-killed stock in 800 markets; they have had 500,000 farmers, and 31,000 butchers to deal with, and something like 24,000,000 animals have passed under their supervision. The expenditure on the Wheat Commission, or some equivalent body, must continue to be responsible for the importation of bread-stuffs until the landed price of wheat is on a parity with the shilling loaf, unless some day the Government should decide upon some change of policy in regard to the bread subsidy. So far as the other branches of the supply service 2288 are concerned, there is the purchase of sugar, which is not on this Vote. It is done by the Sugar Commission.
§ Mr. McCURDY
On the Vote for Treasury Commissions. For the distribution of sugar under the rationing system the Ministry of Food is responsible. The cost of the distribution and the rationing of sugar amounts to a substantial sum—I think, £250,000. The country gets remarkable value for that money, because it is undoubtedly due to the rationing system, which limits the consumption of sugar by those classes which could well afford to pay any price that was asked, and to insisting upon equality of treatment between rich and poor alike, that we are able to economise upon our normal consumption by 700,000 tons, which at present prices means a saving of £83,000,000 in the year. As regards dairy produce we are still purchasing butter where we can get it. We pool the supplies of butter which we get from all parts of the world, and charge the consumer the actual cost of the butter so pooled at a flat rate. As regards the other branches of the supply service, with regard to fish, fruit, vegetables, canned goods, and eggs, those are rapidly disappearing as part of the supply service. The supervision of prices will continue. The milk staff has now been disbanded with the exception of two officials. As regards bacon, the determining factor in our present policy is the desire to maintain centralised purchase in the United States until some alternative sources of supply have been re-established. We hope that by the end of this year we may see an alternative source of supply. As regards tea, only three people are now left in this branch.
Then I come to the distribution and enforcements branches of the Ministry. The regional organisation is the pivot on which the distribution work of the Ministry turns. It consists at present of 12 divisional food offices and about 1,800 food control committees. On 30th June, under arrangements which we have made and which have now been notified to all the food committees, those committees will cease to exist, and the work which they are now performing will be performed by the Divisional Food Commissioners with a much smaller staff than has 2289 been necessary to carry out the very efficient organisation of the local food committees in the past. I hope by this means to reduce the cost of the regional organisation by 60 per cent. and to make a saving of something like £300,000 per year on 30th June next.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The hon. Gentleman says he hopes to commence, I suppose, a saving of about £300,000 a year. Where is that? The heading I have before me is "Divisional Food Commissioners," and that shows £135,000 for the current year as compared with £139,000 last year. Will he kindly tell me where I shall find the figure he has just given?
§ Mr. McCURDY
I think the decision to reduce the expenditure on local food committees has only been made in the last week or two, and the effect of that reduction does not appear upon the Estimate before the Committee.
§ Captain W. BENN
I understand the hon. Gentleman is going to save £300,000 under this sub-head. The sub-head is only £135,000.
§ Mr. McCURDY
The Parliamentary Secretary will take a note of these points and clear them up later. There are certain ancillary branches of our organisation for distribution, such as cold storage, which will certainly continue to demand the most anxious and constant attention of the Ministry. Ships stores is another item on which I ought to effect a saving I propose to dissolve the Ships Stores Department as from 30th June next. It has rendered very useful service during the last twelve months to the Disposals Board. As regards the enforcement branch of the Ministry, the Committee will probably be surprised to know what a large amount of work is performed by the Ministry in enforcing the orders which are issued for the protection of consumers. We hear a good deal about prosecutions under the Profiteering Act, but curiously enough the public do not seem to realise that, so far as food is concerned, the prosecutions do not come under that Act as a rule at all, but under the work of the Ministry of Food. In the last year we have successfully instituted 20,000 prosecutions, and heavy fines, ranging from £900 downwards and amounting to £90,000 in all, have been inflicted, and there have been a substantial number of cases in which imprisonment has followed.
§ Mr. McCURDY
No, it is very largely due to overcharging and offences of that kind. Curiously enough, in all the fifteen months during which I have been associated with the Ministry of Food, I do not remember to have received a single complaint suggesting that any one of these prosecutions was not necessary, just and salutary.
Then there is the External Relations Branch, which is mainly concerned with the work of the Supreme Economic Council and is responsible for consultative arrangements with the Allies for the purpose of eliminating competition in neutral markets for food stuffs in short supply. Having regard to the serious wheat prospects of the world, I should not be justified in holding out any expectation that that branch of the Ministry's work can be safely discontinued at the present time.
The Finance Department of the Ministry consists of two branches, administrative and trade finance. The numbers of the former establishment will gradually fall as the numbers of the general staff diminish. Trade finance is practically all concerned with liquidation, and I can only promise a gradual reduction of the staff, which now numbers 750 persons. The reason for this is clearly obvious, the trading operations of the Ministry during the last three years having involved a turnover of £1,000,000,000. It is sometimes said, without a shadow of foundation, that the Ministry of Food has profiteered in foodstuffs to the detriment of the people of this country. As a matter of fact, the estimated net profits on the three years' transactions is less than one-tenth of one per cent. (AN HON. MEMBER: "Can you tell us the gross profits on the £1,000,000,000?") Speaking from memory, not more than 4 per cent. That may be quite outside the mark, but I am only speaking from memory. We shall all agree that whatever criticism may be justly levelled against our trading operations, the charge of profiteering is one which no rational person cognisant with the facts can honestly make.
Now I come to the Establishment Department. The establishment charges are higher than I like, but, unfortunately, the Ministry of Food had to be housed in a number of establishments, widely separated all over London, and in these 2291 circumstances it is quite impossible to effect such economies in establishment charges as would be possible if the Ministry were housed in one building. Apart from the liquidation work of the Ministry, I hope that it will be possible on the completion of arrangements which are now being made to concentrate the remaining activities of the Ministry in one of the Ministry's buildings at Palace Chambers by the end of next June. The Estimates in one or two matters are unintentionally misleading, because the Estimates were prepared some time ago, and the continued and progressive efforts of the Ministry to economise and reduce its staff have resulted in the fact that in some cases the Estimates indicate expenses which we have already been able to get rid of. There is one item in the Estimates—provision for sixteen special posts, with salaries of £1,000 to £1,500 a year. Only eight officials are now drawing salaries of that amount, and four of these will have left the Ministry in two months' time.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
In addition to the item for these special posts, there is an item for 44 administrative officers and 360 junior administrative officers. The Committee wants to know about that.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I admit that there have been decreases, but there have been a considerable number of increases in officials.
§ Mr. McCURDY
Every possible information as to details will be given before the Debate is ended. I have left until the last what is the least expensive, but I think in some respects the most valuable, part of the Ministry's work, and what I hope may become a permanent branch, if not of this Ministry, at any rate of the Government of this country. I refer to the Prices and Information Department, a combination of the Costing and Statistical branches, which has been formed in order to carry out a policy which was tried experimentally soon after I joined the Ministry last spring, and which, with adaptations and developments, seems to be the proper policy to be pursued in a transitional period like the present. It is an attempt to bridge over the period in which we pass from strict and statutory control for regulating prices and profits 2292 at every stage to a condition of free competition which we all of us look forward to as the ultimate goal. By combining the Costing and Statistical branches I am endeavouring to set up a combination which will at all times exercise a careful watch and make a scientific survey of supplies, the prospect of future supplies, the movement of prices, and the cost of production and distribution with regard to the essential food supplies. My experience in the last few months, both of the Ministry of Food and in connection with my work at the Central Committee under the Profiteering Act has led me to believe that a great deal more use might be made for that purpose during the transitional period of the advice and assistance of the trades themselves than was thought possible in the early periods of the War. In the earliest periods of the activities of the Ministry of Food, when prices were being regulated by the autocratic ukase of the Food Controller, much more of the success of the work of the Ministry was due to the loyal co-operation and assistance of the trade interests concerned than members of the trade got credit for in the minds of the public. We are, as far as possible, following this policy.
When the time comes in respect of any commodity, when we are satisfied either that the need for stringent control and the consequent interference with the legitimate freedom of traders has passed away, or is ceasing to operate for the benefit of consumers, we are endeavouring as far as possible to arrange that the removal of such control shall not be followed by complete licence to the traders without supervision or guidance to charge such prices as a hungry world is prepared to pay, and that there shall be substituted for statutory control what I may call supervisory control. On the one hand, I seek to get the responsible heads of the trades concerned to form themselves into advisory councils for the purpose of putting their heads together to see what can be done to eliminate speculation and profiteering from their own trades and to give the public a square deal. On the other hand, I am fortified by the advice and counsel of the Consumers' Council, which represents the consumers' interests. In addition, I have the assistance of the Statistical Department of the Ministry of Food, and I trust that during the transitional period which 2293 must elapse between war time conditions and the complete restoration of peace-time conditions in trade that we shall be able by co-operation and goodwill, but full information as to the facts, and full publicity, to give an effective guarantee to the consumer, while assisting the trades gradually to recover the freedom which they lost during the period of war.
The estimates show a progressive and, I hope, satisfactory diminution in cost, and the method which I have indicated of endeavouring gradually, as far as can be done with safety, to remove the more rigid forms of statutory control and to substitute a more elastic method of consultation with all the interests concerned, will in itself prove a great factor in the further reduction of the cost of the Ministry of Food, so long as it exists. The critics of the Ministry and the members of the public who write me letters do not survey the matter from a broad enough standpoint. They do not look at the cost on the one side and the advantages which we have been enabled for three years to secure to the consumer on the other side always in proper proportion or proper perspective. The function of the Ministry of Food is to keep down the cost of living so far as foodstuffs are concerned, and to effect some saving upon the weekly budget of every householder in this country. The total cost of the Ministry of Food in the Estimates which I now present amounts to one halfpenny per week for every householder in this country, and if as a result of our efforts we only save one penny on the price of beef, or one penny on the price of any commodity, then, so far as the consumers of the country are concerned, they are getting excellent value for their money. No one can look back over the history of food prices and prices generally during the last three troubled years without coming to the conclusion that the efforts of the Ministry of Food involve a very substantial saving to the people of this country.
Comparing the rise of food prices in this country with the rest of the world, the first fact one notices is that from July, 1914, to the time when the Ministry of Food was established the rise of prices in the United Kingdom proceeded at a more rapid rate than in any other country in the world with the exception of Norway. After the institution of the Minis- 2294 try of Food the rise in prices in the United Kingdom proceeded at a less rapid rate than in any other country in the world. While the rise in food prices to-day in this country may be put at 135 per cent compared with the pre-war standard, the corresponding figures are: France, 220 per cent.; Italy, 306 per cent.; Norway 194 per cent.; Sweden, 191 per cent.; and, when you bear in mind that every ten points which is saved on that rise represents a saving to the consumers in this country on their annual food budget of nearly £90,000,000, it must be recognised that the saving, even of a small percentage, must have a value far exceeding all the estimates that have ever been laid before a Committee of this House for the Ministry of Food.
It is also not without importance to note that during the last two years in which world prices have been steadily rising, partly due to economic conditions which no Government in this country could by any possibility control, there has been a most marked difference between the rise in the prices of the commodities which have been uncontrolled and the rise in the prices of foodstuffs which have been more or less moderated by the Ministry of Food. From July, 1917, to the present day the rise in the wholesale price of textiles is 106 per cent. The rise in the wholesale price of minerals is 48 per cent. The rise in the wholesale price of such miscellaneous articles as rubber, oil and chemicals is 34 per cent. The average rise in the wholesale price of all commodities for that period is 50 per cent and the average rise in the retail price of those commodities is probably rather more. During that time the increase in the wholesale price of cereals and meat was only 5 per cent. and in the retail prices of the principal articles of food only 15 per cent.
One can, during a difficult economic period, afford to take chances with regard to the prices of some commodities. You can say. " We will for a little while let the prices of this commodity or that soar and the result will be to stimulate production and thereby ultimately to lower prices." I am not sure whether that economic doctrine is very applicable to the economic times in which we live. I am not sure that to allow prices to soar for any commodity is not quite as likely to encourage strikes as to encourage production, and I am bound to say that if 2295 it be a good medicine we have had a most substantial dose of it with very poor results during the last two years; but as regards food, we cannot afford to indulge in any experiments of that kind.
I want the Committee to realise what is the national effect of even what appears to be quite a small, insignificant rise in foodstuffs. Let me take, for example, the case of sugar. An increase of 1d. per lb. in the price of sugar would mean an addition of about £5,000,000 to the annual food bill of the country, but that is quite of minor consequence compared with the addition which it means to the wages bill of the country and to the permanent burden with which industry will be saddled when the price of sugar once more falls to a lower level. According to the present agreement, the railway workers, numbering about 400,000, are entitled to 2s. a week for every increase of 10 points in the index number of the Board of Trade prices, and an increase of 1d. per lb. in sugar provides a basis for an increase of 6d. per week, or a total increase of £10,000 to the weekly railway wages bill, and when the workers whose wages are fixed upon a sliding scale, governed by index figures, obtain an advance of wages of course it does not stop there. It extends to the other workers of the country and very often it is multiplied.
§ Mr. McCURDY
Perfectly. I am not saying for a moment that it is not perfectly justifiable. The result is that 1d. on sugar has this result, that the wages bill of the country is raised in proportion to what the railway workers of the country are entitled to demand, and that means an addition to the weekly wages bill of £250,000 or £13,000,000 a year. That immediately increases the cost of production of every other commodity, and the vicious circle of wages trying to overtake prices and prices rising to the level of wages is begun again. Therefore, I say that in the case of foodstuffs a temporary rise of prices will be justly followed by a rise in the wages bill, the size of which is positively startling when you compare with it the comparative insignificance of the cause which is responsible for this rise, and whereas the rise of 1d. may be a temporary matter, which will endure only for a few weeks, the addition 2296 of £13,000,000 to the wages bill is not going to be so easily wiped off when the 1d. rise has disappeared. Therefore, in submitting the Estimates to the Committee, I venture to say that, having regard to the determining effect of food prices upon not merely the cost of living, but upon the cost of production of all other essential commodities, a tax of ½d. per week upon every British household is not too much to ask the British householder to pay in order that there may be continued for his protection the machinery to which the country owed so much in time of War, and for which the necessity has not yet disappeared.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I think that I can, on behalf of the Committee, congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having undertaken so thankless a task as that which has fallen to the charge of the Ministry of Food, and I congratulate him all the more warmly because whatever he may do will not be popular in the country, however successfully he does it, and occasions will be rare in this House when he will receive very much sympathy in connection with his work. I hope that I shall not be charged with intending to lecture the Committee—certainly that is not in my mind—when I say that the theme touched on by the right hon. Gentleman at the close of his speech emphasises the enormous importance of the work which has to be done at the Ministry of Food. It touches industrial peace, production, the output of commodities, and the general state of mind of millions of the workers of this country.
Those of us whose weekly income is not spent mainly on food ought not to forget that that is the position of the vast majority of the families of this country. Most of the income of most of the families in the kingdom is money spent upon food and the maintenance of the family, and there is nothing more important than the adequate and cheap supply of houses, clothing and food to the people, and the most important of those three essentials to existence is an abundant and cheap supply of food. If the right hon. Gentleman has not proved anything else, I think he has proved this, that for the purposes of our food supplies and prices we are still in the region of war, and that while, of course, we are not as badly off as we were in respect of supplies and prices while the 2297 War continued, still, we are feeling the after effects of war because of the world's demand for food, because of reduced production, because of difficulties which still exist in respect of transport and the enormous increase there has been in the cost of transport. These are all formidable obstacles which prove how essential it is to maintain fully equipped the great institution over which the right hon. Gentleman presides.
I cannot congratulate him upon having given to the House any cheery picture of what our position is to be in the immediate future, nor even for a period of two or so years hence. He has shown in respect to such articles as sugar, there must be dearness and shortage. Indeed, he scarcely touched on any particular article of food without offering us something of a gloomy picture with regard to both the supply and price of that particular commodity. For that I do not blame him, but I shall be driven to say a few things regarding the general position and policy of the Government, regarding the very serious facts which my right hon. Friend has revealed, and I shall venture to put to the Committee the view that, in face of these facts, both as to supply and prices, the Government is not taking the right way to fortify us against the future and is not taking sufficiently into account the real mood of anger in which many millions of workers now find themselves, the mood which I may remind my right hon. Friend, has been recently put before us in demands made within the past week for a great special labour congress upon this very question, at which there is to be decided some national policy with the object, as it is said, of forcing down prices. I appreciate the real national importance of the work which the Ministry of Food has to do, and wish to extend to it whatever assistance and sympathy we can. My first observation on the general question is that there has been too much of an absence of anything like a definite policy, not on the part of the Ministry of Food, but on the part of the Government in respect of the powers which it was proposed to leave at the disposal of the Ministry. Immediately the War was over, or within a few weeks of the conclusion of the War, the Government was not left without an outline of 2298 what probably would be the condition, not only of our own country, but of Europe generally in this matter. Naturally prices and distribution would have a very close relation to supplies. They were warned of the probable dangers that for long would continue as an inevitable result of the War. The Ministry of Food, above all other creations of the war period, was distinctly a Ministry which should have been given the fullest powers, because of the necessity of its existence as long as existence was called for by the state of food shortage. Hon. Members will have listened to the speech of the Minister to-day with some surprise, for while the right hon. Gentleman stated with some pride that he claimed good results from what had been done, he was yet able to show that there were wholesale dismissals standing to his account day by day and that heads of Departments were being sent about their business as being no longer necessary for the continuance of the work. I cannot reconcile the two claims. I suggest also that the after-War period of 20 months has afforded sufficient opportunity to the Government for bringing together under one authority all the several and sometimes conflicting bodies which exist in different Departments of State in respect of food supply and prices.
We have had not too few, but too many food institutions, as separate and independent powers and authorities giving decisions sometimes in conflict one with the other. We have had the Ministry of Health empowered to deal with certain articles of food. We have had the Board of Trade, as we still have the Board of Trade; we have had the Board of Agriculture; and on all matters touching finance there has been not merely the Court of Appeal, but the final judge and jury, that is to say, the Treasury. We have on occasion had Committees of the Cabinet acting as Courts of Appeal on questions of policy and even on matters of administration relating to the powers of the Food Ministry. Besides these bodies we have had two independent organisations created before the Ministry of Food was established—the Wheat Commission and the Sugar Commission. Every credit should be given for the work done by those Commissions. I am not criticising them in regard to their functions. They were called into being at a timely moment for the special work 2299 they had to do than even the Food Ministry itself. The point is that when the Government were liberated from the distractions of the War and when the Ministry could do its work, not under the pressure of makeshift and hurried decisions which had to be reached day by day, but when they were able calmly to settle questions of policy and look ahead and determine the probable food resources of the world for at least two or three years, the Government might very well have settled properly the life of the Ministry and given it freedom from the embarrassment of repeated threats to reduce its authority and power. I grant that this attitude of the Government, as is so often the case, has been due to outside commentary and criticism, but this was a matter on which the Government might very well have resisted even popular clamour and manufactured public opinion, for it was a matter on which depended the internal peace of the country, to so great an extent that the Government should have taken it in hand as a definite matter of national necessity, and should have settled a course of policy which would have given the public mind a great deal of reassurance.
I very much regretted to hear the announcement of the disruption of the whole of the local Food Committees. They were voluntary bodies consisting of public-spirited and active citizens who did their work without pay or reward and were excellently fitted to do it because of their knowledge of local life and local traders. If it is essential to keep in existence the divisional Food Commissions and their offices, I think the work of the Commissioners would be all the more useful, from the standpoint of public interest, if the local Food Committees were also kept in being and if they were asked to act somewhat in the capacity of a citizen police force for the purpose of making better use of the laws which still exist to track the profiteer, and to keep down prices by general supervision. I think my right hon. Friend was more than charitable to certain of his critics who in the country are wholly misleading the public mind as to the functions of the Ministry of Food. There is nothing more misleading than the statement that the Food Ministry is itself profiteering. Figures have been given, and I see them 2300 summarised in a statement which came into my hands this morning, printed in a very reputable journal which circulates extensively amongst business men. Here is one statement:The worst of all British grocers is the Food Control Department. It has been guilty of more profiteering than all other grocers combined. Here are a few facts. In two and a half years the Government made a profit on sugar of £7,000,000; it made a profit on tea of £1,000,000; and on a single deal in rice it is said to have cleared a profit of £12,000,000.And so on. Some seven or eight similar statements are made relating to different articles. The right hon. Gentleman should have stated what the facts are. Later on, when he or his representative replies, I trust we shall have some explanation to show that if it be that in regard to any one great purchase what is called a profit is made, that is immediately used, or very soon used, to balance prices in respect of some other article, and that the public is certain always to get the advantage of any difference that there might be in respect of prices paid by the Ministry and prices paid by the consumer. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman said sufficient upon what is a serious grievance—perhaps not as deep as some people imagine, but still a serious grievance—profiteering in food itself. There cannot, of course, be profiteering in the ordinary sense of the term in the case of those foods the price of which is still regulated. They are many, but there is a very large margin of the food supply of this country untouched by regulation as to price. Let me give a trifling instance of what came within my own experience last week. I found the public in a third-class compartment of a train being charged during the afternoon 9d. for an ordinary pot of tea—no food, nothing but the pot of tea. That is some indication of overcharging. I would like my right hon. Friend to say a little more of what has become of the designs which I know existed a few years ago in the Ministry of Food with regard to developing a scheme for fixing the prices of foods served in hotels, cafes, and so on. The tendency to feed away from home is extending in this country, and the business of public catering is becoming a huge undertaking. The public ought to be protected from undue charges. We find these charges occasionally reflected in the enormous profits of some of these companies, into the restaurants of which hundreds of thousands of ordinary wage- 2301 earners must go to get their food day by day.
Another omission which I noted was the absence of any statement by the right hon. Gentleman on the relation between charges now exacted by shipowners for the carriage of food, and the cost of the food itself to the consumer. Setting aside the foods which are subject to price, setting aside what may still be in existence, though I am not certain on the point—the condition of a fixed rate, fixed by the Government for the carriage of food—it is well-known that shippers have lately been able to make enormous profits, and that ships which have carried food have exacted prices which in one instance enabled the owners to pay the whole cost of a vessel with the proceeds of one journey. I think the working classes would be reassured, and I have heard criticisms amongst the working classes on this question, if they could have information on the effect on food prices of the charges which are being exacted by the shipowners. I agree with the Minister of Food in calling upon the people to bear a charge of a halfpenny per household per week for administration. For the expenditure of that halfpenny each household has reaped a benefit to the extent of at least many shillings per week on its food bill, as compared with what we would have been paying if we had not got the protection and restraint of food Regulations and the provisions for fixing food prices. I congratulate him, and I am sure my hon. Friends on this side will join with me, upon the repeated thrusts which he has made in the country and in this House on the trusts and syndicates which to so large an extent dominate the nation's affairs at this moment. I think the right hon. Gentleman on one occasion said that about 80 per cent. of the principal businesses of this country were dominated by the power of trusts and combines which have come into existence and have been developed in this country during the War. How far have those trusts got our food supplies under control. They surely to some extent have, by their operations, been able to determine the price of food, which assuredly would be lower if it were fixed on the ordinary operations of supply and demand in a competitive market. The Committee, I submit, is entitled to some statement as to whether the operations of those trusts 2302 have any bearing on existing food supplies and prices.
I do not think my right hon. Friend said sufficient to explain to us what is still being done in the matter of bacon. Our supplies of bacon come from three principal sources—America, Denmark, and Ireland. We saw some time ago the result of what was done in the case of Irish supplies, and that subject has been made the theme of questions in this House. I think on the whole it can be said that there is a good case for good bacon if it can be got. I think experience has shown that the public are in favour of Irish and Danish bacon if it can be got. We know that those two countries put together could not sufficiently meet the general public demand for bacon in this country. But can nothing be done further to encourage the greater production of bacon supplies from Denmark and Ireland? This is not merely a matter of taste; it is a matter of price. To a very great extent people are compelled to pay under our existing arrangements for, let me say without offence, what is an inferior American article as good a price as they are called upon to pay for the better article from Ireland and Denmark. This is one of the great questions of food administration on which, with a more powerful Ministry, might work with greater satisfaction and benefit of the public. There is a small point on this matter of bacon I should like to mention. In the recent relaxation of regulations and the process of partial decontrol I understand that, whilst the consumer was left free to trade where he liked and the same freedom was extended to the wholesaler, the retail bacon dealer was tied to a particular wholesaler. I cannot fathom any reason for that, nor is any reason apparent on the surface. I have heard complaints on the subject, and would like an explanation. The retailer is a far more numerous class in the supplying of articles of food than the wholesaler.
My right hon. Friend used about six words on one of the greatest and most important of food subjects, that of milk. He told us, I think, that the whole of the officials and staff, with the exception of two or three, have gone. Here, again, what has happened to what I know was once within the Food 2303 Ministry, namely, the intention to develop a considerable scheme in relation to milk production, milk prices, and milk distribution? I do not mean a scheme necessarily antagonistic to the interests of the farmer, or the milk producer, or the milk retailer. I am sure hon. Members will agree that milk is essentially an article in which, if purity can be got purity there ought to be. It is the food of so many hundreds of thousands of the children and of the women of the country, and so important a food to man that any scheme that can be devised in the Ministry of Food to give it to us in abundance and cheap, and so to distribute it without any wastage or deterioration, would be of great importance. There is also the aspect of that great loss of labour effort which is seen in almost every street every morning, where you find so many competing milk carts going to the different houses. It is an article which can be traced and easily made subject to an efficient machine of distribution and any fair price that you might care to put on it. Beyond the announcement from the Minister, there is apparently no intention whatever to do anything with regard to any one of these phases of this important subject. I close by recalling a sentence which fell from my right hon. Friend in the earlier stages of his observations. I do not think he meant it as a criticism of his colleagues, but in reality it is, and they deserve it. My right hon. Friend referred to the short-sightedness of Ministers, and perhaps it was a natural short-sightedness, and no one can claim foresight more than another in this matter, that was exhibited in the few months immediately following the War. Then was the time during which we might have planned and laid down better lines for national action upon food questions than we have done. In the ranks of labour there is real anger on this question of food. Clothes, adornments and many household needs are things that can be made things of tomorrow, but food is a matter of to-day. It cannot wait, and, as I have said, the food bill takes in many households practically the whole of the income week by week. It is a matter, therefore, of first importance, and I trust that the warnings and signs of real anger, which are in themselves mere surface symptoms of the 2304 industrial discontent which prevails, will not be lost upon the Minister of Food.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I beg to move that the Vote be reduced by £196,675.
The Minister in charge of this Vote must needs be grateful to my right hon. Friend who has just spoken for pointing out to him what an excellent fellow he is, and what a splendid Ministry it is, and how much better even it might be if we had more control and an immensely widely developed socialistic management of the food of the country. No doubt there are arguments for and against a proposal of that kind. I, of course, hold the view that during the War and for some time after the cessation of hostilities a Ministry of Food was essential, and some measure of control not only desirable, but necessary. But I hold this view very strongly, that the continuance of such a Ministry as this is one which should only be granted when it is proved to be absolutely indispensable. Until the Department comes to the view, which is held very properly by a number of hon. Friends behind me, of the control by the Government of all the means of production and supply, it is our duty here to take existing things as we find them, and to see, as far as we can, that they are efficiently and economically administered, and that such an institution as this should take its place within the ambit of our Constitution only so long as it is vitally necessary. I do not suggest that the time has come for the complete abolition of the Department, but, as far as I can see, the Minister of Food and the Government consider that that time is not very far distant. It is on the basis of the demands of my right hon. Friend to-day, and of the position as disclosed in the Estimates, that I move this very substantial reduction in the Vote before us. I do so on purely business grounds, and in the interests of economy and efficiency.
What do I base that on? First of all, on the policy which has been foreshadowed by the Government itself, as distinguished from the policy which has been put forward with ability and persuasiveness by my right hon. Friend who has just concluded his remarks, namely, that this should be a permanent institution. I take the view that this is a temporary Department, and ought to be administered accordingly. It is in at least two, if not 2305 three, very important respects admitted by my right hon. Friend that a very considerable sum of money is not required. First of all, the Shipping Disposals Board has gone, then the Local Food Control Committees are to be abolished, and whatever might be said of their usefulness and efficiency during a time of stress and strain, my observation of them is that, if you go there and chat with those in control, they will admit at once that their usefulness has practically disappeared Let me just look for one moment at the Headquarters' Staff, to which I directed my right hon. Friend's attention in the course of his remarks. I ought to have added to what I have already said the Livestock Commission, whose existence is limited to three months, by a note which appears at the foot of page 28 of the Estimates—£67,000. This ought to be reflected in Headquarters' Staff. My right hon. Friend said, with regard to the sixteen special posts, that they were going to be reduced to eight. Taking it at that, there are eight special posts, at a maximum of £1,500 each, 31 principal officers at £900, 75 assistant principal officers at £700, 44 administrative officers at £500, 360 junior administrative officers at £400, and 900 clerical staff, at a cost of £114,000. What is the justification for that?
I want to repeat here what I said a couple of weeks ago, when the Ministry of Munitions Vote was before us, where something similar was said by the Minister in Charge, although the announcement was not on so great a scale. What I said was this—and it was adopted subsequently by the Government themselves—that this Committee is charged with the duty of seeing that the Estimates do not leave its hands until they are adjusted to the demonstrated needs of the year, and in so far as we have Parliamentary opportunity, it is our duty to examine these Estimates and adjust them to those needs. It is quite impossible for anybody at this box, with the limited knowledge that we possess of the working of the Department and what lies behind the figures which are here, to know exactly how that can be done. All we can do is to move a reduction and leave the Department to make the necessary adjustment, but I am going further than that to-day, and I say that this Estimate ought to be withdrawn and submitted again to us, adjusted to what the Department can demonstrate to us to be 2306 the business necessities of the current financial year. That is what ought to be done, and I want to warn the Executive once more of the grave danger that they are running in not dealing with these matters on a sufficiently sound business basis. It is the custom, I know, in many quarters, I will not say to deride, but to speak in terms which show no great respect of what is called the City of London, but after all, you know, the finance of this country, under the present condition of affairs—and you have got to take things as you have them and not as people would like to have them—and the money which is going to be raised by the Government for carrying on the Governmental institutions of this country must be got where money is. If you want money, you must go where money is. I warn the Government that by this second demonstration of the unbusiness-like way in which they are asking for the expenditure of money they are daily adding to the lack of confidence on the part of the business community, and such a document placed before us as this is another evidence of the complete lack of grasp on the part of the Government of what the nation amongst other things is requiring from them, and that is business stewardship of their property.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of FOOD (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson)
Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate more precisely what he objects to?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I have already told you something. I want to know what is the reason for this great headquarters' staff, for which you are asking £274,000, or £800 per day. That is what I want to know, and surely that is a definite statement. The hon. Gentleman's chief said he would give us some reply later on. Look at travelling expenses, on page 29. Here is a Ministry which the Minister has already told us is, he hopes, on a progressive scale of declension, if I may use that sort of paradoxical statement But headquarters' officials are going to use in travelling expenses this year £32,000, as distinguished from £30,000 last year. You take this Estimate right through, and you will find the same thing—no recognition of adjustment of expenses to the actual needs of the Ministry. That is my charge against them, and it is a charge which requires 2307 justification at the hands of the Ministry. I draw my hon. Friend's attention again to the fact that the Live Stock Com missioners—a sub-head of £67,000—are going to come to an end in three months. How far do the travelling expenses correspond with that? The unbusinesslike way in which Estimate after Estimate is being presented to us in this House shows once again that the Government have not grasped the fact that extravagance is shattering public confidence in their administration. It is the constitutional duty of this House to check every expenditure by the Government, and one of the most important functions of the House of Commons is the checking of these Estimates and seeing that they are founded on business lines. Over and over again the charge is made by the Government that the House does not back up the Executive when it calls for economy, but if the Minister in charge of this Estimate to-day would say, " Well, we agree "—as I think they are bound to admit—" our Estimates do not correspond with the business requirements of the current year "
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister himself said that in some respects the Estimates were misleading. Just look at the Department of the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies. There is an immense amount of accumulated experience at the disposal of the Ministry with regard to the purchase and distribution of wheat, and I suggest this to them, that in view of that fact such a Department as this could be cut down to very much smaller dimensions. There is an increase this year from £125,300 to £150,000, and what does it consist of? You have 7 directors, 10 principal officers, 21 assistant principal officers, 3 accountants, 35 assistant accountants, 30 heads of sections, 31 assistants, and 400 clerical staff. As far as I could understand from my right hon. Friend, the work which is being done in the Royal Commission of Wheat Supplies is largely concerned in watching the markets and studying foreign sources of supply. He did not tell us much more about it than that. I am quite confident that, if you had a group of business men taking this thing up as part of their own business, 2308 to say they would require £150,000 a year to run it would be ridiculous and absurd. Here again I press on the right hon. Gentleman the urgent need of bringing such a Department as that into practical relation with the actual work they have to do for this year.
There is the Divisional Food Commission. We have here 19 divisional officers, 50 assistant divisional officers, 80 junior administrative officers, 180 administrative assistants, and 200 clerical staff. I suppose what they are going to do is to take the place of the Local Food Committees. All I can say is, that that wants very careful watching, because you are simply building up a new Department, which will inevitably clamp itself each year more firmly into the system of government. More and more difficult will it be to get rid of it. Now is the time to grapple with this thing seriously and earnestly. I am not suggesting the abolition of the Food Ministry. What I am pleading for is that there should be a close business grip of these Estimates to meet the requirements of the year. So far as I can see, it is not apparent in these Estimates. The work of the Food Office, of course, has its uses, and I join with what my hon. Friend so well said as to the imminent danger of unrest which is caused by high prices, which people think are unfair and unjust. Where they are inevitable—well, the British people have always met an inevitable situation in a spirit which has enabled them to overcome it. It is the injustice of the thing that causes all the damage. I quite agree, as things at present stand, the complete abolition of this Ministry is not desirable; but it is eminently desirable that you should get rid, as swiftly as possible, of every unnecessary official in Government Departments, temporary or otherwise. You will find the people of the country back you when you show that commonsense determination. For these reasons I move, not the conventional £100, but a reduction of one-half the Vote, namely, a reduction of £.393,350, leaving the Ministry with £800,000 to carry on.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I certainly am not going to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) in his Amendment, for, despite what he has stated, it appears to me to be tantamount to desiring the abolition of the Ministry 2309 itself. I admire the ease and facility with which my right hon. Friend has worked up his passion for economy, and I followed him very closely in the hope and expectation that he would particularise some item which could justify diminution. The Live Stock Commissioners are to be abolished, as it states in a footnote, " Provision for the bulk of the staff is necessary for three months only." Moreover, it is proposed to disband the Food Control Committees, and provision is taken in these Estimates for the payment of six months' accounts. I beg to assure my right hon. Friend that I am with him in desiring economy and efficiency. I recognise that we have to cut down national expenditure to the lowest possible limit, in order to improve national credit, because that in itself would contribute to what I desire, and that is a reduction of the cost of living. As soon as the Armistice was signed, the Ministry of Food started to reduce its staff, and from that time down to the end of March last a reduction of 50 per cent. had been? effected. When I went to the Ministry, I went into this question of staff very thoroughly. I am prepared to admit that the Ministry was overstaffed, but we have to recognise that it was set up in a state of crisis, that it was a hastily improvised Department, that they were working under war stress, and, therefore, the standards which might be applied to a permanent Department were not fairly applicable to the Ministry of Food. But, as soon as time and opportunity allowed, those in charge of the Ministry went very thoroughly into the whole question, and when I introduced the Estimates last year, and was able to state that we had effected a reduction of 50 per cent. in the staff, I felt that the House of Commons thought that we had done very well.
If my right hon. Friend desires the drastic reduction to which the Amendment he has moved evidently points, it appears to me you might as well disband the Ministry altogether. I am one of those, perhaps, who take a middle line between the policy of my right hon. Friend and some of my Friends who sit behind. There are some who desire a Ministry of Food as a permanent institution, because they believe in the principle of socialistic production and distribution. My right hon. Friend flies to the other extreme, and he is entirely opposed to any form of State interference. I prefer 2310 to steer a middle course and take each question on its merits. Sometimes I am on the one side and equally I am prepared to follow my right hon. Friend when I feel that he is right. Much that my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles has urged this afternoon might be appropriate to normal times, but the times are not yet normal. The Ministry of Food was a positive necessity during the time of War, and I agree unreservedly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) that war conditions have not yet passed away, the world situation is so uncertain, and I think it would be better to suffer the existence of the Ministry a little longer than might be proved absolutely necessary rather than that we should risk the dangers which would inevitably beset you if you disbanded the Ministry, and prices soared, and you were unable to exercise any control over supplies or prices.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
If my right hon. Friend is reading into my remarks that I am urging disbandment of the Ministry, that is not what I said and not what I meant. I made is as clear as I possibly could that, certainly for the coming year, in my judgment, the maintenance of the Ministry was necessary.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My right hon. Friend knows me sufficiently well to be aware that I would not intentionally misinterpret him or be discourteous to him or any other Member of the House. I know he said, in his opinion, the time had not arrived when we could safely disband the Ministry. I remember his saying it, but I could not square that admission with the Amendment he has moved, because to cut down the staff to the extent he has suggested seems to me to be tantamount to a desire and an intention to destroy the Ministry of Food.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Does my right hon. Friend realise that my Motion leaves very nearly £900,000 for the carrying on of the Ministry during the current year?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Yes, it is a very simple process. I might take the Estimates of any Department and say I am going to cut them in half. I am prepared to join with my right hon. Friend in cutting down the Ministry of Food by a half if he can make a case in justification for it. But my respectful submission is that, while my right hon. Friend did make his 2311 Motion, he certainly did not substantiate a case for it. I think he will understand me in that regard. He urged that the expenditure on the Wheat Commission should be curtailed; in fact, I believe, if my memory serves me rightly, he suggested that economy in the administration of the Wheat Commission might be adopted if it were incorporated within the Ministry of Food, so long as the Ministry of Food remained in existence. I agree with him entirely. Whilst at the Ministry I felt it was an anomaly that we should have two separate Royal Commissions, the one dealing with sugar and the other with wheat, over which the Ministry of Food should have no direct constitutional control, although at the same time it had to accept the Parliamentary responsibility for their actions. I believe some economy might be effected, if it is decided to continue the Ministry of Food, by incorporating the two Royal Commissions in the Ministry. I therefore agree with my right hon. Friend up to that point. But I am sure, whatever you do, you would not be able to effect that drastic reduction desired by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech.
Moreover, may I be allowed to say this—and I am sure I shall not be charged with egotism in doing so—in each of the Government Departments where I have served, the first business I have undertaken has been to review the staff. Whether at the Ministry of Labour or elsewhere, I have gone carefully into the staff of the Ministry with such advisers as were at my call. I have endeavoured to effect the reduction required; to see that every person in the Ministry should justify his existence there. That was the view with which I entered the Ministry of Food. I am going to say, from my experience, that the Ministry of Food is an economical and efficient Department. We had there a very happy combination of the business mind and of the mind of the civil servant. My right hon. Friend has a supreme regard for the business man, and I share it. On the other hand, I certainly have had it proved to me that our Civil Service is manned in a very high fashion. I say with some business knowledge and experience of the Ministry of Food that there is very little to complain of in the administration of that great Department. Of course, you have always to 2312 keep a Very watchful eye on matters, but as one in a perfectly detached position now, not being bound to any particular party or section, I desire to place it on record as my firm opinion, arising out of my experience, that you have little cause to complain of the business capacity and administration of those engaged at the Ministry of Food.
The question my right hon. Friend must resolve in his mind is this; do we really require, and if so, do we intend to support the retention of the Ministry of Food. I think he has admitted that for some time such a Ministry must remain in existence. As presently constituted, the Ministry will come to an end next August. Therefore, between now and that date, a Bill must be passed to continue the life of the Ministry and to determine its functions. I ventured to recommend—again arising out of my experience—and after I had tendered my resignation, and therefore had nothing personal to serve in the matter—I advised the Government that the Ministry of Food should be kept in existence for a further five years. [AnHON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] I am telling the Committee what I did. My right hon. Friend interrupts, and his observation convinces me that I was correct in the advice I tendered. It has been urged that this would be a very protracted period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, yes; I am quite willing to be convinced by my right hon. Friend or by anybody else; nevertheless, that is my opinion. I think the world situation requires it. I am not going to argue the matter at length. I have done it on previous occasions. My firm opinion is, as I have previously put it in a sentence, that world consumption tends to outstrip world production. So long as there is scarcity in the world, so long will the profiteer have his chance, and so long is there the danger of the great mass of consumers being exploited. Therefore, there is a case for the Government undertaking special measures to ensure to the people that they shall not be unduly exploited.
What we found at the Ministry was this: The difficulty of retaining business men whilst the life of the Ministry was uncertain. I know it is for the House of Commons to determine whether or not the Ministry shall be kept in existence I am only stating my own position, which I am quite prepared to discuss at the 2313 appropriate time. We cannot, however, expect business men, many of them having tempting offers, many serving at great sacrifice to themselves, many of them without salary, to continue their services so long as the tenure of the Ministry is so very insecure. The very uncertainty would tend to maladministra-tion. Therefore, I want the future of the Ministry to be determined as early as possible in order that we may secure real efficiency and economy in the Ministry. My right hon. Friend, in introducing his Estimates, ranged over a large variety of subjects in an interesting fashion. I join with my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Clynes) in feeling that the present Food Controller has certainly evinced no lack of courage in undertaking a very unpopular task. He, my right hon. Friend and myself can all speak feelingly on the matter. My stay at the Ministry of Food did not extend my popularity, for whilst we had heaps of criticisms showered upon us, I hardly remember a kindly thing that was said—in fact, everybody seemed anxious for our early official demise. Nevertheless, I feel that the Ministry has more than justified its existence.
It is quite easy to make a case against the Ministry on abstract economical lines. But this is a matter not appropriately dealt with from the purely "eonomic point of view if it be that it is giving the people of the country a sense that they are not being unduly exploited in the matter of food. That fact alone may have helped our nation to keep quiet during the period of reconstruction, and, moreover, has saved us from some of the disasters which have beset other nations. Therefore I venture to suggest that we should not criticise the Ministry of Food absolutely from the point of view of £ s. d. That factor seems to me still to apply. When I went to the Ministry I was charged to decontrol as rapidly as possible, to demobilise the Ministry. The Government then thought that they were faithfully interpreting the desires of the country in indicating that policy, and, despite what has sometimes been said in this House, I myself feel that all sections were in favour of that policy. My experience at the Ministry showed me that those who affected to believe in the Ministry of Food, and to desire its continued existence, gave very little active support to it. One receives any amount of criticism but very little backing, and I 2314 have had to complain of the indifference of labour and other organisations peculiarly charged with working-class interests in this matter. Nevertheless I started out to experiment in decontrol. My right hon. Friend the Food Controller has told hon. Members of some of our experiences. Bacon has been alluded to. I want here to make an explanation in regard to the interpolation of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. He asked whether we had completed the decontrol of the bacon trade, and I think I replied, " Completely." We decontrolled, with the exception of retaining the maximum retail prices. I had an assurance from every section of the trade—and I consulted traders personally—that decontrol would result inevitably in a fall in prices. They adduced what appeared to me absolutely convincing arguments for their contention. When we had decontrolled it is true that for a week or two there was a slight reduction in price. After that there was the passing of produce from one wholesaler to another, and whilst in a single transaction we were not able to say that actual profiteering had taken place, nevertheless the cumulative effect of these transactions was an enormous addition to the price, in which the retailer found himself so pressed that he was unable to secure the 2d. per lb. that we had regarded as fair for the work he undertook. The whole system broke down. The mere retention of maximum prices was not a sufficient barrier against those who were manipulating bacon; therefore, particularly having regard to the state of public opinion at that time, whilst neither desirous nor anxious of putting on control simply for the sake of control we had to do it in the interests of the consumer. We believed when we did it that it was quite proper, and that the consumer benefited accordingly.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
We reimposed control in August of last year, about the 4th, I think. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Clynes) asked what was being done towards opening up other avenues of supply. I felt whilst at the Ministry that because we were dependent upon one market—the American—our people were being exploited more than would have been the case if we had had competitive markets. There is no sentiment in this matter. If American or others can get larger profits they are not going to lose 2315 the opportunity of getting them. The Danish supply was cut oft for reasons that are well known. The war blockade deprived Denmark of the necessary feeding-stuffs. They had to kill off their pig population. As a matter of fact, they had nothing particular to export to us. What might be available we secured. In regard to Ireland, very little was forthcoming. Thus we were almost entirely dependent upon the American market. As soon as Denmark began to recover from the War, we gave them an undertaking to take their supplies in order that they might be assured of a market. So far as it was practicable, we gave encouragement to Denmark to rehabilitate her bacon trade by the methods that were then adopted. There is just one point which must not be overlooked in respect to the supplies of butter and other commodities. We are asked why it is that we pooled all these things. There was one pool of butter. There was one pool of bacon. " Why," we have been asked, " Did you not allow the different qualities to be sold at their economic price?" So long as there is scarcity there will be the inducement to charge the price applicable to the better quality goods to those goods of inferior quality, and for many persons it is very difficult to distinguish the difference. I have been told that it is impossible to distinguish between one class of butter and another when in the shop. That is the reason why we had to continue that policy so long as rationing remains necessary.
Perhaps I may be allowed to make an allusion to colonial representation. During the latter part of my occupancy of the post of Food Minister, we received many representations from Dominion representatives, and I find that those representations are constantly being repeated through the Press and elsewhere. We have to remember that whilst Dominion cultivation was stimulated by us and for us during the War, the time came when it was not possible to transport those goods, because of the fact that the shipping was not available. Therefore, when the War came to an end and the shipping situation eased, large stocks of meat and wheat lay in the stores in those countries. At any rate, the colonial producers had a certain market. We carried out our commitments, and whilst we took a larger 2316 amount than was immediately required for us, at any rate I claim that we carried out most honourably the commitments into which we had entered.
Again, this question has to be considered in relation to home production. We were pressed on the one hand to take all that the British farmer sent in, and after all we had given him guarantees and encouraged him to produce. Some people appear to think that what we ought to have done was to withhold all the supplies of home-produced meat in order to compel our own people to consume imported meat. We found that the taste of our people had wonderfully improved during the War. My right hon. Friend spoke about the result of the decontrol of veal, and it was very remarkable. Naturally, we concluded that the demand for veal was a West End demand, but after prosecuting our inquiries we found that the demand came mostly from industrial districts, and reflected this fact, that the people had acquired a taste for the good things of life, and were going to have them; and I rejoice in the fact. That was the difficulty we had to meet, and, at any rate, I think it will be seen that the Ministry did what it could, to the best of its capacity, to adjust the interests of the British farmer as well as that of the colonial producer.
Having occupied the position of Food Minister, I have had many approaches respecting the quality of flour. It is very amazing that many people throughout the country seem to be. unaware of the fact that I am no longer the Food Minister, and they constantly address me as such, and I have to reply that it is very nearly time these Kip Van Winkles woke up to the fact that I am no longer in receipt of an official salary. Nevertheless I have had many representations, some of them from private individuals, and others from organisations relative to the quality of flour. I approached my right hon. Friend on this subject a few days ago, and he gave me the explanation provided by the Royal Commission on wheat supplies. I thought perhaps it would be well if the matter could be stated in this House in order to secure appropriate publicity.
There is undoubtedly an idea abroad that flour is now being adulterated as 2317 well as bread going up in price, and I am told that in certain parts of the country there is a good deal of feeling on this question. I am advised that there is no real ground for complaint that pure wheat and flour is used, and that there is no adulteration. What has happened is that the extraction from the wheat has been increased, and that was decided upon even before I left the Ministry. The change is very slight indeed, and we contemplated at the time that it would have no effect either on the colour or the texture of the loaf. I am advised that potatoes are not being used, in fact, when I am told by the Commission that there is no adulteration, I presume they mean in respect of potatoes as well.
After these few observations I desire to repeat my congratulations to my right hon. Friend, and also to the Parliamentary Secretary, for I am sure they will do well and deserve well of us. I have had some experience of the great difficulties which accompanied the office of Food Minister, and I am going to view their work in a tolerant spirit. With regard to the Motion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), this House must move very cautiously, because there can be nothing more inflammatory at this moment than such a question as the abolition of the Ministry of Food. I believe that Ministry will prove to be required for some time to come, and if its continued existence is to be justified, it must be efficiently manned, and then I believe it will prove, as it has done in the past, that it can conform to the standards of economy and efficiency.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Committee has had the advantage of listening to three Food Ministers. I have listened to all their speeches, and I realise how fortunate the Ministry has been in the selections which have been made. I hope that the newest recruit to that Ministry will have a very successful term of office, and I congratulate him very heartily upon his promotion. I view this question of the Ministry of Food from a somewhat different angle to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles, although I have the same object in view. My aim is as far as possible to create an abundance of food. The Food Minister himself, at the completion of his speech, expounded a new political economy. He said that we must not 2318 experiment in food, but that is what the Ministry of Food is doing all the time, and its experiments are gravely endangering the supply. That is at the bottom of Ministerial activity.
The late Food Minister (Mr. Clynes) is very much in favour of regulating supplies, but, to my mind, it is infinitely more important to increase production, because, unless you have production, all the Ministers in the world cannot control supplies. The first essential must be to see that no Ministry does any single act which will discourage the producer, for without production you cannot have the article. There is no subject that has agitated the country so much as the question of food and food prices, and there I quite agree with what my right hon. Friend has said. When I look round the House, as I have done this afternoon, I reflect that if the 8,000,000 women voters could see the attendance in the House during this Debate, they would not think that their anxiety as regards the food supplies is being reflected here. My right hon. Friend spoke of the anger of the working classes, but there is no real anger amongst the workers. The new poor are probably suffering more than any other class from the terrible price of living. We must remember that no rhetoric and no resolution can get away from the fact that Britain must be fed from abroad to a very large extent. The Food Minister was good enough to tell me that out of every hundred loaves consumed in this country in 1919, 73 came from abroad. All the meat, sugar, coffee, currants, and raisins come from abroad. It is impossible for us to get these commodities from abroad unless they are paid for either by raw material or British manufactures.
The members of the Labour party must realise that you cannot control the foreign producer, and unless they export British goods we cannot possibly get the food that is essential to prevent us from starving. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Roberts) wrote a very illuminating article in the "Food Journal," and I saw some exception taken to it, but at any rate it contained a lot of real solid information, and in that article he told us that the coal miners had more power over the price of food than the Ministry of Food, and I think he was right. May I illustrate that point. The coal production of the country has decreased, 2319 although wages have risen, and the output of coal has been reduced 60 tons per person of those engaged in the coal trade of this country. Our exports of coal have gone down from 98,000,000 tons in 1913 to 50,000,000 in 1919, which is a, decrease of 48,000,000 tons. I want to put these facts to the members of the Labour party. (AnHON. MEMBER: " You are lecturing the Labour party! ") I am not lecturing anybody, and I am simply trying to educate. On the Argentine Railway I am informed they have been burning maize for fuel, because they could not get coal from this country. If maize has to be burned for fuel it cannot be brought here, and it cannot be used for fattening pigs, and you will have a scarcity of home-cured bacon.
The time lost on account of strikes also has a tendency to increase the price of food. The real object of the Government should be to create an abundance, which is the greatest enemy of profiteering. For all these artificial expedients in which we are engaging there will be a day of reckoning later on. I was very much interested in the defence of the Ministry of Food of their action in regard to bacon. He told us that none of the bacon that was spoilt in London was imported by the Food Ministry. That may be true. He also told us that the loss of this spoilt bacon will not fall upon the British taxpayer. I am much more sceptical about that. But why did the Food Controller take over the control of bacon at all? Why did he not leave the private importers, who were so stupid as to buy bacon so bad that it had to be sold to the soap boilers, to bear their own loss? I know something of public Departments. They are very eel-like; they wriggle and twist. I should like to get inside this bacon business. I certainly do not understand why the Ministry of Food should have requisitioned this bacon or why a Ministry which has not to bear the loss should have been so clever as to buy all the sound bacon while the private importer could not.
Let me touch on another subject—mutton—if we can call the leathery tasteless trash, now sold in London as mutton, by that name. It has been killed for two years. It is frozen stiff, and it will always be the same black leathery stuff. There is a glut of this leathery mutton in this 2320 country. I find that the stocks of frozen mutton killed about eighteen months ago amount to 150,000 tons in the warehouses. Our consumption in summer time, when British mutton is not available, is about 25,000 tons per month, and it goes down to 15,000 tons per month in the winter. Therefore, we have in stock here now of these frozen blocks of what we call mutton, no less than six months' supply at the highest rate, and ten months at 15,000 tons per month. I am informed, and I have taken the trouble to go to men in the meat trade who know, that there is awaiting shipment in Australasia to-day 180,000 tons.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
My right hon. Friend is really addressing his remarks to the wrong Department. At present the responsibility for the control of mutton does not lie with the Food Ministry; the cost is borne on the Board of Trade Vote.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Then the Government also is rather eel-like. Let me ask this question. Does the Ministry of Food fix the price?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is the same thing. But what are you going to do with this mutton? What prices are you going to sell it at? You have to get rid of it. I believe that some of the gentlemen who control it, whether they belong to the Board of Trade or to the Ministry of Food, thought that the Continent would be the best place for it. But you will have to sell it here. The Continent cannot take frozen meat, because it has no facilities for handling it. I am asking at what price you intend to get rid of this glut of frozen mutton?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
It is perfectly true that, under existing arrangements, the Ministry of Food is the mouthpiece through which Orders fixing prices are issued to the public, but the responsibility for the policy of fixing those prices is, at all events up to the present, not in the Ministry of Food, but with the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It sounds very much like a gramophone. But my hon. Friend must allow me to proceed. It is a little difficult for ordinary Members when the 2321 Ministry of Food really fixes the prices of food to be told that they are simply acting as the mouthpiece of the Board of Trade. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise my difficulty. If I am not in order I will pass from that point, but I will give this piece of advice to the mouthpiece if not to the real voice. You really must get rid of this glut of mutton and you must sell it at a low price. The sooner you get rid of it the better, because having these mountains of frozen mutton will discourage flock masters and production in the future. Let me deal with the question of wheat. The Food Controller is keeping down the prices of wheat artificially. He is keeping down the prices of home grown wheat. I frankly say that although I represent an agricultural constituency I want to see the loaf go down. It is no satisfaction to me to know that the price of the loaf to-day, without the use of subsidies, would be sixteen pence. I know what it means in tens of thousands of homes. But this brings me back again to what I have already said. We have to get our wheat from abroad. There is one source of supply I rather expected the Minister for Food to allude to, and that is Russia. Before the War we used to import very large quantities of wheat from there Something like 4,000,000 quarters was the average from Russia in the five years before the War. As we consume about 600,000 quarters per week, that would be six weeks' supply. But the Russian peasant is not producing wheat, and he will not produce it for the Bolsheviks, at any rate, for a long time to come.
You cannot develop production in foreign countries. That is quite impossible. How could you develop production in Australia, Canada, or America? Therefore you have as far as you can to develop it here at home. My right hon. Friend the Food Controller has fixed the maximum price of wheat this year at 75s. per quarter. I am not complaining of that, but I do suggest that by fixing that price he is actually curtailing production here. Seventy-five shillings per quarter is £17 per ton. If I want to buy a ton of feeding stuffs (not equal in value to a ton of wheat) I have to pay £27 per ton. Can you expect a farmer to carry on under these conditions? For this year's harvest—1920—you fixed 95s. per quarter, and if the foreign price does not fall before it will not go below. I agree 2322 that these prices are high. I would like to see them come down, as I would like to see all other expenses come down. Farmers' expenses have risen very high in the last two years, and therefore the old pre-War standards have gone. I would like to see the cost of production and the cost of the loaf come down. Is the Food Controller aware that last year the amount of wheat planted in this country went down 400,000 acres? Is he aware that wheat probably this year, planted last winter, will be down another 200,000 acres? [AnHON. MEMBER"Double that! "] Well, I am very moderate in my estimate, but take it that the wheat acreage has gone down in two years 600,000 acres. My hon. Friend says 800,000. Take four quarters per acre, and that represents 2,400,000 quarters of wheat lost to this country by discouraging agriculture. 2,400,000 quarters really means four weeks' supply. I do ask the Food Controller to take this into account. I do not want to raise prices, but you must show the farmer that he is going to get something out of it. Farmers have been accused of profiteering. As a matter of fact, the farmer is a simple, ordinary human being like the rest of us. He gets the best prices offered, and it is of no use accusing him of profiteering. He had a very bad time twenty years ago. I ask my right hon. Friend to let us have some security, to let the farmer have some security with regard to the future.
Now let me take the hon. Gentleman to another very important article of diet—potatoes. He came down on the 3rd of March and said he would control the prices of potatoes. I am not saying he did not fix a very liberal price, but he controlled it exactly at the moment when the farmers were going to plant. He did not give them the benefit of the rise. It would not have been considerable, I dare-'say. But what you have done by controlling the prices of potatoes is that you have prevented farmers from putting in an increased crop, which they would have done had prices soared. Therefore you will have in reality perpetuated the scarcity for another twelve months. You have kept down prices for three months, but you are going to have a scarcity all next year through this question of control. That is why I emphasise so emphatically here that it is essential you should encourage production. I do not want these controls one moment longer 2323 than is absolutely necessary. When control was taken off butter people said prices would soar; but the public had it in their own hands. They exercised their own remedy. They did not buy the butter at 5s. per lb. If prices are high then production is stimulated, but consumption is restricted. That is how the thing works. [AnHON. MEMBER: "What about milk?"] I know something about milk. It is very difficult to get people to milk cows on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The best thing for the Food Controller to do would be to invent a new kind of cow which would not want to be milked on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. If this country is to save itself it will be saved by its own efforts, not by the efforts of control. I do not believe in officialdom. I do not believe in officials at all. But of all officials we have here in this Estimate for the Food Control Office not one who will produce a single grain of wheat; not one of them will ever milk a cow. If this country is to save itself, its own citizens must be enabled to do the salvation. I do not think that at the present moment the Ministry should be pulled up, but I hope we shall see its discontinuance at no very distant period.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has informed us that no one in the Ministry milks a cow. I am not at all sure that some of them do not milk the taxpayer, and I think they have done that in a very efficient manner. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts), informed us that the Ministry comes to an end in August unless a Bill is brought in to prolong its existence. I had forgotten that, but I take it that it is correct. I am rather sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), is not in the Committee now, because I think that that strongly reinforces his argument, which, as I understood it, was that, since these Estimates are more or less incorrect, they ought to be withdrawn, and correct Estimates brought forward. I would put this to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Food. These Estimates are for a year, except in two or three cases where there are footnotes stating that the sums are required only for a certain time. If the Ministry is going to be abolished in 2324 August, why should we bring in now an Estimate for a year? We have also learned that the Board of Trade is interfering in this matter. I cannot conceive why, when we have a Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade want to interfere by buying mutton which they cannot get rid of and which they are holding up, causing an increase in that inflammatory condition which the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Norwich, stated to exist amongst the people, and which my hon. Friend, the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) also alluded to as existing amongst certain sections in this country, because prices are high. Who makes the prices high? As soon as the milk control was taken off, the price of milk went down. It may be that in one or two other cases the price has risen; I am not sure that it has. An hon. Member laughs, and I may possibly be wrong; it is difficult to be accurate in everything, but I guarded myself by saying I was not sure. Sugar has risen, and that is controlled. The Minister informed us that they had actually saved money to the country by the manner in which they had rationed sugar. He said he had saved £700,000, but what has he done? He has prevented anyone from getting sugar, and, of course, if that is to continue, and if the quantity is to be reduced still further, he might save another £700,000; but I do not think that would allay the inflammatory state in which people are, because, as far as I can see, one of the results of food control is that we pay a very high price for an article, and then do not get it. I gathered that, during the years it has been in existence, the profit made by the Ministry amounted to one-tenth of one per cent., and that the turnover was £1,000,000,000. We were also told that, as far as the Minister could say, the gross profit was 4 per cent. Four per cent. on £1,000,000,000 is £40,000,000. If the Ministry, having made a gross profit of £40,000,000, have only made a net profit of one-tenth of one per cent. on £1,000,000,000, I think the Committee will agree that, if they had been in commerce, they would have reached the Bankruptcy Court, because it shows that they must have managed very badly to make such a small profit out of such a large sum.
There are one or two items in the Estimate which I think require explanation. On page 28 we find that last year there were three Assistant Secretaries 2325 (lent), while this year there are four. As they are put down as lent, I presume they are paid by some other Department, but I want to know why an additional Assistant Secretary is wanted, when the work is supposed to be less, and the Department is being demobilised. Then we have 16 Special Posts, at salaries varying from £1,000 to £1,500, as against four last year. If we could do with four Special Posts last year, why do we want 12 more this year, when the activities of the Ministry are supposed to be diminishing? There are 44 Administrative Officers put down for this year, while last year there was not one of these gentlemen. How did we get on last year without 44 Administrative Officers, and why cannot we get on this year without them? I see that, under the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies, there is one Director with a salary of £1,500 and a bonus of £1,000, making £2,500 in all. I commend that to the Labour party, who sometimes say that I am against increases of wages. I am also against increases of salaries. There was no such Director last year; why do we now want this gentleman with £2,500 a year? In addition to this new Director, we have three more new Directors, each with a salary of £1,500, and a bonus of £250, or £5,250 altogether. There are also three more new Directors, with salaries varying from £1,000 to £1,500, the total cost being £3,750. All of these new Directors, the lowest of whose salaries is £1,000 a year, were not there last year, and I want to know why, if we could do without them before, we cannot do without them now? There are, too, 21 Assistant Principal Officers at salaries of from £500 to £700, three Accountants at £600 to £800, 35 Assistant Accountants at £400 to £500, and 30 Heads of Sections at £300 to £600—all additional. When we come to the Live Stock Commissioners, we find 219 Sub-Commissioners, whereas last year there was not one. There is a little footnote to this item of Live Stock Commissioners, stating that provision for the bulk of the staff is necessary for three months only. Why do we want all these Commissioners for live stock? I am a small farmer, and I have had some experience of the Live Stock Commissioners, and I cannot say I am grateful to them for what they have done. They generally put every obstacle in the way of my endeavouring 2326 to supply the working classes with good and cheap meat. With regard to the Divisional Food Commissioners, I understood the right hon. Gentleman, if I mistake not, to say that these were going to be done away with, but I see that 180 fresh Administrative Assistants are included, at salaries of £150 to £300. We are getting down to lower salaries now, but still I object to these increases on every salary. There are also 12 new Divisional Officers at £600 to £800.
I now come to the Mission in the United States. What do these gentlemen do in the United States? There are five of them this year, as against four last year. Why, if four gentlemen had a picnic in the United States last year, is it necessary to give an additional picnic to another gentleman? The total cost this year is £33,000, as against £14,000 last year. Are they sent to the United States to show them how well we manage to reduce Departments? One of them, the Director, gets £2,800 a year, and there are three Deputy Directors at £1,200 to £2,000. Then there is the clerical staff. We are not told how many it consists of, but it costs £20,000 this year as against £6,000 last year. I do not know whether there is one man, or whether there are twenty or two or three hundred. The right hon Gentleman, when he was Parliamentary Secretary, was a great stickler for things being done properly, and I think he will agree with me that, when you put down a clerical staff for a mission in the United States, and put £20,000 against it without enumerating what it consists of, and when you follow that by " Messengers, etc. ' at a cost of £4,300, without putting any number at all, it is hardly a businesslike way of presenting an account to Parliament. I would ask him to be good enough to explain what the etc. means. When we come to the heading " Travelling Expenses," we find that the total this year is the enormous sum of £75,000. The Headquarters' Officials do themselves very well; they are going to spend £32,000 on travelling expenses. As a railway director I am not sorry, but as a taxpayer I feel a sort of cold shiver coming over me. Now we get to the Live Stock Commission, which I thought was going to be done away with, but I was wrong. They spend £30,000. They run the Headquarter people very close. It will be interesting 2327 to see how many Headquarter people there are who are going to travel and spend £30,000. There are 1,400 of them, and they are apparently going to spend £20 apiece during the year on travelling. The Live Stock Commissioners are going to spend about the same or perhaps a little more—between £20 and £25.
When we come to the Mission to the United States, at first, in my ignorance, I thought I had come to something which is very moderate—only £1,000—but I find there are nominally only five. I do not know if that includes clerical staff. That means £200 apiece. I suppose they are in the United States, and therefore the expense of getting there cannot be included. Then we come to local food control. I really cannot understand that. There is a footnote which says this is provision for payment of six months' account. Therefore, I presume the sum which appears here is only for six months. It is £500,000 for payments to local authorities, salaries of clerical staffs, travelling, law charges and incidental expenses, office accommodation, fuel and light. A Government official is bad enough, but local food control is a great deal worse, and the sooner we get rid of them and never set them up again the better. But why we should give these little local busybodies £500 for making themselves a nuisance to everyone I cannot conceive, and I hope the Government will hasten the demise of these gentlemen as much as possible. We wind up with a beautiful item of £100. That is the National Kitchens, and they manage somehow or other to have made a hundred sovereigns and not to have lost it. We are not given any particulars of expenses or how many officials are employed. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roberts), though he professed to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean), if it was possible to make his speech stronger did so by pointing out that the whole thing is coming to an end in August, and therefore the whole of the estimates are absolutely wrong, unless of course we get a Bill introduced. Much as I should dislike to vote against the Government, and I am not quite sure whether I shall summon up courage to do it, if the right hon. Gentleman within a reasonable time goes into the Lobby for the reduction, I think I shall be bound to go with him.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean), but I was not surprised at the particular line that he took, inasmuch as that is in line with the general school of thought followed by him and the party he represents, even in pre-war days. I should say that the present high prices of food are largely the result of the refusal on the part of that school to recognise facts in the early days of the War. In those days even the representatives of Labour could see what the situation was going to be, and the continued refusal to recognise those facts almost drove the country on to the rocks of destruction. I remember well when there came a certain point in the War my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes) had to go to the Trade Union Congress and take a stand which showed remarkable courage and at the same time to take over the work of the Food Controller, or rather act as his assistant, and take a stand which went further and saved the situation, which was getting extremely dangerous. The philosophy and the thought represented by the hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) and others who have spoken will not do at this time of day. Anyone who knew the facts could see, even before the War, that prices were going up and wages were following prices. All that happened was that the War created a state of things which accelerated the rise of prices and accelerated the conditions which put the mass of the people in the hands of small but powerful groups of controlling interests. As a matter of fact, we think the food control must become a permanent Department of State, because the trust has become a permanent Department in the State. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. McCurdy), in a very cryptic sentence during his election, put the situation in a sentence when he said these people controlled about 80 per cent. of the production of the country. Not only should the food control continue, but, if it is not accepted, in the days to come events will ultimately compel recognition of the fact that it must become a permanent Department of the State in order to control the people who have been largely responsible for the present state of things.
What is the alternative to food control? The Food Controller gave some figures as to what had happened upon one occasion when control was lifted in cer- 2329 tain respects. He told us that cotton seed rose from £19 to £35 a ton, palm kernels from £26 to £43 a ton. Margarine itself, after a short period of price-cutting, rose from 1s. to 1s. 0½d. a lb. on an average, and barley rose from 67s. to 95s. 2d. per quarter. He gave a whole series of items. We stand for the continuance of food control, and it ought to become a permanent Department of State, in order that the situation may be firmly and definitely met. It sometimes seems to us that the rather hesitant position of the Food Controller rather leads to the raising of prices from time to time. We think there should not be a great deal of trouble about retail selling. We agree with the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) when he refers to food control committees in every part of the country. I have been a member of one of those committees, though I am not one of the fortunate gentlemen who shared in the spoils. Up to the present I have not even got a train fare for visiting those committees. The real trouble is not with the retail seller, but with the people who control raw material through the trusts. We feel that there you have interests which have great opportunities for rendering service to the country. I was told not long ago that I ought to assume that those interests have more of the milk of human kindness in them than I give them credit for.
I have sometimes thought it rather a remarkable thing that these people who are continually saying what they would do, and referring to the difficulties under which they work, have never yet offered one really constructive suggestion to meet the problem which this country is facing, and which is getting worse and worse, for it is quite certain that the race of wages following prices has almost come to an end, and you are going to have the price question faced in an altogether different way, and a very dangerous way to this country. That is not said in the form of a threat. I am simply stating facts. Everyone who knows something of the psychology of the mass of the people knows very well that within a very short period, unless there is a very definite attempt to reduce prices, something serious on rather a big scale is going to take place. What else can we expect? An hon. Member gave us an instance of, I think, some maize which was being burnt simply because 2330 the people could not get coal from this country to pay for their maize. I agree that increased production would be a good thing if possible, though I have other things to say upon that side of the question, because I think there could be considerable improvement in the methods employed from the scientific point of view on the side of those who are officially responsible for the control of industry. No one looks at that question with greater regret than I do, because I know that increased production is a necessary thing. But there is this also in the minds of the workers. Is there any guarantee that increased production will go any length towards reducing prices? I do not think there is. So long as you have the control in the hands of a few people, there is no guarantee that the value of the increased production is not going into the hands of a comparatively few people. One hon. Member said, that to get an increased production would mean that a certain amount of maize that was waiting on the other side would come here instead of being burned for fuel. We can top that with another fact. A gentleman who wrote to the "Times" on 19th December, a Liverpool grain merchant, Mr. J. C. Proctor, said that on the most conservative estimates there would be a surplus of 90,000,000 quarters of wheat in the United States and Canada by 31st July, 1920, and that 30,000,000 quarters will have to be destroyed. Here you have a system which would rather destroy what is valuable to human kind than it would lower the price in order to exchange that commodity. I give that fact because it is typical of the exchange between one industry and another, even in this country. It is typical of the spirit in which things are dealt with. When the question of increased production is considered we ought to remember what has happened repeatedly during the last year. We have had scares in the newspapers, and the cost of certain articles has gone up. Some hon. Gentlemen who object to control have demanded why this thing should be allowed to go on. A Commission has been appointed, and when the Commission has sat and taken evidence it has told us exactly how much we were robbed, and there has been an end of it. A gentleman said in my presence the other day that he would like to recast one of the texts in the New Testament, and he would say that it would be easier for a camel to pass 2331 through the eye of a needle than for a wool merchant to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I hope that quotation is right. I rather hesitate before I make any attempt to quote from scripture. At any rate, the quotation is a modern 20th century adaptation of scripture.
We stand very definitely for the continuance of food control. We not only stand for its continuance, but for its development into a permanent Department of State. We have, however, certain criticisms to make against the Food Control. We think that too much of the profit-making spirit has been transmitted from ordinary business into the food control. The Food Ministry is making a profit on sugar. I am pleased to know from the Food Controller that we are not making any profit on sugar. I hope we are not making any profit at all; but we suspect from time to time that the profit-making spirit has entered into the food control. At least it was so at one time. We trust that the Ministry of Food is going to be a regulating factor in order to see that the people receive food as nearly as possible at a price commensurate with the cost of production, and that the food control is going to be a service which will have for its object the supplying of food at reasonable prices, and at the same time of keeping a grip upon the trusts. It is not a question of dealing with the retailers, but with the great and powerful trusts. Whether the Food Control Department is permanent or not, even if it goes, events in this country will ultimately compel the recognition of that control as a permanent thing in our Governmental affairs, because it will ultimately have to deal with the powerful trusts.
We desire that the food control may, to the best of its ability, express that spirit, in order that the time may soon come when the people of this country may get food at a much cheaper price than they do now. I think the Minister of Food said that an increase of 1d. in the price of sugar added considerably to the price of other things, and that it meant a total increase upon many articles, which ultimately reflected itself in wages. I believe that is so, but what is worse is that 1d. per lb. increase upon sugar and other articles has the result of turning the spirit of the masses of the people into 2332 something that is sour and bitter, and has a very bad effect upon our national affairs, and even upon production. Therefore we hope that the food control will continue, will do its best to meet the present situation, and lay hold of the trusts, who are largely responsible for the present state of things.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I do not take the pessimistic view of the opinions of the people of this country that the hon. Member takes. I do not believe that they are getting soured to anything like the extent that he appears to think. At any rate, as regards one matter which he alluded to, the question of the rise of prices, they know, or at least I hope they know, that prices have not risen in this country to anything like the extent that they have risen in every other country in the world, with the sole exception of America, as regards foodstuffs.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I am glad to see that the Minister of Food backs that statement, because I am sorry to say that I have to ask him a very awkward question. I feel like the hostess who has had a guest in her house who has outstayed his welcome and she has to endeavour to ascertain when that visit is coming to an end. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman when the Food Ministry is going to wind up its affairs. The reason why I suggest that that is a very serious question, and one which should be taken into consideration, is that we are at the present time importing into this country an enormously increased amount of food compared with the amount we imported in 1913, the year before the War. A great deal has been said about bacon. Does the Committee realise that this country in 1913 imported 5,750,000 cwts. of bacon, whereas in 1919 we imported nearly double that amount—over 10,000,000 cwts? We imported almost the same amount of cheese. Of unsweetened milk we imported 50,000 cwts. in 1913 and 1,000,000 cwts. last year—more than 20 times as much as in 1913. As regards sweetened milk, condensed milk, we imported 1,100,000 cwts. in 1913 and over 2,000,000 cwts. last year. A great deal more tea was imported last year than in 1913. I think we imported something like 70,000 lbs. more tea. We imported 2333 also a great deal more coffee. Almost every article of food supplies was rolling into this country in 1919, and I suggest to the Committee that we ought to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to wind up the Food Ministry. If they cannot do it at once they might transfer the small duties which would still devolve upon it to the Board of Trade. We have learned this evening that the Board of Trade are responsible for the glut of mutton. I have seen the mutton in the Victoria and Albert Docks. One cold storage warehouse was piled to the roof with carcases of sheep, and I find that it is not the Ministry of Food that is responsible for that glut, but the Board of Trade. I fail to see what is the use of spending £1,500,000 a year in keeping the Ministry of Food and then letting another Ministry take charge of an important matter like the supply of meat. If the meat still requires to be controlled, then let the Ministry of Food wind up their affairs and hand over the small remaining part of their office which is necessary to keep some sort of control and observation of statistics of imports to one of the existing numerous Ministries.
We find from the Estimates that the total number of officials has not been reduced during the year by any very considerable amount. The number has been reduced from 5,288 to 3,800—a deduction of 25 per cent. Considering the fact that so many things have been decontrolled, and that supplies have been absolutely abundant during 1919, I fail to see why we should not have a much greater reduction in staff than that. I do not know whether hon. Members who have recently come into the House are aware that these Estimates are very misleading. Are they aware that, supposing an amount specified under one of the sub-heads is not reached and that there is, say, a saving of £100,000, that the Ministry can take that £100,000 and apply it to some other sub-head on which they want to spend more money? I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is not a fact that the sum of £25,000 for stationery is a repetition of the amount put down last year? Is it not a fact that more than six times that amount was actually spent on stationery last year without the knowledge of this House? These Estimates as they are put before us are useless. We cannot control Government expenditure if the Estimates are continued on the 2334 present lines. There ought to be another column which would show on each subhead the amount to which the actual expenditure was in excess of the amount asked for, or, on the other hand, if the amount had not been reached, then the saving should be shown, so that this Committee can, when the Estimates come up, really control expenditure. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he is replying, to say whether the amount spent for stationery last year by his Department was not in excess of £150,000, whereas the actual amount on the Estimates was only £25,000?
The position with regard to sugar is also very curious. The amount of sugar imported into this country last year was almost as much as the amount imported the year before the War. It would be difficult to imagine that this was the case, unless we had actual figures, because we all know the shortage of sugar which there has been. I put it down to the bureaucratic interference of the Food Controller, and say that directly you remove the control there will be ample sugar in the country. Last year—I am quoting now an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman himself—we imported 31,000,000 cwt. of sugar as against an average of 33,000,000 cwt. in 1913–14. That is, over 90 per cent. of the sugar which we used to get before the War was imported last year. Yet everybody knows the great shortage for jam making and the extreme difficulty of obtaining sugar which prevails. What is the reason of that? What is the use of having this Food Control Ministry now? I think that the control of the Ministry of Food was necessary during the War. Now, that the War has practically ended for the last 18 months, it is time to have more drastic cuts made in these extravagant Ministries. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will hold out some hope that his Ministry, at any rate, is going to come to an end before before long. It is hard to ask a Minister to commit hari kari, especially as he has just emerged from a magnificent by-election and taken office, but I am sure that the Government would not lose his services, and as the position of Minister without portfolio is already filled, there is another billet; they might create a Minister with portmanteau, who would be ready to move to any part of the country where one of these' numerous labour crises arises. I am sure that the right hon. 2335 Gentleman's abilities would be properly recognised, even if his Department were to end, and I suggest that the time has come to cut down this Department and get it well under £1,000,000.
§ Sir EDGAR JONES
I want to press on the Minister of Food to set to work to deal with the extraordinary situation of the sugar supplies of the country at the present time. I am afraid that I shall have to tell the Committee one or two things that are so astonishing that they will appear incredible to most hon. Members here. But as they come from first-hand information to me, what I say is unfortunately too true. About this time last year there arose a situation similar to that which we are in to-day. The Ministry of Food continues to keep the ordinary householder on a ration of sugar which, having regard to the supplies, is entirely unjustifiable. The figures that have been given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) who has just sat down indicate at once to any person that there is something wrong. But I am afraid that it is worse than that. Last year about this time they were warning people that there would not be supplies for jam, and so forth, and a considerable number of industries which employed thousands of women could not start because of the shortage of sugar. It was pointed out to the Ministry that there was plenty of sugar available hammering at our ports if you would only let it come in, and coming from sources that would not in any way interfere with the purchases which the Ministry was making itself.
After some amount of pressure and persuasion the Ministry agreed to allow for a period a purchase of sugar on the free market with one rather amusing qualification. That is, that none of this sugar was to be allowed to go to the grocers, because if it went to the grocers it would interfere with the elaborate card ration scheme of the Ministry. This was carried on until the end of the year. It was understood that the Ministry was going to make the purchase of this sugar free to the manufacturers, people who were going to use it for their own purposes. Unfortunately, however, the Ministry for some reason which has never been explained made the purchase of this sugar free for the ordinary broker and 2336 machinery operating in the market. The result was that, though the actual sugar required by these industries in the country was a mere fleabite of the total supply and would therefore not interfere with the operations of the Ministry in the markets of the world, by throwing the thing open to the brokers in London they did bring about a certain amount of manipulation of the market that looked like interfering with them.
Then, as I understand the story, so far as one can get at it, the Ministry decided about last September or October that they were going to make a very courageous attempt to break the world price—a very laudable object, and a very plucky thing to try to do. They, therefore, issued an order that all this free purchase of sugar was to stop, and that after December nobody was to buy or to bring in sugar, wherever they could get it from, so as to allow the Ministry free power to break the world price. The method that the Ministry adopted to break the world price was they did not make their purchases at the ordinary time of the year when purchases were being made. What happened, unfortunately, was that this great attempt to bluff the planters and growers in different parts of the world did not come off, and instead of the world price breaking, it stiffened and hardened and the Ministry got a very bad time and had to come in in the end in a panic and buy at very much higher prices than would have been the case if they had gone in normally without making that attempt. I do not complain of that; that is the sort of accident that might happen to the best experts in the world and has happened many times in business. But here is the extraordinary position. The price has gone up from between £70 and £76 a ton to £150 a ton. That is how the Ministry has broken the price. That is the extent to which their endeavour succeeded.
At present we are told that there is no sugar for jam-making, and as a result of restricting importation by the manufacturers 15,000 to 16,000 people, mainly women, have lost their employment during the last five or six months in the sugar manufacturing industries of this country. These figures can be checked from the Labour Exchanges. These people have lost their employment because we are told no sugar can be allowed to come in, 2337 although there is plenty of sugar available. A business man came to see me the other day in a great hurry. He had two shiploads of sugar. One had reached Marseilles that morning with over 5,000 tons of sugar aboard, white granulated Java sugar, and another ship, with 7,000 tons, was coming through the Suez Canal making for Marseilles. The regulations of the Ministry of Food did not permit of this sugar coming into this country. He went to make inquiries as to why it should not come in. There was no question of price because this man was glad to be rid of this big responsibility, amounting to a quarter of a million of money on people who did not want the sugar. I will explain why in a moment—and he was quite willing to let the Ministry have it at from £83 to £85 per ton. It is clear, therefore, that there was no question of price. The Ministry said, " No, we will not have the sugar at all; we will not let it come in at any price or on any conditions whatever."
I asked for an explanation of this very extraordinary thing and this is what I was told. Not only did I get the explanation verbally, but I have got it in writing if it is challenged. The explanation is this, and it is because this is the mind of the Ministry of Food that I really must press this, and I hope that the Committee will press the Minister to overhaul the whole thing, because the mental attitude is wrong, is rotten to the bottom, and you will never get this sugar question straight until you have a change in this matter and until the Minister has got control of it absolutely, instead of having, as he has now, partial control, with all the blame because he is responsible. They said: " We have got a kind of understanding with various countries of the world, and if we in this country purchase too much of the sugar, then that would cause other countries to scramble for sugar and the scramble would drive the prices up.'' From £70 to £150 is not a bad record in eight or nine months. I cannot conceive the price going any further. I have heard on most excellent authority that if sugar were free it would break heavily, and the price would come tumbling down tomorrow. That is a matter of opinion and I do not want to enter on it. I am dealing with the Ministry's own method of continuing control. That was the explanation which we got. But what has happened? 2338 These particular shiploads of sugar which I am talking about at the moment—I will have something to say about another ship load besides these—
§ Sir E. JONES
This was only a few weeks ago. This sugar had originally been purchased from Java by Swiss manufacturers, who calculated that the War would have lasted longer, and that they would have had to continue to supply the chocolate ration to the British Army as it was supplied during the War from Switzerland. Naturally these people in Switzerland did not now want the sugar, and it is all available to come here for the people of this country; but it was absolutely refused and the ship was held up with demurrage and all the rest of it at Marseilles. These people had to say, " Very well, let the stuff come." You allow France, Holland, Switzerland and these other countries to get a certain share of the sugar of the world, so that they will not scramble for it and therefore drive prices up.
What is happening? What has happened to the sugar that has gone to Switzerland? What is happening to the sugar that the United States is getting, from the world's market and the sugar that France is getting? Go round the ports and you will find to-day £5,000,000 to £6,000,000 worth of manufactured sugar goods dumped into this country. You cannot walk along the streets of London to-day and pass any confectioner's shop or any cabaret without seeing piled up these dumped sugar goods front Switzerland and France and everywhere else. You must have one thing or the other; you must either allow the sugar to come here and the operations to be free, as you did last year, or, if you are going to leave sugar to these other countries for their needs, they should not, having turned it into manufactured goods, be able to dump them over here and make money while our people are out of employment. There is an inconsistency in the Ministry. It interferes on the one side and it creates a situation with which it will not interfere on the other side. The root of the matter is this. There is sufficient sugar to increase very considerably the quantity required by the people of this country. It is being offered all the time. There was a £10,000 shipload 2339 offered recently. Why should it not come as long as it does not interfere with the Commission's own purchases?
§ Mr. JESSON
As long as there is a world shortage of food I think it absolutely necessary to retain the Ministry of Food. I believe that that shortgae is helped here by the fact that we are producing less food than we produced a year or two ago. I want to speak more especially about the fish supply. We could have an enormous quantity of cheap fish for the people, and as a wholesome food it could replace a good deal of bad American bacon. I understand that as a nation we consume something like 42 ounces of food per day per head of the population. Of that 42 ounces less than 1½ ounces is fish and 6½ ounces is meat. No less an authority than Sir James Crichton-Browne has told us that, if we could invert these figures and consume more fish and less meat, it would add very considerably to the health of the people, and help them to fight diseases like tuberculosis. A little while ago I was listening to a speech delivered by Lord Morris, late Premier of Newfoundland. He told his audience that on the shores of Labrador and Newfoundland every February enormous shoals of fish came into spawn, and that the fishermen went out and shovelled up these fish. The particular fish referred to he described as one of the most beautiful and appetising of fishes, and he said that the fishermen of Labrador would willingly sell it at 2s. 6d. per barrel in this country, that is to say, at 2s. 6d.for 360 lbs. of fish, or 12 lbs. for one penny. If all that cheap and wholesome food is available and can be brought here at a low rate, it is strange that the Minister of Food has not turned his attention in that direction. I understand also that it is possible for us to obtain fish from Canada, particularly salmon and cod. Again the figures are those of Lord Morris. He states that we can get this fish here, provided it is put into cold storage, at a price which will enable it to be retailed to the public at something like 6d. per lb. There is a lack of organisation somewhere as long as people are deprived of this food. I suggest it is time that the Minister turned his attention to this particular subject.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I am afraid the hon. Member who has just spoken is a little 2340 optimistic, if he believes or hopes that anything the Minister of Food does is likely to increase production. No action I have ever known the Ministry take has resulted in an increased production. On the contrary, very many of its efforts have resulted in reduced production, and, generally, I might almost say, in the disappearance of the article with which it proposed to deal. The most alarming thing said by the Minister of Food to-day is the statement as to the present wheat position, and as to what the position is likely to be in the future. I am amazed that the Committee has taken so quietly what he said. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that what he told us was that in every wheat-producing country in the world there is not only a shortage, but a very considerable shortage of production, except in India. To me that is extremely alarming. Even under existing conditions we are paying a subsidy of £45,000,000 a year, or something like 4d. to 5d on every loaf of bread sold. I want to ask the Minister what steps he is taking to provide for the feeding of our people in future. I am unaware of the means he can take to encourage supplies in foreign countries, but I do know that in this country, he takes not the slightest interest and makes not the slightest effort to encourage production, so far as British farmers are concerned. On the contrary, obstacles are put in their way, and little attention is paid to any of their trade organisations or to any suggestions that the farmers make. The natural result is that, although two years ago a considerable effort was made by the Board of Agriculture to increase the home production of wheat and other cereals, the interposition of the Minister of Food and the fixing of the price brought about a lessening of the area devoted to wheat growing by 400,000 acres. I prophesy that in the coming year the reduction will be double that acreage. On Monday the price of the loaf is to be raised to 1s. 1d., and, as I said, the State is already paying an enormous subsidy. There is a shortage running into millions of quarters in every producing country in the world, except one. Will the Minister of Food tell us where next year we are going to get our bread supply? The price of wheat is the price which practically fixes the price of other cereals. I am not an alarmist by nature, but I assert that the present situation of our bread supply is extremely 2341 disquieting. I do not know what is the present price paid for foreign wheat. I am certain it is over 100s. a quarter; possibly it is 105s., or more than that. The English agriculturist does not get the play of the market at all. He is controlled to a price of 75s. a quarter, and the result is that he is paying a considerable part, about £10,000,000 a year, of the subsidy that the State is finding to make the loaf saleable at 1s. or 1s. 1d.
The English farmer finds he cannot produce the wheat at a profit. I see from the "Times" that in Norfolk a census has been taken of the older workmen who have been dismissed since the last rise in agricultural wages. Seven hundred men employed in agriculture in that county have been dismissed because the cereal industry is not prosperous, and land is going out of cultivation because it is not remunerative to employ it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) was desirous of more control over the supply and distribution of milk. I wish he were here, because I would beg of him to think twice before asking for more Government interference and Government control, which means more cost. It is not more Government control we want, but a greater milk supply, and to have the milk supplied on a reasonable profitable basis to the producer. I have urged on numerous occasions on the Food Controller that we do not want to control scarcity, but to control plenty, and let him, I suggest, devote his energies to securing a more plentiful supply. One of the legacies he has left us, and for which he is mainly responsible, is the greatest milk trust we have ever seen in this nation, in the shape of a milk combine which controls the milk supply certainly of London and the districts about London. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting whether he considers the decontrol of milk has had the effect of reducing prices. Milk is now retailed, or very shortly be at 8d. per quart, or 2s. 8d. per gallon, and yet the milk combine is offering to the producer 1s. 3d. or 1s. 4d. and taking the difference, which used, I believe, some time ago to be 6d. An hon. Member asks what it costs to distribute the milk. That is in the knowledge of the combine and is impossible to ascertain, but what we do know is that 1s. 4d. per gallon is going 2342 into their pockets. I ask the Minister to tell us what he is doing to make the milk supply plentiful. I would urge upon him to do what is really the only thing he can effectively do in this direction, and that is in some way to limit the powers of this combine, and to take steps to see that the producer gets a fair price for the article he has to sell. The majority of farmers who deal in this perishable article are not used to the arts of combination, and cannot fight a powerful combine like this.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The Amendment for the reduction of this Vote comes rather peculiarly from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), and is moved, I expect, with an eye to what is likely to transpire at Leamington to-morrow. Although the right hon. Gentleman moved the reduction in his most vehement manner, his party have almost with one exception turned tail upon the Committee and left it.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I notice we have the Member from "the lone shieling on the misty island" as well as the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn). The whole speech of the Mover of the Amendment was evidently a demand for decontrol. That was reverting to the old Manchester theory of free competition, and that is the old Liberal idea. So far as the Labour party is concerned we are not at this moment, or at any time, in agreement with allowing free competition to be the ruler in our markets. The position taken up by the Labour party is not merely for control to continue until such time as the extension expires, but to establish the Food Ministry on a permanent basis, free from all entangling alliances such as the Board of Trade and the Board of Health, and to give to the Food Controller and the Food Control Department the power to co-ordinate, not only the purchase of food from abroad, but the importation of that food and the regulation of the ships in which it is conveyed. That is one of the objections to the food control at the present time, that it does not work these 2343 matters, and there was the instance of sugar given by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Sir E. Jones), which is carried out, I understand, by the Sugar Commission. The Food Ministry have very little control over the purchases of sugar made abroad. We wish the Food Ministry to have co-ordinating power and to be free to get the food in the cheapest possible manner, and to import it into this country without having to receive either the permission of any other Governmental Department or to have to wait until that other Governmental Department consider it necessary to give the power to the Food Controller to bring in that particular article. Some Members have been arguing for the decontrol in its entirety of the Ministry of Food at the earliest possible moment. Some would seek to have it abolished to-night and the present Estimates withdrawn. One hon. Member actually wants decontrol, and winds up his speech by asking the Government, in reference to the milk combine, to control the milk trust. If we are going to control the milk trust, why not the meat trust, the sugar trust, the fishing monopoly, why not control all those particular trusts which to-day are holding up the food supplies of the country and in many instances welcoming the destruction of necessary foods, so that the prices can be maintained at the level they are at present demanding from the community?
You have fish taken from the waters surrounding our own islands brought into the harbours by men who have gone out and have sometimes ventured their lives in winning the fish, men who are unable to get a price at the harbours that they bring the vessels into, and dumping the fish back into the water because they cannot get a price sufficient to give them a living, and because many of the fish buyers say they have already purchased too many fish, while up in the big cities, in London, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh, and in all the large centres of industry, there are thousands of men and of women, and even of children, crying out for that food that has been cast back into the water because the fishing trust cannot make sufficient profits out of the food supply of the country. That is why we require, not only the continuance of the Food Ministry, but why we should give to that Ministry greater powers than it possesses to-day, powers which they had 2344 during the early periods of the War, when a miner's wife, if found casting a piece of bread upon the ash heap, was fined for wasting food, while your big profiteer can waste hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of food and go scot-free, because your Food Ministry and your Government have not the power to place those people, where they rightly belong, in the dock, facing a judge, who may give them a very heavy sentence. One hon. Member says there is a world shortage of wheat, but surely he could not have been in the House when the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) made his quotation from " The Times," a part of which I will repeat. In " The Times " of 19th December, in a letter written by Mr. John C. Proctor, a leading Liverpool grain merchant, on the world's wheat supply, it was said that on conservative estimates available there would be a surplus of 90,000,000 quarters of wheat in the United States, Canada, etc., at 31st July, 1920; that owing to price and exchange Europe could only buy 60,000,000 quarters, so that 30,000,000 quarters would have to be destroyed.
The total import of wheat into the United Kingdom in 1913 amounted to 25,000,000 quarters, so that there is likely to be destroyed in Canada and America and in other wheat growing parts of the world, 5,000,000 quarters of wheat more than is ample to feed the people of this country, in addition to the home-grown supplies of wheat. That is not due to control; it is due to the conditions under which you grow and import your wheat, it is due to the fact that you have allowed the wheat supplies, as well as all other sources of food supply, to become cornered in the hands of individuals who are after profit, who are out for plunder, and who care not if half the world starves, so long as they can make sufficient profit out of the other half to keep them living in the riotous luxury in which they do live. The hon. and gallant Member for Finsbury (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) asked why de-control should exist, and he gave us examples of the articles greatly in excess of the requirements. He pointed out that condensed milk had increased enormously in the quantities that had been imported into this country in 1919, as compared with 1913, yet what are the facts? Condensed milk was decontrolled, and one-would have imagined, from the arguments he put forward, that as there were greater 2345 quantities of it in the country the free play of competition, which he so much desired, would have brought the price down, if not below, at least to equal, the price of the scarcer quantity brought in in 1913; yet the facts are the very opposite. Instead of the price falling when control was removed, and in spite of the increased importation to the country the price of condensed milk rose from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. Members on this side want to known what is behind all these arguments for decontrol. Who is it that demands decontrol? is it the people? The last Food Controller told us that he never received from this side of the House any helpful suggestion, nor had he received help or suggestions from Labour organisations or Labour representatives outside. I want to say here emphatically that he must be suffering from a defective memory since he left the Ministry. The Consumers' Council, time and time again, have put forward recommendations based upon the estimates they received from parties who grow or manufacture the food supplies, giving valuable suggestions to the late Food Controller which, had he dared to take his courage in his hands and act upon them, in face of the vested interests of the country, would have had the result of considerably reducing the cost of living in the country. He did not do so.
The Consumers' Council, which is a body made up of the representatives of the consumers of the country, representatives of trade unions and other organised labour, co-operative societies, men and women belonging to the working classes who sit in council frequently in London, who take into account conditions in other parts, who examine farmers in order to ascertain the cost of milk and inquire into the cost of other food supplies, and who, having this intimate knowledge as to the possibilities of supply and the costs of supply, submit an estimate as to the price they believe is. a fair price to pay the manufacturer for the labour he employs, the cost of his machinery and the general cost of manufacture, giving him a fair profit in present conditions. They submit these estimates, they give these suggestions to the Food Ministry, and the Food Ministry almost invariably turns down their estimates and their suggestions, and accepts the suggestions of the vested interests who have been fighting the Consumers' Council. I should imagine 2346 that a body of men who are invited to represent the consumers ought to be given greater consideration at the hands of the Ministry, and I hope that the new Minister and his assistant will give it in the future when any recommendations are put forward by the Consumers' Council.
The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert), while not perhaps meaning it, by implication lectured the Labour party with regard to its shortcomings in the matter of production. He mentioned maize as being used in the Argentine as fuel for the locomotives on the railways there, and said it was terrible—that is the interpretation placed upon his speech—to think that an article of diet should be used in that country for fuel, because the miners in this country were not producing sufficient coal to export to the Argentine. I have been a fairly close student of political matters, and also of commercial matters for a good many years, and were the right hon. Gentleman in his place now, I would ask him if it were the first time that he had heard of goods necessary for human consumption and desired by the people of the world having been destroyed. I can remember eight or nine years ago, when cotton prices fell enormously because of the great growth in the cotton plantations of America, and what happened? The heads of the cotton industry, the Cotton Planters' Association, decided that the following year so many million acres of cotton land should be put out of cultivation. No one then rose in the House and criticised the limitation of output. That at that time was, and even yet is, a perfectly legitimate limitation of output, because it was done for a profit; but if the poor miner or the cotton operator, or any other worker limited his output to keep himself longer in a job, so that he could bring home food to his family, that would have been criminal in the eyes of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of this House and of others outside as well.
Not only cotton, but coffee and cocoa have been thrown overboard in tons to keep the price high. Food has been destroyed throughout the world, not because there was too much and it would rot, but in order to keep down the supplies and give the food profiteers of the world a better chance of forcing more profit out of the workers and out of the community generally. The Labour party 2347 do not agree with the Government generally, but if they come forward with a sound scheme for the continuation of Food Control, and make a proposal for the co-ordination of ail the Departments which at present conflict with, and hamper, the proper and smooth working of the Food Ministry to-day, they will receive the support of the Labour party in this House.
§ Mr. GARDINER
Having been associated, I think, more or less intimately with all the Food Controllers, I would like to say that, when the history of the War and time following the War is written, greater credit will be given to the gentlemen who occupied that position than seems likely at the present time. Although the cost of administration is exceedingly high, this cost may be reduced in the future, and I think it is only right that this country should bear in mind that not only were there men helping in the food control of the country who were paid for their work, but that an enormous number of business and working men gave much of their time and much of their talent in that direction, for which they asked and received no recompense. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is what I suppose we would call a "whole-hogger" for the continuance of the Ministry of Food. I may not quite agree with him, but I am quite sure that until the conditions in this country, and in the world, become normal, there must be something in the way of control; therefore I want to support the Vote for the Ministry of Food.
I was exceedingly pleased to hear from the Food Controller this afternoon that he was arranging for what he called a supervisory control. That he was consulting those who had to do with values and the regulation of values. I understand his idea is that maximum prices ought to be fixed for all the necessaries of life. According to my judgment, that is one of the most vital things that we should have in reference to our foodstuffs. It was asserted from the Benches opposite that we could not in this little country of ours produce sufficient food for the requirements of the people. Those who know the subject best will admit that that is a true statement, but there is anoher side to it. It is not possible—and surely this is all-important for the Ministry of 2348 Food—materially to increase the production of the necessary foodstuffs, and every encouragement not be given thereto. It is quite true that some things could not be grown in this adverse climate, but those things that can be grown should be grown intensively and every encouragement should be given to producers. I do-not suggest that this intensive cultivation and these increased yields should be simply for the benefit of the man who produces, but on the general economic principle that the greater the supply the cheaper the price. I am quite sure that this would tend to cheapen prices very considerably.
One hon. Member has suggested that the only countries from which we receive bacon at present are America, Denmark, and Ireland. Bacon, I think, ought to be produced in much greater quantities in the United Kingdom. It is one of those commodities that seems to me should be reared very largely on smallholdings by demobilised men. It would' be a very profitable industry for them. If we are to produce a sufficient, or a very much larger quantity of this commodity, we must see about the feeding stuffs, and although I am not sure whether the Ministry of Food is in control of this particular thing, there is no doubt at all that if feeding stuffs could be secured at a smaller cost we would be able to produce cheaper food. So far as wheat is concerned, I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Govan was absolutely honest in the statements he made, and that the quotation he read was correct. But I can recall a gentleman in this country who was recognised as one of the greatest experts on wheat in the world. He gave us statistics a few years ago which proved a great world-shortage, and the suggestion behind that was that prices could not by any means fall, but on the contrary, would soar very much higher What were the facts? Within three weeks of that estimate wheat had fallen 20s. a quarter, and instead of a world-shortage there was a world-surplus, and wheat came to a very, very low price.
It is one of the most difficult of operations to forecast anything about crops. In the part of the Empire from which I have the honour to come—I mean Scotland—we had, a few weeks ago, what looked like one of the most promising 2349 wheat crops, although smaller in acreage than usual, than I have ever seen at this period of the year. If you read the Scottish newspapers to-day you will find that an epidemic of some kind, an insect of some description, is working at the roots of the wheat, and that men are now re-sowing and ploughing up the land where a short time ago the wheat looked so promising. It is most difficult to forecast what the world's crop will be. But it is surely the duty of the Food Ministry to do everything in their power to secure what will be sufficient for the requirements of the nation, and thus help to tide us over till the arrival again of normal times. The Ministry a short while ago arranged that there should be a greater extraction of flour, with a view to conserving the foodstuffs of the country. I quite appreciate the point that scientifically the flour so treated is more nutritious, but I should like to see the Minister and others concerned consider for a moment what is the practical result of that recommendation. The Order has not been very long in being, but I have noticed already that much of the bread, which is very dark in texture, and not quite so palatable, is being laid to one side, and animals, instead of humanity, are being fed on good bread. Although it may be scientific, and right, that a greater quantity of what people term offals should be introduced into the flour, yet people prefer the white loaf, and eat the white loaf, which seems to go further than the other.
A single word about milk. Surely everybody desires that a plentiful supply of this commodity should be produced. In order that this may be the case, the Food Ministry, in co-operation with the Board of Agriculture, should do their very best to see that the standard of cows in this country is raised. Instead of keeping a cow that will only yield a very small proportion of milk, the very best milking strains only should be kept. Instead of playing second fiddle to countries like Denmark in a matter of this sort, we ought to be in the very forefront of milk production. It may not be the exact duty of this Department, but I would like to suggest to someone responsible to see that not only is the milk pure in the sense that it is not adulterated, but also that it is clean. The Ministry of Food has got a Costings Department not only for 2350 milk but for other food commodities. That seems to me to be hopeful for the future. What about meat? We have heard about imported meat and homegrown meat, and about the enormous quantity of imported meat that is lying in storage. It is not very far to look forward to July when decontrol comes, but I respectfully suggest that before then we may find the position in respect to meat such that it may be necessary for the Food Ministry not to decontrol but to continue the control. The last time decontrol was suggested it was found utterly impossible. If meat had been decontrolled at that time prices would have soared to such an extent that the consumers would have been hurt very much. We do not wish to have control for a single moment longer than necessary, but please do not take off control if the result is to be such highly-increased cost that all consumers, whether rich or poor, will be materially hurt thereby.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts) pointed out that there was a guarantee for meat to the producer, and he though that led to increased production. But the price that he guaranteed was not equal to the value of the article in the open market, and although I do not plead for the higher price, I hope hon. Members will not run away with the idea that the producer of home-killed meat was subsidised by the Minister of Food, because such is not the case. At the present time there is considerable controversy on this subject, and if decontrol is coming into force in July, I would remind the Ministry that the prices for bacon and live meat show that the value given to the man who sells his meat dead is much higher relatively than in the case of the man who sells the cattle alive. The amount is something like £2 to £3 10s. if the beef is of first-class quality and is taken from the producer alive. My contention is that he should get equal value to the man who has his animals taken and killed, and is paid on the dead-weight basis. At the present moment hundreds of the very best animals in this country are being tendered to the Ministry of Food on the dead-weight basis, but they cannot accept them, and therefore the lower price is given to the producer.
I will now refer to a subject which I know more intimately, and that is the 2351 question of the control of potatoes. If you mention any commodity that is produced in this country in the way of essential food, I think it will not be denied that the most valuable article is potatoes. What is the position in regard to the 1918 crop? It is that in the spring of 1919 you had so many potatoes that you could not dispose of them, and the cry was, how were they to be utilised? The Food Minister, the Prime Minister, and the Government were pressed to produce machinery to manufacture farina and other produce, but those factories were so long being erected that they were far too late for the purpose. This season the opposite holds good, and instead of having a superabundance of potatoes we have 'such limited quantities that the Ministry of Food decided to control the price.
The hon. Member opposite suggested that the result of control would be that not nearly so many potatoes will be planted this season. My only objection to the control of potatoes this season is that we were too late in bringing control into being. If they had been controlled when potatoes were £8 per ton the producers would have been satisfied, and the consumer would have received all the difference between the price then fixed and the price of £12 or £13 10s. per ton now. It is impossible to forecast the amount of any crop, more especially potatoes. If the crop this year is limited in acreage one of the reasons will be on account of the weather. In 1919 we pressed the Ministry, when they had so many potatoes in hand, not to allow early potatoes to be raised until they were thoroughly matured.
Instead of doing that they permitted them to be raised, and consequently the produce per acre was only from two to three tons. Those same potatoes, in the course of three or four weeks' time, would have reached 10 or 12 tons per acre. If that had been done the Ministry of Food would have benefited, and the country as well by using the good, sound old tubers that were in splendid condition, and which had to be given to cattle, and wasted in other ways. That would have saved them tens of thousands of pounds which they had to pay in the way of compensation, and it would have given us this season thousands of tons of potatoes which to-day we are wanting. I suggest to the 2352 Ministry that they should think about the incoming season, and that they should not wait if they are going to control until it is too late, but they should begin at the beginning of the season with a price fair and reasonable to the producer, and one which at the same time will be reasonable to the consumer.
§ Captain Sir BEVILLE STANIER
To-day we have listened to some of the most serious statements that have ever been made upon the Vote for the Ministry of Food. I wish to deal with the question of the wheat supply. I suppose I am like many others in receiving practically every day some letter or postcard praying me to do my utmost to bring down the cost of living in this country, and yet we have been told that there is very little chance of that, and in fact that it may be the other way. We have been told that there is a great shortage in the world supply of wheat for the making of bread upon which so many people absolutely depend for their actual living. I do not think that in this country those who have not studied the food question know to what a great extent the loaf forms a great part of the food in many of the houses in this country. When the people of this country read in newspapers the words uttered by the Food Minister, followed by some of the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House, I think there will be a great deal said and felt against those Ministers who are regulating those matters. We have heard it said to-day that in 1919, out of every hundred loaves made in this country, 73 are made from wheat imported from abroad.
We have heard from the Food Minister about the great shortage of wheat in many other countries. We know perfectly well that the wheat grown in this country, through the short-sighted policy of this Government, has been greatly decreased. We know perfectly well that the weather is having a very alarming effect on the growing wheat crops, and the hon. Member who has just spoken has told us of the wheat in Scotland which is suffering from the attacks of either wireworm or red fly or some kindred disease. I believe we are in a very serious state, and, if so, is it not right that the Minister for Food, who is responsible for the food of the people of this country, should give us more information than has so far been 2353 vouchsafed upon this subject? There was an article published in the "Times" which has been freely quoted. I am sorry I have it not with me here. It stated that, in December, there was ample wheat in this country and all over the world. I believe I am right in saying it stated that, in some parts of the world, and especially in Australia, wheat would be destroyed. But if you turn to the " Times " of the 22nd April you will find there a long statement about the smaller crops of wheat which are expected, and giving data affecting the whole world. It contains some very alarming figures.
It speaks first of all of the Indian crop. We have been told about that to-day, and the Food Controller said there would be about a million and a half tons of wheat to be exported from India. That agrees with the figure given in the " Times " article, because it said there that 28,553,000 acres had been grown in 1920, compared with 23,733,000 in 1919, an increase of 5,820,000 acres, and with the average yield of India that would give somewhere about a million tons for export. But then we go to the Argentine. We find that there is a very small amount to export. We cannot expect much from that quarter. Passing on to Australia we find, according to the report, there is nothing at all to export there of the 1919–20 crop. There is wheat which has been lying there, but there is no wheat of the present crop, and to-day's " Times' " stated that at Sydney, on 5th May, the New South Wales wheat harvest was officially estimated at 4,250,000 bushels, which is only one-third of the local requirements for consumption and seeding. You go then to South Africa, and again in the " Times " to-day it will be found that there, too, there is a great shortage of wheat. At Cape Town, on May 4th, in the Union House of Assembly, Sir James Smart raised the question of the serious wheat shortage in the Union which has been accompanied by a jump in prices, and the Finance Minister stated that they were approaching the Australian Government to remove the embargo on the export of wheat. But we have just heard that Australia has nothing to export of the present crop, and that New South Wales has only one-third of her requirements. We know now, from the statements made in the House to-day, that Russia has got no wheat to export, and, in fact, I believe in many parts of 2354 the country they have not enough for their own consumption, because of the unrest there. I am, therefore, in view of these facts, going to ask very seriously, and I hope hon. Members will back me up in this, for a full statement on some of the facts I have tried to put before the Committee now. I want to know what our stocks of wheat are at the present time in this country, what stocks of wheat are on ships, and what is the amount of wheat that has been brought forward. I will ask the Food Controller also if he has ever inquired from the Minister of Agriculture, or if he has any knowledge at all, as to the amount of wheat that is growing in the United Kingdom at the present time. When these statements are made in the papers, and are backed up in this House by responsible men, and when one comes to think of the serious feeling that exists, a feeling which is leading to unrest in this country, surely we are not asking too much when we invite a clearer statement than has been made to-day on the great question upon which I have spoken.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MYERS
I would suggest that the test that will be applied to the Ministry of Food by the general public will be the extent to which they have secured a supply of foodstuffs, and the prices at which those commodities are put on the market, having regard to the prevailing circumstances of the case. The general public, or at least the working-class population, are quite alive to the exceptional circumstances that prevail, and are prepared to make due allowance for the limitations and difficulties under which the Food Ministry have to work. But, when that is said and done, there is a feeling in the public mind that the prices of commodities on the market, and particularly of the necessaries of life, are not as reasonable as they might be, having regard to the circumstances of the case. Rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling that, when the operations of the Ministry of Food come up against certain vested interests, the general interests of the community suffer, on account of the fact that the Department is not prepared to join issue with those agencies. We have just heard from the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Gardiner) the story relating to the securing of a crop of potatoes when they yielded about three tons to the acre. If the crop had been permitted to remain in 2355 the ground for three or four weeks longer, it would have produced ten tons to the acre. There is an exceedingly simple answer to that position. It is, that the profits that would accrue from the early crop of three tons to the acre would have been more than would have been realised on the later crop which yielded ten tons, for the simple reason that at the later period there would have been a greater quantity on the market. We have had presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food, and by the hon. Baronet who has just spoken (Sir B. Stanier), a somewhat doleful picture in regard to the limited supplies that are going to be available in the future, particularly of that essential food, wheat. That almost suggests that it is going to be very necessary to look for alternative supplies—not alternative supplies of that particular commodity, because obviously, if the opinion of the experts is to be accepted, alternative supplies are not there, but alternative supplies of other foods.
A great deal has been said in this Debate with regard to the stocks of bacon and the quantities of bacon that are required, and it seems to me that we ought to embark on the production of that commodity. After all, bacon only takes some nine months to produce, and, obviously, if we look forward to the extent that we ought to do, we ought to be willing to embark on a large scale on pig-keeping in this country, in order to provide for ourselves the bacon that we require. Again, with regard to the question of poultry and eggs, millions of pounds' worth of eggs are imported into this country even in normal times. At this time of the year, in normal conditions, fresh eggs in unlimited quantities could be procured at 1d. each or less, and they are now costing 3d., 3½d., and 4d. An egg to-day, under normal conditions or in an incubator, could be producing eggs in six or eight months' time; and even if the fowl were of that type which did not produce eggs, it would at least be producing meat for the table. Obviously, bacon, eggs and poultry open up a wide field of activity so far as regards the improvement of the supply of feeding stuffs of the country, and I think the Minister of Food would do well to consult the Minister of Agriculture upon this point. In answer to a question 2356 in the House the other day, it was stated that only some 4,000 of our discharged men had been settled upon the land in this country under the Land Settlement Scheme. We have nearly 250,000 discharged soldiers on the books of our Labour Exchanges, and not more than 4,000 of them have been settled on the land. Nearly half the acreage of the country is grass land, evidently well adapted for the production of the commodities to which I have referred. We might extend the small-holding system. The experience we have had of the great work of the allotment holders in the country during the last three or four years suggests that that idea might well be extended, and much useful work done in food production in these directions. At the same time I think our Food Ministry ought to challenge those agencies which are operating upon the limited supplies of foodstuffs available. I think the facts are conclusive that the great food-distributing companies, in trusts and syndicates, who are making tremendously high profits in these days, are exploiting the community in regard to the foodstuffs they handle.
Again, I think the question of shipping interests ought to be dealt with. The freight rates upon food are now six, seven, or eight times as high as they were in pre-war days, and the foodstuffs of the country are being penalised all along the line by the excessive profits which the shipowners make out of the high freights that they charge. We are told sometimes that there is a scarcity of shipping for our foodstuffs, but I would remind the Committee that, in 1919, 24,000,000 gallons of expensive wines were brought into the country. Shipping could be found for that, even when shipping was short for foodstuffs. I read in the Press some time ago that, in 1916 I think it was, when wines were being imported into this country from Portugal, large stocks of oranges were rotting on the quays at the same port, for which shipping could not be secured. These are all factors that enter into this great and important question. There is no one topic before the public to-day which is disturbing the minds of our working-class population so much as this question of food prices. The constantly recurring demands for increased wages are due to the fact that prices are continually soaring, and the 2357 purchasing power of a sovereign is constantly contracting upon this account. It is a source of tremendous trouble and unrest, and, in my judgment, this House will do wrong if it releases the control of food at this juncture. Until something like normal conditions prevail, control ought to be continued, and the essential foodstuffs of the community protected. Interests like shipping and so on ought to be challenged by the Department, and all avenues ought to be explored which will lead in the direction of producing the alternative foodstuffs which the people require.
§ Major HOWARD
In the fisrt place, I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentle man on the first statement which he has made in the House as Food Controller. Although some of the information he gave was not very encouraging, I am sure it will prove useful. I fully agree with the greater part of what has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken, especially in regard to the necessity for seeking alternative supplies. I think we have a right to expect, in the reply on behalf of the Ministry, some statement as to what they propose to recommend that the Ministry of Agriculture or the Government should do in order to increase the food supplies of the country. I would ask the Food Minister to consider what was said by the hon. Member who sits for one of the Glasgow Divisions who referred to the question of the waste of food, especially in America. He said that a certain quantity of wheat had been destroyed in the United States. The Food Controller cannot control the production of wheat in America, but I hope he will see that if that wheat had been produced in this country—I know we cannot produce sufficent in this country for our needs, but we can produce a large proportion of it if we get proper encouragement from the Ministry of Food and the Government—that wheat would not have been wasted without someone being made amenable to the law and punished, quite rightly. What we want is to have more wheat and everything else produced in this country, and then food would not be destroyed because those who have got possession of it would not sell it at proper prices. I agree with a great deal of what has been said as to the unrest in this country caused by the cost of living. It is not only the price of food that has gone up 2358 but also of everything that is necessary in order to live. There are such things as coal that are produced in this country, apart from agricultural produce, that have gone up in price and the working man in the agricultural villages is placed by that in a very difficult position. Things that he requires have gone up to three or four times the old price and that makes his position, apart from food prices, one of very great difficulty. He finds it exceedingly difficult on the wages that are fixed for him to obtain even the necessaries of life, at any rate the comforts of life. Therefore we should all be anxious to encourage in every way great production all the way round. That was done in food to a certain extent during the War, but we still find ourselves in a difficult position. Before the War we had been wasting, not only food but the energies of the people for many years, and it is only by the energies of the people that the ravages of the War can be made good.
We may talk about food shortage and food prices, but what we want to attend to is an increase in the energies of all the people, so as to get them to put their backs into the work. There is not only the section who are actual producers, but there are also men who do not actually produce, but who have control of businesses and the management of businesses. They have got to put more work and energy into their task, and if that is done all round, I am sure we shall be able eventually to bring down food prices. But particularly we want to encourage home production of food and to apply more energy in that direction, and the way to bring that about is to give more sympathetic encouragement from the Government and those who have control of the Food Department. There was a feeling for some time that those who were engaged in the production of food were unduly profiteering, and that the only people who should be considered were the consumers. I do not agree with that. I think that the Food Controller's duties were to protect the consumer against any undue profiteering on the part of the producer, but he should hold the balance fairly and evenly between the two sides, and while encouraging the producer he should also protect the consumer. I know that mistakes were made at the beginning, but the Ministry has now seen the effect of some of these mistakes, and they have given the pro- 2359 ducer, not only of wheat, but of other things, some encouragement, but it is not sufficient.
During the War they hampered the producer with Orders and Regulations which were carried out by people who did not understand the business, and the object was to keep down prices, and if that were done they thought everything would be right; but it has now come home to them when they see the huge rise in prices and the shortage of commodities which are necessary to life that it is necessary to increase our own supply of these commodities and that food produced in this country would not have been wasted as it was in other countries because people would not sell at the price which they thought they could get for it. If there had been more encouragement so that this wheat and other articles had been produced in this country it would not have been destroyed without those who did that being made amenable to the law. I hope the Food Minister will take all this into consideration, and particularly the statement I have referred to, which was made by one of the Members for Glasgow. I hope also that he will be able to throw some light upon the methods which are to be adopted to try to improve production and bring down prices by encouraging production in this country, and that he will try to hold the balance fairly between the producer and the consumer.
§ Major NALL
I want to ask a question about the holders of allotments and cottage gardens in respect to the supply of sugar for jam making this year. The hon. and gallant Member for Finsbury (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) has pointed out that the amount of sugar imported is now nearly what it was in pre-War days, and that will naturally fill with hope the small gardeners who require sugar for making a small quantity of jam this year. A pronouncement has been made in the Press that a certain supply of sugar for this purpose will be issued, but I want to know whether that supply will be available at the time when the fruit is available for picking. It is not only a question that affects the allotment holder but also many who have "cottages who grow a certain quantity of fruit. All allotments are not devoted only to cabbages and turnips—on many of them fruit is grown in a small way. It is essential that the sugar 2360 should be available when the fruit is available, especially for the sake of people like the smallholders.
I wish to ask several questions of the Minister, but before doing so I will refer to the remarks which have been made by one or two hon. Members who sit on this side of the House. One seemed to be anxious to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) is in favour of doing away with the Food Controller. I think he said no such thing. He specifically stated that the Ministry should continue, at any rate, for another year. I do not see why anyone should interpret that as a desire on his part to get rid of the Ministry altogether at once. I think hon. Members should be more careful in interpreting the statement of my hon. Friend. The Member for Govan (Mr. Neil Maclean) also made a remark which I think was unjustified. He referred to the small number of the Members of this party, with whom I am associated, who were present at this discussion. I do not take that seriously, because it is simply a matter of the desire of a Whip who has some difficulties with his own party in an indirect way to convey a message to his party that close attendance in this House is a desirable Parliamentary virtue. I do not object to being made the medium of that message if it will have some effect, because I believe it would contribute to the efficiency of the House if our Friends of the Labour party attended more regularly than they usually do. At the time the hon. Member spoke, the Members of my party were present in greater proportion than any other party in the House. They have the best attendance in this House, except the National party.
I listened with some interest to some of the speeches on the other side. The hon. Member (Mr. Jodrell) impressed upon the Ministry the desirability of encouraging the supply of fish. I am in very hearty sympathy with the remarks he made upon that subject, because I believe if the Ministry of Food took that question in hand, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, they would not only be encouraging a splendid industry, but would be contributing in very large measure to the food supply of the nation in a way which would promote the health of the people in a 2361 much more effective way than by encouraging the consumption of meat The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) made a speech which I think demands very serious consideration. If it is a fact that the amount of sugar that comes into the country at pre sent is only about £2,000,000 short of what was coming in in 1913, the ration to families at present is a scandal. I do not see why it should be so low if the supply is so high, and if it is not so high my hon. Friend (Sir E. Jones) seems to me to have proved that it is the fault of the Ministry that it is not greater than it is. This question requires to be considered from the point of view of the health and energy of the nation. The supply of sugar has a very material effect upon the health and strength of the nation. We talk about increased production. It is not a far-fetched suggestion that a bigger ration of sugar would tend very materially to increase production, because it would produce greater energy in the people, and any curtailment in the supply of sugar results in serious detriment to the vigour of the population as a whole. That is an aspect of the question which should be regarded by the Food Ministry as a very important element in the problem.
Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted; and 40 Members being found present—
I am obliged to hon. Members who have paid me the compliment of coming to listen to my speech. I wish to raise a question which has received some importance in the newspapers within the last few days. There have been paragraphs in certain papers stating that there was a very serious danger, not exactly of starvation, but of very serious distress on account of the difficulty of securing food in certain parts of the West of Scotland, and it refers particularly to the Island of Skye. It was stated in these reports, and I have confirmation by direct communications from various local authorities in that island, that the food situation there has been very serious for some time. The difficulty of procuring food was so great that the children, who in those parts of the country have to walk very long distances, sometimes over trackless moors, for there are no roads, were unable to go to school for lack of food. That was 2362 not due entirely to poverty, but to lack of transport. The Ministry of Transport denies responsibility, and I do not know what Ministry is concerned in the matter, but for getting the food transported to the people, in the last resort, I think the Ministry of Food is responsible. I consider it a great dereliction on the part of the Ministry of Food that they did not take measures before now to secure that a regular supply was conveyed to these islands. It seems to be a vice of perhaps all Governments that they will take no action until some tragic occurrence takes place—window smashing or a hunger strike or something of that sort, or reports of starvation that claims the attention of the country, and then the Ministry will begin to act. I have been endeavouring for the past year to impress upon the Food Ministry and other Ministries concerned the seriousness of the food question and the need of seeing that regular supplies of the necessities of life are sent to these islands; but I have been getting very little satisfaction. I am glad to hear indirectly that the Ministry is beginning to move a little and are trying to take measures to secure that these remote places are supplied with a sufficient quantity of food and the necessaries of life to keep them in decent comfort. Attention has been directed more particularly to Skye, which is in the constituency of the Lord Advocate, and when part of the constituency of a member of the Government suffers in this way, what can you expect will be happening in my constituency, seventy miles out in the Atlantic and much further removed from the mainland than the Island of Skye?
In my constituency the condition of things is very bad, and I have communications every day from merchants and others, who tell me that the wholesale suppliers in Glasgow will not send food supplies to those parts, because there is no room on the steamers for them. Great loads of flour and meal and other food supplies have been returned because the steamer people will not accept responsibility, the whole of the cargo space being filled with less necessary cargo. In the present condition transport is very important, and the Ministry of Food should take measures to see if they have not powers under D.O.R.A.—and I believe that under 2363 D.O.R.A. you can do anything—to give priority to food in connection with cargo for the Western Isles. I hope that, in conjunction with the Minister of Transport, they will see that there is a sufficient supply of food arriving at these ports, because the people there deserve as well of the Government as the population in any part of the country, for the contribution which they made in men and the sacrifices which they made in the Great War. They should not be left in their present state, which means that the only thing they know about the new world that has been produced, is that food supplies and other necessaries of life are in a much more backward condition than they have been during the last sixty years.
I had not intended to take part in this Debate, but I feel that I must do so, if only to point out the enormous unreality about the whole question of the Debate. It is very different from the remarkable interest that was taken in this question in the by-election which I fought about a month ago. There every man and woman in the constituency were earnestly asking the whole of the candidates, and there were seven of them, what they were going to do about the question of food prices. It was a very real question to them, and it seems a great pity that there should be only empty benches when speeches are being made, such as the speech made by the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers), which was a very sensible and capable contribution. I should support the Food Ministry being kept in being. If the people of the country could judge whether one Ministry or another should be terminated, it would not be this particular one. Whether it is because the Ministry has been favoured by having had at its head really good, sound, commonsense ministers or not, I do not know, but they certainly have had such ministers. There has been a succession of very able ministers in that Department, of one of them I can speak in very high terms, was the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who made the country see that he was trying to bring to bear in the Ministry everything that he could possibly do from a really sound, common-sense point of view. I am not going to speak in generalities about this food or the other food. We all know the 2364 reason why food is scarce. We know of the shortage there has been in production, owing to the tremendous war that we have been engaged in. Hon. Members have pointed out that there is a continual race between high prices and high wages, and we do not know for certain which is going to win or which is the one that is running after the other. It is something like a cat running after its own tail. In Lancashire, if we found something like that, we should feel determined to cut off the tail and cut it off pretty near the head.
I should like, as a new Member, to make a suggestion to the Government During the War there was a time when we realised that a man was required to step into the breach. We wanted a real man who was not afraid of establishing precedent, and a man who would do what was wanted to be done to save the country. The man was found, and we require another similar man to-day. We require another David. It is quite time there was another armistice in this country. There is a war going on between prices and wages, and that war will have to finish. We ought to call an armistice. I should be glad if the Ministry of Food, in the exercise of their powers, could put an absolute stop on the rise in prices. I suggest that after a certain date there should be no price above the previous maximum other than that which could be brought under the Profiteering Act as a profiteering price. At the same time I would urge that there should be an arrangement made with labour, because so long as wages keep advancing so long will prices keep advancing. The two are bound to go on together. It is quite time to put a stop to it. If we could arrange an armistice from the 1st June or the 1st July it would be well. There are some wages that are 145 or 150 per cent. more to-day than they were before the War. We are told by the Ministry of Labour that prices are 135 per cent. above what they were before the War. Therefore, in these cases we cannot say that wages have not followed prices; they have overtaken them and gone in advance.
If we could get an armistice of the sort I suggest—and I think it is sensible and practical politics—and could agree that there should be no advance in wages after 1st July of more than three to one of 2365 what they were before the war, it would certainly cover any increase in the cost of living. Food is the main thing which has gone up in price. Rates have gone up very little. Those people who own houses know it to their cost, because they are getting precious little return on their capital. I get a little sick hearing people talk about capitalists and about trusts and profiteers. There are people engaged in business to-day who are getting less for their capital and their labour than some of the people who work for them. We ought to try and get an armistice, and then if no wages were granted of more than three to one above their level before the war, and if all prices were considered as being an offence under the Profiteering Act if they were higher than the previous maximum, we should very soon see prices coming down. The best and most real advance in wages that we could give to the people of this country would be a diminution of the price of the commodities they use in their daily life. If there is anybody on the Government Bench who can fill the place of David, I hope they will come forward and propose a scheme of this sort.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I wish to make an appeal to the Minister with regard to the present price of dried fruits and impress him, if I can, with the necessity of taking off the control and letting competition rule so far as prices are concerned. A few days ago I asked him a question regarding Turkey figs. An auction sale took place in the City of London and figs of excellent quality were sold at from 36s. to 44s. per cwt., as against a controlled price of 92s. I incorporated in my question certain figures for verification to the effect that on the 31st March in our bonded warehouses there were 190,000 bags of Turkey figs as compared with 119 bags in 1919, and 122 bags in 1918, and with regard to currants, there were 16,000 tons in bonded warehouses as against 3,000. I do not think that there is the difference in quality which would justify the difference in price between 44s., the highest price at which they were sold, and 92s. The answer I received was that there is no reason why figs of inferior quality should not be sold at a lower rate than 1s. per lb., which the Minister explained was the maximum price. Then as to currants, they could well be sold at half the price at which to-day they are generally being sold.
2366 Perhaps I have a soft spot in my heart for currants, because as a lad I was very fond of what is known as spotted duff—[HON. MEMBERS: "Spotted dog!"]—or currant pudding, but there are hundreds of thousands of children whose parents find it very difficult indeed to buy currants at present prices in order that the children may have what I say is not a delicacy but a necessary food. And to-day currants have been sold in the City of London. I understand that the cost to the Food Ministry is from 64s. to 77s. 6d. per cwt. for cost, insurance and freight, and the maximum price of the Ministry is 107s. 6d., and to-day currants were being sold at 16s., 17s., and 18s. per cwt. Why? Because they had been kept so long in the warehouses that they were no longer fit for human consumption, and were being sold for other purposes. I have a sample here. I do not know whether the Minister would like to see it. He might consider it a curiosity. It looks like a fossil. This is no smiling matter. If food can be sold at the price charged by the Ministry, they have no right to store it to the extent of letting it go bad, thereby depriving householders of necessary food. I would make a special appeal to the Ministry, if these articles can be sold at public auction enabling the retailer to sell them at a less price than that which the Minister and his colleagues choose to fix, it is a serious matter for consideration by the right hon. Gentleman to see if these huge quantities of dried fruits cannot be disposed of without the restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Food.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), and was astonished to hear him suggest that the system of control is the cause of the trouble of the rise in prices. To-day we are faced with a terrible world shortage of food of all sorts. We in England are doing very well in the way of food because we are starving the rest of Europe. The Food Controller agrees with that, I am glad to see. Unless something is done to remedy this state of affairs we may have to pay dearly for our lack of foresight and humanity in this matter. A grave shortage of wheat is coming without doubt. I should not be a bit surprised if this time next year we 2367 are all on rations. The only thing, I hope, is that prices will be prevented from rising in sympathy with the scarcity.
Having made it quite clear that I do not join with those who blindly ask for the removal of all control, I do suggest that one or two items in the expenses of the Ministry are too high. I wish particularly to draw attention to one item which seems to me to be preposterous and indefensible. On page 29 of the Estimates, under Item C, there is a sum for the year 1920–21 of £600 for newspapers and press cuttings. This may seem a small matter, but if we could go into all the little extravagances of this sort in this House on every Vote we might save a few hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. The year before this the amount was only £150. What does the right hon. Gentleman's Department want with newspapers and press cuttings to the amount of £600? The only people who see the newspapers and read the press cuttings are those responsible for the policy of the Department, and those ought to be engaged in administration and ought to be few in number. If they want to read newspapers they ought to buy them themselves and read them in their own time. This is an example of the sort of expenditure which was incurred by all Departments during the War, and I suggest that this item might well be cut down to at any rate the previous figure of 1919.
On page 30 there is a very significant and alarming item under G, Appropriations in Aid. There is no appropriation in aid for 1920–21 for a proportion of salaries and expenses of the Inter-Allied Food Council, London. Has this Inter-Allied Food Council been wound up? If so, it is an extraordinarily short-sighted policy. Is there any form of liaison department or general staff for food control over the world, and is there a representative for the United States of America on it? If not, that should be formed as soon as possible. I hope to hear that this has been taken over by the League of Nations. The co-ordination of the food supplies remaining in the world among the different nations is the most vital question at the present time. I warn the Minister of the certain loss of valuable food this summer unless certain precautions are taken, and in that connection I ask him to use his influence 2368 with the Ministry of Transport and the Board of Trade. There will be a certain loss of fish in the coming hot weather unless refrigerator trucks are supplied in greater quantites. During the War these trucks were converted to other uses, or owing to want of competition the railway companies did not bother to provide them. Unless they are available during the coming summer in greater numbers, much fish will be wasted. I speak as one of the representatives of the second fishing port in the world. The greatest difficulty is being experienced now in getting the fish away under ordinary conditions owing to the shortage of rolling stock and the general muddle of our transport. A second instance of threatened wastage is in the case of fresh fruit in small shops if they are made to close at too early an hour in the evening. I am in favour of early closing in all establishments, but there are certain special trades that cater for evening custom only. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food shakes his head, but I have been seeing deputations of my constituents on this matter, and they have given me facts and figures which will take a good deal of explaining away.
On the question of food control generally, I hope the Government are taking a long view. I agree with those who complain in many cases of hampering restrictions and bureaucratic rules with regard to our internal control of food. That wants smoothing down, and a great deal of it wants sweeping away. But with regard to the control of food at its source, and the international control of available supplies throughout the world, we cannot take too long views. We are in for a terrible catastrophe, unless the remaining resources of the world are conserved. I hope the Minister of Food is throwing his weight into the councils aiming for peace in the food-producing parts of the world, and that he is pointing out the terrible catastrophe that is coming to mankind if hundreds of thousands of men, who ought to be producing food, are kept under arms, fighting each other for quite useless, and in some cases unclean, causes.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
Some item ago I had a complaint from a very large firm of bakers in my constituency about the new arrangement for distributing flour to wholesale bakers. They com- 2369 plained that the Ministry has given them flour with an extraction of 79 per cent., as against the former extraction of 76 per cent. There are bitter complaints among people who buy bread that this flour does not make palatable bread that can be digested easily. Not content with that change, the Ministry has increased the price by 19s. 3d. per sack of flour. It is bad enough to give them inferior flour, but it is adding insult to injury to increase the price also. My correspondent asked me to obtain some explanation from the Ministry as to why this action has been taken. It seemed to me extraordinary when an hon. Friend got up just now and said there were many millions of bushels of wheat in Canada, surplus, which were likely to be destroyed. If that is so, cannot the Minister of Food bring that wheat over and utilise it in improving the quality of the flour which is now going to the general public? It is rather a short-sighted policy not to extract the offals from the wheat to a greater extent. It is valuable food for cattle, and the farmers want it. If you are increasing the supply of food by this extraction you are decreasing the supply of food for cattle, and therefore decreasing the meat supply and the milk supply. I have received a reply in writing from the Minister, but it does not give me much information, and I should be glad if he would make a further explanation. The right hon. Gentleman who was lately Food Controller (Mr. G. Roberts) has stated that when he assumed office he found that the Ministry was undoubtedly overstaffed. On page 28 of the supplementary Estimate, I see an item of £13,000 for messengers and cleaners, etc. That seems to me to be an extraordinary amount. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some explanation as to what it means and what the " etc." implies.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
With reference to the subject of fish, I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) knows that there is at present a Committee sitting dealing with the whole question of the wholesale markets in London, and that one of the subjects we are considering most carefully is the method of dealing with wastage which may arise in connection with the transport of fish from the various ports to London. It is not such a simple matter 2370 as the hon. Member thinks. There will always be a certain amount of wastage of fish.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The point is that if the fish cannot be transported to the market it does not pay to send the trawlers to sea. It is not a question of a few tons of fish being wasted afterwards.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
I understood the hon. and gallant Member was referring to suitable trucks and conveyances The Committee is carefully considering that matter, and we hope before very long to produce an Interim Report, of which we trust the Ministry will take advantage as far as possible. Some time ago I asked the Prime Minister whether he could give the country some idea as to the amount of wheat he considered it essential to grow in this country, with a view of ascertaining what quantity the Food Ministry had to secure from outside I think that in our present position it is of the utmost importance to agriculturists and to the country that we should know. That is especially so in view of the rather alarming statement of the Minister of Food, and we should be told what the country is expected to grow in wheat this year and the years to come. If agriculturists were told that they were expected to grow two-fifths of the food consumed, or whatever proportion you thought right, it would be an invaluable guide to them, and I am certain they would respond. At present they are not given any lead on this very important matter as to what the Government think is the amount they should try and produce. The right hon. Gentleman told us to-day that there was only one country, India, which would have any possible exportable surplus of wheat, and that only a small amount. This, then, is the time when agriculture should be plainly told what you expect them to produce, and when they should get a clear line on the question. With regard to milk, I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman to do everything he can in the coming autumn and winter to see that cattle feeding stuffs, especially from domestic dairy cows, are produced and sold in this country at the lowest possible prices. I do not think the country realises what it costs to keep a dairy cow-up to good milk production. If these feed- 2371 ing stuffs go up in price then that will make the price of milk higher and far more difficult to obtain for those portions of the population who must have it at a reasonable cost. As one who has taken a good deal of interest in dairy work in this country, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to investigate the prices of foodstuffs most carefully and get them available at considerably lower prices than they are to-day. I believe if you do that you will get cheaper milk, but that is now one of the great obstacles. The dairy farmer looks to the summer to get a profit, as, with few exceptions, he makes nothing in the winter. If you lower the price in summer it means he gets nothing, and the consequence will be that milk will not be produced in the large and abundant quantity which is necessary if children are to have it as they ought to have it.
§ Captain W. BENN
There are some Scottish matters I wish to bring to the notice of the Minister of Food before I deal with the more general question. I had a deputation some time ago of Scottish grocers, on the question of their relations with the Ministry of Food. I understand that the methods of calculating weights vary slightly in Scotland from those in England, and consequently the prices fixed by the Ministry were not equally appropriate in both countries. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to see the deputation, and I think the negotiations are proceeding satisfactorily. I wish to thank him very much and to express the hope that the matter may be brought to a conclusion satisfactory to all parties. I desire also to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), about fish. I represent an important Scottish port, and the point is that a good deal of the fish cannot be got away in time to be preserved. There is also the difficulty of getting vans to take away the stock to the West Coast in time to be sold. I am well aware there are practical difficulties; these matters are not at all simple, but I should like to be assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that the matter is receiving the attention of the Ministry in conjunction with the Ministry of Transport.
I now come to the important matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman the 2372 Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), my leader, and that is the practice of the Government of coming to the Committee of Supply with Estimates which, on their own confession, do not represent the sum of money that is required for the Department concerned. We had a case the other day where they produced a Vote for the Ministry of Munitions, and said the Vote was not for the sum of money actually required; there were going to be alterations. If any Committee of Supply passed a Vote of that kind, it would be giving up the function for which it exists, which is to examine the demands of the Government for money, and say whether it thinks they are proper or not. I am pleased to think the efforts of my right hon. Friend were successful in securing a withdrawal of that Vote. Only the other night we had a similar case of a Resolution, in regard to which the hon. Gentleman in charge told us that although he was asking for £160,000, it was only proposed to spend £45,000. That is absolutely wrong. This Committee exists to see that not a penny piece is voted to the Government for which there is not good cause shown. We come to a third case again today. I do not think my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles put it a bit too strongly in the emphatic speech which he made at the beginning of the Debate. The Food Minister told us straight away that one item in the headquarters staff was to be reduced by some considerable amount. Is there a Motion for reduction on the Paper by the Ministry? If not, are we going to be asked to vote the money which the Minister himself has told us he does not want? And if we do that, what becomes of the historic function of this Committee as a Committee of Supply? The Minister told us, in another matter, that he was hoping to effect an economy of £300,000.
§ Captain BENN
That we are very glad to hear, because that is the proper way to go to work. If it is true that there is going to be an economy at that rate, why is it not reflected in the charges for the headquarters staff of the Department?—because, obviously, there must be some proportion between the headquarters staff and the charges for the substructure, the general body of the machine, so to speak, but there does not 2373 seem to be any such relation. On the contrary, there is only a reduction of £91,000 on an Estimate of approaching half a million of money. These are important points, and I think, at least as a concession to form, the Minister ought to move the reduction here and now of the item he says is not necessary. I have never heard a Minister come forward with an Estimate and tell the Committee, "Here is an Estimate, but I can tell you in advance I do not want the money, yet I ask you to go through the farce of voting me the money." That is an entire innovation as far as my experience of fourteen years here is concerned. I do invite the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to deal specifically with this point, which is far more than a mere technical point concerned with food supplies, and seems to me to strike at one of the principal functions of this House.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
We have had a somewhat lengthy and very interesting, but certainly a very varied, discussion on this Vote, and I shall do the best I can to attempt to reply to some questions that have been addressed to me. But I desire to say at the outset that if, through inadvertence, or lack of time, or any other cause, I fail to answer all the questions which have been put to me to the satisfaction of hon. Members who have put them, I beg they will not impute negligence to me, and I can assure them that their comments, being recorded in the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT, will certainly receive the most careful consideration at the hands of those whose duty at the Ministry it is to deal with the various subjects raised and the questions which have been asked. Before I proceed to deal with specific questions, perhaps I may say one word of a general character with regard to the Debate which has taken place to-day. I have been somewhat interested to notice that the keepers of the Temple appear to share somewhat the characteristics of Janus. There is a similarity of name, but a remarkable discrepancy of view. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) expressed his view as being in the direction of seeing the Ministry of Food assured as a permanent Department. My right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) expressed his view, if I understood him correctly, as being anxious to see the disestablishment of this and every other 2374 form of control at the earliest possible moment, and towards that end he has moved what, if it had been possible for him to do so within the limits of Order, would have been an even more substantial reduction in the amount of the Vote for this Ministry. Between those two extreme positions the Government hold a middle view. The view of the Government certainly is that at the minute it is necessary to continue the Ministry of Food.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Here I find myself in a certain difficulty, because I am afraid, without transgressing the limits of order, I find it difficult to deal with this question of the continuance of the life of the Ministry, as it is the fact that, under the existing law, the life of the Ministry comes to an end on 31st August. To alter that fact requires legislation, and it is, of course, not in order to discuss in Committee of Supply any proposals involving legislation, and, therefore, all I can say on that is that the Committee may rest assured that the matter is under consideration. I think they may expect an announcement of the introduction of a Bill at a very early date, and, indeed, the fact that these Estimates are presented for the whole financial year is an earnest of the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill to deal with this matter.
One word more of a general character. I said that the Government occupy a middle course between these two opinions. The general view my right hon. Friend takes of the question of control is that, as far as possible, we must proceed to dispense with those more rigid forms of control which were necessary and inevitable during the War, but which certainly do act as a sort of Procrustean bed on which industry is stretched. Towards that end he proposes to endeavour to proceed by substituting more and more for the statutory sanction or Orders and Regulations, the sanction of what I may describe as a thoroughly informed public opinion. Towards that end a new policy, to which reference has already been made in public, is being initiated now. Under this the Minister is calling in to co-operate with him and to advise him voluntary bodies consisting of representatives of the various trades, a voluntary body for each 2375 trade so far as possible. It is only possible to proceed slowly in that direction, but a start has been made. A body of that character has been formed for jam; and a body of a thoroughly democratic character has been formed for the shipping industry on which owners, skippers and hands are represented. The function of these bodies is to assist the Minister by providing him with such information as to the supply, cost of production, prices and conditions of trade, as he and they think will be useful for the purpose of reassuring the public that they are getting a fair and square deal.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I will explain that shortly; it will arise when this policy is in full working order. When these councils are set up, the Minister will be in a position, on the one hand, of having a Council representative of producers, who are anxious to show that they are honest producers and that their desire is to let the public have as much information as possible as to the circumstances of their industry, an association on which the Ministry of Food will be represented. On the other hand, he will have Consumers' Councils, representative of the other side, on which the Ministry will also be represented, and which, as my right hon. Friend reminds me, is at present being strengthened by the addition of further representative elements. In the third place, the Minister will have behind him to advise him and to hold the balance between the two councils, the Costings and Statistics Departments of the Ministry of Food, working independently of the others, and trying to arrive at a solution which will result in even-handed justice between the producer on the one side and the consumer on the other. This is a step which, I hope, will be fruitful of very good consequences for the Minister, the consumer, and the producer. I must proceed to one or two detailed points of criticism brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Clynes) who seemed to me to chide the Government for not having foreseen the delay in the economic recovery of the world. That is a reproach to which it is difficult to make a defence. The only defence one can offer is that it is a fault which 2376 is certainly common with all governments and all parties. It has been a bitter disappointment that the economic recovery of Europe has not proceeded as quickly as we all desired, but I do not know that that is a proper subject of reproach to the Government, who were not singular in failing to realise that this would happen. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he thought the Ministry might do something to contradict those wild and alarming reports as regards questions of wastage, and the enormous profits reported to have been made by the Ministry. Upon that I can only say that, if the Ministry spent its whole time in endeavouring to chase down the various reports and suggestions which appear from time to time in various quarters, the Estimate I am now defending would be for a very much larger sum.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
As regards profits, I want to say frankly that the Ministry of Food does not and never has existed for the purpose of making a profit. Its business is the stabilising of prices by balancing the profits in one case against losses which they may incur on another article. The same right hon. Gentleman asked me a technical question with regard to bacon and the position of the retailer. I can only say shortly that the particular question to which he drew attention has been taken into consideration, and it has been decided that the time has now come when the position of the retailer may be considered.
I come now to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), and here I think I have more fitly, perhaps, a subject for complaint. I confess that I take it somewhat amiss that the right hon. Gentleman should have expended the vials of his wrath on the unbusinesslike character, as he described it, of this Estimate. It is always a somewhat serious charge to accuse anybody of being unbusinesslike, but it is more serious when the charge is made and an attempt is made to substantiate it by such few details. What did he say? He said that the headquarters staff was unduly inflated. I asked him to condescend into details, but he left that to the right hon. Gentleman 2377 the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). I would refer to that point later, but in the meantime I desire to point out that, as regards the headquarters staff, the numbers employed by the Ministry at the Armistice were 4,700, while the number now included in these Estimates is 1,437; and there is the further statement made that there is to be an anticipated reduction of 25 per cent. in the amount required during the year. A very proper and very ordinary Parliamentary arrangement. It is idle for the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leith (Captain Benn) to say it is unparliamentary to show that on the Vote. It is constantly done.
§ Captain BENN
That was not my complaint. My complaint was that the Food Minister told us it was not a genuine item, and that it was going to be reduced.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
It is stated this money is to be saved during the year. Here you have a headquarters staff which at the Armistice was 4,708 strong. To-day it is 1,427, and we tell you on this Estimate we hope to be able to reduce it by a further 25 per cent. in the course of the financial year. The hon. Member says this is not proper and businesslike. Really I do not know what he wants. I turn to the Wheat Commission, with regard to which both the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) and the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) offered criticism, both in respect to its size and cost. I should like to say this—that the Wheat Commission is a body which consists, if any body ever did, of business men, and it is precisely for that reason that the cost of the Commission shows a tendency in this estimate to rise. It does so for this simple reason. During the War business men were quite prepared and ready to give their time and labour to the service of the State, without remuneration and without thought of the future. Now the War is over, and it is only with the greatest difficulty that we have been able to retain expert assistance. It has involved increased remuneration to retain that expert knowledge and experience of the work of the Commission which has proved almost invaluable. I want to say this. It is said that the Royal Commission on the Wheat Supply is a body 2378 which costs far too much. When I was in business I always had one test as to cost. I always said, "show me the result." What are the results of the Wheat Commission? The cost of the Commission for the year 1920–21 is put down at £150,000. What is the turnover of the Wheat Commission? Last year it was £300,000,000. In other words, the cost of running it was l–20th of 1 per cent. of the turnover. Would any broker have done the work for that? Certainly not. nor for anything like it. Yet this is the particular body which the right hon. Member for Peebles singles out for attack, and in so doing is supported by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London.
§ Captain BENN
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest the proper basis for Estimates presented to this House should be the brokerage on the full amount of the turnover of a Ministry?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I suggest it is the proper test for purely administrative expenses, and any ordinary business man would apply such a test, for a body doing purely commercial work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) and other hon. Members asked questions with regard to flour. It is the fact that the milling of flour—the extraction from the wheat berry—has been lengthened from 77 per cent. to 80 per cent. I am not sufficient of an expert to be able to inform the Committee ex cathedraâ whether or not that really adds to the nutritive value of the loaf. I am informed that it makes it a little darker, but that it does not make it any less nutritive, nor, so far as I have been able to discover from my own experience, any less palatable. Indeed, some high medical authorities take the view that the lengthened milling make it, not only more palatable, but also more nutritive. Be that as it may, the lengthened milling was decided upon after the most careful investigation and inquiry, and, I may add, that one of its results has been a saving of several millions sterling per annum.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) asked some questions with regard to mutton and bacon. With regard to the question of imported mutton, I must say frankly that I find myself in a difficulty. I am afraid it would not be in Order, nor, indeed, am 2379 I capable of doing so, to deal with this subject now, because in the whole of this Estimate there is not a single item which in any way concerns, so far as I can discover, the question of the supply of this imported mutton. It is borne, under present arrangements, on the Vote for the Board of Trade. I interrupted my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton to explain that it was true that the Ministry of Food was the body which issued Orders with regard to the prices of that article, as with regard to the prices of other articles, and that, as I think the Committee will see, is a perfectly natural arrangement, because it is the Ministry of Food that does have the business of issuing Price Orders. This particular commodity was under the management of the Board of Trade from a very early date in the War, long before the Ministry of Food came into existence, and that explains why it has been, at all events up to the present, under the management and control of the Board of Trade. When the Ministry of Food was instituted, and became the body issuing Price Orders, any questions with regard to Price Orders in connection with this mutton were dealt with by the Ministry of Food. I hope I have made it clear that the functions of the Ministry with regard to this particular article have been, up to the present, at all events, purely ministerial, and that questions regarding details of administration ought to be addressed to another Department upon a fitting opportunity.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
On a point of Order. If this Ministry is responsible for the issuing of the Orders, would it not be in Order to discuss the matter on this Vote in connection with the salary of the Minister of Food?
§ Mr. BILLING
In the event of this question being raised on the Board of Trade Vote, will it be in Order then to refer it to the Ministry of Food?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Baronet is quite correct. The money for the mutton will fall on the Board of Trade Vote, and not on this Vote. It is rather incongruous, I agree, but it is the fact. Therefore any detailed questions, to be in Order, should be raised upon that Vote and not upon this.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I am obliged to you, Mr. Whitley, for your guidance on the matter. I will leave that question and say a word or two on the other questions which my right hon. Friend asked with regard to bacon. There has certainly been an opinion up and down the country—I have found it myself, and I daresay other hon. Members have—that during recent months people in this country have had to put up with very bad bacon and to pay a very high price for it.
I should like to say a word or two in explanation of the bacon situation. We have really to go back in order to understand it. Before the War, about 20 per cent. of the bacon consumed in this country was home and Irish bacon, and about 42 per cent. was Danish, both varieties being mild cured. The balance, practically, was all from North America, United States or Canada. Owing to circumstances connected with the War, the Danish pig population declined till the Danish bacon industry practically went out of existence, and at present we are getting from Denmark and other sources a relatively insignificant quantity. We are getting from home and Ireland about 9 per cent., and we are drawing from North America about 90 per cent. of our requirements. After the Armistice, everybody was more hopeful about the economic recovery of Europe than events have proved to be justified, and in March, 1919, it was decided to decontrol bacon except that the maximum retail price of 2s. 4d. per lb. was left in operation. All restrictions on importation were removed, and the Ministry proceeded to dispose of such stocks as they had in hand, practically clearing them out by the end of May. It was hoped that the effect of de-control would be to increase the supply and cause a fall in prices. Unfortunately, two circumstances militated against that result. First, the recovery in the Danish pig population was much slower than had been anticipated, and, secondly, it was decided that the time had arrived to unpeg the dollar exchange which had been pegged at 4.76. Both those causes led to an increase in the price of bacon from North America, principally the United States, but the maximum retail price of 2s. 4d. per pound still remained. The retailers' stocks became 2381 more and more reduced and the retailers' complaints became more and more pronounced. There were numerous deputations, and they were very loud and vocal in their complaints. They were quite right; they had ground for complaint.
It became obvious by the middle of the summer that the position could not go on, and the Food Controller was faced with two alternatives. He must either remove the maximum retail price altogether and let prices find their own economic level, or he must put up the maximum retail price. An attempt was made by slightly raising the retail price, but the only result of that was that hog prices went up too, and the retailers' margin still remained as minute and as fractional as it was before. Then it was decided that something more drastic must be done, and after considerable doubt it was decided that the only step that held out any prospect of success was to re-control bacon. But, inasmuch as it was estimated that there were about eight weeks' supply coming forward, it is quite obvious that to leave that to be sold at the existing prices would not have helped the unfortunate retailer, because it would have taken several months probably to work off those stocks, and during that time retailers would have been left in just as bad a position as they were before; and so it was decided accordingly that it was necessary to requisition all stocks on arrival at ports. So they were requisitioned. Then it turned out that the importers, quite naturally, ordering independently, had, in fact, larger stocks coming forward than had been estimated, and instead of eight weeks' supply on the way it turned out that there was something like twelve weeks' supply, approximately 100,000 tons of bacon, which had been ordered by various private firms. That bacon was not bought by the Ministry of Food. It was bought by the private importers, and requisitioned before arrival by the Ministry. Undoubtedly a considerable portion of that bacon was not what one should describe as absolutely first-class, but it has been, with practically insignificant exceptions, all disposed of without showing a loss to the Ministry of Food.
§ Mr. BILLING
Is it not a fact that a vast majority of the bacon has been sold to soap manufacturers for making soap?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
No. My right hon. Friend has already made a statement with regard to that, and stated that less than 11½ per cent. of the total bacon sold between 9th August and 31st March was disposed of at prices under £60 a ton. The immediate result of that policy of re-control, whether or not it landed in with indifferent bacon, was that hog prices in Chicago, which had stood at 23 dollars 50 on 9th August, broke, until in September they touched 13 dollars 50, and they are only standing at 15 dollars 50 to-day.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Yes. All through the winter the price of bacon in this country has been maintained at a flat rate of 2s. 4d., at a time when the dollar exchange was going more and more steadily against this country, and when in consequence the hogs were costing the Ministry more. Despite these circumstances, it was possible to maintain the price of bacon at 2s. 4d. a pound. What has been happening is that by operating through centralised buying in America, and through the new organisation which we have at work there, it has been possible to reduce the bacon prices steadily in this country. Although the flat rate price has remained the same what has been happening is that, operating against the exchange, the consumer has been getting his bacon at prices cheaper than he would otherwise have got it.
I come now to the questions which have been put by hon. Members as to the sugar position. All I can say about that—I am afraid I cannot say anything very hopeful—is that, unfortunately, there is at the present time a shortage of something like 3,500,000 tons in the world's production of sugar, and that is accentuated by the fact that the demand of the United States for sugar has increased by over 1,000,000 tons.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
The hon. Member is more rash than I am in ascribing a cause. I hesitated in ascribing a cause. I merely stated the fact that during the past year the demand has increased in the United States. Notwithstanding that—and I ought to say 2383 this as a great tribute to the work of the Sugar Commission—the retail price of sugar to-day in the United Kingdom is less—hon. Members must remember that there is no subsidy in the case of sugar—than in any other country in the world, including the United States. One hon. Member asked whether we would free sugar this year. Owing to the increased demands of the United States this year over and above that of last year, I am afraid it is quite out of the question for us to contemplate any other buyer in this country operating against sugar conditions. I ask the Committee to judge the Government fairly in regard to questions of this kind. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) used a phrase this afternoon which he made the pivot for an attack on the Government and the Ministry. He said, "Sugar has risen, and that is controlled." Suggesting indirectly, if not directly, that it was because of that control that the price of sugar has risen. I want to say emphatically that whether or not you had a Sugar Commission, whether or not you had a Food Ministry, whether you had a Government or a House of Commons, when you have 3,500,000 tons shortage, in the world's supply of an article which is in universal demand and of universal consumption, nothing could prevent the world price of that article rising. All you can do is to meet the situation by organised buying, by the utmost caution, by using the best commercial experience you can to help you, by controlling distribution, by rationing such supplies as you can get, and making the supplies go as far as possible. That I say, without fear of contradiction, the Sugar Commission have done effectively.
I come to the question of the wheat position raised by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cautley), by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Sir B. Stanier) and other speakers. I do not want to say anything of an alarmist character with regard to the wheat position. At the same time, it is notorious that the world's wheat harvest does not look as promising as was anticipated three months ago. The hon. Baronet the Member for Ludlow (Sir B. Stanier) has invited me to say something of the stocks. I want respectfully to ask him and to ask the Committee not to press 2384 me to say anything of the kind. I do not want to say anything which would be known in the markets where the Wheat Commission is going to buy, in reference to the position of the Wheat Commission at this moment with regard to stocks. All I will say is that I am assured, so far as this country is concerned, that the position is regarded as secure at all events up to next Christmas. That is the material point on which I think my hon. Friend wanted to be reassured. The position as regards the period beyond that will depend very much on how the next harvest turns out. The hon. Member for the Spen Valley Division (Mr. Myers) suggested that we should consult the Ministry of Agriculture from time to time. We are constantly in consultation with them on these and other subjects. The hon. and gallant Member for the Hulme Division (Major Nall) was anxious about the sugar supply for smallholders. I can reassure him with regard to that. Everything that can be done will be done, in the difficult circumstances of the short supply, to see that such sugar as is available is made available for these interesting people, and a special note will be made on the subject. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) asked a question with regard to these islands, including Skye, where a shortage has occurred. The question has been receiving very close attention. Arrangements are being made to secure priority in shipments, and we have arranged for a special steamer. The right hon. Member for Deptford asked a question about currants. I am much obliged to him for bringing the matter to my notice, and I will have inquiry made with regard to the condition of these particular stocks.
§ Mr. BILLING
As I want to raise a question, should I be in order in drawing attention to it on the Adjournment to-night?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
The right hon. Baronet who represents the City of London asked a question with regard to the Commission in the United States. That mission is a body which is doing the centralised buying for the Ministry in America, and it is buying for some of the Allied Governments as well. It is the body which is responsible, since the 100,000 tons of bacon which have been referred to, for the new system of bacon- 2385 purchase in America, which is resulting, I think, extremely favourably. The right hon. Baronet waxed eloquent on the subject of the clerical staff. He asked who appointed them. All the appointments have been subject to Treasury control, through the Treasury representative, Sir Hardman Lever, in New York. There-fore, I think the right hon. Baronet need not be anxious on the subject. So far as the operations of this particular branch of the Ministry have gone, applying the same test to them as I applied a moment ago to the Wheat Commission, I think that, within the last four or five months, their administration expenses there have amounted to something less than 'one-sixth of 1 per cent. on the turnover. I do not think that in this matter a challenge can very properly be made. The Live Stock Commissioners will very largely, if not entirely, disappear in three months. I was asked about newspapers and press cuttings. So far as I am able to judge, the explanation is that the £150 which appeared as the estimate last year proved to be an under-estimate and was over-spent. Not all the newspapers are necessarily British newspapers. As a matter of fact, it is necessary for the Minister to keep in touch with economic conditions in Europe generally and in Canada and America and other countries, and on the whole I do not think it is an unreasonable allowance.
§ Mr. BILLING
I regret there is only a minute left before the Debate closes. For one I do not feel very much the wiser for the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. He has spoken for three-quarters of an hour. What facts he would have put before us had he spoken longer I do not know. The point to which I wish to call attention is that in a matter (which is exercising the mind of the whole people of this country on only two or three occassions have we had a quorum in the House. On one occasion we have had a count and the Government were at their wits' end to obtain 40 Members. Immediately after the count the Members retired, and towards 11 o'clock naturally interest has quickened.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.2386
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lieut.-Colonel Sir R. Sanders.]