§ Sir EDWARD ILIFFE
I beg to move,That immediate steps should be taken by the Government to counteract the injurious effect upon British agriculture of the dumping of German wheat and other cereals upon the markets of this country.I wish to direct the attention of the House this afternoon to the unfair competition to which British farmers are subjected at the present time on account of the dumping in this country of bounty-fed German cereals, and I propose to ask the House to press the Government to deal with this matter without delay. Perhaps I ought to explain to hon. Members how this bounty-fed system works. In Germany, as hon. Members know, there is an import duty upon grain, and the bounty is provided by giving German exporters of grain an import licence for a quantity equal to that of his export, which licence the exporter sells to the importer who uses it to pay the duty on his imports. Germany must import a certain quantity of hard wheats in order to mix with the wheat she grows for the purpose of milling. When the exporter sells his licence to the importer he obtains a subsidy of something like 13s. 10d. per quarter, and in that way he can undersell the farmers of this country. The same system applies to both barley and oats, but in those cases the amount of the subsidy varies.
Even apart from these subsidies it is very difficult for British farmers to sell in competition with these German imports, and competition would still be unfair as between the British and the German farmer on account of the fact that much longer hours are worked on the land in Germany than obtain in this country. Yesterday I interviewed a man who had been studying this question in Germany, and he assured me that during the four winter months the German agricultural labourer works 48 hours a week, and that rises to 50 hours per week for two months of the year, and during the six summer months the hours worked by the agricultural labourers are no less than 66 per week. In addition, the growers in many districts rely during the sowing and harvesting seasons upon women and child labour from the Balkans. They work in gangs under a foreman, and they are paid a rate of approximately 3d. per hour. The effect of this export 168 bounty on imported wheat from Germany is unfortunately growing in intensity, and in February next the subsidy is going to be considerably increased.
It is necessary to compare the imports of wheat from Germany for the 12 months ending 31st July, 1928, with the imports for the 12 months ending 31st July, 1929, in order to realise the full seriousness of the situation. For the year ending 31st July, 1928, we imported from Germany to this country 22,500 quarters of wheat. For the year ending 31st July, 1929, we imported no less than 590,000 quarters of wheat. That is to say, the imports for last year were 25 times greater than those of the previous year. This bounty system is playing havoc among the farmers of this country, and it means definitely less employment on our land, a matter which, I am certain, will give concern to the Lord Privy Seal. Not-withstanding all this, the consumer in this country does not appear to be benefiting, even at the cost of the ruin of the farmers. It is rather alarming, also, to contemplate that France and Austria both threaten to follow the example of Germany, owing, no doubt, to the bountiful harvests which they have experienced this year.
This matter, I believe, is complicated by the existence of the Anglo-German Commercial Treaty, which was signed in December, 1924; but, whatever the difficulties may be, it is a matter which requires immediate adjustment. That treaty contains the usual Most Favoured Nation Clause, which prevents us from imposing a duty upon goods coming into this country from Germany which differentiates from the duty imposed on similar goods coming from other countries, but, of course, this does not apply in any way to the Dominions. If these imports of bounty-fed wheat, barley and oats continue to grow, it will be absolutely impossible for the farmers in this country to exist, and, indeed, I contend that that is now the case.
There are one or two possible solutions. One would be to put a duty on all bounty-fed cereals coining from abroad, except from the British Empire, and to use that duty to subsidise the cultivation of those same cereals in this country. Unfortunately, however, it would be necessary that the same duty should be imposed on cereals from countries which 169 did not subsidise their exports. That, I am afraid, is inevitable on account of the Most Favoured Nation Clause. We might, however, make it absolutely clear that, when the German treaty terminates, I think at the end of next year, we would cancel this general duty on cereals and make it apply only to those countries which subsidise their exports. Another solution would be to subsidise the growing of these particular cereals in this country until such time as the German treaty expires.
The matter is of really vital importance to the farmers of this country. They must have assistance in this and, if I may say so, in other directions also; otherwise the land will go out of cultivation, and we shall see a further concentration of population in our great towns. The National Farmers' Union, I understand, has already approached the Government in connection with this matter, and I believe the Minister of Agriculture gave them a sympathetic hearing, but, so far, no action whatever has been taken. I hope that during the course of this Debate we shall receive an assurance from the Minister that this question is to be tackled immediately. It was the intention of the Conservative party that 25 per cent. of the flour used for the bread for the Navy, Army and Air Force should be milled from home-grown wheat, but that proposal has been dropped by the present Government, and they appear, as far as I can see, to have given no indication whatever that they realise that a prosperous agricultural community is vital to this country. I am aware that the Minister of Agriculture stated yesterday that he proposed to outline the agricultural policy of the Government at an early date, but, in view of the importance of the subject which I am raising at the present moment, I would ask him to take this opportunity of stating what he proposes to do in connection with the importation of these bounty-fed cereals, because I can assure the House that it is ruining the farmers at the present time, and is greatly reducing the amount of labour employed on the land.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
I beg to second the Motion.
It is, perhaps, only natural that we on this side of the House, who take a deep interest in the welfare of the agricultural community and the prosperity 170 of what we regard as the most important industry in this country, should welcome the opportunity which this Motion gives to us of raising this question in the House and of drawing the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to the serious menace which has been occasioned to the industry of agriculture in this country as the result of the dumping of bounty-fed cereals in our home markets. This new development of foreign policy has assumed alarming proportions, and has already done enormous harm to cur home producers in their local markets. Farmers and smallholders alike have found and are continuing to find it difficult enough to face competition in the markets of the world and to compete against world prices, but I do not think that anyone can expect them to face bounty-fed imports landed in this country in competition with their produce.
My hon. Friend indicated the magnitude of this question. He told the House how the imports had grown from 22,500 quarters last year to no less than 590,000 quarters this year. That is not a five-fold, or even a twenty-five-fold increase, but something more even than that. This great change has been brought about by the simple process of providing the German exporter of protected home-grown wheat with a licence to import an equivalent quantity of the foreign wheat which Germany requires for mixing with her wheat to make the loaf palatable and in accordance with the demands and wishes of her people. The exporting German farmer does not even have to take the trouble to become an exporter himself, for he is able to sell the certificate which he obtains for the export of his wheat, so that he is saved all trouble and the process is very simple so far as he is concerned.
The question that we would ask of right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House is: When is the British farmer to be protected against unfair foreign competition of this nature, what steps do the Government propose to take, and when do they propose to take those steps? There is no reason to believe that the limit in this matter has yet been reached; in fact there is every reason to believe that, bad as the situation is now, unless steps are taken in the near future it will very soon become a great deal more acute and difficult. Seven shillings and six- 171 pence per quarter in 1925 has risen to a bounty of 10s. 8d. per quarter now, and we are told that that bounty of 10s. 8d. per quarter will next year, 1930, be still further increased to a figure of 15s. per quarter. The benefit to the importer has risen, and apparently it is to continue to rise. The consuming public have not gained as the result of these imports; the price of the loaf has not, so far as one can see, been affected; but the interests of the British agriculturists have, we claim, been deeply injured.
I would like to remind the House of the statistics which are published by the Ministry of Agriculture so far as they relate to the production of wheat in this country. In them we find that in 1927 the acres devoted to the cultivation of wheat were 1,635,980. In 1928 that figure fell to 1,395,000. That is a very considerable decline, but when we look at the average decline during the last ten years we find that it amounts to 465,000 acres, or an average fall of 25 per cent. Those are striking figures, which must arrest our attention, and we cannot sit still with folded arms and half-closed eyes and refuse to consider the writing on the wall. The arable area in the Eastern counties has been helped recently by the introduction of the sugar beet policy, and in that matter all agriculturists would like also to thank hon. Members opposite for what they did to establish the new industry of sugar beet. It is perhaps not too much to say that, without it, arable agriculture in that area would have collapsed altogether. It is of the greatest importance that arable agriculture should be continued on a satisfactory basis. A hundred arable acres employ three men, and 200 acres of grass only employ one man. That is sufficient to show how very important it is to keep as much of our land under the plough, in arable agriculture, as possible. In answer to a question to-day the Parliamentary Secretary stated, perhaps with some measure of pardonable pride, that 100,000 acres of land were going to be drained. What is the use of draining land to bring it into a state of arable cultivation if you are not able to cultivate it at a profit?
I should like now to refer to the world position of wheat. In this connection, I would venture to advocate the perusal of the Report on the Marketing of Wheat in 172 England and Wales recently issued by the Ministry. It is one of a series of Orange Books which contain most valuable and helpful information. It shows that the world acreage devoted to wheat is some 280,000,000, and, of that acreage, about 45 per cent. is grown in Europe and in North America 28 per cent. and in Asia about 12 per cent. The yield naturally varies from year to year and from country to country. In the five years average, 1923 to 1927, Australia is shown as producing some 6¾ cwts. per acre, Canada produces a yield of 9 cwts. an acre and the United States 7¾ cwts. If we turn to Europe, where the conditions are not so dry as in the United States, we find that France produces 11 cwts. Per acre, Germany 14¾, and Great Britain has the proud record of producing 17½ cwts. per acre. Therefore in the matter of wheat production our agriculturists— and I think we are entitled to say it with pride—lead the world. The view I am expressing is also given in the Orange Book, in which it is stated:The quality of the cereals grown in this country ranks high. Our wheat is good. Compared with the average product from abroad it is cleaner, sweeter and more palatable. It is free from insect pests, such as weevils, and yields a high percentage of flour of first-class colour and flavour.I think therefore it is worth while encouraging wheat production. So far as feeding our people is concerned, the British farmer produces the best, and has done and is doing the best by the workers on the land. It is significant to note, taking the British Empire as a unit, that wheat production largely exceeds Empire requirement and that there is a considerable surplus grown within the Empire for export to other countries. For every reason the British farmer should be given fair play. In Germany the hours of labour are longer, rates of pay are not so good and the conditions of employment are less favourable than in this country. I hope it will be held that the prosperity of British agriculture and the welfare of our country stands in a field by itself, in a domain outside party politics. I do not know how far hon. Members opposite are prepared to translate their words into deeds and how far they are prepared to implement the promises they made during the General Election. A manifesto was issued by the Labour party under the title of "A Labour Appeal to the Nation." It was 173 signed by the highest officials and members of the party, including the Prime Minister. The burden of the manifesto was that farming must be made to pay. The Parliamentary Secretary, in a speech at the Agricultural Hall, on 23rd September, said:The main cause of the depression in agriculture in this country was that the industry had not been on an economic basis. The producer had not received for his produce enough to cover the cost of production and leave him a fair margin of profit. Therefore it was intended to do what was necessary to secure to the producer a fair price for his produce.That leads me to hope that agriculture may, in some of its aspects at any rate, be looked at from a non-party point of view.
There are two questions that may be asked by hon. Members opposite. One is, "Why did you not take some steps to deal with the matter when you were in office?" That is a very natural and proper question to ask but the figures which my hon. Friend has quoted show— when the Conservative party was in office and when a General Election was impending, and it is always difficult to do much under such circumstances—this question appeared only as a small black cloud on the political horizon. Since then it has developed into a serious matter. Then, again, it may be said that, if any steps are taken to remedy the grievance, "your food will cost you more." I venture to challenge that statement and to say that that will not be the case. There are many intermediaries between the farmer in his own homestead who cultivates the soil and grows the wheat and the housewife who buys the bread. The damage which has been done to the agricultural producer, to the farmer, and the smallholder under this foreign bounty importing scheme has not been reflected in any commensurate advantage to the housewife. I think that in this case at any rate to help the farmer will not raise the price of the loaf to the consumer. Moreover surely I am right in believing that every hon. Member opposite is a Freetrader. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I take it then that nearly every Member is a Freetrader. If that is so surely the belief involves a rooted opposition to bounty fed imports. Therefore, to be logical, they ought to do something to meet this difficulty.
If this position continues unchecked, I think it will not be long before the 174 British consumer will be left high and dry at the mercy of the foreign seller. I know that it is true that the British agriculturist does not produce a very large proportion of the wheat which is required by this country or which is required in the world, but at any rate what he does produce has the effect of being a balancing factor. We have reason to believe that home grown wheat has more than once tended to stabilise world prices and nullify the operation of some of the speculators in the Chicago wheat pit and elsewhere.
The large imports of German wheat have produced a glut in our market. It used to be said that a fair week's pay for the agricultural worker was the value of a sack of wheat. I sincerely hope that that standard will never be reverted to if conditions continue as they are, because low as wages are now they would be still lower if the value of a sack of wheat were to be taken as the measure of a week's pay for the agricultural worker. I think that this question is not only a farmer's question and a smallholder's question but it is also a labourer's question. It will soon be an employment question and as my hon. Friend the Member for Tam-worth (Sir E. Iliffe) has pointed out it will be one more job for the Lord Privy Seal. Surely his hands are full enough already. I think that the damage which is being done to British agriculturalists is generally admitted. The policy of dumping is tending to make the wheat production of this country nugatory. Farmers are deeply concerned at the present conditions. They have made representations by deputation and other-wise to the Minister of Agriculture. They at any rate hold and I think fairly hold that conditions not less favourable than those which should obtain under a Free Trade policy must be restored to the agricultural industry. As to the nature of the remedy, a suggestion has been put forward to meet the difficulty, but I will not go over that ground again. I will conclude by thanking the House for the patient hearing which they have given to me and expressing the hope that the Minister will be able satisfactorily, promptly, and effectively to find a remedy for the difficulty which has arisen in such an acute form.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Noel Buxton)
The gist of the argu- 175 ment which has been advanced by the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion seems to me to be well contained in the question which the Seconder addressed to us: "When is Protection to be given to the British farmer?" That is a question which might very well have been addressed to others rather than to us. It was addressed, indeed, in the late Parliament very frequently to the then Leaders of the House, but I must point out that it was addressed to them in vain. I have always wondered what is the answer to this question: "When is Protection to be given to the British farmer?" I have often wondered why it was that when, as I understand, the majority of the Conservative Members of the House were in favour of agricultural Protection, the answer returned by the late Government was: "We cannot do it." It is obvious that if they did not see their way to do it, we cannot see our way to do it. I would like to say, before I answer the particular points of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, how glad I was to notice yesterday that, as a result of Conservative Members securing places in the Ballot, no less than five of the debates have been allocated to agriculture. I must confess that, compared with that record we, when we occupied the benches opposite, provided the House with a particularly dull time. I think that we never obtained such a record as five places in the ballot to discuss agriculture, and we welcome these opportunities warmly.
The Mover of the Motion said that I might use the first opportunity of an agricultural discussion in this Parliament to introduce a general debate and to discuss and announce our general proposals. I think that a better opportunity is required for that, and I hope that one or two hon. Members who secure a date in the Ballot will afford an opportunity as early as possible for a general debate. To-day, we have a question of such very great interest and importance that we must confine ourselves to it. I cordially endorse what both the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion said about the vital importance and the financial interests of the agricultural question. I hold that agriculture is still the most important industry in this country. We have not only to take its numerical and economic importance but its importance to national health in many ways. We on 176 these benches do not want this country to be regarded as a mere congeries of town and urban districts to which agriculture should be subordinated. We have always cordially advocated mutual interest and co-operation between town and country, and we do regard agriculture as a most essential element in the national life. We hold—though this is not the moment to advance it—that our policy represents the best way to save agriculture. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] It is in black and white and has been for years past. I hope that hon. Members have not waited until now to read the agricultural policy of the Labour party. To-day, in view of the present composition of Parliament, the opportunity for the policy of this party or any other party, as it stands, remains very doubtful.
I am afraid that I cannot accept the Motion. It urges not only that measures should be taken to counteract the effect upon British agriculture of the dumping of German wheat, but that immediate steps should be taken. I cannot see, any more than the late Government saw, how immediate steps can be taken explicitly to counteract an effect which I agree is most regrettable and most damaging. With regard to the suggestion for the imposition of a countervailing duty, I must point out that that is not a remedy which we can accept, or which the party opposite would accept. If the supporters of the Motion favour a subsidy to keep the English corn grower on his feet, I must remind them that the subsidy system was repealed in 1921, and that in 1926 there appeared the notorious White Paper which embodied the policy of the late Government, explicitly repudiating the policy of subsidy.
May I say, as I have already said to the National Farmers' Union, that I sympathise most deeply, as we all do, with the corn growers in this country who are suffering from the effects of German subsidies, which are downright subsidies in a peculiar form. The phenomenon is deplorable, and it is the more deplorable because there is something artificial and, in a sense, unfair as it appears to us in that kind of subsidy. I wish most sincerely that we could find a remedy. Those who were good enough to study the Labour party proposals will have seen printed at very considerable length the plans and ideas which we arrived at, after most sincere 177 and exhaustive studies, as to the right way to deal with the problem of stabilisation. Severe fluctuations are disastrous. We have a plan for dealing with the matter, but it is a plan which I am afraid does not command a majority in this House.
If the late Government were unable to find a plan either of a Protective kind or any other kind for dealing with the situation, I am afraid that it would be futile for us, to whom Free Trade principles have been imputed, to attempt to go one better in the direction of Protection. The matter is, however, one of earnest interest to us. So far as activity goes, in what we regard as feasible and sound economic directions I can assure the House that we are working to the utmost of our energy in one marketing reform in particular, namely, the promotion of standardisation, which has the support of all parties. That is a policy in regard to which I shall not spare myself in my efforts to advance it and make it a great success. Whether we earn the thanks of the farmers or not, and whether they believe in it or not, and I am thankful to say that they are looking more favourably upon it, that is a direction in which much may be done. I do not advocate it as a remedy for the dumping of German corn, but I mention it as an illustration of the interest we take in the subject of marketing and of the energy that we are prepared to throw into the work.
May I give a few facts, which were not given by the Mover or Seconder of the Motion, in regard to this highly regrettable feature of European exchange and interchange of corn. It is a system which is known in Germany as the import bond system, and it is a curiously intricate kind of rebate. The system has been in existence a long time except for the four years of the War. It was introduced in 1894, and was reimposed in 1906 in a new form. The bond originally permitted a man who exported wheat to import an equal quantity of wheat, but in 1906 the import bond system was extended and exporters of one kind of cereal were allowed to import cereals of another kind. The value to the German grower was raised so late as last July. The duty which is remitted to the importer who possesses one of the bonds is now 3s. 3d. per cwt. on wheat, 3s. per 178 cwt. on rye and 3s. per cwt. on oats. The importation of oats in 1928—this particular importation is as damaging as any other and is most serious in its effect especially upon Scotland—amounted to 57,000 tons, and this year for nine months it amounted to 71,000 tons. The importation of wheat last year was 78,000 tons and this year for nine months 72,000 tons. If we compare the quantity imported with the United Kingdom crop in 1928 we find that for every 100 tons that we grew in this country in that year nearly 8 tons of German wheat were imported. Of course, when you take into account the entire consumption of the country, the figures make the importation look very small, but in comparison with our home produce the figures of importation are very interesting.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the importation came to 8 per cent. last year, but he did not give the percentage for this year.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I will get it. This question has been raised several times during the last few years. The late Minister of Agriculture, in February of this year, was questioned on the subject, and his answer was that he was aware of the complaints that have been made in regard to the importation of German wheat, but there was no action that he could usefully take in the matter. In that connection, I have observed with particular interest utterances from Convative and Liberal Members of this House urging that the peculiar position of this Parliament offers an opportunity for a kind of interregnum, during which things might be done which might not be possible when any one party is in a great majority in the House. I cordially welcome those utterances, and I hope that events will prove that there are opportunities for action being taken, because there is nothing more urgent than to take such action as is feasible, upon which we can all agree, without abating one jot of our principles in doing so. I think that the policy of the late Minister in this matter of German wheat was a perfectly sound policy. There was no other policy open to him. A Debate took place in the early part of this year in another place, and an 179 authority whom we all venerate, Lord Ernie, spoke on the subject. He said very much what the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) has said this afternoon—that something must be done. But it was pointed out that he himself found it impossible to use any stronger phrase than the words "to do something." If Lord Ernie failed, who am I that I should succeed? Lord Stradbroke, who represented the Government, said:The only way of meeting this complaint would either be by putting a differential duty on German wheat or by the prohibition of imports of German wheat, but your Lordships will realise that neither of those steps is practicable.I had a very interesting discussion recently with a deputation from the National Farmers' Union, and from the Millers' Association, who came with them. I would like to mention the points that they put forward. They argued first, that the Treaty does not preclude a countervailing duty. But I am afraid the fact is that it does. You cannot discriminate against bounty-fed wheat from Germany, even if you discriminate against it in the case of all other countries at the same time, which of course you could not do. Secondly, they produced an argument from the wording of Article 8 of the Treaty, which gives Germany most-favoured-nation treatment in Customs duties, that articles such as wheat, which receive a bounty, were not like articles in the sense of the Clause with those that do not. Hon. Members might be interested to know how the wording runs:Articles produced or manufactured in the territories of one of the two Contracting Parties, imported into the territories of the other, from whatever place arriving, shall not be subjected to other or higher duties or charges than those paid on the like articles produced or manufactured in any other foreign country.In this Article "like article" means articles of the same intrinsic quality. It could not be argued that an article which had received a bounty was in any way thereby made of different intrinsic quality. That argument, therefore, fell to the ground. There was one other argument which was advanced. It was that there is a precedent for differential action in the fact that the Germans have a differential treatment in regard to potatoes. It is a fact that the Germans 180 at a certain time of the year reduce their duty on what they call old potatoes on the production of a certificate from us as to date of harvesting and that we take advantage of it to export potatoes to Germany when occasion serves. But in this case the insistence on the production of such a certificate is really quite different from the discrimination which the Farmers' Union advocate. It does not offer any precedent such as we require. They further said, and I think the Mover of the Resolution said to-day, that we might very well allow the Treaty to lapse and make a new treaty. That assumes that the treaty is one which normally ceases and has to be renewed. It so happens that that is not the case; the Treaty is one which stands permanently till denounced by either party.
But these points in regard to the Treaty are really irrelevant to the main argument, as has been pointed out in recent years. It is not really a question of the terms of the Treaty, because we do not wish to denounce the Treaty. The Treaty was designed by the late Government in 1925 or 1926, and it is not a Treaty that we want to denounce or that any Government would denounce. It is a Treaty which is considered to be of extreme value. It gives us advantages which we would not sacrifice at any cost. The fact is that, quite apart from any question even of the value of this particular Anglo-German Treaty, the Government, like its predecessor, is entirely opposed to duties on food; they are not prepared to consider any such proposal. I had hoped that possibly I might get from the Farmers' Union, or from the Mover and Seconder of this Motion to-day, some new plan which would not conflict with the declarations of this Government and of the late Government, that no financial fiscal system will be tolerated if it increases the price of food. I can only say in conclusion that if such plans could be devised no one would welcome them more than I.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The House, I am sure, appreciates the good temper with which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed himself to this subject. I am sure that if that spirit continues in the Ministry of Agriculture during the next few years, some of the projects which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind 181 may be carried with the consent of the whole House. I was a little surprised to notice the avidity with which he was prepared to proceed along non-party lines. I remember that last year one of the important agricultural organisations in this country requested that there should be a meeting with the representatives of the three parties in order that they might devise means of dealing with such subjects as were not of high controversy and on which there was general agreement. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends declined to go, and so did the representatives of the then Government, and we of the Liberal party were the only people who accepted the invitation. In those circumstances I have been to-day a little surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would like to proceed along these lines. Is it possible to do anything in that way? I must say, with some knowledge officially and privately of these subjects, that I believe it is. There is a very wide field in which he will find agreement in each of the three parties. There are a great many things that can be done if they are not dealt with in a controversial spirit or a party sense. I would be prepared on a suitable occasion to go into that subject, and so would my right hon. and hon. Friends. This, however, is not the moment for that. If there is any movement towards a non-party treatment of agricultural questions there will be no warmer friends of that movement than those who are to be found on the Liberal Benches. I hope that the Minister will keep that in mind when he is making his programme of non-controversial subjects.
But just as there is a very wide field in which all parties can play their part, so to-day I think we must say that the two hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Resolution have chosen the most controversial way of dealing with this subject, because there is not even agreement in their own party. There was not agreement among them in the last Parliament and there is not now. We know that it is impossible to achieve agreement between the two sides of the House on the lines of old-fashioned Protection, and that is what the two hon. Gentlemen mean by their Motion. It is very difficult to decide what there is in the Motion. I listened very carefully to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder, and 182 I have great respect for the opinions of both on the subject. What did we hear? We heard no definition of what is meant by the dumping of German wheat. There is the question of comparisons between the importations of wheat grown abroad and the importation of wheat which is stimulated by Government bounty. I do not know which they meant. Were they in favour of or were they prepared to resist artificial means of preventing foreign wheat coming into this country? Were they in favour of any means by which foreign wheat could be prevented from coming into this country?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Let us see what that means. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has had the assistance of his officials in finding out what is happening with regard to import bonds. These bonds are not of recent growth; they have existed during each of the last five years. The right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Agriculture in the last Government knew about the import bonds and declared emphatically, without his party turning him out, that he saw no means of dealing with the subject. It is very doubtful as to whether there are any other forms of bounty given to German wheat that comes into this country. The suggestion is made that the difference now is that of magnitude. There is very little difference between the figures of last year and those of this year. They are not complete for this year. I heard the Noble Lord ask the Minister just now for the exact percentage of the foreign wheat in comparison with the wheat grown in this country in 1929. As far as I know we have not yet ascertained what is the total harvest for 1929. It is impossible to say that there has been, such an enormous increase in the importation of bounty-fed wheat that it raises an entirely new question which must be dealt with in a different way from that of the late Government and the ex-Minister of Agriculture.
§ Sir E. ILIFFE
The imports of German bounty-fed wheat into this country last year were 25 times what they were in the previous year. I refer to the year which ended in July, 1929, compared with the year ended in July, 1928.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not challenge the hon. Member's figures, but he is making a comparison with a year when the figure was at a very low level, and if he had taken the year before he would have found that "25 times" did not represent the fact. But what is meant by bounty-fed wheat? Neither Member has told us. I hope that the Noble Lord, who is to follow, will tell us exactly what he means by bounty-fed wheat. Does he mean that there is a definite bounty or subsidy given to the German exporter to induce him to export wheat to this country? If so, that is undoubtedly an infringement of the undertakings which were given by the representatives of Germany at the Geneva Economic Conference; there is no doubt about it. I know that within the exact definition of the Treaty, as quoted by the Minister this afternoon, it is difficult to say whether wheat is included, but I am sure that the general principle which was assented to by the representatives of Germany and has since been assented to by the German Government itself, was that there should not be bounty-fed competition, especially in agricultural products.
There was a separate section of the Geneva Conference which dealt with nothing but agriculture, and the grievances of agriculturists in this country were exactly paralleled by identically the same grievances in every other country in the world. Even those who represented Chinese interests had exactly the same faults to find as farmers living in Lincolnshire and Norfolk; and the Conference was undoubtedly unanimous in its agricultural decisions. There was finally a report, received without opposition by the representatives of every nation of the world represented at the League of Nations, with the addition of those who were looking after the interests of the United States of America, and ultimately the decisions of the Economic Conference were accepted by the German Government itself. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he should set inquiries afloat as to what are the artificial bounties or subsidies, or other form of assistance, given to the exporters of German wheat into this country so that be may be able to tell the House exactly what the conditions are. If he finds that any subsidy or bounty is given for the export of German wheat in competition 184 with our own, he should at once ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make representations to the German Government that it is an infringement of the general understanding which was reached as a result of the Geneva Conference.
§ Mr. N. BUXTON
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman knows the nature of the assistance given to exporters in Germany; that the exporter of corn and wheat in Germany has a right to import a certain quantity of any kind of wheat and, therefore, the exporter in Western Germany imports Canadian wheat and gets off the Duty.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I know the system by which import bonds work; but that is not new. What is objected to by hon. Members above the Gangway is something entirely new, and if there is anything new surely the right hon. Gentleman, through the Foreign Office, can find out what it is, and if it is an infringement of the understanding reached at Geneva and endorsed by the German Government, he has the right to protest. In these matters international action can be of great benefit to our people at home, and I hope he will not hesitate to take the matter up. If this Motion is inspired by a general opposition to the import of foreign grown grain—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—there has been strong opposition in some quarters to the import of any foreign grown grain—if that is the object of the present Motion, then I can assure them that they are not likely in this House to find willing acceptance of proposals which mean the imposition of a tax on imported wheat. We have passed that stage. Does it mean that this peril to agriculture, or whatever it may be, is to be met by a bounty? We had the experiment of a subsidy in recent times, and it was repealed at the request of a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer; and his request for repeal met with the support of the Conservative party of the day.
A subsidy will not do; we know that by experience. What is to be the device to which hon. Members above the Gangway will now turn? They are thrown back to some of the old devices of the old Protectionists of the past. It is amusing to find them reviving a policy which were barely up to date 60 years ago. There is only one new way by 185 which you can deal with these economic questions, and that is on an international basis. If we can persuade the world, as we are gradually, that by international solution we can abate the hard-ships of our people and of our prime producers then along that line lies the path of duty.
The Debate so far has been very free from party controversy, and I do not wish to travel in the slightest degree outside that path. We have just listened to a very interesting speech from the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), and I am sure he will not think me offensive if I remind him that while there may be differences of opinion on certain aspects of agricultural policy among those who sit on these benches it is nevertheless equally true of his own party, for there are serious differences as to the exact construction which is to be placed on certain aspects of the Liberal land policy. Further, I imagine from what has been said by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon that there are differences of opinion in the party opposite. However, we are not concerned with such matters this afternoon, and the right hon. Member for St. Ives is quite accurate when he said that the issue here is a very narrow one. I should have thought that we were precluded from discussing the whole question of the importation of foreign wheat into this country, and the question as to the effect of an import duty, whether it is good or bad, does not arise. What we are concerned with is the dumping of German wheat and other cereals into this country, and hon. Members on this side of the House have made it quite clear that they are referring to the amount of German wheat and other cereals which are imported into this country as a result of the bounty given in Germany.
Having narrowed the point down in this way let me proceed to deal with it a little more fully. The Minister of Agriculture paid a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture not only by basing himself on the policy which my right hon. Friend adopted, but by quoting the ipsissima verba of my right hon. Friend, thus adopting not only the policy but the very language of the late Minister of Agricul- 186 ture. It is part of the case made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion that the situation has been getting gradually worse. The figures which have been given are really remarkable. There has been an increase, between the year ending the 15th July, 1928, and the year ending on the same date, 1929, in the number of quarters imported from 22,000 to 590,000. That is an enormous increase. The right hon. Member for St. Ives has suggested that the figures for the first year are exceptionally low, but I think, though I have not verified the figures, that if he looks at the years before 1928 he will find that there has never before been anything like the importation of 590,000 quarters. If that is so, the problem is obviously more important than it was and, therefore, the question raised by the right hon. Member for St. Ives also becomes of greater importance; that is, are the Government satisfied that this is not a breach of the contract given by the German Government at Geneva? The right hon. Member for St. Ives, with a considerable knowledge of what took place at Geneva, thinks there is a possibility that there may have been a breach of that undertaking and, if that is so, then the question arises as to whether representations should be made to the League of Nations at Geneva that Germany has committed a breach of the undertaking which she gave.
Some very striking phrases have been used by the Minister of Agriculture in connection with this matter. He has used stronger language than was ever used by the late Minister of Agriculture. He said that the effect of this dumping was most regrettable and most damaging and that it was a deplorable phenomenon. No denunciation of the fiscal views of hon. Members on this side of the House in any way absolves him from the responsibility of finding ways and means of dealing with what is "most regrettable and most damaging and a deplorable phenomenon." I have had placed in my hands a copy of a letter addressed to him by the National Farmers' Union on the subject. It may be that the remedies they suggest are impracticable. The right hon. Gentleman gave some reason why they are impracticable, but when a Government is faced with what is "most regrettable and most damaging and a deplorable phenomenon" surely 187 the responsibility rests on the Government to consider ways and means for dealing with it? What the right hon. Gentleman said is of great importance and I am quite sure that the agricultural community in the country will regard it as of great importance and will want to know what steps he is taking to deal with the situation.
The right hon. Gentleman in the course of his observations referred vaguely to the stabilsation policy of the Government or the party to which he belongs. I do not want to get away from the narrow terms of the Motion but it is interesting to note that 24 hours after the right hon. Gentleman refused to tell us what is the agricultural policy of the Government he should, on an occasion which he himself says is not an appropriate opportunity, make some vague reference to the stabilisation policy of the present Government. We are, I think, entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether this stabilisation policy, which certainly appeared in the literature of the Labour party before the General Election, is still the policy of the party and whether the Government can hold out any hope that a Bill to put this policy into force will be brought in during the present session. I think the leader of the Liberal party will agree that it is rather a peculiar situation that the day after the Minister of Agriculture has said that the occasion has not been reached for stating the agricultural policy of the Government he should, by a side wind as it were, bring in the question of the stabilisation of agriculture.
I have nothing more to say to the right hon. Gentleman, except to urge him, in view of his admission of the seriousness of the situation, to examine closely the points put by my two hon. friends and consider whether some means can be found for dealing with the situation, which I have no hesitation in saying has brought the farmers of this country almost to despair. They have had the finest wheat harvest ever known in our generation, indeed for the last two generations, and but for the dumping of this German wheat there would have been a bigger demand for British wheat. There will be a demand for British wheat for the making of flour and biscuits; but the importation of this German wheat 188 will be most damaging because it happens to be of exactly the same quality as wheat-produced at home, and it will displace British wheat from the very limited market at its disposal. We all know the rather unfortunate fact that the public to-day like to have a large quantity of foreign hard wheat, not of European quality, included in their flour, and therefore the market is a limited one. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister referred to the scheme—and incidentally I think he will admit that it was the scheme of his predecessor—for grading British flour, among other products that come from the soil of this country. I hope it will be successful. We all hope so, but nothing of that kind can get over the damaging effect of this immense increase in the import of German cereals into this country. Nobody can exaggerate the seriousness of the situation from the point of view, both of the present and the future of the production of cereals in this country.
§ Mr. WISE
In rising to address the House for the first time, I do so with reliance on the toleration and sympathy which the House shows to new Members, particularly as this is one of the tare occasions when the new Member is one who formerly served the House in a rather more secure position in the Department over which your predecessor, Sir, presided, and has changed that position for the more risky and dangerous one of addressing this Assembly on the Floor. I think it is essential, in order to understand what precisely is wrong in reference to the subject under discussion, to say something about the causes which have forced Germany to sell wheat abroad at this moment. This is no new phenomenon. It has happened every year for the last five years. It happened before the War. Indeed, many years before the War it happened on a considerably larger scale than in the last year or two. It arises from the fact that East Prussia at this time of the year has a large excess of supplies of wheat, and, in order to keep the price steady in East Prussia, the East Prussian producers export, assistance being given to them by the German Government in the manner which the Minister has described. But that is not at all a nett export of German wheat. Germany, on the whole, is an importer, and for every ton of wheat which 189 she exports now she will require to import a corresponding ton, in addition to her normal import demand, later in the year. It may comfort hon. Members opposite who speak for the agricultural interest to know that the more she exports now of wheat which comes into competition with our own home supplies, the more she will buy of foreign wheat later in the year, and, consequently, in a corresponding degree the larger the price which they will be able to get for such wheat as they hold over until the later months of this cereal year.
The situation, however, is intensified this year to some extent by the special difficulty in which Germany finds herself owing to lack of capital. This year, owing to events in America which I need not touch upon, Germany is exceptionally short of capital and therefore it has paid her to export this year rather more wheat than she has exported for the last year or two, in order to get the use of the capital coming from it during the next six months, knowing perfectly well that she will have to import, very likely at a higher price, later on in the year. But, as I have said, this is no new phenomenon. It is more serious and troublesome just at this moment because this country now, as compared with pre-War years, carries very small stocks of grain. In pre-War years grain merchants held considerable stocks and any appreciable dumping was met by adjustment in the stocks. Now, owing to the very considerable change which has taken place in the grain trade of the world and of this country, we carry scarcely any stocks at all.
This particular trouble is a symptom of the great change which has taken place in the grain trade and it is necessary to examine that change if we are to attempt to find any means of dealing with the case. In pre-War years the grain trade in this country and in the world generally, was still organised on the basis of a fairly free market. There was a multitude of sellers in the world, and there was a multitude of importing merchants in this country, and each of those merchants held stocks, large or small, so that there was a constant basis of stocks in the country and prices were kept steady by the play of the market, by selling between a multitude of sellers and a multitude of buyers. Since the 190 War, in accordance with the movement of events and the tendency that has shown itself in many trades, the wheat trade has become highly centralised and the merchant of the old type in this country, the importing merchant, has largely ceased to function. Canada has centralised her selling in a great co-operative pool which handles millions of tons per year—something between 60 per cent, and 70 per cent. of the whole supply. Australia has formed similar pools in the Australian States. As far as Russia is concerned, when she comes into the wheat markets of the world she comes as one single seller. Although the Argentine and other South American countries have not formed co-operative pools such as have been formed in parts of the British Empire, yet actually 80 per cent. of the whole Argentine wheat is now in the hands of three international grain firms, one German, one French and Belgian and on occasion there is a certain cohesion in policy between these groups.
As regards the United States, in the last few weeks there has been legislation to enable the United States, on occasions when it suits that country, to go into the market as one single seller. No one quite understands what will be the effect of the new Farm Board Bill, but it is pretty certain that it will enable the United States to get a stable price inside by dumping her surplus wheat at any price, at any cost, on the world market, and for all practical purposes the main wheat market of the world is this country. We take about one-third of all the wheat sold in the world market and consequently any monoeuvres in the market from any of these sources come back upon us. That is not the end of it. Apart from this great concentration of selling in about four or five hands— a concentration which has not yet ended but will almost certainly be carried further—there has grown up in Chicago by a sort of reverse action a great and speculative market in wheat which, again, produces its effect on prices in this country. In the last few weeks we have seen some evidence of the disasters which may overtake stock markets by over-speculation in stocks. While there is heavy speculation in New York in stocks there is smaller speculation in wheat in Chicago, but apparently the American public has got into the habit 191 of speculation and the disaster in New York will likely be followed by excessive speculation in Chicago.
In the buying of wheat for this country there has been an almost corresponding concentration, and now 60 per cent. or more of the whole wheat of this country is bought by one or other of three great firms—great milling combines. The effect of that is that the whole organisation of the wheat trade which existed before the War has completely collapsed. We carry no stocks or very little. We are subject to any change of policy, or any temporary difficulty on the part of any of these great combines on the one side or the other, whether sellers or buyers, and the result in every case comes back quite definitely on to the British farmer and British agriculture without any obvious or appreciable advantage to the British consumer. The whole wheat trade of the world has changed, whereas in our consideration of the matter, in the details of our organisation to-day in this country, we are going on as if things were just the same as they were in the middle of the nineteenth century. The result is a great intensification of variations in price. This year, from February to June, the price in this country dropped by 8s. 6d. a quarter and from 1st June to the middle of July it raced rapidly up by 13s. a quarter—which was very disastrous to the farmers who happened to act in the natural expectation that in May and June prices would probably be higher, as they often are. There was no advantage at all as regards the price of bread or flour to the consumer in this country.
The fact of the matter is that the organisation of the wheat trade has completely changed, and, our agriculture is at the mercy of foreign manipulations. The particular phenomenon of which complaint is made now, is merely one of them, and even if we were to deal with this one by the method which hon. Members opposite propose, it would not help us to deal with what may be a very much worse onslaught from one or the other infinitely stronger protagonists in this struggle on the other side of the Atlantic. Hon. Members opposite say that they are not proposing to stop anything except bounty-fed exports. I am not going to; argue whether in this case the method adopted by the German Government of balancing 192 export licences by import licences amounts to a bounty. It may or it may not. It is a speculation to some extent and depends on what happens to the market, but I would point out that if you stop bounty-fed exports coming into this country, that does not at all touch the case, for example, of the Americans, under the new Farm Board Bill, deciding to sell, at whatever it will produce, a block of grain in the market in order to assist their internal prices. The market price here, of course, would be correspondingly diminished because of the fact that there were large supplies on the market.
Nor would it deal with the case in which, say, the Canadian pool found it-self temporarily embarrassed because it was holding stocks too long, and had to meet temporary financial difficulties. In that case, no protection of the kind proposed against bounty-fed exports to this country would help the situation. Nor would Protection of a more general kind. I am not going to argue the general case for or against Protection and it is not necessary to do so, since the other side do not venture to propose general protection of food imports. But I would point out that the whole circumstances are differing now. Even if you put a tax on British grain imports and pushed up the price of grain in this country—and it is only by that means that you could help the British farmer—it would not affect in the least the reasons which make it worth while for Germany to export at this moment and to import in three months time. Nor would it affect the situation of the United States Farm Board if it desired to get rid of a large excess of wheat at any price. The truth of the matter is that the whole of the arguments for both Free Trade and Protection are entirely irrelevant to this situation. It has to be dealt with on quite new lines. We have to adjust our fiscal policy, our import arrangements, our commercial and financial arrangements, to an entirely new situation. I was very much interested in what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) said about the need of international action. I quite agree that this problem cannot be solved except, ultimately, by international action, but we have to put our own house in order first.
It is quite obvious that this increasing fluctuation in prices, this danger of sub-ordinating at any moment the interests 193 of the British farmers to the chances or the profits of speculators in Chicago, or the American policy with regard to the Farm Board, or the temporary necessities of Germany, or the fact that American loan security has temporarily stopped— it is obvious that this is a situation with which it is the duty of any Government to deal. Hon. Members opposite had plenty of time to deal with it in the years when they were in office, because although one hon. Gentleman said the import of German wheat this year was 20 or 25 times what it was the previous year, two years before that, in 1925–6, it was over 30 times what it was in 1927–8, so that they had plenty of time to consider the problem and suggest their remedies. The truth of the matter is that already, as I have said, 60 per cent. of the grain coming into this country is in the hands of three great milling combines, and it is quite plain that sooner or later two at least of those combines will come together. The same tendency is observable in most other European countries. We are faced, on the one hand, with a combination of sellers, and we are and shall be faced, on the other, with the necessity of meeting that combination—not in any hostile spirit, but in a co-operative spirit, because this constant fluctuation and un-certainty of prices is by no means more profitable to the American farmers than it is to ours—by adjusting our commercial arrangements accordingly; and the alternative is either a millers' monopoly, a combine monopoly of import in this country, or some other scheme of import monopoly which would give this House and the consumer in this country a far greater feeling and perhaps reality of security.
I am in a position of greater freedom than the Minister on the Front Bench in dealing with remedies, but it is well known to the House that proposals have been made in Labour reports on this subject, and I want to submit to the House that those proposals are the only practicable business methods of dealing with the situation, whatever may be their political implications, which have been put forward. Selling is becoming concentrated; buying has to become concentrated too. That is the only possible way of putting the supply of wheat to this country on a reasonably steady and secure basis; it is the only possible way of protecting the farmer in this country 194 against dumping. The proposal we have made contemplates the setting up of an Imports Board, representative of the trade, representative of the farmers, and representative of the consumers, acting for the Government and people of this country, as a business like concern in supplying the needs of our people in wheat. The requirements from year to year are practically stable; the world price from year to year, taking the average, is very steady. What we have guard the farmer and consumer against is this constant variation and fluctuation of prices from day to day, intensified rather than diminished by the concentration since the war on selling, and secure a steady supply of wheat at a steady price. Then we shall be in a position to guarantee to the farmer a secure and steady price for his grain, based on average world prices.
I suppose it may give a larger return to at least two-thirds of the farmers, varying according to the chances from year to year, according to whether a farmer has sold in a favourable week or in an unfavourable week. As things are, there is a margin of about 25 per cent. between the best week in the year and the worst week in the year, and it is quite obvious, if one may judge from the figures and factors involved, that it is beyond the knowledge and beyond the opportunity and experience of farmers generally, when they take their wheat to market, to know what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Things such as have been happening there in the last two or three days may be within the knowledge of the great grain firms, but very seldom are they within the knowledge of the vast majority of farmers. The fact is that at this moment the farmer wants a new sort of Protection. He wants protection against the wheat market manipulator, he wants protection against the chances of dumping; and the consumer requires to be protected also, to secure that when wheat does come into this country at a comparatively low price —though we know quite well we have to pay a higher price correspondingly later in the year, when, for example, Germany comes into the market to fulfil her needs —the consumer generally gets the advantage of that reduced price.
I do not suppose for a moment that, if we centralised our import, it would stop there. Other countries have been and are 195 considering a similar plan. It will be within the knowledge of some hon. Members of the House that that is the proposal which is at this moment under acute discussion between the parties in France who are discussing the question of the succession to office. They are faced with the same difficulties as we are, though our difficulties are infinitely more acute, because we are dependent for our wheat to the extent of 75 per cent, from abroad, while their percentage is very much lower. I submit to the House that the lines we have suggested, which would make it possible to carry through those international arrangements which the right hon. Member for St. Ives has suggested, are the best practicable lines that have been put forward up to this moment, and that they should be considered on their merits as the only available way, so far as I am aware, of giving the farmer the amount of protection, of the Kind I have indicated, for which he is entitled to ask, and at the same time safeguarding and assisting the interests of the consumer.
§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
I am sure I shall be voicing the feeling of the House if I utter a word of very hearty congratulation to the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), who has just spoken, not only on the admirable way in which he delivered his speech, but also on the very great knowledge which he showed in regard to some of the more difficult parts of the question which we are now considering. He told us that the system of marketing cereals had under-gone a great change during the course of the last few years, and he seemed to base upon that the difficulty which has how arisen. I do not intend to follow him there, but, if I may, I would like to go back to the Debate as it stood before the hon. Member rose to speak. The Minister of Agriculture, as has been pointed out by the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), depicted in very grave words the seriousness of this problem with which we are now faced. The right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), who spoke from the Liberal Benches, raised some considerations which, I must say, rather impressed me, and I think there are one or two points in the Debate, in so far as it has gone, which require clarifying.
196 Figures were given which showed that the import of these subsidised German cereals had risen 25 times in amount this year as compared with last year. Does the Minister admit those figures, and if there has been such an increase, what is the real cause of that increase? I have been unable really to ascertain what is the cause from what has been said up to now. The right hon. Member for St. Ives asked whether the Germans were really paying a subsidy at all. If they are, they are going contrary to their agreement at the Geneva Economic Conference, and I want to ask the Minister this question: Whatever this arrangement is by which the German farmer pays import licences—frankly, I do not under-stand what it is—does the German Government ultimately bear the cost? That seems to me a very pertinent question, because if the German Government ultimately bears the cost of this procedure, whatever it is, then surely it is of the nature of a subsidy, and presumably it is contrary to the agreement into which the German Government entered at the Geneva Economic Conference. There appears to be a definite difference of opinion as to whether or not there is a subsidy, and I hope that before this Debate finishes the Government will be able to make it perfectly clear, as I do not think it has been made quite clear up to now, exactly what is happening, and whether German cereals are receiving a subsidy. If so, I hope indeed that the Government will take some such action as has been suggested through the Foreign Office to bring to the notice of the German Government authorities the fact that they are not keeping within the undertaking which they gave at the Economic Conference.
I quite agree that at this particular moment it is really no good approaching this matter from the point of view of Protection. We are faced with practical facts. Our arable farmers throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom—I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland, where, as is the case in Scotland, of course, they are mainly growers of oats—are being very severely hit by the importation of this German grain, in whatever way it may be subsidised. Therefore, I do not think it is a practical question now to approach it from the point of view of Protection. Let us, if we can, find some possible 197 action which the Government may take within the limits of our present state of politics; that is, of course, ruling Protection out. I hope that the appeal, which came first from the Liberal Benches, that the Government should, through the Foreign Office, approach the German Government, will not fall upon deaf ears, and that at any rate one advantage will accrue from this Debate, namely, that more resolute and definite action will be taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture to try and find some means of relieving our arable farmers from some part of this great and unfair burden which they are at present having to bear.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BEN RILEY
I want to refer to some of the figures which have been given by speakers on the other side. I do not want to belittle the seriousness of the problem which is presented by the import of German wheat and its effect upon British farmers, but it is as well to under-stand that the case put forward on behalf of the Motion has been grossly exaggerated. For instance, the statement has been made that the import of German wheat in the last year, compared with the previous year, had increased 25 times in amount. I want to give what I understand are the actual figures up to July of this year. For the year ending July, 1929, the total amount of wheat imported from Germany was 123,012 tons. Those are the official figures. For the previous year the amount was 8,784 tons. Now that represents an increase of about 12 times, and not 25 times. But the important thing to remember, as has been pointed out by an hon. Member who spoke previously, is that if you go back to the year ending July, 1926, the imports of German wheat in that year were far higher than they were for the year ending July of this year.
§ Mr. RILEY
It is quite true that the subsidy has increased, but the important thing to remember is that in 1925, when the subsidy was only about one-third of what it is now, the import of German wheat was 180,000 tons. as against the 123,012 tons for the year ending July of this year, when the subsidy has been trebled. The point I want to put is that, 198 while the problem is no doubt serious, it is very grossly exaggerated, particularly in relation to its comparison with the total import of wheat from world sources. What does it amount to? Again, I do not want to belittle it, but let us understand its proportion. As a matter of fact, the amount of German wheat which was imported in the year ending July of this year represents only 1.3 per cent. of our total imports from all other countries.
§ Sir J. LAMB
Will the hon. Member give us the proportion which it represents of our production in this country, not of our imports?
§ Mr. RILEY
While, as I say, it is only 1.3 per cent. of our total imports—that is to say, we import round about 28,000,000 quarters, and the import from Germany for the last 12 months was, I think, about 330,000 quarters, rather over a quarter-of-a-million; it varies from year to year, up to 1.4 or 1.5 per cent.—it is quite true that in relation to the British crop the importation of German wheat has now run up to about 7½ per cent.
What are the remedies? I listened attentively, as no doubt other hon. Members did, to hear the immediate steps which are proposed. Two steps were suggested in the proposals put forward by the Mover of this Motion. I noticed that the Seconder made no proposal whatever as far as I could follow—he made an interesting speech, but no proposals—but the Mover of the Motion said that the two remedies were these: on the one hand, he called upon the Government to place a duty upon the import of wheat, which, as he said, was bound to be paid, and, on the other hand, to use the revenue for the purpose of subsidising the growing of similar cereals in this country. May I submit, in the first place, that as has already been pointed out, both those remedies have been condemned by his own party. In view of the remarks made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), in which be contended that it is only recently that the importation of German wheat has become serious, and giving that as an excuse why nothing was done by the late Government in this matter, it is rather interesting to remember that this very question was discussed at some length in 199 another place as recently as the 14th February of this year, and, in reply, the Minister acting for the late Government said:We cannot take any step in the matter, though of course it is receiving our consideration.Therefore, it is quite obvious from that point of view that the only steps suggested have been condemned by a Government representing the Mover and Seconder of the Motion to-day.
After all is said and done, while the importation of this wheat is having its effect in certain parts of the country, that effect is of a limited character. The effect has been simply to increase the price by from 3s. to 4s. per quarter in certain markets almost entirely confined to about four ports on the East Coast. Take Boston; take Kings Lynn; I am not sure whether it would go as far as Newcastle; and take Hull. It affects the whole of those ports, but it does not affect the British markets at all in other parts of the country. "[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is sold only in those markets. Therefore, the remedy which is sought to be applied is a remedy which would give to other parts of the country a subsidy for which there is no call.
As a final point, may I add that, when all is said and done, the more one considers the effect of a situation such as is now pictured by this Motion—an effect which is local, though no doubt serious to those who are locally concerned—the clearer it becomes that the whole remedy is, as the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) pointed out, to have a system of dealing with wheat, whether it comes from Germany, from South America, or from Canada, by which it goes into one pool and does not have a local effect at all, does not depress prices, but is managed by a national board on a stabilised price basis.
§ Mr. R. A. BUTLER
Speaking, as I do in this House for the first time, let me assure hon. Members that I will not claim the attention of the House for a very long period, particularly as I am, I think, one of the younger Members, and therefore my experience cannot rival that of the other speakers on this Motion. My reason for rising is that I represent, I think, probably one of the most arable 200 districts in England, a district in the neighbourhood of North Essex and Saffron Walden which has been extra-ordinarily struck by the unfairness of the competition of bounty-fed German cereals. I do not say for a moment that everybody in that district, farm workers or farmers, understands the economic reasons for the troubles which they are undergoing. I do not suppose that they understand any better than I do the complicated system of licences and import questions which affect the matter of bounty-fed cereals from Germany; but the facts of the case are stronger in a district like that than, I think, anybody has hitherto put before this House. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), who made a speech which everyone very much admired, spoke of facts about the working classes of the country, and I intend to try to give some facts about the working classes of the district which I represent.
The workers and the farmers as well— they are both the working classes—are at the present moment undergoing, in arable districts, a worse time, I think, than any they experienced even during the bad period of agriculture in 1879. To appreciate that, one needs only to go round the district, in the villages, and in the very badly constructed cottages of lath and plaster, and to see the difficulties which arable cultivation imposes upon all workers at the present time. When they are told by the important organisations which give them their economic knowledge that they are suffering competition from other quarters which are subsidised by the Government of a foreign power, they begin to understand some of the unfairness of the treatment which is meted out to them. I have been astounded to-day that, though we heard from the Minister of Agriculture that he considers that this is one of the most serious and appalling problems, he had not one remedy to suggest. Of the only two suggestions which I have heard, one came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), and the other came from the hon. Member for East Leicester.
The proposal of the right hon. Member for St. Ives I hope to deal with in a moment. As regards the proposal of the hon. Member for East Leicester, I should have felt a greater sense of confidence had his leader, the Minister of Agricul- 201 ture, put forward that proposal from the Front Bench—if he agrees with the policy of stabilisation and the policy of an Import Board to purchase our wheat. If that is considered by a Member of the Labour party, and by so able a speaker as the hon. Member for East Leicester, to be a possible solution of the extremely difficult problem of cereal cultivation, then in my opinion, if the Minister of Agriculture considers that the situation and the problems are so appalling, he himself ought to have brought forward that scheme and not have put it off to a later date. I must confess to a very great sense of disappointment that the only once mentioned the question of stabilisation and did not develop that question, if he really considers that that is going to help wheat cultivation in this country.
I said that I would give the House some idea of the effects of the difficulties in an arable area. So great an authority as Sir Daniel Hall has told us that there is 16 per cent. less employment now among youths under 21 years of age entering upon their duties on the land, than there was in 1914. I know that at the present moment, in villages in North Essex, there is a very great deal of unemployment. In Hempstead near Saffron Walden and other villages unemployment is steadily increasing, and the increase is assisted by the prospect of prices not getting any better. These men, when unemployed, have absolutely nothing to look forward to; they have no insurance; they have to go on the parish, and hon. Members can imagine what effect that has upon a British working man, in whatever capacity he may work. That is all due to the failure to adopt a suitable policy for dealing with the problem of wheat growing. I maintain that the plough is mightier than the pen, just as the pen is mightier than the sword; and if we could follow the plough and follow the policy of the plough I believe that this country would be very much better off and that the problems of the arable districts would be relieved. So much for the policy suggested by the hon. Member for East Leicester. That policy could not have come from more eloquent lips, but I should have preferred it to have come from the lips of those responsible for the policy of his party.
As regards the policy suggested by the right hon. Member for St. Ives, he 202 declared that the subject ought to be dealt with by international agreement, and I absolutely agree with him. I go further. I resent the ideas which have come from the opposite benches that we on these benches must adhere absolutely to theories which, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, may have been out of date a great many years ago. In the few short minutes at my disposal I want to try to show the House that, as a young Member on this side, I at least do feel that certain of the old theories are out of date, and that we must look to international agreement to settle the problems of British agriculture. I consider that without international agreement nothing can be done to remedy the problem of price. Price is the question which is at the bottom of all the problems of agriculture at the present moment. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture talking to us about stabilisation unless he promises to stabilise the price at a level higher than that existing now. Stabilisation at the present level would make absolutely no difference at all, nor would a difference in fluctuation. What we want to know is, is that stabilisation going to be at a much higher level than it is now?
What I believe would deal with this problem of the importation of foreign bounty-fed cereals to this country is an improvement of the conditions of agriculture in all the countries of the world by some international settlement. The hon. Member for East Leicester referred to his knowledge of Germany. I had the good fortune to travel through North Germany this summer, and I was able to see some of the problems myself. The situation in German agriculture has been practically as bad as that in British agriculture, and the situation in countries where there is a protective tariff, such as Switzerland or Australia, is very often just as bad. I do not necessarily look to Protection as a remedy for our troubles, but I honestly and sincerely think that if there were an international conference to deal with the problem of prices and of the gold standard, that would make a greater difference to agriculture than anything else.
If you study the history of the agricultural problem from 1879, which was the most serious time that English agriculture has known except the present time, 203 you find that it was a problem of falling prices. The question of falling prices affects agriculture more than anything else owing to the lag in agricultural finance and because it is impossible to reduce further the costs of production by lowering wages, because they are too low already. Therefore, agriculture is very severely hit by falling prices, and that question can be dealt with by some international decision as regards the gold standard. If that suggestion is any good, coupled with the suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman should approach the Foreign Office with a view to finding out whether this proposal is against the provisions of the Geneva Conference, I believe that something on these lines internationally might help agriculture in Germany and here and all over the world, and improve the severe and terrible conditions which are existing in the arable districts of England.
§ Mr. BLINDELL
May I, a comparatively new Member of this House, offer my heartiest congratulations to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) on his first speech, to which I am sure the House has listened with rapt attention and has enjoyed very much? I am glad that the hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir E. Iliffe) decided to raise this very important matter. As representing an important agricultural division, I know that this question has come very much to the fore with all with whom I come into contact in my constituency. The question to-day is, what is the Government going to do with regard to the dumping of German wheat into this country? I do not know what the agricultural interests of this country will say when they read the reply that the Minister of Agriculture has given to-day. I do not know what they will think when they read that the leader of the party, so far as agriculture is concerned, tells this House that, as the Government which preceded him had no remedy for this matter, why should he be expected to have a remedy? My reply is that there is a vast volume of opinion in the country which thinks that we can get something from this Government which we could not get from the Government which preceded them. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture has had to confess to-day that a distinct difficulty exists, but that he and his Government cannot propose a remedy for it.
204 We must realise that, although this is an important question, it can be over-stated, and that it is possible to hear more about the importation of German wheat than about other things that would be to the benefit of agriculture generally. I do not believe some of the sweeping statements that are made with regard to this particular matter, nor do I agree when it is suggested that all would be well if this particular difficulty could be counteracted and surmounted immediately. It would certainly help agriculture, but it would not solve the difficulties of agriculture, and it would touch only a fringe of the difficulties that agriculture as an industry is up again at the moment. For all that, it is a very important matter, and something which we ought to face; and it ought to be one of those things about which a Government such as we have in office to-day ought to be able to say, "We realise the difficulty of the industry; there is something wrong here, and we are going to take a certain move along certain lines in order to try and remove it." I am, however, very disappointed that all we have got is that, as the previous Administration could not do anything, why should we expect the present to do more than they? All I can say is that we do expect, and shall continue to expect.
In order to get this matter in its true perspective, may I try to explain the importance of it with regard to the price of wheat in this country? The average consumption of wheat in this country for the last Seven years amounts to 134,639,000 cwts. and the average total import of wheat for the last seven years is 103,506,000 cwts. The average importation of German wheat into this country during the last seven years amounts to 888,860 cwts. That enables us to realise exactly how much of the total importation of wheat into this country comes from Germany, and it enables us to realise in a true measure the importance of this particular question. In other words, less than 1 per cent. of the total consumption of wheat in this country is the subject matter of our Debate to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I do not think it is a shame. I think that we ought to talk about it, and if it is wrong that this subsidised wheat should come into this country, we ought to talk about it even if it were less than 5 per cent., 205 because I am afraid that it may grow into a larger proportion. If it does, it will be a very serious problem, and it ought to be tackled in the earlier stages rather than later.
Take the figures for this year. The total of import for this year from all sources is 83,537,000 cwts. The importation from the United States, Argentina, Australia and Canada accounts for 80,903,000 cwts. The official figures do not give us what comes from Germany, but they lump the rest under the heading "all other countries." During the nine months of this year, the total of wheat from all other countries amounts to 2,591,047 cwts. We can assume that less than half of the total imports of all other countries comes from Germany. This is a figure of which we ought to take note, and it is a figure that affects particularly the Eastern counties agriculturists. These figures show again that there has been during the present year a tremendous increase for the figures of imported German wheat, but it is only fair to say that the figures of this year compare favourably, and indeed show a decrease over those of 1926–1927. It might be said that the importation of German wheat which amounts to only 1 per cent. of our total consumption will not have any effect upon the price of wheat in this country, and that it does not matter. I suggest that it does matter, and that we ought to give full consideration to it, especially with regard to the agricultural interests in the Eastern counties.
Where does this wheat go to? The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley) said that it was taken in by the East coast ports. I believe that he is right, and the difficulty in this particular matter is that Hull, for instance, can take this German wheat direct into the mill from the quayside at a price which does not give the farmer in Lincolnshire an opportunity of getting an economic price for the corn that he himself produces. Some people might ask us to prove that the mills buy their wheat so much more cheaply than the price at which the English farmer can sell it to them. They might not buy it more cheaply, but the point is that the German wheat can be brought to the quayside in Hull and delivered, say, at a figure somewhere round 40s. or 41s. per quarter, and while the 206 English farmer may be able to get 41s., the miller has to pay 41s. plus the tremendous freightage. In that way it brings down the price of wheat for the agricultural community, and the result is that the farmers are suffering, I do suggest, therefore, that it is a matter that ought to be given serious consideration.
I do not know what the remedy really ought to be. We are not dealing with wheat that is sent into this country on account of over-production in Germany. Germany is a great wheat importing country, and is importing tremendous quantities and again exporting wheat to this country. Attempts have been made to explain just how and why from this tariff-ridden country of Germany this wheat can be dumped into England, and, by the system of licences which is in operation there an equivalent quantity of some other cereal can be taken in to the advantage of the German farmer and the disadvantage of our British farmer. The position being what it is, and I being a Free Trader, I am going to stick to my Free Trade principles. I have up room for taxes on food, and I really believe, as I think hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, that any solution along the lines of a tax upon wheat or upon cereals of any description would be a very dangerous step to take; and this House is not likely to take it.
As a Free Trader, I certainly want fair trade, and if the premeditated action of another Government with a regard to a particular system of tariffs which they care to introduce into their own country means that we are going to have unfair trade for a certain section of the community, such as the agriculturists, it ii up to the Government to protect them, and to see that they have an opportunity to trade upon fair lines, and to introduce some measure or take some action which will give to the farming interest of this country really fair play in this matter. I firmly believe, too, that the solution will not be found along the lines of taxing our own poor people— because they are the people who would pay. We do not hear very much now a days about the foreigners paying. It is our people at home who would have to pay whatever tax was put on. I also realise that the admission of this wheat into this country has not' made the slightest difference to the rice of the loaf to the poor people.
207 The House should remember, also, that the Government which preceded the present one were asked to solve this very same problem and declined to do so. They said that taxes on food were impossible, and the prohibition of imports was impracticable. The present Government have told the agricultural interests that their policy is one of stabilisation of prices. The Government have professed to have the interests of our agriculturists at heart. Time and time again in the Constituencies they have promised that by the stabilisation of prices or, to use their own words, by a stability in the prices of all main crops and products, they would help agriculture on to its feet again. To-day is the day when the Government might say something to agriculturists as to how they propose to restore agriculture to prosperity again. I was positively sorry to hear the Minister of Agriculture admit that he had no remedy and to find that the only excuse he could offer was that the Government before him had also failed to find a remedy. I say that some consideration must be given to agriculture. We expect, indeed, we insist, that our farmers should pay adequate wages to their men—no one would insist On that more firmly than I would—and when unfair trading conditions exist we must, in justice to them, do all in our power to see that such a state of affairs is remedied at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
As a new Member coming from the countryside, from the rural constituency in which I was born, I would crave the indulgence of the House in venturing to utter my first word in the Mother of Parliaments and to add one or two remarks to the flow of valuable information which we have had. In my judgment the hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Blindell) seemed unduly hard upon the Minister. He deprecated the lack of willingness of the Minister to state the policy of the Government on a private Member's Motion. As a new Member I feel surprised that the hon. Member for the Holland Division should be quite so censorious having regard to the fact that he himself was barren of any practical proposals. May I be permitted to congratulate the Mover of the Motion, if not upon any practical proposal which he made for remedying the evil at least upon his luck in the ballot, 208 and in view of the admirable spirit which has marked all the speeches dealing with this great industry I hope that we may look for even bigger luck in relation to the problems associated with agriculture.
As an outsider reading Debates here, as a countryman looking to this House, I have wondered what you politicians were scrambling about whilst the industry of agriculture was going to the Devil. Now that I have come here I discover that there is a mutual, earnest and intense desire among all parties to find a solution for what everyone admits is a really terrible social and human problem as well as a cancer in the industrial life of the nation. Therefore I would beg the Minister to take his courage in both hands and set about this problem of prices, and thus enable us to move forward along the lines of the policy which the Government are pledged to support, I make no apology for the pledges I gave to my fellow countrymen in Norfolk in regard to this business. We on this side do not mind being twitted by hon. Members of the two parties opposite, because they have a reputation and a record at least as bad as ours in regard to the way in which they have bluffed the industry and disappointed us in the countryside. When I remember that there are nearly 60,000 fewer agricultural workers than there were six years ago, and that nearly 1,000,000 acres of what used to be arable land are going down and out, and that the peasants are treading their way to our cities to compete with the men living there, I should be false to my position as a representative if I did not say to the Minister and to this House: "Put aside your party prejudices and in God's name help this nation to a better understanding of the terrible problem in rural Britain."
I beg the House, I beg our Front Bench, to tackle this problem of agriculture, with its great human challenge. In making this appeal I ask hon. Members opposite to give us credit at least for good intentions. I have heard hon. Members opposite claim that they speak for the agricultural industry. I agree that they do, but they are not the only ones in the picture. Only two or three of we Labour men have been returned for agricultural Britain, but we are going to try to wake things up; we are going to make 209 the people understand that for years neither of the parties opposite has made any real contribution to the solution of the great problem of agriculture. I beg the House to give us a chance. Whatever may be said about those who sit on the Government Benches, whatever criticism there may be in regard to the attitude of our party towards the agricultural problem, we have never let the industry down. We have never "sold the industry a pup," as both the other parties have. I say quite frankly that politicians of all parties are suffering in the countryside because of the sins of past Governments who have led the dwellers there to lose confidence in this old House, this Mother of Parliaments. In submitting these few hurried, rough and countryside remarks I hope the House will not only associate itself with the Motion but will help our Front Bench to understand that the greatest thing they can do for old Britain during this period is to take their courage in both hands and challenge the Opposition with our agricultural policy. I believe that on those lines we can open the way to a brighter, easier and smoother path where the peasant and the producer may walk as free from poverty as the prince.
Earl of DALKEITH
I would like to be allowed to congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) upon his excellent maiden speech. I rise to support the Motion on behalf of those who farm and those who are employed upon farms in Scotland, and to draw attention especially to imports of foreign oats. This year excellent crops of oats have been harvested here, but owing to artificially cheapened grain being dumped into this country just at the opening of the marketing season the prices for home-grown oats have been much too low. There have been references to the magnitude of the imports both in this year and in preceding years, but it is not only a question of magnitude, it is a question of effect, and there is no doubt at all that this year the effect upon our markets has been very serious. A feeling of grave anxiety is general among the farmers in Scotland, nothing is so much discussed at the present time, and we are indeed fortunate that the winner of the ballot chose this subject for the first Motion. The worst danger arising 210 from this situation is the possibility that land will be laid back to grass. That would mean great injury to many families, who as a consequence would lose regular employment. This is likely to occur in many districts unless confidence can be quickly restored, and if the land is allowed to go back to grass it will not be a very easy matter to bring it under corn again. Then I would like to emphasise that all the agricultural organisations in Scotland have protested against these bounty-fed imports, and no doubt the Government have had an opportunity of considering their representations as to a countervailing duty and also a revision of commercial treaties if they are harmful to British farmers.
I think the Minister of Agriculture and other hon. Members made a mistake in turning the discussion of this Motion on to the general question of Protection or subsidies. The point is that to-day we have this one definite and serious matter with which to contend. The President of the Board of Trade stated not long ago that no industry could carry on under a system which forced it to sell at a loss, and yet farmers are being obliged to sell their oats at a price which is less than what it cost to grow them. I think it is most important that it should be fully realised that if nothing is done in regard to this question we shall be simply encouraging Germany to increase her cultivation by making it easier for Germany to sell, while at the same time we shall be making it harder for our own people to sell. If it is true that other countries in Europe intend to follow the example of Germany in this matter the situation will become worse than it is at the present time. I am sorry that on this subject the Government have taken up the attitude of leaving things as they are because nothing has been done previously. The effect of past policies has been very much aggravated this season, and that is the reason why it is all the more urgent that something should be done at once. The principle of the whole thing is wrong, and that is what annoys the farmers, when they realise that they are not having fair play in our own markets.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. DALLAS
There is no Member of this House whom it would give me more 211 pleasure to follow than the noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh (The Earl of Dalkeith) who became a very great friend of mine during our political fights. I would like to say that in my opinion there is not the slightest hope for agriculture in any of the suggestions put forward in the speeches from the Conservative benches. Some hon. Members who have spoken have stated that it is the duty of the Government to get on with the job, but the representatives of both Liberalism and Toryism have completely failed to make the slightest practical suggestion as to how this problem should be dealt with. Obviously it is not a simple question. We have been told that treaties are involved, and one hon. Member has suggested that we should ask the German Government to make a contribution in regard to this matter. It is difficult to find out exactly what has taken place, but there is no possibility of this Government or any other Government taking up this question with the German Government on the ground of the violation of treaties, because the German Government does not contribute one solitary farthing. Although Germany is already a protected country hon. Members opposite have told us that the hours worked in Germany by agricultural workers are longer than the hours worked in this country; and they have also stated that wages are much lower in Germany, notwithstanding the fact that Germany has the benefit of the remedy which the Conservative party has offered to agriculture and other industries in this country.
All the grain that comes into Germany has to pay an import duty of 13s. 10d. Why is Germany an exporting and an importing country at the same time? The reason is the same as that which is given for the policy adopted in this country. The German people want their loaf to be something like the loaf which the people of this country desire to have, and therefore they have to import hard wheats from America and Canada, and when these hard wheats come in other wheats are exported and a rebate is allowed of the exact amount of the tax paid on the wheat which comes into Germany. Consequently the German Government in no way comes into the picture, because what happens is that 212 there is simply a rebate of the import duty and there is no direct contribution by the German Government.
Some of the figures which have been quoted in this Debate do not make a fair comparison, because the Canadian and North American wheats do not compete with our home-grown wheats. It is not fair to take the total import of wheats into this country and then to deduct the small amount which comes from Germany. The late Government had many opportunities of doing something for agriculture, but their efforts proved very disappointing. We have been told that the reason why the late Government did not do anything for agriculture in 1928 was that an election was pending. I often wonder why the late Government did not apply the principle they have put forward to home-fed meat for British troops. The members of the Conservative party have always claimed to be the friends of the farmers, but I have always asserted that they have always been the friends of the landlords, which is a very different proposition. If the late Government had any remedy at all for this problem they have had many opportunities in the past of applying that remedy, and they have failed to take advantage of the situation which presented itself to them. As a matter of fact the only remedy they have been able to produce is that of Protection.
I thought we were advancing politically in regard to this question when I heard the suggestion from an hon. Member opposite that this is a question which goes beyond the bounds of our own little island, and one which will have to be dealt with in a much wider sense. I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) that I do not think he will find that anything will come out of the Geneva Conference which will enable the Minister of Agriculture to take any action on this matter with the German Government. What every country in the world should try to do as quickly as possible is to reduce tariff barriers, because that action would tend to help our depressed industries. The policy which has been adopted by the Government of the United States may sooner or later have a very serious effect on agriculture, and this is a point which should be very carefully examined. This is a far more 213 serious question than the import of German wheat. I think it is a good sign of the times that we are all inclined to the opinion that we cannot solve this question in a purely isolated way. We have to take a very much wider and broader outlook, and to take into account the conditions of the whole world as they affect agriculture.
On this question I make no apology for what I have said on public platforms. I believe that there is no way out of this difficulty except that of dealing with some Board, or setting up machinery that will have some control over the importation of agricultural produce into this country, whether it be wheat or meat. I think that is the only way in which we can tackle this problem, and I feel certain that the Government—if we run our course as I feel sure we shall do— will be able to go a long way towards settling many of these great problems. I desire to get as much agreement as possible amongst all parties on this subject. I cannot visualise the Liberal party departing very much from their own particular plan, and I cannot visualise the party to which I belong sacrificing their principles in dealing with the great subject of agriculture. As for the Conservative party, I have some difficulty in finding out what is their policy. But in spite of all these differences I think there is a measure of reasonable agreement that British agriculture is something which should be raised above all party interests.
I think there is some little measure of agreement that we should do something quickly to deal with this subject. I agreed with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) when he drew attention to what is a very serious aspect of this problem, namely, that the number of agricultural workers employed on the land is gradually diminishing, and that young men are definitely refusing to go into the agricultural industry. If we could succeed in two or three years' time in reviving British trade I am sure that British agriculture and British farmers would be presented with the greatest labour problem they have ever known. It is a tragedy that we should allow the land of this country to become derelict; while a large number of the best workers in the land are drifting from the villages where. I am sure they would be very much happier and more contented, and where 214 they would be able to lead more useful lives than in our crowded towns and cities, where they are only increasing the difficulties of the labour problem. Something can be done now, and ought to be done now, to deal with this question of the importation of German wheat, and it ought to be dealt with by the large, broad, international method that we have suggested. If an Import Board were set up to control the importation of wheat, we could say to Germany, "We do not want your wheat, and will not take it," and we could say that to any country without infringing any treaty or anything of that kind. The Board would have the right to buy wheat where it liked, and it would be able in that way at any rate to help the farmer to get a better price. Someone has asked at what figure the price is to be stabilised, and it is suggested that, if it is not stabilised at a higher price, it will not be of any use. Sir Daniel Hall has been quoted. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest authorities on British agriculture, and he was positive that it is the uncertainty of prices as much as the lowness of prices that creates lack of confidence in British agriculture. Therefore, if we can stabilise the price, and steady it for as long a period as we possibly can, we shall bring greater confidence to British agriculture than it has at the present time. I am afraid I have trespassed a long time on the kindness of the House, and I am grateful to the House for haying listened to me so patiently.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I should like most heartily to congratulate the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas) on his very successful and interesting maiden speech, which I hope is only the first of many more, to which I am sure the House will always listen with the greatest interest. I share, and I believe that the farmers outside this House, when they read this Debate to-morrow, will share, his disappointment at the conclusion to which the Debate seems to be leading. We have had a very interesting discussion, but I feel that the speech of the Minister of Agriculture must come as a great disappointment, not only to Members of this House, but also to farmers throughout the country. I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman with all respect that it is all very well to go to the country at election time with a slogan 215 such as "Farming must be made to pay," but, on the very first problem with which he is faced, he has to admit that he has absolutely no policy whatever for dealing with it. The Minister has said that these German imports of wheat and oats constitute a downright subsidy, that it is most regrettable and damaging, that the situation is deplorable—in fact, he went so far as to say that it is unfair; and yet he had to admit that he had not a single proposal to make for dealing with the situation. I suggest that that is the sort of attitude on the part of politicians which shakes the confidence of farmers and agriculturists in Parliament.
After all, the situation in farming could not very well be more serious than it is to-day. After a splendid harvest, a large percentage of the farmers in this country are faced with bankruptcy. It is not the weather—for two successive years the weather has been more than kind; we have had splendid crops, and splendid harvests; but the world price situation is such that farming cannot be made to pay. Hon. Members interested in co-operative societies know it as well as anyone else. The co-operative societies are some of the biggest farmers in this country, and they have lost thousands of pounds in trying to farm in England. Although they have at their disposal all the advantages of co-operative buying and co-operative selling, and all the re-sources of their great organisation, yet they have found that the world price situation is such that it is practically impossible, on ordinary land, to make arable farming pay. In such circumstances, these subsidised foreign imports really do seem to the farmers to be the last straw. A farmer said to me the other day, "We have been taught that we have to accept Free Trade, but do you call this Free Trade?" It really is a. case of heads they win, tails we lose. I heard a farmer put it recently in this way: If the Germans can afford to make their farmers prosperous, and to make their farms pay, why cannot we in England afford to do so too? Therefore, I do not think the House would like to sit down under the non possumus attitude of the Minister of Agriculture, and I do not believe that hon. Members opposite are satisfied with his statement this afternoon.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
If I may interrupt the Noble Lord for a moment, may I ask if he would take that view of the non possumus attitude of his friends?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the late Government did do something to help agriculture. They took all the rates off the land, they took all taxation off farmers, and they went to the country with a proposal to give the farmers an assured market for British meat and British wheat as regards the Imperial Forces, a proposal which was turned down by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Therefore, it does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman to tax us with regard to our policy; the late Government did more to help agriculture, probably, than any previous Government for a long time. What I am asking the right hon. Gentleman, however, is what he is going to do, and what the Government propose to do, with regard to this question of dumped German wheat, which, as I have said, is really the last straw as far as the British farmer is concerned.
While the right hon. Gentleman was unable to propose any definite action at all, he mumbled, if he will excuse my using that term, something about stabilisation. Do I understand from him that stabilisation is the policy in which his party and his Government believe? If so, surely, if stabilization means anything, it is meant to deal with a situation like this. If stabilisation cannot be used against dumped subsidised foreign imported wheat, when can it be used? Surely, the whole purpose of a stabilisation policy is to deal with unfair competition of this sort. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe in his party's policy of stabilisation? It appears that the right hon. Gentleman has not any belief. He has declined to announce his general agricultural policy in the course of what he calls this narrow Debate, bat, surely, on the question of subsidised foreign imports, we have a right to know if the Government's policy of stabilisation of prices applies. Have they got a policy? Have they worked out their election cry of stabilisation—because that is all that we have seen of it? We have seen it in election pamphlets, we have seen it on posters, we have seen it in books with high sounding titles, such as "Labour and the Nation." We have seen it sketched, 217 but we have never seen it worked out in detail. Has the right hon. Gentleman ever worked it out? Have the Government got it in black and white? Has the right hon. Gentleman got the Bill, and, if so, will he produce it?
In answer to a question which I ventured to ask him yesterday, he said that he was anxious to announce his agricultural policy at the first opportunity. He Can have an opportunity to-morrow; he can present his Bill and get it printed, so that the House, at any rate, can see in detail what the agricultural policy of the Government is. He gave, as the excuse for not pushing that Bill forward, the fact that the Labour party have not a majority in this House; but no party has a majority in this House. Is agriculture —and this is a point that I would like to put to Members of all parties—is agriculture to wait until it suits our party conveniences to bring forward a party programme and carry it by a party majority? The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon seemed to welcome the idea of an inter-party conference. Surely, the interests of agriculture demand that, if there is no party majority in this House, the three parties should get together and try to work out an inter-party policy. But, before we can do that, we must have the proposals of the Government in regard to the stabilisation about which they are always talking; we must have them in black and white. If the Government are unable to produce their Bill, if they have not even worked out their Bill, if they have not thought it out, if they have not drafted it—
§ Viscount WOLMER
Certainly stabilisation of prices is affected by this Motion, and the right hon. Gentleman himself mentioned it in his speech. What we are complaining about is subsidised foreign imported wheat. Hon. Members opposite say that that and other aspects of the problem can be dealt with by stabilisation. I want to know what their stabilisation policy is, what the machinery is, and how they propose to carry it out. I have been trying to induce the right hon. Gentleman to introduce his Bill. If he will only lay it on the Table, all parties will be able to see it. Why is he afraid to do so? I venture to suggest that it is because the Bill does 218 not exist, that it has not been drafted, but has merely been used as an election cry, and that it is not intended to be brought before this Parliament at all.
§ Mr. PRICE
The Noble Lord who has just spoken has taken the Government to task for not having, at this early date in the Session, produced a full agricultural policy with regard to stabilisation of prices and so forth. I would like to point out that this is a Private Member's Motion, and I do not think one can expect the Government at a moment like this to unfold the whole of their policy on this matter. At the same time, I am very glad the question has been raised. I only wish the atmosphere of objectivity which we have heard in some speeches from the Opposition, both above and below the Gangway, had been continued in the speech of the Noble Lord—I regret to say I failed to notice it—because, after all, this is a very serious matter and one in which we should not try to score party advantages. My hon. Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) showed that there are taking place at present most important world economic developments which are going to make altogether obsolete the shibboleths of the old party controversies, and that is the keynote in which this Debate should have been carried on, as indeed I am glad to say it has been carried on in some speeches, because I believe it will be possible to find amongst all parties a certain common denominator of agreement in regard to meeting this new world economic situation.
I am speaking partly as one concerned with agriculture in the West of England, and I know it is true that the situation is very serious indeed this autumn. It appeared up to the end of this summer that the shortage of the wheat crop in the new world would generally tend to make prices somewhat higher in Europe. I have been making certain costings on my farm, and I find that, in the main, wheat has to be at a level of about 10s. a owt. to make it possible to cover the cost of production. It is very doubtful if, even at that figure, it will pay, but there is a chance of it doing so. There was a time this summer when the price of wheat went up to 12s. or 13s. a cwt., but then came a threat, which has been unfortunately translated into practice, of the import of German wheat under this so-called 219 bounty system. At once the price goes down to 9s. 3d.—which obviously will not meet the cost of production.
The argument that I would deduce from that is that the growing of wheat is an absolute gamble in this country as in others. The Noble Lord quoted a farmer as saying: "If the Germans can afford to' make their farms pay why cannot we?" I do not know if the Noble Lord took that view himself, but it is an absolutely wrong point of view. The Germans do not make their farms pay. There is an agricultural crisis in Germany, and has been for some time past, as there is in most countries in Europe to-day. The economic conference at Geneva showed two years ago that agricultural depression is an international question and not one that can be dealt with from a national standpoint at all. What is happening, therefore, is that we are at the moment having to bear the burden of wheat which is being sent in from Germany. There are various reasons why. The hon. Member for East Leicester showed that one of the reasons was that Germany wants cash, owing to world conditions. I suggest that another reason is that Germany is now demanding a higher type of flour for her bread, the kind of wheat that we use in this country, that spoils our teeth and ruins our health. Germany is going one step higher in the ladder of civilisation and deciding to ruin her teeth and her health as well.
§ Mr. PRICE
I do not think that has arisen at all. What is happening in Germany is that the German Exchequer is losing revenue and the German consumer is paying by having to pay for wheat above the world price. In other words, Germany is trying to stabilise the price of wheat above the world market price. I should say that was an argument for our not using the obsolete method of tariffs and subsidies, but to try to stabilise our wheat, not above but at world market prices. An hon. Member opposite was quoting the Farmers' Union, to which I am proud to belong, as saying that there is no use in stabilising wheat except at a profit—cost of production, plus a reasonable profit—but there is an enormous advantage in ironing out the continuous 220 fluctuations, in other words getting rid of the frightful element of speculation in the growing of wheat. Last year I could not get more than 8s. 9d. a cwt. It was not worth, selling to the miller at all. It is obviously a case for pushing forward the policy of stabilisation as far as one is able to do it under the present conditions.
Every autumn farmers have to face a fall in wheat prices. That is generally due to the fact that they have to find cash to meet certain commitments. It is either rent or, if they own their own farms, they have very often to find mortgage interest for the banks. They are pressed heavily to find cash, and the result is that in certain parts of the country with which I am acquainted they have to throw their wheat on the market, no matter under what conditions. The threshing machines are overwhelmed with orders to come along and thresh, and the consequence is that the millers will not take more than a certain amount. Anything above a cerain percentage they will have to store, and possibly charge extra prices for storage. Consequently, there is a reduction in the price. Therefore, I am not going to object to the fact that the Minister has not seen his way to give a full statement of what he can do to-day. I am confident that he will work out some scheme by which it will be possible to bring ourselves into line with general world developments. After all, there is coming throughout the world a general system whereby wheat and articles of general consumption will be handled by a few big concerns. It is obviously desirable, as a general public policy, that those concerns that handle such important articles as food and raw materials should be under public control in one form or another. It need not be a bureaucratic State concern, but some kind of public utility concern in which the interests of consumer and producer are represented. I know the enormous difficulties in dealing with this problem. I should be the last to object to the Government not unfolding their policy on a Private Member's Motion. At the same time I am glad the question has been raised because it is one of the utmost importance to the agricultural community.
§ Major GEORGE DAVIES
I think I am voicing the feelings of everyone on these 221 benches when I congratulate the hon. Member not only on the knowledge and interest in the subject which he displayed, but on the fact that we see an accession on the benches opposite of those who have had an opportunity of getting at close grips with the agricultural problem and have tried to face its implications and solve some of its problems. The reason why the Debate has run so successfully is largely that there is such an increased feeling in general throughout all parties that this is a great problem, and not merely a thing of party politics that we try periodically to spring on the House of Commons. I am sorry that the Minister committed himself so early to saying he was going to resist the Motion. I think he did it under two misapprehensions, first as to what the Motion implies, and secondly as to what is the real feeling, apart from party lines, in the mind of hon. Members. He seemed to want to read into it something in the nature of a demand for Protection and subsidies, and indeed he was backed up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), and I could not help feeling sorry, as I listened to his speech, full as it was of information and knowledge on the subject, that he has such a marvellous nose for a suggestion of Protection that he immediately went off the track and, as it were, threw a monkey wrench into the machinery which was beginning to work rather smoothly between all parties, because I assure the Minister that this Motion has not behind it some Machiavellian scheme for getting him to commit himself to import duties On meat, wheat and what not.
There is a real problem. Its dimensions at the moment are not as serious as they might become. It has been suggested that, possibly because we are one of the few open markets in the world, a country in straits like Germany would turn to us when she wants to secure an export business of this sort. Be that as it may, the fact remains that, as my Noble Friend has said, the farmers feel that the last straw has been put on the camel's back and we can begin to hear it crack. World supply and demand have reduced the price of wheat below the danger line of 10s., but it is "a bit thick" when a foreign Government, indirectly or directly, is actually loading the dice against us and, 222 by means of a bounty or subsidy, producing a further depression, and with a special type of wheat which cannot be replaced by Canadian or hard wheat, but a special type which, if it comes into the country, will, bushel for bushel, displace the uses to which our home-grown wheat is put. If that is the problem, is it out of the way to pass a Motion which gives us an opportunity to call upon the Minister to appreciate the problem and hot merely to adopt a non possumus attitude and turn it down? His predecessor in office may or may not have done the same thing. I do not want to make a cheap party score out of it.
I and many others tried to press the late Minister of Agriculture, and we were deeply disappointed at the attitude which he adopted. The present occupant of that position, one of the few Members of the Labour Cabinet, who were considered of sufficient importance to succeed to the same office as he held before, is adopting the usual attitude of the Department. After all, what is the Department for? Largely to help to run things and largely to prevent any kind of change being made in the way things are being run. If a Minister goes to his Department and says: "What about this solution, what about that solution and what about the other solution?" there are innumerable reasons given why it is impossible to carry it out. Suggestions have been put forward this afternoon, and if the Minister would admit that the principles of the arguments were right and that something could be done, I believe that something really tangible could be produced. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives, in his efforts to break up this love feast, so to speak, suggested that it might be possible to go to the German Government and shake the international weapon in their faces. I do not say that that is not a possible way out, but if we are faced with a problem and know that it is serious, and that the menace is such that it may really develop, not only from Germany, but from, other countries in a similar way, it is not out of place to ask the Minister to reconsider the action taken, and to say, "I realise that the country and the House of Commons mean business, and I am going to see whether, in view of the demand which has been put forward, it is not possible to. take some action, whatever it may be, to counteract (in the 223 words of our Motion) the injurious effect this matter has upon this vital industry of agriculture."
§ Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
I am very glad, speaking as a farmer, that so early in this Session we are having a discussion on this most important matter. Already the handicap from which we have been suffering for many years has brought us to the point that the importation of foreign cereals to this country in such large quantities has become almost the last straw. If we look back upon the history of farming in this county since the War, certain landmarks stand out. First of all, there was a great slump which affected all the industries in this country, and agriculture was no exception. Agriculture has no reason to complain any more than any other industry of that great slump. But agriculture had to bear something which did not fall on other industries in this country. There is not the slightest doubt that the repeal of Part 1 of the Agriculture Act was a disaster to the industry, and that the effects of it are still being felt. Under the protection of that Act, farmers bought farms, buildings and implements and went into the whole business. But they have been very badly let down. Since that time they have been given, no equivalent by this House or by any party represented in this House, and therefore for that and many other reasons the industry of agriculture is lagging sadly behind several other industries.
There has been one other disability, and that is the bad seasons we have had owing to the weather, over which, of course, we have no control. The accumulation of the slump, of the repeal of the Agriculture Act and of bad seasons has brought the great majority of farmers to a very difficult position indeed. Up to the summer of 1928 we had a succession of seasons which, to those of us who live in arable counties, and especially those of us who live where the land is on the heavy side, proved very disastrous. We welcomed the change in the weather in the autumn of 1928, which assisted cultivation, for we were able to sow crops in good order for the first time for many years. This year we have been favoured with admirable weather for the harvest, and we had begun to think that we bad turned the corner and that the tide had turned in our favour. When we got our 224 crop safely back to the farms, and the barns were filled, and there were stacks standing in serried ranks, as they are on my farm to-day, everything looked beautiful to those who did not know the real position.
When I go to market, as I did this morning—I spent the morning on Mark Lane—what do I find? I find that as far as wheat is concerned I cannot make more than possibly 43s. a quarter at the farm, and less if I pay the carriage to London and try to sell it in London to the London miller. If I try to sell my barley —I happen this year to have barley of most excellent quality and a barn full of it—I find that either the maltster or the brewer says: "Yes, that is excellent barley, but I am very sorry that I cannot buy to-day. I have already bought too much, not British barley, but barley coming from another country." So I am hit in that direction as well. When I come to oats, what do I find? I should like to tell the House the true position as regards oats. The actual position as to the price of oats in this country to-day is as follows. Normally, large quantities of oats come to this country from Canada and, to a certain extent, from the United States. This year no oats are coming from either of these countries. Large quantities also come to this country from the Argentine almost every year. This year, owing to the absence of oats from Canada and the United States, the Argentine seller in the ordinary way would be able to get a very much better price for his oats in this country because of the absence of competition from oats imported from other countries. I have it on the authority of some of those who stand high in the Corn Market in London that in their opinion the price of Argentine oats would be 5s. a quarter higher to-day but for the reason—although there are no oats coming from America and Canada—that there are oats coming from Germany. Germany is sending here oats of very good quality indeed, and she is depressing the price of English oats below the cost of production. That is the position to-day in regard to oats.
I would say one word more about wheat. An hon. Member made great play of the fact that the German importation of wheat amounted to only 1 per cent, of the whole of the wheat which we consumed in this country. One per cent, does seem very little, I freely 225 admit, but I would ask the House to consider this point: If you get a demand at the figure of 100 and if you have a supply at the figure of 100, the chances are that you will get a level price. If on the other hand you have a demand still at 100, but a supply at 101, you immediately get a fall in prices, much greater than 1 per cent. That is inevitable. Similarly, if you get a demand at 100 and a shortage at 99, you have an equivalent rise out of all proportion to the 1 per cent. German wheat was coming to this country when we were getting ready to put our wheat on to the market. It has been mentioned in this House by more than one speaker that German wheat competes with our wheat very specially because it is a "soft" wheat. If you get a "soft" wheat coming to this country when our own wheat is being placed on the market, it is obvious that you get in the market that surplus from which farmers are suffering so badly to-day.
Happily, I may give the House some information, of which hon. Members may not be aware in connection with the importation of German wheat. The worst of the trouble is over, thank goodness! But there is not the slightest reason to believe that we shall be free from trouble another season. As far as the next few months are concerned, there is reason to believe that we shall not be affected by the importation of German wheat for two reasons. One is, that the Germans have got rid of that proportion which they wanted to export for various reasons which have been mentioned. A further reason is that the German Government have recently increased the amount which they make compulsory in Germany in regard to the milling of German home-grown wheat. The figure was 40 per cent., and the German Government have now put up the figure to 50 per cent. That is to say, that to-day in Germany every sack of flour which is milled has to contain 50 per cent. of German home-grown wheat. For these reasons, we may hope that for the next few months, at any rate, we shall not be affected by the importation of German wheat.
There are only one or two remedies which have been suggested by the speeches this afternoon. Stabilisation appears to be one of them. There seems to be no agreement as to the level at 226 which we should stabilise. We have not exhausted all the possible methods of dealing with this matter. For some years I have been an advocate, both in this House and outside, of the Government offering some measure of assistance to farmers whereby they might come into a scheme and assure for themselves a price equal to the cost of production, plus a reasonable margin of profit. There may be some hon. Members who have possibly done me the honour of perusing my speeches. That would be one method, and not a very costly one, of stabilizing from that point of view. There is another, which, I think, possibly might be an easier one. Why should not the Government take a leaf out of the book of the German Government? Why, if the German Government are able to insist that every sack of flour milled in Germany should contain 50 per cent, of home-grown German wheat, cannot the British Government insist that every sack of flour milled in England should contain a certain proportion of British-grown wheat? I would commend these two ideas to the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, although these ideas emanate from the Opposition side of the House, will have the large-mindedness to give consideration to views expressed in so many quarters of the House to-day, and will treat the question of British agriculture, not merely from the party point of view, but wholly from a national point of view.
§ Mr. GRAY
I should like to crave the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time. Perhaps I need that indulgence rather more because I am intervening almost at the close of the Debate, when nearly all the ground that can be covered has been covered. What has impressed me more than anything else in this House is the great kindness and consideration which the House shows to a Member who is speaking for the first time. Just as the dog is allowed one bite, so this House allows a Member one bark. This subject is of tremendous importance. It deals with an industry which is the primary industry in this country and in other countries. In this country in particular that industry is labouring under very great difficulties, and in all quarters of the House there is an intense desire to adopt some practical method of helping the farmer. It is well to realise what is 227 the nature of the policy that has created this particular difficulty. The difficulty arises essentially out of the German policy for the protection of grain and wheat. Their policy in Germany is to provide protection for their agrarian interests by an import duty. They allow a licence or drawback on the export of wheat, and they not only allow a drawback on the export of imported wheat but they allow the same drawback on the export of German wheat.
Before we consider our own particular problem I would ask the House to realize what happens as a result of that particular policy in Germany. It does certainly give a great advantage to the German farmer. He is able under that protective policy to secure a higher price for his product in his own home market. Because he secures a drawback, bounty or subsidy from the German Government when he exports his wheat, it makes no difference to the German consumer whether Germany has a bountiful harvest or not, for if they have a bountiful harvest the farmers can unload their wheat abroad even below the world's price, yet by virtue of the bounty they are receiving from the German Government they are able to get an adequate return on their product as a whole. What is the effect upon Germany itself This policy really means that the community in Germany has to live at a lower standard of life or pay higher prices than it ought to pay under world prices for the grain it consumes. Incidentally, that policy creates a great difficulty for us in this country by virtue of the exported wheat coming to this country at prices which, admittedly, are not fair to the producer of grain in this country. I do not think that that kind of German policy is one that any other country ought to be induced to follow. The more we can induce the countries of Europe to follow the policy outlined in the Convention of Geneva, the better for all parties concerned.
Coming to the effect of this policy upon our own agricultural interests, as has been pointed out, the amount of wheat so imported constitutes a very small proportion of the total amount of wheat coming into this country. If we were dealing with the price of the loaf or the price of flour, the amount of German 228 wheat so imported would make no practical difference, but there is all the difference in the world between dealing with broad generalities and prices and the effect of a small amount of imported wheat on the price level throughout the country, and the fact that individual farmers have to face in particular districts the competition of this German wheat, with the result that by virtue of this peculiar competition, whatever may be happening in other parts of the country, they are being forced to sell their product at what is, admittedly, an un-remunerative price. I am a member of a party which, according to the statement of one hon. Member, believes in the musty shibboleths of Free Trade. I have seen no reason for giving up that belief. Certainly, I have no idea of absorbing the mustier shibboleths of Protection.
The less interference there is with the movement of commodities, the better. A larger amount of prosperity comes to all classes in the community the freer you have interchange of the specialised commodities that each section of the community may produce. Free Trader though I am, I do not think that under a Free Trade policy we are compelled to sit down under a system of bounties which are producing a localised and specific effect. We ought to be prepared to adopt some practical method of dealing with the problem. We are all agreed on that point, but immense trouble arises when we begin to consider what kind of practical policy ought to be adopted. The first and only method that would occur to one would be that we ought to impose a countervailing duty equal to the bounty that the German Government gives, which would mean, in effect, that the German Government would be making a contribution to the revenues of this country, and the particular type of commodity affected would be put on a level with others. If that policy could be effectively and simply carried out, and localised to its peculiar circumstances—the circumstances of a bounty being given by a Government directly on an exported product—I should not consider that I had violated my general principles of Free Trade or that I was doing anything that would make a loophole for the introduction of Protective duties.
229 Another method would be to prohibit entirely the importation of that wheat under the present conditions. There, we should have a still greater difficulty to face. I am not sure that we might not almost meet the difficulty if we adopted some measure to prohibit the importation of this particular wheat during certain months of the year when the effect is most materially felt by the fanners concerned. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), in an able speech, suggested the stabilising of prices through a wheat pool. That is a very attractive suggestion in many ways, but we must be exceedingly careful how we embark upon a policy of that kind. I am satisfied that we could not have a wheat pool successfully controlled without the district danger of two great risks, one, the risk of a rise in price in the market owing to the pool, and the other the possibility of being faced with a shortage of supply.
There is another difficulty in regard to a wheat pool for the stabilisation of prices. When we speak of the stabilisation of prices, we must realise that prices never are stabilised, and no one wants them to be stabilised. Prices are constantly moving up and down. There are certain tendencies which cause a great rise in prices. We had that experience during the years of the War, when the level of prices rose to 100 per cent. and more above the level of prices which had existed before. The level of prices has been constantly dropping since the War. To-day, no one can say what may be the level of prices. You cannot, therefore, really stabilise prices; if you did so, it would have to be for a very short time. The difficulty about stabilising prices for agricultural products in this country is that there would emerge a conflict between the agrarian interests and the industrial interests. The industrialist wants lower food prices whereas the agriculturist wants high food prices.
I should view with grave suspicion the conflict of interest that would arise in this country under those circumstances. If we had a Government department fixing the price for agricultural products, the industrialist would ask for a reasonably low price, from his point of view, and the agriculturist would ask for a reasonably high price, as he would see it. You might find under these conditions a very grave conflict of interest 230 arising between the agriculturists and the industrialists which might have very grave reactions in the country. I do not blame the Minister of Agriculture that he did not necessarily commit himself to the stabilisation of prices in dealing with this great agricultural problem.
There are some simple and effective methods which might be carried out. We might make representations. Why should not the Foreign Office make representations to the German Government as to the effect of their particular method upon our own agricultural problem? I do not see that such representation would do any harm, although it might not do a great deal of good. We might endeavour to press strongly the policy of freedom of trade throughout Europe. There is a possibility that that policy may emerge before long, and become a practical policy in politics. Another thing that we could do, and it is most urgent if we are to deal with this problem, is that we should get together a small conference of the three parties. I urge that for this reason, that at the present time, with no party having an overwhelming majority and being able to enforce its will, reasonable or un-reasonable, by the mere weight of its majority, upon the House, we must carry on the legislation of the country, more or less, by mutual consent.
In regard to agriculture, every party in the House, as well as a great number of hon. Members who do not represent agricultural constituencies, are agreed that something practical should be done. I represent an agricultural division, although all my individual experience has been in industry. My friends in Bedfordshire placed me on the agricultural committee of the county council on the assumption that knowing nothing about it I could not do any harm. I suggest that we should get a small conference together of representative men of the three parties, who could quietly sit down to consider the problem, not to get party advantage, not to make capital for any party, but with the deliberate and determined intention to find out what practical methods can be adopted, without violating the prejudices or principles of any party, in order to give to the agriculturist in this country, who is fighting a very hard fight, under very great difficulties, a little larger promise 231 that the interest and experience of this House will be used to help him in the difficulties that he has to face.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
The House is indebted to the hon. Members who were fortunate enough to secure a place in the ballot, for the introduction of a most interesting and stimulating Debate. It is seldom that the House of Commons has heard a Debate upon an agricultural subject which has lasted for so long and which has continuously interested a large attendance of hon. Members, or has invoked so much interest on all sides. Therefore, nothing but good can come from this Debate. There is singular unanimity as to the conditions of agriture itself. No one has controverted the statement of mine, quoted by an hon. Member opposite, that what is wrong with agriculture at present is that its economic basis is unsound. When we get as far as that, the unanimity ceases, except perhaps on this. Any-one listening to this Debate without prejudice on either side will agree that the old-fashioned methods which have existed so long have been singularly unfruitful of results, and it behoves us to see if we cannot explore some new avenue.
There are one or two points to which I would refer in relation to State aid. The right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) impressed upon us that, if we were aware of any action taken by the German Government that was in contravention of their treaty obligations, it was our duty to call attention to it. So far as the Department is concerned, nothing that has happened has been in any way in contravention either of the spirit or of the letter of any treaty or understanding between us. The German Government are fully entitled to take the action which they have done under the treaties. If we had acted as is suggested in the Motion, it would have been in contravention of our own treaty obligations. We can put that on one side altogether.
Some speakers spoke as if this were some new departure. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and others described it in various phrases as the last straw, a new phenomenon, a new development, a new and serious menace, and so on. I do not 232 see anything new about it. It has been going on for years. As a matter of fact, four years ago it was worse than it has been this year. In 1925, the German imports were 102,000 tons; in 1926, 112,000 tons; and the next year they dropped to 14,000 tons. Here is a very remarkable example showing how the influence of this kind of movement is easily exaggerated if you look upon it as an isolated phenomenon. In 1926, when the importation of German bounty-fed wheat was 102,000 tons, the average price in the British market was 53s. 3d. In the following year, when the importation of German wheat dropped to 14,000 tons, notwithstanding that enormous drop in the importation of German bounty-fed wheat, the price in the British market, instead of rising, fell to 49s. 3d.
§ Dr. ADDISON
No, British wheat. Does not that show that this is only an item in a much bigger issue? This is only an ingredient in our supplies. It does not always come in at this time of the year. If you examine the months in which the importation has been greatest, you will find that they vary. It is quite clear that the prices are influenced by this along with many other factors. As a matter of fact, the German wheat imported into this country as compared with the British crop was 11 per cent. in the year 1926 when the price was 53s., and, when the price of British wheat was 49s., the next year, the percentage of German imports was 1.3. In other words, it is quite clear that there is not and there never has been any co-ordination between the amount of the German imports and the percentage of the home crop and the average price. It is a pity, therefore, to attach to this special importance as it is giving an undue and unfair measure of importance to something which is only a part of a much bigger issue.
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain what his right hon. Leader meant when he used the phrase "Deplorable phenomenon"?
§ Dr. ADDISON
I do not remember in what connection my right hon. Friend did use it, but what he was talking about as the deplorable phenomenon was the position of British agriculture, which we 233 all deplore. I shall now examine to what extent the positron of British agriculture is due to the importation of this particular class of wheat. Its position is not due to this; it is due to many other things. It is as well to keep out of the region of discussing agriculture in terms of Protection and bounties and countervailing duties. The fact is that those terms are getting to have less and less application to the world's marketing system. Even the old expression "Free Trade" is ceasing to have very much application. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), in an extremely well-informed speech, showed what has really happened, and he has had first-hand knowledge from day to day. He has shown that what, in fact, has happened is that there are coming to be fewer and fewer sellers and fewer and fewer buyers, that the sales of grain over the water in Canada and the United States—and I have no doubt in the Argentine soon—are becoming consolidated into groups that control the whole supply. It was only recently that we saw the Canadian Pool holding up supplies and suddenly having to unload at lower prices because they had to pay to their farmer suppliers at stated periods.
The lesson I am trying to draw without any party bias is that the control of supplies is getting into fewer and fewer hands. Only this year we have seen a sudden slump of price brought about by the fact that the holder of a large quantity had suddenly to unload. What is happening in terms of sellers is happening in terms of buyers. As the hon. Member for East Leicester explained quite clearly to the House, the main buying organisations—I am leaving out of account now all the intervening merchanting transactions which may or may not take place—are coming to be represented by three large combines and the Co-operative Wholesale Society. How long they will remain none of us know. It is not a very hazardous prophesy that in the near future they may be fewer than four. What does that mean? It means that the old play of sale and resale, which was the main process by which prices were kept stabilised is becoming limited by the fact that you have the grain holdings in fewer hands and that the people who buy are becoming fewer and fewer. Therefore, I suggest that the old-fashioned way of looking at things does not apply in these cases. We 234 are not very far in the corn trade from a great trust—that is the plain English of it—a great trust in buyers, just as you are getting on the other side of the water a great trust in sellers. It is clear, therefore, that we have to look at this issue in a new way.
The Noble Lord the Member for Alder-shot put a number of rather passionate interrogations which, as an old Parliamentary hand, he will perhaps see were not quite called for at this early stage of the Session. He upbraided my right hon. Friend very much because on the second day of the Session he had not produced a Government policy on this matter. I am not going to be tempted to make the very obvious retort to the right hon. Gentleman. If you are to devise any machinery on marketing and to try and secure for the farmer a greater stability in the prices which he will obtain for his goods, anybody with any experience of affairs at all knows perfectly well that you cannot devise or bring about any new system at all unless you do it with great care and deliberation and carry with you the assent and cooperation of all those important agencies at present engaged in the business. It is, therefore, a little absurd to suggest that my right hon. Friend, on the second day of the Session, on what is perhaps one of the most intricate and difficult questions ever presented to a Minister, should suddenly produce a cut and dried plan in the form of a Bill.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The Minister of Agriculture said only yesterday that he would welcome the first and earliest opportunity to lay his policy before the House.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am well aware of that fact. The Motion, however, is on German wheat and, while it necessarily provokes some observations on the in-stability of wheat prices and what are the causes of that instability, it in no way calls for a general exposition of the Government's agricultural policy. Really the Noble Lord drives me into saying this: we have something to clean up— perhaps I had better leave it at that.
§ Mr. OLIVER STANLEY
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from this point, do I understand his argument to be that centralised buying and selling organisations will lead to greater fluctu- 235 ations in prices? If that is so, how does he reconcile it with the Socialistic policy of one buying concern for the whole country?
I never suggested anything of the kind. What I said was that in trying to devise a marketing system which would give to the farmer a fairer and more secure price for what he produces, you are engaged on a highly technical and difficult business which must be dealt with carefully and after consultation with all parties concerned. That is the policy which we are now exploring, and I am glad to say that we have got farther in working out our policy in four months than hon. Members opposite, as far as I can see from the records, did in four years. We have nothing for which to apologise. We have to clean up the most frightful mess that has ever been presented by one Government to its successor, as far as I have any knowledge of Governments. Nevertheless, I recognise that running through it all we can rely upon a great measure of support in the House in any efforts we are able to make to assist the farmers. I recognised too the force of the observations that have been made from more than one quarter, and also that the position of parties in this House must to a great extent dominate the kind of proposal we can submit. I feel sure, however, that no one has less faith in the prescription contained in the Motion than the Mover and Seconder themselves, both of whom are men of great knowledge and practical experience, and from the somewhat list-less support which it has received from their own friends it is not unreasonable to ask them to let it go without going into the Division Lobby in support of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If they propose doing so, that is entirely for them to decide, but all I can say is that it is a particularly useless prescription for the grave state of agriculture. Apart from that, however, the Debate has revealed a good will and a disposition to help which can do nothing but good.
§ Major GLYN
The House, I am sure, will feel very disappointed with the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Debate has been very interesting and has been marked by several good maiden speeches, notably that of the hon. Mem- 236 ber for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), and the hon. Member whom we are glad to see on account of the admirable work he has done for agriculture, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas). He made one remarkable statement. He said that if his party were to set up a buying organisation they would say to Germany, "No, we do not want any of your wheat." That means the total prohibition of all imports, which is going much further than some of the Protectionists oh this side of the House, with whom I do not agree.
§ Mr. DALLAS
If I made the statement in that form it was not what I intended. I wanted to bring out the point that if you have an Import Board you are able to buy where you like, and how you like.
§ Major GLYN
The hon. Member said that it would be within the power of such a board to prohibit as they thought fit imports of food from any part of the world. We have always been twitted by hon. Members of the Liberal party and by hon. Members opposite for standing for a policy of extreme protection—which I do not support—under which food will cost more. If food is to cost more under this policy then it surely will cost more under a policy of total prohibition; that is if some board sees fit to impose it on wheat coming into this country from any particular area. The interest of this Debate is that the Socialist Government during the election told us that they had various remedies for various evils. There is nothing more dangerous or foolish than for a politician to prophesy that if he gets in he will do certain things. These birds are coming home to roost. Agriculture has far too long been the play-thing of politics, to the detriment of the industry, and this is an opportunity, when parties are more or less equal in numbers, of getting some form of general policy. Let us all work for it. If we do that it means that we shall all have to give up some of our pre-War ideas, and it is somewhat unfortunate that this dreadful old business of protection should come from the Liberal Benches.
The hon. Member for East Leicester was correct when he said that a new situation has arisen, and that the old remedies will not work. We have to think of new remedies. That is the 237 reason why we who are now in opposition ask the Government to disclose their policy. It may be true, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, that this is the second day of the Session, but was the Minister of Agriculture appointed only yesterday? There has been a recess of four months during which all these schemes were to be worked out, and whilst it is unfair for the Opposition to expect the Government to produce any particular scheme on a particular day I think we should have had a better excuse than we have had from the Front Bench. We all agree that agriculture is suffering, and we are all anxious to find a cure.
§ We ask that an early opportunity will be taken when the Government will be a little more explicit, and if we go into the Lobby to-night it will be because We are not satisfied with the explanation of the Government, although we have been vastly interested by many of the speeches which have come from the Back Benches.
§ Question put,
§ "That immediate steps should be taken by the Government to counteract the injurious effect upon British agriculture of he dumping of German wheat and other cereals upon the markets of this Country."
§ The House divided. Ayes, 157; Noes, 266.241
|Division No. 6.]||AYES.||[7.30 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Ford, Sir P. J.||Penny, Sir George|
|Albery, Irving James||Forestler-Walker, Sir L.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Allen, W. E. D. (Belfast, W.)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Pybus, Percy John|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Gibson, C G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Atkinson, C||Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Grace, John||Remer, John R.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Granville, E.||Reynolds, Col. Sir James|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Gray, Milner||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)|
|Balniel, Lord||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Beaumont M. W.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Ruggies-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)|
|Blindeil, James||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Hartington, Marquess of||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l d'., Hexham)||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Savery, S. S.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Haslam, Henry C.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome|
|Butler, R. A.||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Castlestewart, Earl of||Herbert, S.(York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Smithers, Waldron|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Somerset, Thomas|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. S.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm.,W.)||Iveagh, Countess of||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Christie, J. A.||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)|
|Colville, Major D. J.||Lamb. Sir J. Q||Sueter, Rear-Admiral M. F.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Cranbourne, Viscount||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Thomson, Sir F.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Liewellin, Major J. J.||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Long, Major Eric||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Cunliffe-Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Macquisten, F. A.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)||Marjoribanks, E. C.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Windsor-Cilve, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Duckworth, G. A. V.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Morrison, Hugh (Wilts, Salisbury)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)||Wright, Brig.-Gen. W. D. (Tavist'k)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Muirhead, A. J.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G.(Ptrsf'ld)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Elmiey, Viscount||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Sir Edward Iliffe and Sir Douglas Newton.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||O'Neill, Sir H.|
|Fermoy, Lord||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hardie, George D.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon-. Dr. Christopher||Harris, Percy A.||Oldfield, J. R.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)|
|Alpass. J. H.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)|
|Angell, Norman||Haycock, A. W.||Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon)|
|Arnott, John||Hayday, Arthur||Palin, John Henry|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Hayes, John Henry||Perry, S. F.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Ayles, Walter||Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Picton-Turberville, E.|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Pole, Major D. G.|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Potts, John S.|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Herriotts, J.||Price, M. P.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood||Hirst, G. H. (York, W. R. Wentworth)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Bennett, Captain E. N.(Cardiff, Central)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Hollins, A.||Raynes, W. R.|
|Benson, G.||Hopkin, Daniel||Richards, R.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Horrabin, J. F.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)|
|Birkett, W. Norman||Hunter, Dr. Joseph||Ritson, J.|
|Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.||Romeril, H. G.|
|Bowen, J. W.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Johnston, Thomas||Rowson, Guy|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Bromfield, William||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Camborne)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwan)|
|Bromley, J.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West)|
|Brooke, W.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Brothers, M.||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)||Kelly, W. T.||Scott, James|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Kennedy, Thomas||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Kenworthy Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Scurr, John|
|Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West)||Kirkwood, D.||Sexton, James|
|Buchanan, G.||Knight, Holford||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lang, Gordon||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Lathan, G.||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Caine, Derwent Hall||Law, A. (Rosendale)||Shield, George William|
|Cameron, A. G.||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybrldge)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Cape, Thomas||Lawson, John James||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)||Shinwell, E.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Leach w||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Chater, Daniel||Lee Frank (Derby, N.E.)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Carke, J. S.||Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Lees, J.||Sinclair, Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sinkinson, George|
|Compton, Joseph||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Cove, William G.||Longd'en,' F.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Daggar, George||Lovat-Fraser J A||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Dallas, George||Lowth Thomas||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lunn, William||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Day, Harry||Macd'onald, Gordon (Ince)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||McElwee A||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Dickson, T.||McEntee, V. L.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Dukes, C.||Mackinder, W.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Duncan, Charles||McKinlay, A.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Ede, James Chuter||MacLaren, Andrew||Sorensen, R.|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Spero, Dr. G. E.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||McShane, John James||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Freeman, Peter||Mansfield, W.||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||March, S.||Sullivan, J.|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)||Marcus M.||Sutton, J. E.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Markham, S F.||Taylor R. A. (Lincoln)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesea)||Marley J.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lanes. Mossley)||Mathers, George||Thomas, ]Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Gill, T. H.||Matters, L. W.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Gillett, George M.||Maxton, James||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Glassey, A. E.||Messer, Fred||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Gosling, Harry||Millar, J. D.||Toole, Joseph|
|Gossling, A. G.||Mills, J. E.||Tout, W. J.|
|Gould, F.||Milner, J.||Townend, A. E,|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Morley, Ralph||Turner, B.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Vaughan, D. J.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)||Mort, D. L.||Walker, J.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Moses, J. J. H.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Muff, G.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Muggeridge, H. T.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Murnin, Hugh||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Hall, Capt. W. P. (Porzsmouth, C.)||Nathan, Major H. L.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Welsh, James (Paisley)||Wilkinson, Ellen C.||Wise, E. F.|
|Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)||Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)|
|West, F. R.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)||Wright, W. (Ruthergien)|
|Westwood, Joseph||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|White, H. G.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES —|
|Whiteley, William (Blaydon)||Wilson, R. J (Jarrow)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Paling.|
|Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.