HC Deb 23 January 1930 vol 234 cc369-431

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,250,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for a Subsidy on Sugar and Molasses manufactured from Beet grown in Great Britain.

4.0 p.m.


This Supplementary Estimate represents a part of agricultural policy which is of very great importance, and, if it were in order, we might dwell upon many aspects of the sugar subsidy policy which are of very great interest, for the area under sugar beet cultivation has now reached a point which makes it a matter of national importance. Indeed, it recalls the time when the country was deeply concerned with the initiation of sugar-beet growing in France, and the Debate in which Mr. Pitt took part more than 100 years ago, and, on a notable occasion, declaimed: "Mr. Speaker, who now dares to laugh at sugar?" Our own sugar policy has now reached somewhat comparable importance, but I should be called to order if I dwelt further upon the general aspects of that policy. I must confine myself to the causes which give rise to this Supplementary Estimate. A Supplementary Estimate in connection with the sugar subsidy is no novelty. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me at the Ministry, whom I am glad to welcome back from his travels, on no less than three occasions had to ask for a Supplementary Estimate—in 1926, in 1927 and again in 1928. The reason on this occasion is as before—the difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of forecasting in January what will be the yield of the crop which will require the Estimate for the coming year. The crop itself is not sown, perhaps, even till May, and half a dozen factors make it extremely uncertain as to what will be the result.

I should be, perhaps, in order in dwelling for a moment on the nature of the factors which affect the final figure. You pay a subsidy on the amount of actual sugar which results from the beet grown, and you therefore depend, in the first place, on the acreage, and, in the second place, on the yield. Both of those factors are highly problematical. Take first the acreage. It is now mainly the subject of contract between the growers and the factories, but not entirely. Sometimes new contracts are entered into as late even as April. The increase in the acreage is very noticeable. In 1924, when the subsidy began, the acreage in this country was 22,000. Last year—the year with which we are now dealing—it was 230,000. In the coming year it will be, at all events, 315,000 or more. That represents a very welcome burden on the Exchequer. The majority of these contracts are for three years, and that gives an element of certainty, but in the course of the three years in which the subsidy runs at certain levels, new contracts are formed. There may be, therefore, this year contracts for two years, or, later on, for one year. After three years, again, the subsidy falls to the level of the final year. Additional contracts, as the year proceeds, are made by farmers, and they are affected by the results of the last year's growing and also by the success or failure of other crops. For instance, the potato crop in the Fens may lead a man to wish to make a different contract, and the contracted acreage may, of course, fall through the failure of the crop to germinate in the spring, or it may fail too late to permit of resowing. Therefore, you cannot foretell what is going to be the contracted area.

When we come to the yield, the uncertainty must be even greater. The amount of beet is concerned and also the yield in sugar content, and both of these are affected by the weather. In 1927, the yield was 6.45 tons per acre, and, to show the great variation which occurs, in 1926 it was no less than 8.63 tons. When you come to the content, you get a similar variation. In 1927, the yield was 16.1 per cent. and in 1928 it was 17.3. Consequently, the general result in yield varies to this extent, that in 1927 it was a matter of 1,828 lbs. of sugar per acre compared with 2,654 in 1926. The causes of variation are, on the whole, those which affect all crops—drought and wet, lack of sunshine and sometimes frost, even in a more marked degree, because the present season was affected very materially by the prolonged frost nearly a year ago which produced an extremely favourable seed-bed and led to a good crop. Thus, on the whole, the variation of crops has amounted to as much as 826 lbs. of white sugar to the acre, and that, at the present subsidy of 13s. per cwt., on an acreage of 200,000, which has in fact been greatly exceeded, means a difference of £1,000,000 in the subsidy due from the State to the factories.

The 1929 Estimate was based on information received from the factory companies last January. The contracts then were for 205,000 acres, but the acreage proved to be 230,000. The highest content had been up to then 17.3 per cent., and the yield had been eight tons on a rough average. Therefore, the Estimate was put down at a probable figure of £3,000,000. The sequel shows an unusual degree of variation. The factories in the course of the early spring embarked on a very active campaign, and their propaganda succeeded in bringing in more growers. The weather, not only in regard to the early frost, but in regard to the abnormal degree of sunshine in the summer, proved to be specially favourable, and, although the drought retarded the crop, the sugar content outbalanced that factor, and in October a very interesting thing occurred. When the beet might be expected to stop growing, there was a prolonged period of wet and warm weather, which again started an active growth, and that growth actually continued right on to January, until near the end of the manufacturing season.


It increased the sugar?


It increased the bulk. In December the factories were invited to give as final an estimate as they could, and their estimates amounted to £950,000, which again proved wrong. The yield per acre of white sugar reached the record figure of 2,810 lbs. The yield in tons has been 8.65, which, although still below the Continental average of probably about 10 tons, at which, I hope, we may some day arrive, is still a high yield, while the content has been 17.7 per cent. The December Estimate, therefore, was considerably under the mark, but it had to be printed before Christmas, because it was intended to take the Estimate on the first day of this Session, that is to say, on a day very much earlier than has been possible in former years, and before Christmas it was not possible to arrive at anything more accurate than we did. I think I have given sufficient explanation of the reason for the increase and for the change which took place at a late date.

Perhaps, Mr. Young, you would allow me to express the satisfaction which I feel as the Minister who took the first step towards bringing this Act into existence. I feel that we are entitled to congratulate ourselves on the increased efficiency which has come about in the course of these years in the production of sugar beet. I myself always felt that by far the most important justification for this expensive experiment, and the chief value that would lie in it, was in its educative value towards better crops, and the effect has been very marked in the efforts of the various parties concerned, the Ministry, the county agricultural machinery, the county organisers in particular, while the factory companies themselves have been very busy, and the farmers, both organised and individuals, have thrown themselves into the business. Undoubtedly, the standard of farming generally over a very large area has been affected. The counties have been in touch with the companies to a marked degree. They have a corps of trained organisers who have worked with the county organisers. They visit every farm which grows for the factory; they are able to give advice, and the whole system amounts to a kind of extension course for the growers. They advise also on the preparation of the soil and as to the organisation of labour.

There has been a great advance in the use of implements specially designed for this crop and that I think is a matter of very great importance. I find that the Cambridge University Report on the sugar-beet industry, from the agricultural point of view, records the very wide adoption of better implements. Those who have attended agricultural shows will remember the extraordinarily interesting implements designed for sugar-beet cultivation alone which have been shown. It is recorded that up to two years ago, on an average, 1s. 6d. per acre had been expended on better implements and if that is extended over the whole acreage it represents a figure of something like £15,000. That has not only meant better cultivation but has added to the turnover of the implement manufacturers and has meant the employment of more labour. A great advance has been made in encouraging farmers to use deeper ploughing. They recognise the value of the crop in this respect and they have largely used lime dressing—which they had rather neglected previously—and the effect on succeeding crops is now more widely recognised. A very small grower in Norfolk was telling me of the extraordinary effect which this crop had on his wheat crop, not in the next year after the beet had been grown, but three years after the beet in the course of a four year rotation. He was perfectly amazed at the direct money value which he got even at the present price of wheat as a result of growing about four acres of beet.

I think we may record that a new outlook has been introduced by the subsidy policy, which possibly might not have come about in any other way—not even by the active educational work of the various bodies concerned in this matter. A lot of good too, arises from the fact that the farmers are being brought into touch with business organisations of a different kind from those to which they have been accustomed. They are coming to use more machinery and to recognise the value in general of combining together for a purpose akin to marketing. What he learns in connection with beet growing the farmer naturally tends to apply to other branches of his work. He is also beginning to use more freely the dry pulp which the factories at first were obliged to sell abroad and he is developing its use as fodder. It would not be in order on this occasion if I were to go into the direct benefit to the farmers in the price of the crop which they have been enabled to grow over a large part of the country, because that is not one of the causes of the unexpected increase in this Estimate but obviously over an area of perhaps 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 acres the subsidy policy has saved the situation for arable farming in the last few years. The increase is such that the acreage affected in what may be called the sugar counties is probably a quarter of the area of those counties.

It is a debatable point as to how much acreage is affected by the growing of sugar-beet on any particular farm. I remember asking Lord Ailwyn who knew a great deal on this subject, both as a Minister and a Norfolk farmer, what he thought was the average acreage affected. He thought that a four course man roughly grew half his root crops and therefore it might be said that eight times as much land as the actual beet growing land, was affected by the fact that there was any beet being grown at all. At all events the area affected and the number of men affected are very considerable and very satisfactory. The educational value of the method is one of the reasons why we have to come for this increased Estimate and it naturally follows that employment has been affected as regards the men on the land, the men in the factories and the other industries concerned. I hope I have now given a sufficient explanation of the Estimate.


Before coming to the details of the Estimate I should like to say a word about the brief reference made by the right hon. Gentleman to the general question of a sugar beet subsidy. I know it is out of order to pursue the subject in any detail but this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman has claimed a certain special merit because he was the Minister of Agriculture when this subsidy system was—I think his word were—put into force.




I have heard the right hon. Gentleman make very much the same claim on former occasions. Sometimes it has been at a convivial gathering where I have already had my say, and where, in any case, it would not have been tactful to raise these political controversies. But there is no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman by repeated pats on his own back is gradually striving to build up a legend that the sugar beet subsidy has been created by his party. I know that the right hon. Gentleman values this system as well as I do, but I must remind him of the facts. I will come to his party's record in a, moment. But what about this claim that he is really responsible for the subsidy? Surely we had a subsidy long before the right hon. Gentleman was last in his present office. A subsidy was granted in an indirect form in 1922, of 25s. 8d. on a cwt. of sugar and the change was made necessary because the Government of the right hon. Gentleman swept away that benefit by their alteration in the level of the Sugar Duty.

It was only after the most strenuous efforts by hon. Members on this side of the House like the hon. Member for Eye (Sir G. Courthope), the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) and the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), and after many months of anxiety that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was converted to the necessity of continuing this benefit in some form. When the Bill was introduced by us in the following year the right hon. Gentleman himself said that it was not a question of giving a sugar beet subsidy so much as of bringing to an end the enormous subsidy which had already been in existence and which he condemned. I do not want to enter into invidious questions as to who is responsible but as the right hon. Gentleman, time after time, puts forward the claim that the country owes this system to his party I am bound to point out that what his party did was to smash the old system of a heavier subsidy and that as the result of a long process of propaganda and conversion, conducted from the Conservative side, they eventually agreed to a smaller measure of benefit which was embodied in the following year in the Act passed by the Conservative Government.


Before the right hon. Gentleman passes from that subject may I say that if he thinks that I have any desire to claim any excessive or exclusive merit he is exaggerating the case. I certainly have no desire to claim more than my share of credit. What I desired to point out was that the system to which I was referring was entirely new and was, I think, introduced originally by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924. The previous system it is true gave an advantage, but it had not succeeded in producing factories or in pro ducing growers on any considerable scale. The right hon. Gentleman will not deny that the system, in its present form, was initiated by the Labour Government and we did not differ at all from the Conservative Government which followed us, as to the merits of the system as best designed to meet the case


I shall come to that point in a moment, but I am quite in order at this moment in reminding the Committee of the record of the party-opposite. Before I leave the general question let me say that I do not for a moment suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not a very enthusiastic supporter of sugar beet. I only wish to pin him down to the facts, and the facts are that the sugar beet subsidy was only given originally as the result of efforts made by hon. Members on this side. It is quite true that we had not 19 factories in 1924. Naturally an industry of this kind cannot burst out into full vigour at once. It is necessary to go through a period of experiment, and during the three years before the abolition of the higher level of subsidy three factories had come into existence, proving the possibility of the industry being run on a satisfactory basis within this country.

Let me come to what is more strictly in order. It is very refreshing to have a Supplementary Estimate on this subject introduced by a right hon. Gentleman representing the Socialist party. As he reminds us we have had a good many Debates on Supplementary and Excess Votes in the last few years and the right hon. Gentleman was very fair in the way in which he put the case or the excuse for rather loose estimating in this matter. As he said, it is quite impossible to estimate 12 months ahead in regard to sugar beet. You do not know the area; you do not know the yield; you do not know the sugar content, and to give an example of how the demands upon the subsidy fund must vary, I mention my own experience. In the sugar beet season last but one, I grew 30 acres of sugar beet in Sussex. I did the same in the season just ended. This year I have a cheque from the factories for more than twice the amount of the year before, simply because the season was much more favourable. Although our methods of cultivation were the same we got more than double the crop and almost the same sugar content. Of course, it is impossible, even in December, to know what the demand upon the fund is likely to be. Perhaps the most enlightening example of the difficulty of forecasting was in 1927, when I asked for a Supplementary Vote of £900,000, based on the then prospect, in December, of the output of sugar. In fact, we did not use one penny of that amount. I am rather glad that the right hon. Gentleman has had to amend his Estimate on this occasion, because otherwise we might have heard something from him as to our looseness in forecasting.

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is in a difficulty, which is peculiar to a Socialist Minister of Agriculture, in moving such a Vote, because there is no doubt that the opposition of his party has steadily grown, since he was last in office, to this policy of a subsidy on beet sugar. When we passed the original Act, in 1925, there were 37 Socialists who voted against it on Third Reading, including two Cabinet Ministers. We had a Supplementary Estimate at the end of 1927, in the Division on which 101 of the Opposition opposed it, including two very prominent Members of the previous Labour Government, the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) and the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson). If the Socialists were so convinced of the benefits of a subsidy, if they agreed to it in the Socialist Cabinet, is it not a little surprising that these pillars of the Socialist party not only should have voted against the original Bill, but year by year should have voted against these Supplementary Estimates?

In the following year we had another Vote, and on that occasion, curiously enough, there was again a minority of 101, in which were 82 Socialists, and the two right hon. Gentlemen whom I have mentioned were then reinforced by the Leader of the party, the present Prime Minister, in the Division Lobby. Of course, this puts the Minister of Agriculture in a very difficult position, and I do most fully sympathise with him. He must find it very difficult to reconcile many of his opinions on agriculture with what members of his party say and have said. On the occasions of these Divisions on Supplementary Estimates, the difficulty was solved by the right hon. Gentleman's absence, and he did not appear in the Division lists at all. But I am convinced that my hon. Friends on this side do not wish to jeopardise this very valuable industry by trying to score any party triumph in the matter, and if the right hon. Gentleman needs it, we will help to save him from his friends. This industry has been carried on on the faith of definite promises. It is unthinkable that those promises should be broken, and whatever may be the action of the numerous Members opposite who year by year have voted against these Supplementary Estimates, we, on our side, will do all that we can to help the industry and to see that the State carries out its obligations in this matter.


I am not in any way going to oppose this Supplementary Estimate, but I should like to point out to the Committee that it must be a question of grave concern, because this is the last time when the question of beet sugar will be debated in this House before the final contracts are made between the growers and the factories for the last lap of the beet sugar subsidy. Might I remind the Committee that on a similar occasion in 1927 the present President of the Board of Trade clamoured for an inquiry into the beet sugar subsidy, and might I to-day, humbly, from this back bench, echo his clamour? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture six months ago, in answer to a question that was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), promised that he was going to give us the result of an inquiry into which his office was going. I submit that it is of the greatest importance that the result of that inquiry should have been ready at the present time and in the hands of Members of the Committee.

Although we have had from the Minister a most interesting disquisition and every good reason for this Supplementary Estimate, yet I feel that we are not sufficiently aware of the difficulties which arise in the working and incidence of this beet sugar subsidy, both on the agricultural side and on the manufacturing side. After all, the reason for the granting of this subsidy has been that it has been desired to promote a benefit for agriculture and a permanent growth in this country of a new industry, and we are only justified in voting for this Supplementary Estimate if it goes some way towards satisfying these conditions. If we look into the agricultural statistics—those of 1928–29, because, although the Minister has given us later figures, the only figures that I have been able to reach have been those for the preceding year—we find that the average price paid for beet was 52s. per ton, and the average yield of washed beet per acre was 7.7 tons. The grower's return per acre, therefore, amounted to £20. In East Anglia, which is the part of the country in which I am more particularly interested, as is also the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, the cost to the grower per acre was £21 8s. 4d., and this is without allowing any interest on capital, or money for the farmer's own remuneration.

What a contrast if we look to the factory reports. There we find that the average trading profit was 23 per cent. and that their net profit, that is to say, their profit which went to dividend and into reserve, amounted to 11½ per cent. Now, if we turn to the prices which the factories paid to the agriculturist—and this is most important, if we consider the survival of the industry, which is, after all, our aim and object when we are voting for this Estimate—we shall see that the Cantley factory paid the grower £21 6s. 8d. per acre, that is to say, roughly the cost to the farmer in growing the sugar beet, but this factory paid a dividend of 20 per cent., which amounted to £4 14s. an acre. As regards the Ipswich factory, that paid a dividend of 12½ per cent., or £4 6s. per acre profit, but only £19 13s. 6d. was paid to the farmer.

I do not want to burden the Committee with many figures, but I must allude to that factory which, for political and selfish reasons, interests me most. I allude to the factory at Ely, which, I am glad to say, was in some measure more generous to the grower. It paid him £22 15s. an acre, which gave him a profit of 27s.—


I do not quite follow the hon. Member's argument, because I do not think the Department can in any way interfere with the profits of these various factories. What he says might be a good reason, if the question of policy was coming up, to urge against the policy, but at the moment the subsidy is settled, and we are only arguing as to the necessity for granting an increased amount of subsidy.


I submit that I am mainly raising points which were raised on a similar issue by the present President of the Board of Trade and by the present Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on a previous similar occasion, and I am only trying to prove that it is worth while our voting this Supplementary Estimate mainly if it is conducive to establishing in this country an industry which will survive and which will help the agricultural and the industrial well-being of this country. I cannot prove my point unless I show that the profits are distributed in such a manner that the agriculturist is not getting the encouragement that he should. As you are well aware, Mr. Chairman, the Ministry is given the widest powers under the Act, and it is those powers that I am asking the Government to exert.

I am urging the Government to fulfil one of its promises. I am asking the Minister to fulfil one of the many promises which he has made to the poor deluded agriculturist. He has promised him that he would hold an inquiry into the beet sugar industry, and that he would know what the profits of the factory were, and how much he himself was likely to gain from growing this new crop in the ensuing years. That is really the crux of the matter. Unless we know that this industry is going to live, that it is going to be of benefit to this country and to the agriculturist, I appeal to the Minister that it is only if it is of that value that it is worth our while to vote this subsidy. I am not in any way against the subsidy—I should dislike and hate the Committee to believe that I was—but I want the subsidy to be properly administered, and I am only prepared to vote in favour of this extension of the subsidy, because that is what we are asked to do, if I can be assured that the Committee, the public at large, and more particularly the grower will be given the information that they require.

The subsidy has only a few more years to run. In 1934 it will die, and I do not believe that whoever happens to be Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time will shed any crocodile tears over its demise. The next four years will decide whether this Measure will be buried in oblivion, unwept, unhonoured and unsung, or whether it will be given the decent obsequies which are deserved by every good public servant. I will not hazard a guess as to its revival, but I want once more to press the Government to give us as soon as possible the result of this inquiry. At the last election, I was again and again asked in my constituency, where sugar beet plays a very important part, what my opinion was on the subsidy, and on every occasion I said that what was required was a diligent inquiry into the incidence of the Act, and into the profits and how they are distributed. My presence here to-day shows that the policy which I advocated met with some measure of success, and in that constituency, where the sugar beet industry plays a preponderant part, it was almost universally accepted.

The future of the beet sugar industry, on which the Minister dwelt at some length, is entirely dependent on the policy which the Government adopt, and on the policy which is adopted by the factories.


The question of the policy of the Government does not come into consideration at the moment. The subsidy has been decided and this Supplementary Estimate is for an increased amount in the subsidy owing to increased production.


I was only trying to say a few words on what had been said by the Minister. Both the Minister and the late Minister of Agriculture covered themselves with laurels because there was a subsidy—


It is true that the Minister claimed that he was responsible for its initiation, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) claimed his share of the credit, but I do not think that we need discuss that.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us the result of a full inquiry in order that we shall know what we are voting on, and in order that the grower of beet shall know what he can expect in future. It is only with our eyes fixed on the survival of the industry for the benefit of the country and of the agricultural industry that we shall be justified in voting for this Estimate to-day.


While in sympathy with the holding of an inquiry concerning profits, I am glad to have the opportunity of saying some words to support this Supplementary Estimate. The story of the growth of the sugar-beet industry makes a most romantic chapter in the industrial history of this country. The subsidy has enabled a new industry to be established, and I support it on account of the benefit that it has brought both to the farmer and to the agricultural labourer in those counties where the beet-sugar factories exist. I went over a beet-sugar factory a short while ago. I have been over many factories, and it seemed to me that the beet-sugar factory was a revelation of economy and efficiency. The Minister of Agriculture has given figures concerning the growth of sugar beet in Great Britain. Whereas in 1924 there were only 22,000 acres under beet, there are now 230,000. If I give one county, it will bring home the benefit of the factories to those counties in which they have been established. In Shropshire in 1924 there were only 99 acres under beet; to-day there are no less than 10,890 acres under cultivation.

The subsidy has been of benefit not only because of the cultivation of the land which has resulted, but because of the added workers in industry and in agriculture through the beet-sugar industry. In all the factories, 8,500 men are employed; and in the one factory in Shropshire there are 380 men. The number of extra men employed during the campaign throughout the country in agricultural districts is 22,000; in Shropshire the number is 750. That does not, however, tell the whole story of the added labour which has been employed in the counties where the beet-sugar factories are established, because there are a large number of farmers who were in a depressed condition, and would have had to dismiss labourers if the factories had not been established. Therefore, we have to remember that the number of extra men who have been kept on the land through the establishment of these factories is far greater than the number actually registered. The number of extra men employed in the factories, again, does not tell the whole story, because it was a condition of the subsidy that 75 per cent. of the machinery of the factories should be manufactured in Great Britain. That means, therefore, a large number of unseen men extra employed manufacturing the machinery. I am not going to enter into the controversy as to whether the beet-sugar factories were due to the agency of Members on this side or on the other side of the House; whoever was responsible, they have brought a great benefit in added labour to the country.

Farmers to whom I have spoken are enthusiastic about the sugar-beet industry. Moreover, it has made them look with favour on the idea of stabilisation of prices. The noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) asked a few minutes ago whether farming pays. When that question is asked, I always think that you might as well ask, "Does racing pay? Does gambling pay?" because the farmer, so far as wheat is concerned, never knows what he is going to get; when he sows his crop, it is just a gamble because of fluctuating prices.

Viscount WOLMER

Why did the hon. Lady promise at the last Election that farming must be made to pay?


If the Labour Government is in for a long period, farming will be made to pay.

Viscount WOLMER

Will racing pay too?


This subsidy has made the farmer look with a far kinder eye on the idea of stabilisation than ever before. As a result of the beet sugar factories, we have an eight weeks' supply of sugar in this country. There are 19 factories in Great Britain, and if it were possible without a subsidy to increase them, the time might come when we would be self-sufficient in sugar supplies. I am glad to say these few words in support of the subsidy, because of the excellent effect it has had in Shropshire, and because I am sure that it has brought a lasting benefit to agriculture in this country.


I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on the finish of the most successful campaign which we have had in this country. I am not concerned as to who should be crowned with laurels; the satisfactory thing is that we have people in every party saying what an excellent thing the subsidy has been. That is a very fine augury for the right hon. Gentleman's Commission which is now inquiring into agriculture. If he can only get an agreed policy for this unfortunate industry, it will be much more likely to have a chance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) talked about the apparently large sums which he received for his sugar beet this year and also on the fact that the size of the Supplementary Estimate might suggest that the farmer is getting a tremendous lot out of the subsidy. Hon. Members ought to remember that the cultivation of sugar beet is a very expensive business. They should remember also that the use of pulp is growing very rapidly, and that the grower of sugar beet at the present day is relying a great deal more on sugar beet pulp, and growing much less in the way of ordinary root crops. The farmers in Norfolk are relying more and more on sugar beet, and giving up other root crops almost entirely. When Members consider the terms for growing sugar beet, they must take into consideration that the farmer has to buy back the pulp with which to feed his cattle during the winter.

5.0 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds told us the results that he had obtained, and I will give my results on a practically similar acreage. I was looking through them the other day, and I found that after I had paid all the costs, and paid for the pulp, which it was necessary for me to buy to make up for the fact that I had displaced my ordinary root crops, I had literally nothing coming in, except that I had got my pulp for nothing, and the valuable sugar beet tops also. I am not grumbling at all; I think it is a very good bargain. I have enough excellent food for my cattle and a valuable by-product in the tops. If Members realised that more, this large Supplementary Estimate would go more easily through Committee. I suppose it would not be possible for the Minister to give us any reassurance as to the future. I find that everybody is very worried as to what will happen next year, and I honestly believe that if he could see his way to tell the farmers that he is going to stand by them after the end of this year it would be most welcome news. Perhaps I had better not say more on that point, as I see the Chairman is rising; and I will finish by saying that I do congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and that I hope that the last year of the subsidy at this rate will be even more successful than the present one.


I do not propose to make any comments on the claim of the former Minister of Agriculture or the present Minister of Agriculture with regard to the paternity of this very beneficial scheme. If we are to accept the statements of both of them, it is obvious that it has had a polyandrous paternity, and that both are entitled to credit for it. But as one who knows this particular industry very intimately, I do wish to say that I am very grateful to the party opposite and to the present Minister of Agriculture for the enlightened way in which they have treated this question. When one thinks of their general obscurantism in most economic subjects, this is a very welcome ray of light, and I can only hope that they may be the first to jump the claim of the new economic policies which are penetrating to the minds of the electors and which, when they are given effect to, are going to do so much to resuscitate the industries of our land and to solve that present insoluble problem which is dragging the Lord Privy Seal into the abyss. I think the hon. Lady the Member for the Wrekin Division (Miss Picton-Turbervill) very effectually answered the somewhat plaintive speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild). He told us how he got into Parliament by doing his best to disturb what, to use the language of the late Mr. Montague, I may call the apathetic contentment of the fanner, by suggesting to the latter that he was not getting his "hare of the subsidy. But when the hon. Member for the Wrekin Division tells us that she finds the farmers wildly enthusiastic for the sugar-beet subsidy, and when we hear that the acreage is growing, we can realise that, after all, there cannot be very much wrong with the adjustment. Of course, if a candidate for Parliament tells the electorate that he thinks he can get them more than they are getting now, be will not only get votes but he will also arouse a certain amount of discontent in them, and I am rather sorry that he should have come here to-day to disturb the harmony with his effort to redeem his election promises.

It is all very well to talk about the farmers getting so much per cent. and the factories getting so much per cent. There is a certain type of economic mind which thinks that the only industries entitled to any credit are those which are run un-profitably, and that those which show good dividends and active and careful management should be subjected to penalising taxation—with a view to encouraging them to further developments! There is an essential difference between the beet-sugar factory and the farmer. The farmer has his land and he gets his price for his sugar-beet, and if he is not satisfied that sugar-beet is the best crop to grow he can grow turnips or potatoes or any other crop he chooses. He does not risk the capital and the skill which have been required to put up the factory. If the farmer ceased to grow sugar-beet, the factory would become so much scrap iron and useless buildings, and the company would risk a total loss.

The erection of a factory entails an enormous expenditure. A factory costs well over £'250,000 and may run up to nearly £400,000—an immense sum; and the only way in which factory owners could be persuaded to undertake this risk was to provide that in the period of the subsidy a substantial portion of their capital should be restored to them, so that at the end of the subsidy period they would be in a position to carry on without the burden of these overhead capital charges. That was the basis on which the scheme was framed, wisely, by the Labour Government in 1924—the final scheme that was adjusted. The factories have done their part well, as the increase in the acreage shows. It has been a very successful scheme and it has helped agriculture. The true credit for the scheme does not belong to the distinguished Gentlemen upon either of the Front Benches. The credit must go to an equally great man of a former generation, the Emperor Napoleon, who first started growing sugar beet when France was shut off from getting cane sugar.


I sincerely hope that we shall not go into that side of the question in dealing with this Supplementary Estimate. Whether Napoleon or anybody else started the system is not a question which arises here.


They followed the very good example of a very great man. I will leave it at that. Sugar beet has been grown in France since then mainly for the purpose of developing other sides of agriculture, a point on which the Minister himself touched. Nothing improves the soil more than sugar beet. The roots go deep down into the soil, probably extending 6 or 7 feet, they split up the ground and aerate it and they remain there rotting and increasing the fertility of the soil to an extraordinary extent. That is part of the value which the farmer gets from the crop. In France, the sugar of the sugar beet crop is to some extent a by-product; the crop is grown largely for the purpose of stimulating and recreating the soil. After the revolution the soil of France had been ruined and it was the sugar beet crop that restored its fertility, and I believe that in this country it will do as much as any land drainage scheme to restore the fertility of the land.

I wish the scheme could be extended further. I cannot suggest anything in the nature of legislation, because that would be wrong and out of order, but I would like to say this with regard to Scotland. We were the first to grow sugar beet; in Kintyre and Argyll we grew sugar beet with up to 20 per cent. of suprose content, the highest in the country, the reason being that we have more sunshine in Argyll than there is in other parts of the country. We have longer hours of daylight; we are nearer the North Pole; and it is the ultra-violet rays that make the sugar beet grow. But it was found that the cost of the steamer transport from the port of Campbell-town to Greenock was 10s. per ton in the steamer. That came off the price which the farmer got; and after that the sugar beet had to be hauled a considerable distance to the factory. The cost became prohibitive and the farmers were so discouraged that they did not find the crop was economical. Then they grew in its place those very excellent potatoes of which we heard at Question Time and which I hope will find their way into the House of Commons. I suggest that the sugar beet subsidy might be used in various other ways. I was one of those who tried to get the late Government to extend it to power alcohol distilleries.


We are discussing here the Vote of a certain amount of money for a particular purpose, and we cannot discuss whether it should be applicable to other things or not.


With all respect, I am giving the Committee a certain amount of history with regard to the sugar beet industry.


I do not think that we need all this history on a Supplementary Estimate.


I see no sign of impatience on the part of any Member of the Committee. What I was going to say was that if the Government could extend the subsidy to other adaptations it might be possible to have smaller areas. At the present moment a sugar beet factory has to be within reach of 28,000 acres. It takes 4,000 acres at least to supply a sugar beet factory with an adequate supply of beet. [An HON. MEMBER: "More than that."] The result is that we can only put down a sugar beet factory in a very large agricultural area; the more remote parts of the country cannot possibly have factories. But there are other agricultural industries to which the subsidy might be applied, and then there could be smaller areas, and that would be an enormous help. It would mean a stabilising of the farmers' hopes and expectations. That is the value of the sugar beet subsidy. The farmer has got his contract, he has got his price, and knows he can grow his crop with a feeling of certainty. I can recollect the history of another industry.


I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to the Estimate. It may be quite easy for him to suggest ever so many more industries to which this might be applicable, but that does not come within the terms of the Estimate.


With all respect, I have yet to learn that it is out of order in this assembly to use an illustration.


The hon. Member is using so many illustrations that it might almost be called repetition.


I think it would be more in order to wait until you have heard the illustration.




We are not discussing a new Estimate. We are discussing a certain sum of money which is an addition to the original Estimate. That money is to be voted for a specific purpose, and that is the question which is before us.


With all respect, I was just following the Minister in what he said as to the effect of the sugar beet subsidy, and I was saying that this subsidy was probably capable of extension. I always understood that one could give an illustration from an analogous industry, and I proposed to give such an illustration, but I bow to your Ruling.


The extension to which the hon. Member is referring would require more money and may require legislation.


I think it might require more money, but it certainly would not require more legislation, as it could be done as an administrative action; but, if that is your Ruling, I submit to it with all deference, I think there has been no more beneficial Measure for agriculture than this one, and I should be very glad to see an extension of it. If it is administered in the way in which it has been administered in the past and carried on with the skill and diligence with which it has been pursued so far, I feel sure that it is going to do more and more to recreate agriculture. As the Minister pointed out, our farmers have been taught a great lesson. It is a difficult and delicate crop to grow. It has awakened the agricultural industry in many parts of the country; it has brought farmers into contact with business minds; and the result is that we have got an intellectual crop and a business crop in agriculture such as no other agricultural Measure of the past generation has done anything to bring about. I congratulate the Minister on this Estimate and I cordially support it.


As the Committee are aware, this Supplementary Estimate provides sums of money for the 19 factories which have been erected in Great Britain since the passage of the original Act. I understand that some of these factories, which have already been subsidised out of public funds, have in addition been able to get some £2,000,000 advanced to them under the Trade Facilities Act at a very low rate of interest; I believe that they are now buying foreign sugar to be refined in this country, and in this way they are directly competing with the home sugar refining industry. If my information is correct on this question, I think a new situation has arisen. This state of things did not exist when the original Estimate was introduced, and the situation which has now arisen is that these heavily subsidised factories, which have been financed in the past by public money at a low rate of interest, are now directly competing with private individuals who have built up their private concerns at their own expense.

In view of these facts, I do not think any hon. Member can justify the proposal which we are now discussing. The late Government said that the original Act caused great injury to the sugar refining industry, and I hope before the Debate closes that we shall have some assurance that the Government do not contemplate public money being given to subsidise factories in a way that is likely to injure the sugar refining industry in Great Britain. The Minister of Agriculture has taken credit this afternoon for proposing this additional subsidy, and he asked: "Who dares to laugh at sugar now?" There is one section which has not benefited in connection with sugar for many years and that is the British public who have suffered to the extent of some £20,000,000 or £15,000,000 as the result of these Supplementary Estimates. All this money has been taken from the pockets of the British taxpayers, and it has been handed over to the favoured few. In addition to this, the State has lost some £4,000,000 through the nonpayment of excise duty on the sugar grown in this country. For these and other reasons I think, when we come to analyse the figures as we are entitled to do, on this final Vote for sugar we have a right to ask if there has been any gain to the nation as a whole as the result of these proposals.

We all agree that if £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 of public money is spent for any purpose it must benefit those who receive the money, but it is open to question whether by that expenditure there has been any economic gain to the nation. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that, instead of taking credit to himself for this Act and for presenting this Supplementary Estimate to the House of Commons, he should answer the simple question: "Has not the result of this policy been to grow vast quantities of sugar at the expense of other crops, and if that be so, do I think it is, then the net gain to the nation is the difference between the economic value of the sugar grown and the value of the other crops. I think hon. Members opposite will agree with me when I say that, although the policy which has been adopted has been extravagant and has been fortunate for a few people, it has hurt the whole sugar refining industry, and it has been a disastrous experiment to the State as a whole.


I am very pleased to notice in this Debate that hon. Members below the Gangway are gradually emerging into the open in regard to the beet sugar subsidy. Fortunately or unfortunately, at the last election I had to face a leaflet which invited everybody to support the abolition of this dole, and that leaflet made a very considerable attack upon the view which has been held so far in the constituency which I represent. Speaking as a grower, and living in the midst of the factories operating in East Anglia, I make bold to say, this new industry has been a veritable Godsend to agriculture, amid much depression. As a new Member, I feel somewhat at a loss to keep within the terms of your rightful ruling, Mr. Young, because looking at the industry as a whole, and having regard to the low grain prices and the difficulties connected with marketing, your ruling does not encourage me to deal with the beet sugar industry from the wider point of view which I had intended. There are two points which I should like to emphasize in regard to the purposes to which this subsidy will be put. We have heard a very considerable reiteration of the big profits which the factories have secured. It is not my intention to criticise the action and the business acumen which have enabled the factories to make such a good bargain with the Farmers' Union, but after looking at the extent of the subsidies, which have been granted for the purpose of developing agriculture, I am bound to say that the factories have drawn three-fourths of the subsidies and the other sections of the industry have not had a fair share of: the subsidies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite may cheer that statement, but I think it is desirable that some method should be adopted by which we can persuade the factories under Government influence to adopt at least a 50–50 basis with the whole industry when they are dealing with these subsidies.

I am strengthened in this point when I emphasize the contrast between the condition of the workers in the factories and the workers on the land. I congratulate those men who have been able to secure between £3 and £6 a week in the factories, and I have no hesitation in saying that they have earned every penny they have got by hard and strenuous labour, but, owing to the economic conditions under which most of the profit goes to the factory, we are not in a position to give to the junior partner in agriculture what he ought to receive in regard to the development of the industry which, I understood was the purpose for which the subsidy was intended. On this point I associate myself with the view expressed by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) to the effect that a little inquiry would do no harm, and it might bring some moral suasion to bear on the proprietors of the factories to be more easy in making their bargains, having regard to the fortunate position in which they are now placed.

May I remind hon. Members that this beet sugar industry provides only a seasonal occupation, and the 19 factories throw out of employment at this season of the year several thousand men, and there is no unemployment pay for them. More unfortunate still, in the localities where these factories are placed unemployment is already rife and work is difficult to secure. I submit that this House cannot always forget this further corollary to the development of the sugar beet industry. I very much appreciate the new spirit which has been displayed in this House in regard to the mutual desire to build up this industry on sound economic lines, although I deprecate the action of certain hon. Members who are trying to create the idea that hon. Members sitting on the Government benches are antagonistic to the development and the improvement of agriculture. Some of us are very much wrapped up in the agricultural industry, and our lives from the cradle to the present moment have been concentrated on an honest desire to make that great industry what it ought to be, namely, one of the greatest industries of this country. In the carrying out of this task, whether we are dealing with the development of the sugar beet industry or trying to stabilise prices, at least we should be given credit for having good intentions, and we shall be showing that we are friends of the agricultural industry if we do our best to make this proposal a nucleus for a new start to achieve better things on wider lines.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

I think the Minister of Agriculture is very lucky to have received so much approbation in regard to the success of his proposals. It has been pointed out that the success of the sugar beet industry is largely due to the subsidies, one of which we are now discussing. I know that a good many doubts have been expressed as to the wisdom of subsidising these beet sugar factories. May I point out in regard to this subsidy that there are other processes developing like the system which is being developed by the Oxford Research School on the farm at Eynsham. The Minister of Agriculture has taken credit for being the parent of part of this policy because he appointed a Committee to look into this question. That has developed. The late Minister of Agriculture gave a grant for a research fund at Oxford, and that has developed into this process, which I believe will do more to save the taxpayer from further big subsidies, and to put the sugar beet industry on a self-supporting basis, than any other process at present known. I do not want to go into details, but this is a matter of substance. The investigation has been going on for three years, and, at the present price of 46s. per ton to the grower, the net cost per ton worked out, during the three years 1998–31, with the subsidy at £8 8s. 10d. as it is now, at £14 5s. 1d. In 1931–34, when the subsidy will be reduced, there will still be a profit. When the subsidy has been reduced to £1 6s. 1d., the cost per ton will work out at £21 7s. 10d., and, in view of the fact that the average price of sugar over the last five years has been £27, the process at all events will be able to pay its way, whatever other sugar beet factories may do. These costs are calculated on the basis of the present price to the farmer, namely, 46s. per ton. Of course, new experiments always require a lot of money and time, but this factory at Eynsham is now working—


Are those figures obtained on a commercial scale, or on an experimental scale?

Brigadier-General BROWN

On a commercial scale. The reason why they are able to work more cheaply than the other factories is because they work all the year round. The factory itself works for 10 months of the year instead of for only three months, and, therefore, it can deal with 100,000 tons of beet, working every month in the year, with a much smaller plant than is required to deal with 100,000 tons when working for only three months.

There are also great economies in transport and freightage. Reference has been made to the great cost of sending the beets to the factory, but in the case of the Oxford process they have two drying stations, which cost very much less than the other 19 factories. These drying stations are within carting distance of the factory, and can take roots from a radius of 18 miles. It has been calculated that about 25 square miles are required to produce 100,000 tons of beet, and under this system the whole of that beet is carted, and does not have to be carried by rail at all. It is dried and kept until it is wanted, and then it is sent to the factory itself. The great economies effected by this process are well worth the study of the Minister. It is no longer in the experimental stage, as some of us saw it two years ago. This year they have sold 1,000 tons of their cossettes, such as we saw at one of these drying stations, to the Colwick factory, where the sugar has been extracted. Whether the claims made for this process are right or not, it seem" to me that the matter ought to be looked into, with a view to enabling the subsidy to be reduced in the future, and more equal payments made to the farmers. One great advantage is that about two-thirds of the labour employed is permanent skilled labour employed for the whole year. It is true that for three months of the year, when all the beets are coming in, extra labour has to be hired, to the extent of perhaps 100 men at each factory, for three months, as casual labour, but the work is far more permanent than under the present system. I hope that this process will be looked into, because I think that if the claims are made good, it will do more to help the future of the sugar beet industry than any other process can.


This Debate is far more opportune than some which have taken place during the present week, especially as the object is to do something in the better interests of the cultivation of the soil and of the agricultural industry. I support the Estimate because sugar beet affords an additional rotation, and that, at the present time, is very important in connection with agriculture. Sugar beet growing not only helps to clean the land, but also helps to fertilise it. Sugar beet has the property of absorbing nitrogen from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. It therefore helps to increase the fertility of the soil, and it also makes a fine seed bed in preparation for a good crop of wheat. It also affords another source of food supply, and helps to make us more independent of foreign supplies. I do not agree that all the money is taken from the National Exchequer. I maintain that the Sugar Beet Subsidy helps to provide sugar at a lower price for the working classes of this country. It finds employment, too, at a time when labour is taken away from the land, when the weather is not fit for outdoor work, such as ploughing and so forth, and that, also, is a national benefit.

Then there is the advantage that it-relieves the area which has been under potatoes. At the present time we are in a difficulty with our potatoes. We cannot sell them, and, if we grew more sugar beet, and so relieved the acreage for potatoes, it would help that industry as well, while we should have plenty of potatoes left for our own food supplies. For these reasons I vote for this Supplementary Estimate with much pleasure, and I trust that the Minister of Agriculture will be able to advise the Government to continue the subsidy in future years. I think it will be a calamity for the cultivation of the soil and for the agricultural industry if this subsidy is not continued. A further advantage of this crop is that it affords increased supplies of food for cattle, in the form of the dried pulp, and that also is worthy of consideration. As a cultivator of the soil and one who is deeply interested in farming, I support the Supplementary Estimate and hope it will pass.


I am pleased to have an opportunity of saying how delighted I am to hear the expressions of satisfaction from the other side of the Committee at the success of the sugar beet industry. It is not often that some of us who are of an economical turn of mind are able so gladly and willingly to support one of these Votes, but in this case, bearing in mind the distressed condition of agriculture at the moment, it is good to know that an increase is necessary. The only word of criticism that we have heard has come from the benches below the Gangway, and I am really surprised to hear some of that criticism. I feel that, so far as this industry is concerned, we are greatly indebted to the vigorous organisation which has been brought into being by the beet sugar factories in this country from the very start, and I am not at all sure that, had it not been for the keen business ability behind those factories, any money would have been made out of the industry up to the present. It is all very well to talk about a certain beet sugar factory making a big dividend, but there are other factories that have not done so well, and when one realises how much energy and really good business ability is behind these factories, it is not a matter for surprise that they have on the whole done reasonably well.

It must be remembered that these factories are doing a great deal for the farmer. They supply him with seed, they find his labour for him, and pay for it long before they get their money. They also furnish him with manures on long credit terms, they send him the labour for getting in his crop, and they not only find the money for the labour but take a great deal of trouble in providing it in outlying parts where the farmer himself has difficulty in obtaining it. Then they organise the transport of the beet from the farm to the factory, and in many ways they have reduced the cost of handling the crop, and so have made it possible for the farmer to get his return, which is always certain. In my opinion, even if the return to the factories is, perhaps, more than the average bank interest return, they have certainly earned it. I do not know whether it is quite realised how much the factories are responsible for the big increase in the acreage. The farmer is naturally a conservative person and does not readily change his crops. When we see that at least 300,000 acres will be grown this year, we can realise that a tremendous advance has taken place. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not only give us the sympathy which he has so well expressed to-night, but that he will go further, and see whether it is not possible to continue the subsidy after 1934.

The sugar beet industry has also brought advantages to other industries. Large sums are spent for bags and for manures, as well as for all the other supplies required by the factories and farmers, so that it has a far-reaching effect, not only on agriculture generally, but on the industrial populations of our towns. I understand that the factories to-day are employing over 8,000 men, and (hat, since the subsidy has been in existence, £2,250,000 has been paid in wages. I cannot think of any reason why this subsidy should not be supported by the whole country. It is indeed pleasing to know that from the other side of the House the subsidy is having increasing support. It is not as if the price of sugar had advanced. With sugar cheaper in this country than in any other part of the world there is no reason at all to criticise the industry on that account. I am very pleased to have an opportunity of saying a word in defence of the factory organisation, though I hold no brief for them, because I feel that they have helped the farmer to develop the sugar beet business and, as this has been such a Godsend to agriculture this year, I hope we shall see very many years of further prosperity for the industry.


I will not trouble the Committee with any observations upon the general principles of the Supplementary Estimate as it has been ably analysed and supported by my hon. Friends on these benches. But I wish to draw attention to a Paper the right hon. Gentleman has issued, No. 43, published on 24th December, 1929, dealing with a statement in the form of balance sheets transmitted to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I feel some hesitation in drawing attention to a matter of accounts, because the right hon. Gentleman is really not personally responsible for the form of accounts, but officially, pf course, he is responsible for them. I hope he will not take offence and call me insolent, because I say that he is not responsible for the accounts, as his colleague did the other day when I said very courteously that I did not hold him responsible. I think he is not likely to fall foul of me. There was a large amount of discussion in the Standing Committee on the Companies Bill on auditors' certificates before the new Companies Act came into law. Two of the greatest supporters of the view that there should be more responsibility on auditors in auditors' certificates were the present First Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. Lady the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who both made some very strong and, I think, on the whole, justifiable observations about auditors' certificates. Now, notwithstanding the views there expressed, though they did not become law, we have these two recent balance sheets sent to us in a form with which I must say I am not in full accord. Although I criticise the form I am quite satisfied that they are completely honest and honourable balance sheets. This Paper deals with the public money and the refineries, otherwise I do not know why it is laid as a Parliamentary Paper under the Subsidy Act of 1925.


Has this anything to do with the Estimate that is before us?


I will read the title: British Sugar Subsidy Act, 1925, Ministry of Agriculture. Statement in the form of Balance Sheet submitted to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Section 2, Refineries Ordered to be printed 24th December, 1929, No. 43.


I am anxious to know whether it has anything to do with the Estimate that is before us now.


Yes. It is presumably on those figures that the subsidy is paid. I am drawing attention to the form in which the figures are shown, because public money is involved in this Supplementary Estimate and we have to deal with the White Paper on these lines. I know very well that no chartered accountant, in giving an auditor's certificate of this kind, can make chattel valuations or put a value on so many tons of sugar or syrup, or on materials as described in the balance sheets in my hands, but there appears here an item of £2,619,000 as the valuation of stocks of sugar. Does the right hon. Gentleman in accepting this balance sheet accept responsibility for the statement in the auditor's certificate that "we have accepted the valuation of the stock on hand certified by the directors"? Because upon that valuation in some degree depends the validity of the profit and loss balance. I have no doubt the figures are perfectly correct, and the mere fact that I believe them to be correct gives me further licence in criticising this first balance sheet. But the form in which it is presented after what was said upstairs in the discussion of the Companies Bill does not satisfy us. It may satisfy people outside. Private shareholders may accept the old forms of auditors' certificates, but this form in a balance sheet is not in future going to satisfy the House of Commons, and when the time comes I shall, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, put in a protest against the form these two certificates take. It says on page 3, on the left-hand side, "Profit and Loss Account as above, £627,717." There is no other reference to that amount anywhere in this balance sheet. Where is it? There is no profit and loss account before us; it is omitted but referred to. That shows the sloppy way in which these accounts are produced. Again, I find this: We have obtained all the information and explanation we have required which have been promptly and satisfactorily given. That is mere wind and useless verbiage. Does it mean that information has sometimes not been promptly and satisfactorily given? If not, why is it now stated that the information has been given promptly? The next thing we shall have in these accounts is a statement that the office boy's tie is of the right colour to satisfy the auditors. It has nothing to do with the accounts.

It is felt that in honest concerns auditors' certificates add nothing to the value of a director's signature. That is the case here. This is not a case of the safety of shareholders' property. It is public-money at stake and the accounts are submitted to the House of Commons. In the case of a badly managed concern an auditor's certificate might possibly be not only useless as a protection, but might give a false sense of security. On the next occasion, unless the Minister can arrange for a much more searching type of certificate, with the responsibility of the auditors for what they are saying, and with the omission of things that mean nothing, we shall move a reduction of the Vote.

The balance sheet on the other side of the White Paper is laughable. It says, without any approval or disapproval: No provision has been made for depreciation of refinery, plant and machinery. Subject to this, we are of opinion that such balance sheet is properly drawn up. In other words, subject to that item, which is the pivot of the whole value of the certificate as showing whether a loss or profit has been made the balance sheet has been properly drawn up. In other words, in pompous verbiage, the auditors state that their work is nothing but a vehicle for obtaining information from the directors for which they do not vouch, for dealing with stocks and stores for the valuation of which they are not responsible, and for obtaining book-keepers' figures of which they are only adders-up. This auditor's certificate is not worth the paper it is written on as a protection. The auditors do not even say whether the fact that provision has net been made for depreciation of refinery, plant and machinery is in their opinion a legitimate and prudent omission or whether the omission vitiates or affects adversely the value of the figures given in the profit and loss account. I ask the Minister whether be will take steps to make a protest to auditors who draw up our sugar balance sheets, and notify them that in future we will not accept certificates in which the auditors shirk all responsibility for the material they use and quote. Auditors should not give us certificates based on figures of which they have only second-hand cognizance. We do not ask auditors to value so many hundredweights of molasses or sugar or so many dozen boxes. But if they cannot value them they should state definitely that they have merely taken figures given them by the bookkeepers and managers, and add that they have no means of knowing whether they are correct or not, and that the Government themselves must satisfy themselves that the value of the stocks is as shown in the balance-sheet. I have made my protest. I shall not oppose the Vote, but in the interest of candid accounting I think the House should put its foot down and insist upon auditors taking proper responsibility for what is certified by them. Second-hand knowledge unvouched for by auditors is no protection and is not acceptable as evidence in balance-sheets laid before the House of Commons, and should not be used as material for an auditor's certificate.

6.0 p.m.


I think we can congratulate ourselves upon particular unanimity in this Debate, for, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), there appears to have been no hostile criticism. Apparently the scheme, so we are told, dates from the advent of Napoleon. I was not in this House at the time the present scheme was started—I was compulsorily away—so that I was an interested listener of the animadversions of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and my right hon. Friend here as to who was precisely the parent of this scheme. At all events, there is a singular consensus of opinion that the results of its operations are very beneficial. Therefore, there is nothing, as far as I am concerned, in the Vote to defend, but there are a few points, more or less of inquiry, to which I shall reply. A request was made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) with respect to the reports as to the factory profits and the general conditions of the beet-sugar industry, to show, as far as we can, how much the farmer receives and how much of the benefit goes down to the worker, and so on. The inquiry which was promised by my right hon. Friend was instituted some time ago. It is now being carried on, and we hope to be able to publish a good and complete result of that inquiry in the form of one of our orange books in the economic series of publications of the Ministry. I am sure it will be a very valuable Report, and I hope, although I cannot name a date, that it will be ready for publication by about June. The inquiry, I am glad to say, is already well advanced.


I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that in June a conference will take place between the growers and the beet factors, and that it is most essential that this Report should be published before that date.


The hon. Member is no doubt fully aware that an inquiry of this kind, which was instituted only a short time ago, requires a lot of actuarial work and necessitates a great many journeys. Inquiries are not limited to this country. We have to get Continental experience as well. I can assure the hon. Member that we shall get on with it as quickly as possible but I should not like to say that it will be published before June. I can say that in the very short time we have had in which to deal with the matter we have got on as quickly as possible.


Is it not possible to publish this Report before June, and will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that an official from his office is present at the negotiations between the growers and the factors in order to ensure that the growers have a fair deal?


We are always in very close contact with the growers not only during the conduct of negotiations, but before that time. I can assure the hon. Member that his misgivings are not altogether well-founded. We find, almost without exception, that while the farmers are always glad to have a little more, on the whole, I think it is fair to say that they are not dissatisfied. There is a good deal to be paid for the farmers. They are not dissatisfied with the result of their bargain with the factories. I may say that the bargain this year is 46s. as the basic price, but I believe that, owing to the good weather and the good yield and the sugar content, the average price is working out at about 52s.—very many shillings more than the basic price. The mere fact that the acreage has extended so unexpectedly in the country is the best and most practical proof that the farmers as a whole find this as remunerative a part of their work as any. I think it is fair to say that in some parts of the country it has been almost the salvation of agriculture this year, and that it has been the one crop, practically, in regard to which they could say that they had done good.

With regard to the complaint made by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) concerning the balance sheet—and I confess I share his view in some respects—I will see that the criticisms which he has made are considered. We will certainly do our best to deal with any faults which may be found in the form of the accounts. Under the Subsidy Act we are entitled to receive accounts from the companies and factories every year, but in this particular case the company concerned renders an account which deals with vastly more than that which is concerned with beet sugar. This is a very large firm of refiners as the hon. Member is aware, and these details relate apparently to their business as a whole.


If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to the back of the White Paper No. 43 he will find a very much smaller account—that of the Sankey Sugar Company. The total is £734,000, as against £11,300,000 of the Tate and Lyle Company. I refer to the Sankey Sugar Company's balance sheet on the back of White Paper No. 43. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that when you look at the words "no provision," etc., and then apply them to this company's position the balance sheet becomes a farce. Seeing that this "no provision" may vitiate the whole result and may alter the stated net profit or loss he cannot expect the House of Commons to accept such a balance sheet as a serious document showing a true test of the company's affairs.


I can promise the hon. Member that we will look into the matter in the light of his criticism, but I would point out that these companies do not get any of the subsidy which is under discussion at the moment. However, I will do my best to give effect to the hon. Member's criticism. There are, as far as I can see, no other points on which I was asked to make any reply, and I think there is a unanimous disposition to grant us this Supplementary Estimate. I think we can say that the mere size of it shows that there is a growing appreciation in the industry of agriculture of all that is implied in this kind of thing. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) dealt with one of the most significant features of this matter. It is introducing into agriculture a new conception of method and a new and wider co-relation between the different parties who take part in the processes of the industry. It is bringing the factory and the producer nearer together; it is getting them familiar through working together. It is bringing improved methods to the notice of the producer and he is obtaining direct benefit, and in many ways, I think, it is assisting agriculture and in an indirect way will be of permanent value. I think that the lessons which we are gradually learning from the improved operations of this process will be applicable in various ways to the marketing of other agricultural commodities. Finally, in respect of the illustration mentioned by an hon. Member on the back benches, I can say that we are fully in touch with the improved methods in the factories to which he refers. We are fully alive to the significance of the improved methods which may be introduced, because the weak point in this factory system, and the one we should do all we can to try to remedy, is that it is so essentially a seasonal work. It means that for so many weeks there is unemployment. Any alteration in method which can secure to these factories a longer working period will be an advantage.


Can the right hon. Gentleman give a report of the present condition of the Eynsham experiment as to how far it has gone and as to how far it has proved a commercial scheme?


As a matter of fact, I cannot. I have spent a great deal of time in investigating this particular case, and if I were quite certain in my own mind I should be clad to say so. I can only say that the results commercially and otherwise of this particular experiment are now under careful examination and we shall be delighted if the experiment proves to be commercially sound. I would not like to say any more except that we wish it well; it is a very important experiment. I think I have dealt with all the various points, which were quite minor ones, and in view of the entirely friendly attitude shown in this Debate, I hope that we shall now be given this Supplementary Estimate.


Cannot the right hon. Gentleman by administration do something to stop subsidised factories from buying foreign sugar, and melting is in these factories at the expense of the national industry of sugar refining?


I find that we have no power to do that. The factories, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, do refine raw sugar which is imported and, therefore, provide work in the slack period. I am fully alive to the importance of the point which the hon. Member has brought to my attention. We have not, under the Act, any power to deal with the matter, but I will look into it, and perhaps later on he will communicate with the Department.


I make no apology for taking part in this Debate, owing to the fact that I have been connected with the sugar industry in various aspects for over 40 years. I was surprised that an hon. Friend of mine expressed surprise that Members of the party below the Gangway had objected to this subsidy in detail and in general. Surely that affords us no surprise. It must, indeed, be a day of lamentations of Members below the Gangway. We can see them seeking the nearest wailing wall, and laying their heads against it. This is a most extraordinary Debate to those of us who, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister reminded us, have sat in times past and heard my right hon. Friend sitting in front of me bring forward these Estimates on three occasions when the party opposite were on this side of the House. We know full well the attitude of hon. Members opposite on those occasions. How different is the Debate to-day when one hon. Member after another, admittedly new to the House, has taken part in this Debate and has spoken sympathetically, not only towards this particular Supplementary Estimate, but towards the whole industry of agriculture. We remember very well the part that was played by one whose absence we regret at this moment. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. He never lost an opportunity of standing at that Box whenever the question came up and denouncing it with a Parliamentary vocabulary of polished phrases of which I envy him. We know that: He polished his phrases so admirably That now he is ruler of the King's Navee. That may possibly point to a moral and adorn a tale for hon. Members opposite who have not been in the House long. If, for example, some of the younger occupants of the benches opposite, say the hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley), had, in the past, when he was in Opposition, polished his phrases a little more carefully, in those oratorical treats to which he allowed us to listen, he might to-day, instead of tagging behind in the wake of the Lord Privy Seal, like the exhaust from a large Rolls-Royce, have been occupying one of the seats of the mighty. That, I suggest, is the possible result of phrase polishing.

The First Lord of the Admiralty was not the only one who ventured to pour the vials of criticism on the Estimates that we brought forward with respect to sugar beet. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) seldom lost an opportunity of taking part in those Debates, and when he found that Homer was nodding—that is, I hope, a graceful and, I hope, a Parliamentary allusion to yourself, Mr. Speaker—he was bold enough to try to drag in reference to his favourite hobby, not unconnected with the taxation of land values. It is indeed a refreshing thing that there has been such a change and that so much sweet reasonableness has been shown by hon. Members opposite, from the Minister downwards. It shows not only that there is a great change of attitude on the part of hon. Members opposite, as well as a change of side in the House, but we are finding on the benches opposite a desire to understand the agricultural problem which is to-day occupying the minds of so many people, and a realisation on their part that it is a problem that needs solution.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin Division (Miss Picton-Turbervill) in her interesting speech, all too short, said that a veritable miracle had been wrought in the country by this piece of legislation with respect to the sugar beet industry. That is true. I have been closely connected with the sugar industry in the growing of the sugar cane, the manufacture of cane sugar, the manufacture of beet sugar, the designing and erection of sugar factories and refineries. Therefore, I know the difficulties of starting a new enterprise in a country which is already old in its experience of cane sugar manufacture. I have taken part in the sugar industry in Formosa, in the Philippines, in Cuba, in Porta Rica, in Mexico and in this country—all countries which have been manufacturing cane sugar for a longer or shorter period of time. When you start a new sugar undertaking in such countries, with all the various points of view that have to be taken into consideration—the water supply, the general lay-out, the fibre content, the sucrose content, the water content of the raw material, the opportunities for marketing, etc., even vast as your experience may have been, you find that when you have established your factory you have made miscalculations, and the first year or two is a time of difficulty and unfulfilled expectation.

Nevertheless, we see before our eyes in this country, in a few years, a great industry such as the sugar beet industry set up; an industry which has feeding it an acreage of 300,000 this year, 33½ per cent. more than last year, and with prospects next year of an additional 33⅓ per cent. of acreage. Yet hon. Members on the Liberal Benches, because they find this policy has been a success, despite their prognostications to the contrary—according to their theories it never should have been a success—tell us that it is not a success because, they say, the factory is getting more than its fair share of the profit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are not they"?] When we look at the increasing acreage, we can confidently leave that matter to those concerned. One hon. Member says, "Are not they?" I say that they are not, because the law of supply and demand takes place, and if the factory cannot get the crop coming to it, then that factory is so much steel, iron and comcrete. Therefore the farmer can bargain for a fair price. The factories were compelled to offer sufficient inducements for the farmers to grow the crop. Is it not evidence that that inducement has been sufficient, when we note the increase of acreage? The criticism is that with the number of factories that are growing up in the country it will be a question of them being able to pick and choose. A bigger acreage is being offered to them than they can cope with, unless we can get an extensive development of the Oxford Eynsham system, which will enable the factory to run for a 10 months' period instead of a three months period.

I regret that the figures are not greater. The figures would have been greater if we had had a sugar factory erected and in operation in the South of England. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should keep that matter in the forefront of his attention during the next few weeks, if he is going to be in office, and see if he cat not encourage development down there. The acreage is waiting, but for reasons which it is not proper or material to enter into now, the factory is not there. The transportation to Ipswich is becoming prohibitive, and this will be accentuated when the next crop is ready. This industry differs from most agricultural industries. It is not merely the growing of agriculture, but it represents also manufacturing processes. The sugar beet is useless unless it is made into the manufactured article. In regard to sugar beet the raw material deteriorates between the time of harvesting and manufacture, there is a loss of sucrose content and complaint on the part of the grower. That is why it is desirable that by some system of crop drying you can deal with your agricultural product and store it without depreciation. That is the real objective of the Oxford Eynsham process, and I wish it every success. I was not surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary said that he wished it well, but he was not able to commit himself with regard to it. It is a process which has been agitating the minds of those connected with the industry for 25 years, and they have not yet solved it. It is to be hoped that we are on the track of solving it, because its solution will mean a revolution in the sugar industry of this country and the world in general.

There are many subsidiary advantages from this industry. There is the advantage to the factory, to the grower, to the employé in the factory and in the field. These advantages do not always receive due consideration. There was a time in the conduct of the sugar industry when the most important person was the agriculturist who grew the crop. Then the engineer-minded man who looked after the machine became the most important person. Next, the business man who ran the concern was regarded as the most important person. But Java, one of the foremost sugar countries of the world, has led the world in saying that it is the chemist who is the really important person in the industry, from production in the field to the production of the finished article. One after another the other countries are finding out that, probably, the most important person in the industry is the chemical director. The sugar industry is a highly chemical industry, and there is a great opportunity for the products of our universities—the young men who want to go into scientific courses which they can turn to practical results, and not merely spend their lives peering through the microscope—to take their university degree in science and turn their acquired knowledge into commercial channels, as many of them must do. This new sugar industry offers them a great field. We have set up a new industry and there are 19 factories to-day which require on their staffs highly expert chemists. That is one of the important features in the development of this brand new British industry.

What is going to happen a short time hence, I do not know. I do not know whether we shall have to face the absolute disappearance of the subsidy, for which the hon. Member for Burslem has been looking for years. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, and one can almost note from here the sickness of the hon. Member's heart. No doubt he looks forward to the time when he will be able, with his facile pencil, to draw a caricature of the burial of the once flourishing sugar beet industry. We can only hope that his expectations will not be fulfilled. After the testimony that has been brought forward from two-thirds of the House in favour of this industry, and the experience of those of us who know something at first hand about this matter, is the country to be faced with a continuance of the period when these Estimates will come forward annually with respect to this industry, or is the House to be faced with the complete elimination of the sugar beet industry, and all that its development stands for in our agricultural and industrial life? Whatever the wails from the walls below the Gangway may be, those of us who claim common sense in regard to this matter will see to it that we are not so short-sighted as to allow that industry to disappear and to leave only the scars of it on the countryside.


One or two points have been raised with regard to the cultivation contract in force which have not been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman who responded to the Debate, and I should like to say a few words on the subject. Suggestions have been made by hon. Members who could not have had any close personal acquaintance with the contracts or the way in which they were prepared. I am in the fortunate position of being on both sides of the negotiations, because I am a factory director and also a contract grower. It may interest the Committee and those who imagine that there is any possibility of one side or the other not getting a fair deal, to know that when the last national contract was prepared, the factory books were placed, without reserve, before the accountants of the National Farmers' Union, and every effort was made by both sides to arrive at a fair deal, on the fullest examination of the facts. I have not the slightest doubt that the same thing will happen again on the next occasion when the contracts are revised.

I would remind the hon. Member who said that two-thirds of the subsidy went to the factories and one-third only to the farmers, that that statement is very far from being the case. To prove my statement I would mention what happened when the subsidy fell from 19s. 6d. to 13s. That fall of 6s. 6d. per cwt. is the precise equivalent of a drop of £1 per ton of cleaned beet of 15 per cent. sugar content delivered at the factory. The intention was that that drop of £1 per ton should be shared equally by each side to the bargain, that the farmer should get 10s. per ton less for his beet and the factories should pay 10s. more than they did before. After an examination of the accounts the factories expressed their willingness to bear 12s. of the crop, and 12s. was and is being borne by the factories and 8s. by the farmers. Those are the bald facts.

The strongest evidence that farmers generally are not dissatisfied with their treatment is shown by the very large increase in the area under cultivation. It rose to 230,000 acres in the year which is just over, and has jumped to well over 300,000 acres for the season which is in front of us. With regard to the amazingly inaccurate figures given by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) as to the cost of cultivation and the receipts, I can only give my own experience on this matter. If I had known the question was coming up I could have brought further figures. I have to send my beet to Ipswich, a long distance away and fairly costly, but in spite of that my receipts this season for sugar beet were more than double the cultivation costs, even when I have made full allowance for rent, which I do not have to pay because the land is my own. My early deliveries brought me in £45 an acre in cash under the national contract. The cost of cultivation was £19 per acre, and I added to that 25s. per acre for rent. As the weather deteriorated later and heavy rains came on I did not get the same receipts, but my total receipts for the season are more than double the total costs, and that has been the experience of many other growers during the past year. I admit that it has been an exceptionally favourable year.


Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that second class land yields anything like the return that he has mentioned?


The land I am speaking of would be considered, not second class, but third class land by most beet growers. It is a heavy clay soil. I admit that in 1928 I made a loss, but in 1929 I made a satisfactory profit, and I do not think there is any reason for a farmer to quarrel with the results of his returns in sugar beet. In fact, many of us have found that it is the only satis factory item in our farming profit and loss account. I only wish there were more factories so that we could grow more. From the farmers' point of view the special value of this crop is not alone that we get a profit upon it but that it is a first class cleaning crop, which improves the land, and it is the only first class cleaning crop which can be sold for cash immediately after harvest. All other crops, mangolds, swedes, mean that we have to wait for a hypothetical profit; until you have put them into animals and then wait for an uncertain market for beef and mutton. Sugar beet you sell for cash directly after harvest, and you clean your land in the process of cultivation. It is of the greatest value to agriculture. May I remind the Committee, in conclusion, of this remarkable fact, that the whole scheme of the subsidy was based on the asumption that the world price of granulated sugar would not fall below 45s. per cwt. It has fallen to about half that amount and after overcoming many difficulties by good management the industry has been established, I do not say on a satisfactory basis but at least on a substantial basis which I hope will be extended rather than diminished in the future.


I desire to detain the Committee only for a few moments. Since I have been in the House I have been impressed by the very few opportunities we have for discussing any problems connected with agriculture, and I regard it as a matter of principle that when the subject of agriculture is discussed it should be gone into as closely and as effectively as possible. This is a subject on which I should like to dwell because more than one question has been raised of interest to my constituents, such as the merits of the subsidy and other analogous matters, but I realise that we are considering a Supplementary Estimate and my business is to stick solely to that point. I could go on for a long time pointing out various other matter connected with the growing of sugar beet. In the area I represent there is a factory, and it has been the absolute saving of the district. We have more unemployed than any other rural area, and but for the sugar beet industry we should have been absolutely in the depths of unemployment, because many more families would have been unemployed but for the opportunity they have had of going into the sugar beet factory. Some hon. Members will perhaps remember the saying of Disraeli in one of his books: Strange that a manufacture which charms infancy and soothes old age should so frequently occasion political disaster. He was referring to sugar. There has been a remarkable unanimity on both sides of the Committee this evening, and it seems that the "manufacture which charms infancy and soothes old age," has, in fact, charmed both sides of the Committee this afternoon. In considering this Supplementary Vote this evening we have to decide whether there is any reason for uncertainty in estimating. If we look at the historical growth of the industry, both in this country and in Europe, we shall find that there is a great risk for uncertainty in estimating the probable amount of money necessary. The Minister of Agriculture referred to a character in history—Mr. Pitt. Let me refer to another character who was a descendant of Pitt's great antagonist—Napoleon III. Any hon. Member who has read the rather voluminous documents which were written by that gentleman in his retirement in the fortress of Ham, will remember that he agrees that there is always bound to be uncertainty in this problem; and as it was in his day, so it is now. There is bound to be uncertainty in estimating, and I agree with the Minister that the uncertainty is not remarkable. Nor is it remarkable when you consider questions of soil and climate, and many other matters which have to be considered before you can bring the crop to fruition.

I should like to mention the question of the problem of soils. There is a great difference between different types of soil. The hon. and gallant Member for the Rye Division (Sir G. Courthope) has told us that his area is clay soil. My area is also clay soil, and there are, of course, difficulties in the cultivation of this crop. Is it necessary there should be such great uncertainty, if in the future the question of soils could be taken into account in considering any question of subvention? I admit that subvention on a soil basis has been put forward by Mr. Venn, of the Agricultural Research Department at Cambridge, and I think it is worthy of consideration for the future. The hon. Member for The Wrekin Division (Miss Picton-Turbervill) has said that the sugar beet subsidy is often taken as an example of what might happen in the future as regards a subvention to agriculture; and if that is the case surely it is worth while going scientifically into the question of estimating the amount of crop. If we go into the matter in a scientific way we shall be able to learn important facts which will assist us in our future policy in relation to price and in regard to framing our programme for the future. Uncertainty is natural in sugar beet. I should like, however, to have heard from the Minister more explanation on the question of different soils in different parts of the country, and if this could be gone into by experts it would have a bearing on the future agricultural policy of this country. I hope this point will receive consideration.


I should like to say a few words from the farmers' point of view. I have grown sugar beet myself, but on very poor soil; chalky soil. But the growing of this crop has paid me better than growing wheat on the same land. We have no sugar factory in my constituency. We have been trying to get one, and the farmers are agreed that if they could only get a factory erected in a convenient spot to which they could carry their roots easily, so that the cost of the carriage would not be too great, they are confident that they would be able to make a profit on the crop, whereas up to the present there has been nothing but a loss. I do not think the question of soil comes in so much. It is uncertain; but you can grow more wheat to the acre on a rich soil than on a stiff clay soil. I was getting 12 tons of sugar beet to the acre; but if we could average throughout the country between eight tons and 10 tons, then the crop would be a paying one. We have to look at it not only from the actual price we obtain for the roots but from the point of view that we are able to get food afterwards for our dairy cattle and that we are also cleaning the land in cultivating the crop. At the same time, we are getting a better price than we should get for any other root crop. If this industry comes to an end it will not only be a great blow to farmers who are growing roots and sugar beet, but to the country as a whole, because we have developed an industry in an article which we now recognise as being a necessity—sugar. We are employing many thousands of people, and although it may be only seasonal employment it is filling a gap in the unemployment ranks which otherwise would be further extended if the industry is not kept alive.

Therefore, considering the amount of good which has already been done by the subsidy I hope that all parties, putting aside their political prejudices in connection with Free Trade, Protection or bounties, will look at it only from the point of view of the practical good which is being done to two sections of the community and as a help towards the problem of unemployment. I hope the House will hesitate a long time before it abolished what it has given so freely during the past years. I am confident that the growing of sugar beet will increase largely as long as the bounty is continued, but if we cease giving the bounty naturally the growing of beet for making into sugar will cease absolutely. There is no reason why we should not treble or quadruple the acreage under cultivation. By cultivating sugar beet we not only increase the amount of labour employed on the land—even those not engaged in farming know that the cultivation of an acre of beetroot will employ 10 times, in fact 20 times the amount of labour that an acre of grass would employ—but the land requires a considerable amount of artificials, and that means employment in other trades. Let us assume that we could quadruple the acreage at present under cultivation. We should then quadruple the number of people employed, not only in the farming industry directly concerned, but also in the factories. One can therefore see that thousands more would be employed directly and indirectly. We should look at the question entirely from the business, practical, farming and national point of view, and if we do that we shall all agree on the wisdom of continuing the subsidy.


I do not think anyone will accuse me of anything but the deepest interest in this subject, particularly as I have had some small interest in the growing of all kinds of things for many years. I am interested in the subject also from other points of view. There are a few questions which I would like to have answered, some by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, some by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and others by the Minister of Agriculture. We have had a most interesting speech from one hon. Member on the subject of soils. There is a line of research upon which the Minister might give us a little more information. As the growing of sugar beet is dependant on several factors, such as sun and the percentage of various chemical foods in the soil, the Minister ought to be able to tell us what soils are most suitable for the crop. It is conceivable that after a number of years the subsidy may run out. On the other hand it may be considered necessary, in the interests of the State, to extend the subsidy. It is equally conceivable that there may be an actual waste of money in the growing of sugar beet on certain soils, while on other soils the crop might be highly profitable.

Can the Minister give us some information as to the researches of his Department? Will he tell us frankly what are the most suitable soils? One hon. Member said that he has poor soil but gets very good results. Another hon. Gentleman has said that he has clay soil and that that is the worst of all. There is a very large amount of information which the House ought to be given. The Minister made a most interesting statement as to the effect of last summer and the exceptionally dry September in producing a high percentage of sugar in the crop. The autumn rains came on, and the crop continued to grow unnaturally. Will the Minister say whether that expansion, though of course it meant that the bulk was greater, was profitable? I can conceive that if the crop is left in the ground too long there may be a direct wastage of sugar. It may not be convenient for the Minister to give a full answer on this occasion, but can he give us any sort of idea on the matter?

There can be no doubt that, in connection with a crop of this kind, any progress that can be made by scientific methods, by finding out the best varieties of seed and the length of time to leave the crop in the ground, ultimately must have a great effect on the value of the crop. There have been articles in the Press as to varieties of seed. Is the Minister certain that we are growing the best variety of seed, and that we have free access to it? Are there any experiments in the growing of sugar beet seed in order to improve on the present-varieties? The right hon. Gentleman told us about the acreage under cultivation in 1924, last year and this year, and the prospective acreage next year. Has the Department formed any sort of estimate of the acreage for the next five years, or up to the time when the subsidy ends? When the subsidy dies, naturally or otherwise, what is the effect likely to be on the acreage? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the increased acreage under cultivation so far reached. We had an amazingly interesting speech from the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Miss Picton-Turbervill) and there have been interesting speeches from other parts of the House, but I was hoping that we might have had other Members coming in and taking part in the Debate. I noted the absence of the venerable and right hon. Gentleman the Father of the House, the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He might have been here to-day telling us all about the future, and how he could reconcile this subsidy—


He was here.

7.0 p.m.


He could have given us his experience as to the result of this subsidy. Let me ask a few questions from another angle. A great deal has been said about this money going into the pockets of the English farmer and manufacturer and worker, at all of which I thoroughly rejoice, but we have not been told anything about Scotland, what is the acreage of land under sugar-beet cultivation there. Are there any factories in Scotland? Can we be told the amount grown per acre, on the average, in Scotland compared with England? What is the percentage of sugar in the crop in Scotland compared with England, and in what counties are the crops grown? Then I should like to know what are the prospects of a factory being established in the West of England. As a matter of fact, the climatic conditions and the soil of the West are singularly suitable. Does the Minister see any prospect of an enlarged area of sugar-beet cultivation in the West? We have been given some general statistics relating to the whole country. There are so many acres under cultivation, so many tons grown to the acre, and so much is paid in subsidy. Can the Minister say precisely what percentage of cost goes to the production of one pound or one ton of sugar in this country? We ought to have that information in a clear and definite way. One speaker earlier in the Debate told us that approximately 20 per cent. of the sugar consumed in this country is grown in this country. What percentage of the sugar consumed in this country is grown within the Empire? I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary is dying to give me the information. It is a most important thing in these days to realise where our supplies come from. The hon. Member for Wrekin made a very able speech which for one moment almost made me suspect her of becoming a disciple of what is called Empire Free Trade. It was a very respectable and amiable thought, and one among many excellent things that she said—


On a point of Order. May I ask what Empire Free Trade has to do with the subject?


Nothing at all.


I realise that, and if my hon. Friend had listened with the attention that he should, he would have known what was the point that I was raising. We have been told that 20 per cent. comes from this country. I want to know the amount from the Empire and the amount from foreign countries as well. The hon. Lady told us in her speech that we were approaching the time when, thanks to the subsidy, we may become absolutely self-supporting. I would like to see that, although I do not believe in subsidies and do not think it is the best way to do it. I think we could have done what the subsidies do in a cheaper and better way, with money coming in instead of sending it out. However, I, should be out of order in discussing that. On the particular page we are discussing it says that the reduced estimate of the cost of the subsidy in 1929 is £4,500,000. The Excise duties and existing rates is estimated to yield in 1929 £1,580,000. I would like to know if this figure is the Excise duty for sugar grown in Great Britain, so that we can balance the position and know the amount paid for sugar in this country. Otherwise, we shall not know whether we can freely vote for this particular subsidy.

I have asked a few very simple questions of various Ministers. I say frankly that I do not like subsidies or think it is the best way, but probably this particular Vote is less wasteful than many that we vote in Supplementary Estimates. It is a definite help in many ways to farmers, to employers and to the manufacturing industry. Might not the Government, who have received a great deal of goodwill, have come to the House and, instead of leaving this duty on a temporary footing as we are asked to do to-day, have made the declaration: "As far as we are concerned, it may be that we shall have to reduce considerably the subsidy, but let us come to a broad national agreement." This industry is prosperous, it is growing and has proved good in every way. The subsidy as it stands, in lieu of something better, has almost universal support. I believe there are one or two odds and ends below the Gangway who do not support it, but there are always homes for lost causes. Would it not have been possible, however, to lay it down as a national principle and to appeal to the House, as a national council, to lay it down on a permanent footing, and tell the industry that it can look ahead for 15 or 20 years? If that had been done the Government would have done a far better work than giving us a few details and a few figures. Even now it is not too late for them to make a big, broad pronouncement of policy on this question that will help agriculture as a whole.

Viscount WOLMER

I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary spoke so early in the day, because there are a number of questions which some of us on this side of the Committee were anxious to put. We get so few opportunities of questioning the Minister of Agriculture that we must avail ourselves fully of the opportunity to cross-examine the Government. The Minister of Agriculture, in laying his Estimate before the House, really told us very little. He gave us some very interesting statistics which we were all very glad to hear, showing what an enormous benefit this policy, which I am glad to say is now an agreed policy, has been to agriculture in certain parts of the country. He did not tell us anything of the future, however, and I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, although it is perfectly true that we have got, I think, 19 factories working and this coming year we can look to 300,000 acres under this crop, giving employment to thousands of men and women, yet, if you look at the map, you will see that these factories and this industry are to a large extent localised in a particular part of this country. What is the result? That it is very difficult to spread the cultivation of the crop in other parts of England. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) spoke of the difficulties of growing sugar beet in Cornwall. That is also true of many other parts of the country, and yet we are faced with this fact that, according to the present plans, the subsidy is coming to an end in 1934, much to the approval of hon. Members opposite who have always opposed it when they have had a chance. Whether they are going to have the courage of their convictions and oppose it to-night we shall see. I want to ask the Government whether they expect, whether anybody expects, that we are likely to see any addition to the number of these very great and expensive factories in present circumstances.

Of course, I admit that if the Eynsham process could be developed, or any other process by which you could have a number of very much cheaper factories dotted over the country, it would entirely revolutionise the situation, but I gather from the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon that; this is still problematical, and has no been proved on a commercial scale. We can look forward to the fact that then is practically no chance of an addition to the number of beet sugar factories of the type we know at present, because the subsidy is coming to an end so soon. Therefore, it seems to me that there is no chance of the sugar beet industry growing in those parts of England where it has not yet struck root and where at present there are no factories. What is the policy of the Minister for Agriculture in that respect? Because, although the results of this subsidy have been splendid as far as they have gone, I do not think that anybody who has agricultural interests at heart can be satisfied with the fact that there are whole counties not only in England but in Scotland where the land and conditions are eminently suited to growing sugar beet which have no factory equipment to enable them to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman did not say one word about his future policy. Even if Government supporters are so much against subsidies that they would be unable to indicate their willingness that the subsidy should be ultimately increased, surely it would be possible to say that, in the event of a factory being started in a new locality, a new subsidy of equal amount and duration with that given to the factories in the east of England would be extended to these new factories. Unless you do something of this kind you will not get factories extended appreciably in the west of England. I am well aware that we shall have the opposition of the watchdogs of the Labour party as well as the watchdogs of the Liberal party. It is quite sufficient for one to propose anything that is going to help agriculture to have the bulk of the Liberal party and of the Labour party against one. I understand the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) to say that that remark is very unfair. The hon. Member has spent the greater part of his Parliamentary career in fighting this sugar beet subsidy, and has, I think, spoken against it and voted against it on every possible occasion, but this afternoon he sits silent and muzzled because his Government are faced with the responsibility of carrying out this national policy. That is one great advantage of the Labour party being in power. They have to face up to their responsibilities on these occasions, and when next the Conservative party is returned to power—which is not very far off—I assure the hon. Member for Burslem that when he rises to oppose the sugar beet subsidy, as he certainly will, we shall remind him of his action this evening.

I recognise that in this matter the Minister of Agriculture is far in advance of the bulk of his party, although he has no sort of claim to be considered the originator of the sugar beet policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who was?"] The originator was Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen. I think he was the first Minister of Agriculture to give encouragement and State financial assistance to the cultivation of this crop. The Labour party fought this policy tooth and nail in the past and when they came into power in 1924 they mitigated it. The Conservative party carried it on in the mitigated form simply because we wanted continuity of policy. The Minister has said that in 1924 there were only 22,000 acres of land under this crop, whereas now there are going to be 300,000 acres, and he claimed that fact as an argument in favour of the particular form of assistance which the Labour party were willing to give. But it has nothing whatever to do with the particular form of assistance. What does affect the matter very much is that on a particular form of assistance we were able to get agreement between the two parties. We were able to tell the industry that there would be continuity of policy and that the Socialist party would not be obliged to reverse the policy. That is what has given the industry confidence, and has contributed towards enabling factories to be built and the acreage to increase. I commend the history of this industry to right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they are dealing with the McKenna Duties.

The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dunnico)

The Noble Lord is not allowed to discuss policy on a Supplementary Estimate. I have given him very wide latitude but I cannot allow him to go into all these matters.

Viscount WOLMER

I recognise that, Sir, and I apologise. I am afraid that I have been misled by the interruption of the hon. Member for Burslem.


I have been most quiet.

Viscount WOLMER

I ask the Minister of Agriculture when he next deals with this matter, if he cannot do so to-night, to indicate to the industry what plans the Government have for extending the growing of sugar beet in the West and North of England. How much money are they spending in the experiments on the Eynsham system, and other important methods of treating beet, and how much money is being spent on plant breeding stations? It is clear that if we could get a type of beet that would mature earlier or later than the main crop it would be possible to extend the period of employment in the beet factories and also extend the acreage. I hope that when we next come to consider this subject the right hon. Gentleman will not merely present us with a string of statistics, interesting as they are, but will indicate to us more fully that the Government have some further policy which is going to lead to the spread of this great industry throughout all England.


I do not wish that any false impression should get abroad from the remarks made by the Noble Lord. It is true that on all occasions when this Vote has come up I have opposed it. I opposed it from its inception, and I do so to-night. [HON. MEMBERS: "Will you divide against it?"] Very likely I shall be the only one to challenge a Division, and there is no good in wasting the time of the Committee by having a Division "all on my own." From the speeches on the other side, one would gather that this great industry is going to clean the soil and give a marvellous return, but at the same time we are told that if the subsidy is cut down this wonderful industry will be decimated, and will disappear. I hope it will, because any artificial industry which has to be kept up by pumping subsidies into it out of the taxpayer's pocket ought to disappear, and I would immediately destroy such an industry without any compunction whatever. We have heard a great deal about subsidising miners' wages, and subsidising the unemployed and so on, but here is a subsidy of £10,000,000 to £20,000,000 going into the beet sugar industry.

I should be the last to object to public money being spent in this way if it fructified in the industry itself. But we know full well, on the confession of men who occupied responsible positions when the party opposite were in power, that every farthing we send into this industry—into the agricultural industry so-called—finally percolates into rent. The Noble Lord knows that. He was at cross purposes with me to-night but that not because I opened my mouth, because I did not interrupt him. He seemed to be very wroth with me, and I will tell him why. There is not a landlord in this assembly who does not feel, even though I do not open my mouth at all, that the principles for which I stand represents his destruction. The Noble Lord hated my looks, and that was what was wrong with him.

Viscount WOLMER

I assure the hon. Member that we have all tie most benevolent feelings towards him.


I know, but behind all that there is hatred of what I stand for, and I merely intervene now to express these views despite what has been said from this side of the Committee this evening. I want to say this and I do not think I will be expelled with bell, book and candle for saying it—that I have a shrewd suspicion that the Minister of Agriculture even in this Government is a born Tory.


May I ask, Mr. Chairman, if we are to be allowed to follow the hon. Member in discussing this question of born Tories?


That is merely a deviation in winding up the Debate. We are told that there has to be uniformity of practice—I think that is the legal phrase—and that we have to continue the subsidy because there has to be continuity of policy. My right hon. Friend the Minister is doing so, but I have always had my suspicions that, in his heart of hearts, he believes in this method of putting public money into an artificial industry which only stiffens the backs of monopolists.

Viscount WOLMER

He claims to be the father of it.


He if a brave man. I do not like his child and I would hamstring it if I had the following here, and I would vote against this Estimate if a Division were challenged.


I thoroughly disagree with the hon. Member who has just spoken. This subsidy has proved one of the most beneficent legislative measures which the agricultural industry has had during the past five or six years. In the course of this discussion I do not think that enough credit has been given to the railway companies, following on the de-rating Measure passed by the last Government. That Measure has had a very good effect in relation to the policy concerning beet growing. The fall in the subsidy was calculated to have a detrimental effect on the production of beet, but with the rating relief and the freight relief given by the railways a great deal has been done to set off the fall in the subsidy.

Captain W. G. HALL

On a point of Order. Is it in order to discuss de-rating in connection with this Estimate?


I am following the speech of the hon. and gallant Member in order to see what point he proposes to make.


I do not wish to go outside the terms of your Ruling, Sir. I was merely pointing out that the last Government ought to have some credit for rendering very material assistance to this industry. There are some points which I should like to put to the Minister. I wish to know if the results from the sale of pulp have been satisfactory this year and if the farmers are getting good results from using it in the feeding of stock. I believe that has been an important factor in connection with the agricultural industry and has been of great service to farmers. I should also like to know if the Ministry are carrying on any research in relation to the problem of beet storage. That is one of the most important things in connection with the industry that could be carried on by the Ministry at the present time. It is desirable to know if at any of their stations they have any data and if they are in touch with the factories and giving assistance in that respect.

This subsidy has been of immense value to farmers during the past season particularly in the North. We had a depressing time with regard to most cereals, but this crop has been in the main a great success. I hope that in continuance of this policy we shall see—possibly not this year, and possibly not by the present Minister of Agriculture but in a future year by a Conservative Minister of Agriculture—a policy which will give some definite line to the factories and will encourage the flow of capital into this industry. Everybody who has considered this policy has approved of it, except the hon. Member for Burslem, and I do not think he can have given it the amount of serious thought which it deserves. I believe that if he went more fully into the matter and considered the employment which is being given in this industry to many people who never had any work in agriculture before, he would agree that the money has been satisfactorily spent, and that this is a very good piece of legislation. I welcome this subsidy heartily, and I only wish it were twice as large, because it is a means of subsidising employment, as opposed to the policy of creating unemployment which is being carried on by most of the Departments of the present Government.


Certain important questions have been put from this side of the Committee. Are we not to have an answer on, at any rate, some of them? I have been sitting here for the greater part of the last two hours awaiting a reply.


If I have the permission of the Committee to speak again, I shall be glad to deal with the questions which have been raised. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) put a number of points, many of which I am afraid are not quite relevant to the proposal before the Committee, but some of which are very interesting. He asked whether there could not be some discrimination in regard to soil, and whether something further could not be done in regard to the selection of seeds. These very important technical points are being considered, and will, if possible, be included in the studies leading up to the forthcoming publication which will be one of the economic series knows as the Orange Books. When he asks me to forecast the acreage five years hence, I am afraid my powers are not equal to that, and he is as well able as any of us to judge of the expansion that is likely to take place. Let us hope it will continue as elastic as it has been during the last year.

The Noble Lord the Member for Alder-shot (Viscount Wolmer) was also very curious about the future, and anxious to know what will be done in 1934. It is welcome to me to find that he considers that we as a Labour Government shall be responsible in 1934. He wanted to know—and this is a very relevant point—whether more factories are probable under the present Act. I think the inducement is rapidly becoming inadequate in the eyes of most investors, but it is not impossible, as there are still inquiries being made in regard to possible factories at certain places. I wish they might eventuate in regard to the West country, where we should all be only too glad to see a factory established. The Noble Lord felt that those lands which have not been sufficiently appropriate for beet growing to lead to the formation of factories should somehow be brought under the influence of a special subsidy. I am afraid that sugar beet is no panacea for all the troubles of agriculture, and there are large parts of England, which of all the countries in the world are specially adapted to growing magnificent grass, where I think the sugar beet subsidy will not take effect, and I do not know that we should wish it to. It has had its effect in those parts which are most appropriate arid which were in view by both Governments, if I may put it in that way, which were interested in the initiation of this policy. With the exception of certain areas in the West, I think the Act has had about the effect which was desired and contemplated.


Have the Department ever considered the possibility of extending the beet subsidy to something else, such as power alcohol, as has been done in France, Germany and America?


That proposal, and also the proposal of the Noble Lord, that some special subsidy should be devised, would, of course, have to be the subject of new legislation, and I should not be in order in talking about that. Nineteen factories have resulted from the Act, and I think that that roughly represents the desirable result which was contemplated by the authors. After all, 19 factories do lead to a very great public expense, and they do, on the other hand, mean an extensive trial of beet growing and of the conversion of beets into sugar. The experiment would not have been adequate if the number had been much less, but I should say that those who are interested in the matter regard it as an adequate experiment, an adequate try-out of the possibility of making sugar growing a self-supporting industry on a permanent basis. The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) asked a question in regard to pulp, and I am glad to tell him that things have vastly improved in regard to the demand for pulp by our own growers. It was one of the weak spots in the situation that farmers did not appreciate dried pulp, and it went abroad, but the improvement is very marked.


What percentage went abroad?


I do not recollect the exact percentage, but I could easily inform the hon. Member if he would like to know. In regard to research, the factories themselves pool their resources, and they are working with commendable energy at research.


Is the Ministry doing anything at all in that way?


Well, of course, many of the research institutions of the Ministry are indirectly benefiting.


Are they going in for it at Rothamsted?


I could not say yet whether the growing of sugar is specially being studied there, but the factories are so active themselves that I think they are adequately discharging what is possible in the sphere of research.


There are one or two questions which are quite germane and in which I am interested, because I have been a party to sugar beet growing on my own estate in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said that the establishment of the 19 factories up to date was a very desirable result, and in almost the same breath he stated that it was an adequate try-out of an experiment. What we would like to hear from him, as briefly as he wishes, is what he really thinks of the future with regard to this industry. In some parts of the country it has been very successful indeed. It is true that some parts, as we all know, are not suitable for it at all, and in many of the grass-growing districts no wise man would think of growing sugar beet, but other parts of the country are suitable, and there it has been a great success. In the districts with which I am personally acquainted, it is just a question of whether it is a success or a failure. It depends a great deal on some of the factors with which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has dealt, though they have been mentioned on this side—the development of the beet itself, and also the effect of alterations in railway rates.

In the districts which I know best, the question of the railway rates may make all the difference, the factory being some distance away, as to whether or not it is economic to carry beets to a factory. We have had a speech earlier in the Debate showing that you can carry beets a quite considerable distance to the factory at Ipswich, and yet at the same time the profit left would be more than enough to make it worth while to grow them. In these other districts it is just on the margin of whether or not it is possible. The railway rates make a great difference, as does also the return from the actual percentage of sugar in the beet, which was a point raised by an hon. Friend behind me. We know from experience both in France and in Germany how by being stimulated and by improving the beet the percentage there has continually grown.

The factor of railway rates and some of these other factors are the questions which are likely to determine whether the industry will be a permanent industry in this country, or how far it is only an experiment which is being tried for a moment and will ultimately pass away. What would be of value, if the Minister would give it, taking into account these factors, which must be before him at the Ministry of Agricultures is what he thinks the future for this industry is, how far, from that point of view, it is right to continue and prolong the subsidy, or what he thinks will be the end, aed if it is merely an experiment that will be done with before many years have gone by. He has not really given us a review from that point of view, and if we could get his own experience or view of the subject, it would be of value to the Committee.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the proposed factory at Taunton is progressing?


I know the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer all my questions, but if he will give me a reasonable assurance that he will let me know the details that he is unable to answer to-night in the course of the next day or two, where possible, and if he will also tell me now what is the percentage of Empire-grown sugar, which is a vital question—


That would be entirely out of order.


I willingly accept your Ruling, but I was led away by others mentioning the percentage of sugar grown in this country. I am not sure it was not the Minister himself; but I will now come back to order and apologise for having deviated. I asked some very important questions of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I realise that he may not be able to answer them to-night, and I will not press him on those matters if he will do what I think is always done by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in such circumstances, and say he has not got the information and will let me have the details later on. They were accepted as in order, and it is usual for a Minister to give them here and now, but I do not wish to delay the Estimate, and if the hon. Member will give me that assurance, that I may have these answers, it will save a lot of trouble in the future.

There is a third point that I would like to emphasise, and that is that I do definitely ask the Ministry to give me the number of factories and the acreage under sugar in Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has been present most of the afternoon, and if he would give me those two details, I should be glad. It is just as important to develop the agricultural industry in Scotland as it is in any other part of Great Britain, and I think I have a right to have an answer to these questions.


I think I have answered the questions which are relevant to the proposal before the Committee, and the Chair will not allow me to deal with the general question. The right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) has raised matters which are interesting and important, but they are matters of opinion, as to what is my view of the probabilities of the future, and how far railway rates are a factor in leading to an extension of the area under beet. All we can say is that factories are getting very well supplied, and as for the details, the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt familiar with the works on the subject of Mr. Venn, of Cambridge, and Mr. Bridges, of Oxford, which deal very thoroughly with it.


In answer to the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), there is one factory in Scotland, and 612 acres under beet.


Thank you.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next: Committee to sit again upon Monday next.