HC Deb 01 March 1932 vol 262 cc1078-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]


I must apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for detaining him here at the end of what must have been an exhausting day, but, if it is any consolation to him, I may tell him that he cannot be feeling as ill as I am, as I happen to be suffering from influenza. The point I want to raise is in connection with the stock-raisers in this country. We have just listened to the Secretary of State for Scotland in a most eloquent peroration ask the House, "Can you see the wheat-growing branch of the agricultural industry being allowed to go into decay?" I do not think any of us wish to see wheat growing being allowed to go into decay, but what percentage of the total agricultural industry do the wheat-growers represent? About 4 per cent. at the outside. What is—as the right hon. Gentleman admitted—the most important section of the industry? It is that of the stock-raisers on whose behalf I wish to speak to-night.

We have been dealing to-day, and we shall be dealing to-morrow, with a Bill which is, in effect, to bring a temporary subsidy to the relief of the wheat producers, and the Minister has promised that the interests of the bacon producers are to be specially considered by the Government at a subsequent stage. Every other article of any importance in the industry, with the single exception of meat, is dealt with in the Import Duties Act. The only section of the industry which has been left out, and which is, as far as I know at the moment, left out of the Government's proposals, is the most important branch of all, namely, stock-raising. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that this country was ideally situated for stock-raising and that we had a cool, moist climate which gave us an advantage over other countries in this respect. I agree with him as far as the cool, moist climate is concerned, but I am not prepared to trust in the climate alone to help our stock raisers in their time of difficulty. I frankly regret that meat is not to be taxed under the Import Duties Act, that it has been left on the Free List. I believe that a protective duty would have done more good and assisted the organisation of meat producing and meat marketing in this country, more than anything else. In default of a protective duty on meat we are entitled to ask the Government what other steps they are going to take to assist this important branch of agriculture.

A proposal was put before the farmers of this country not long ago by the party to which the Minister of Agriculture and I belong, that if we were returned to power the forces of the Crown at any rate would be supplied for six months of the year with home-grown meat. and that, I submit, would be of great assistance to the stock producers of this country. Yet on several occasions when questions with regard to this matter have been put to the Government, we have been told that this proposal cannot be carried out. I do not know why. It was considered feasible not so very long ago. It may be that the expense has suddenly been found to be prohibitive, or that it has been found, upon further investigation, not to be a prac- tical proposal. I do not see how you can expect efficient reorganisation of the meat-producing branch of agriculture in this country and its marketing without some form of Government assistance at this time of falling agricultural prices. It is all very well for the Government to say that these falling prices have hit the cereal grower. Of course they have, but I submit that if the right hon. Gentleman examines the prices of the last two or three years, he will agree that the fall in prices has hit the stock-raiser to an even greater extent, and he is the one person who is singled out not to be given any form of direct assistance from the Government.

If there are good reasons for not carrying through this proposal to supply the forces of the Crown with home-grown meat, which, I submit, would be a measure analogous for the stock-raisers to the Measure which we have been discussing to-day, a temporary measure to bring alleviation to the stock-raisers, if he says that that is impracticable, or cannot be carried out by reason of the expense, I would like him at any rate to say on behalf of the Government, if he can, that the Government do view the position of the stock-raisers with sympathy, that they have not deliberately singled them out as the one branch of the industry that is undeserving at the present time of special assistance, and that they will consider ways and means in the very near future by which some measure of assistance can be brought to the stock-raisers of this country.


I wish to join in the appeal to the Government to do something, if they can, for the stock-raisers of the country. There is no doubt that they have suffered equally with those who produce other agricultural products. It seems to me that some temporary assistance ought surely to be given them. There is one point about setting wheat on its feet, and that is that reorganisation is not to precede action by the Government; but when it comes to meat, the Minister tells us that the meat industry must reorganise itself, its marketing and in other ways, and that only then will the Government assist it. It seems to me unfair that this meat-producing section of the community should have to do something before the Government will take any steps to help it.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot see his way at least to give some temporary assistance by means of feeding the forces. I admit that that is not, I hope, the full policy for the stock-raisers in this country, but we know that the Wheat Bill is but the beginning of the agricultural policy of the Government. We agricultural Members certtainly hope that the Government will produce the biggest agricultural policy for this country that there has ever been. We realise that that cannot be worked out in a day, and we are quite willing to accept this as a first instalment, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman, at a time when our farmers are down and out, that something might be done to help them through their difficulties.


I rise to associate myself very briefly with what my hon. Friends have just said. In common with all agricultural Members in this House, we can look forward with far greater hope than we have been able to do, so far as the Government programme is concerned, and I should like to take this opportunity of saying to the Minister how much we appreciate what he has done and is doing, and, still more, what he is going to do, for the agricultural industry as a whole. I hope that the Bill which he has launched to-day will have a rapid and smooth passage through the House, so that he can turn his attention the more quickly to other branches of agriculture that he has promised to help. We are encouraged by what he has said about the long-term policy of the Government, and I am still more encouraged by what I heard the Secretary for Scotland say just now on the importance of stock-raising. There is no doubt that that part of the industry has been very hardly hit. I saw in one of the Scottish journals only last week an article by one of the leading agriculturists in the North-East who stated that the price of Scottish cattle had fallen by 20s. per cwt. I attended a market last January where the price was only about 40s.

I need only quote these figures to the Minister for him to realise, as I am sure he does realise, the position in which the industry is to-day. I only hope that, along with other steps that he is to take, he is not going to leave mutton and beef out of his consideration. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said that something might be done along the lines of feeding the armed forces by home production. It is very difficult indeed to answer the arguments that are brought forward that the Government ask people at home to "Buy British," and yet they set an example of buying outside this country. It is only a small step, but it is one that has been definitely promised by the party to which we all belong. I hope it is not one which will escape his attention.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an assurance that, difficult though the position is, and hard though it is to deal with, he will try to do something to assist the stock-breeders of the country, one of the hardest hit and one of the most important branches of industry.


I should like to point out to the House that every hon. Member who has spoken so Tar has asked for something which would require legislation, and that is something for which he cannot ask on the Adjournment.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

We in the West Country also consider that something ought to be done for the stock-raising industry. We are very grateful to the Minister and the Government for what has been done for agriculture in general, but we feel that stock-raisers have been left out in the cold. You, Mr. Speaker, said that we must not refer to legislation. The supply of meat to the Army would not require legislation. That is a matter on which we feel very strongly indeed. The Government are constantly saying "Buy British," but they do not buy British themselves and do not make any attempt to do so in this connection. If the War Office, the Air Ministry or the Navy refuse to buy foreign materials, such as machine guns or munitions, from a foreign country, despite these being more expensive at home, why should they refuse to buy English meat for the Forces?

We recognise that the grass farmer has not suffered in the same way as the arable farmer, until quite lately, but during the last year or 18 months, the grass farmer has had a really bad time and he is suffering heavily now. It is time that something was done for him and done quickly.


I make no complaint that my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) has raised this question on this occasion. My only complaint is that he should have come down to this House to do so although suffering from influenza. I have listened to his speech and to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) and the Member for Western Aberdeen (Mr. Barclay-Harvey), and also to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte), on the subject of feeding the Forces with home-killed meat. I had to make an announcement in this House on behalf of the Government—one which was mast reluctantly made—that the Government had decided, on financial and economic grounds, that this particular assistance to farmers would not form part of the Government's present agricultural policy. The Government fully realise the force of the arguments used in favour of dealing with this problem. I admit what the hon. Gentleman said, that the party to which he and I belong have considered this problem on a former occasion, and that we did indicate our intention of proceeding on those lines. But I must remind my hon. Friend and the House that the circumstances under which that original idea was propounded are not the circumstances in which we live to-day, and, in fact, it is mainly on the grounds of financial stringency that the Government have, very reluctantly, had to decide that they could not proceed with it at the present time.

If home-killed meat, not necessarily home-grown, were substituted for the meat presently supplied to the Army, Navy and Air Forces it would, of course, cost something between £500,000 and £600,000. At present, owing to the stringency of finance, these Services are severely cut, and it is not practicable at the present moment, whatever may be done in the future when we are in a happier financial position, to reconsider this problem. It is assumed by some people that the Services do not at the present time get meat from within the British Empire. The supplies from foreign sources are rather less than one per cent. of the total consumption; the greater part of the meat for the Forces comes from the Dominions. I know that hon. Gentlemen are anxious to see meat from beasts raised and killed in our own country supplied to the Forces, but with the present organisation of marketing in the meat industry, and with the very clear fact that we really cannot distinguish at the present time between Irish cattle and British cattle, or even live Canadian cattle brought into this country, the advantage to the stock farmer would not be so material as is often supposed. Nevertheless I believe that in happier times we may be able to reconsider that problem. I will only say in conclusion that I trust those who are financially interested in stock raising in this country will realise that the Government are not neglecting and are not blind to the interests of this section of the agricultural industry. It is, of course, true that our schemes at present exclude the consideration of these problems in certain aspects, but the Chancellor indicated the other night that if and when we get rid of the schemes with which our hands are full at the moment we shall be able to consider what we can do to help in other directions.

But I would say that even with the present restrictions we have given a measure of protection to the products of the stock-raising industry in tinned and canned forms, and there is a great opening for stock raisers to take advantage of that side of the business. We have also done our best to see that the raw materials of the stock raiser shall be admitted free. I think the House will realise, and I hope that stock raisers will realise, that the Government have taken an infinity of trouble to secure that the feeding stuffs of the industry shall come in free. I am sorry that I cannot hold out hopes of reconsideration at an early date, but that is the position.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.