§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [1st March], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:
this House, being convinced of the urgent necessity for a comprehensive programme of agricultural re-organisation, including nationalisation of the land and an improvement in the conditions of the agricultural worker, expresses its dissatisfaction with a Bill the sole objects of which are to provide wheat growers with a secure market and an enhanced price which makes no provision for adequate organisation of wheat supplies through an import board and a national marketing board, and will not make for the development of agriculture upon lines best suited to this country; protect the farmer against increased rents or the consumer against price exploitation, nor secure through a central wages board adequate wages for the agricultural worker."—[Dr. Salter.]
Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
I need hardly say that I welcome the Bill as the first big Measure, and the forerunner, I hope, of more big Measures, in the programme of the National Government for the restoring of agriculture. It has often been said, and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland repeated it last night, that agriculture is not one industry, but many industries. That is true. It is also true that the major branches of the industry, although in many ways very different in themselves, are very closely interlocked. In spite of these major branches of the industry being so closely interlocked, never up to the present time has it been found possible to devise one umbrella-like policy which would cover the necessities and needs of the whole. If it is true that there is no one panacea for all the ills of agriculture, it follows that ad hoc treatment must be necessary.
The late Socialist Government fell into this error in their attempt to deal with the agricultural problem. They conceived that there was only one fundamental ill 1116 from which the industry was suffering. Somebody managed to coin the phrase of "Disorderly marketing," and the late Socialist Government ran away with the phrase and thought that that was all that was the matter. They ignored two or three very vital factors in the situation. First of all, they ignored the very low world price levels to which agricultural products had fallen, and, secondly, they made the omission of neglecting to look into the past to see in what direction our policy had lain in regard to the industry of agriculture. It must be obvious that if we are to be successful in framing a new policy for British agriculture, we must at least not be so conceited as to overlook the mistakes which we have made in the past. It is true to say that whatever degree of disorderly marketing has either obtained in the past or obtains to-day in the industry, the nation, for the past 80 years at least, has given to the producer a disordered market in which to sell. That really is the point.
The nation has flung open wide its ports to all the nations of the world. It has invited exports to come here from every agricultural nation of the world. No matter under what conditions of production or of labour those agricultural products have been produced, they have been invited to our shores. England has deliberately allowed herself to become the dump for the world's surplus agricultural produce. The world has not been slow to exploit the advantages offered to it. It has exploited them to the full. But meanwhile what of the position of the British farmer? It is bad enough that he has had a completely disorganised, or rather disordered, market in which to sell, but in addition he has, as an individual of the community, been one of the most heavily taxed and most closely restricted agricultural producers in the world. Who can deny that his land is the most heavily burdened of any agricultural land in the world? The nation's policy may be summed up in a sentence. The policy for the past 80 years has been cheapness at any price; cheapness even if it destroys what should be our greatest and most fundamental home industry, the industry of agriculture. That is not all. We have seen our banking interests, our shipping interests, and our commercial interests generally orienting their out-look to meet this national view. They 1117 have preferred, perhaps rightly from their point of view, to take what profits they could from the commerce which has come to our shores rather than to see a really virile home production secured in this country. That wise and statesmanlike agriculturist, Lord Ernle, wrote an article which appeared in the "Times" newspaper, not many weeks ago, in which he summed up concisely what has been the national attitude towards agriculture for the last 80 years. He said:Our national prayer has been: 'God speed the plough in every country but our own.'But we have begun to learn the lesson that cheapness can be too dearly bought. Twice during the last 80 years the nation has turned to agriculture for assistance, and it is significant that on both those occasions the nation found itself in deep distress and anxiety. The first occasion was during the Great War, when the submarine threat was at its height. We were told at that time that if we were able to come to the rescue of the nation agriculture would be put once and for all into a position of reasonable security, and would be given an orderly market. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that never again would agriculture be allowed to fall into a position of decay. That was one crisis. The next crisis occurred last autumn when the nation, for the first time in its history, began to realise that it was not in a position to pay its bills and that it had consistently overbought and under-produced. The nation glen said to agriculture: "Cannot you increase your production?"
If agriculture is an industry which can be of such vital assistance in times of dire distress and anxiety, surely it is an industry which it is well worth fostering in between these crises. It is a recognition of this truth which has led the Government to take the steps and enter upon the path which they are now pursuing. How can any industry at this time of crisis help the nation? That is the question which we must keep steadily in front of our eyes. We have our adverse trade balance, heavily swollen by our foreign food bill. Agriculture can help and will help in that matter. A very large increase in home production is undoubtedly possible, but not under present conditions. The national outlook must change. The nation must give agriculture a chance.
1118 Take the problem of unemployment. I doubt whether agriculture is in a position or will be in a position for some time to come to draw back from the cities and towns many of the sons of the soil who have long since left the land and become permanent town dwellers. It may be that a restored agriculture will be able to touch the unemployment problem at that point, but it must be remembered that we have problems nearer home, unfortunately. For the first time in many rural villages there are men who have been working all their lives on the soil who are threatened with the ghastly figure of unemployment. At least a restored agriculture will be able to re-absorb its own employés into employment if the nation is prepared to give agriculture a reasonable chance.
There is another matter of vital importance, and that is the outlook of the rising generation. A restored agriculture will be able to offer to the rising generation the hope of work and wages in the locality whence they spring. At the present time agriculture is not in a position to offer that hope either to her present employés or to the generation that is now growing up. The nation must make up its mind once for all which is going to be the cheaper policy to pursue in the long run—to buy in excess foreign food or to neglect our home production. I would ask the House to consider the question from that point of view. Our foreign food bill may look cheap, but if it has killed our home production and our home employment we have to add something to that foreign food hill, in order to arrive at the true figure. We have to add to that foreign food bill the cost of unemployment and of the lost purchasing power of our great industries, and also the distress of our people. The foreign food bill, when it is looked at in its true light, has terrible consequences.
If we are to correct our adverse trade balance and diminish unemployment agriculture must have a chance. There is a sine qua non upon which agriculture may rightly insist, and that is that the nation must be prepared to give to agriculture an orderly market in which to sell. In other words, the nation must be prepared to give the first chance in the home market to the home producer. This Bill is an effort in that direction. It will give an ordered market, and in return agriculture will respond by giving the nation all that it requires in orderly marketing, 1119 In addition to an orderly market, this Bill provides a price which is at least approximately commensurate with the costs of production.
I invite the House to examine the Bill for a few moments to see how it carries out its Preamble. The Preamble says that the object of the Bill is to provide wheat growers in the United Kingdom with a secure market and a standard price for home-grown wheat of millable quality. It is rather curious that in yesterday's Debate very little mention was made of the Bill except, of course, in the very careful statement given to the House by the Minister of Agriculture; otherwise, little attention was paid to the details of the Bill. It was called a complicated Bill, and a Bill of 19 Clauses -and two Schedules does look complicated at first sight, but when the House realises that it is the first three which are the really operative Clauses, implementing the Preamble, and that the remaining Clauses and Schedules are by way of machinery, the situation becomes some-what clearer. It is a technical Bill, admittedly, but, on the other hand, it is to be worked by people who understand the technicalities of the trade. One of the best features of the Bill is that it is to be worked by those who know most about the business; that it does not set up any great State machinery, but leaves the running of the Bill in the hands of those best qualified to run it.
May I ask hon. Members in imagination to accompany me to any country corn exchange which they may know, and witness the operation of selling and buying wheat as it will be after the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. I will start, first, with the method of marketing in order to preserve the correct sequence. On entering the corn exchange we see the farmer, or, as the Bill calls him, the registered producer—I will allude to him as the farmer—coming into the corn exchange with his sample of wheat. He will proceed exactly as he does now. He will go round the market, first perhaps to a miller, and then to a merchant. Then he will go round the market again, and will endeavour to secure the best possible price for the sample which he has to sell. Incidentally, he will take take care that the man to whom he ultimately sells his wheat is a registered buyer under the by-laws of the Wheat 1120 Commission, but, in effect, all firms of any repute will be registered buyers. After he has sold his sample of wheat for the best possible price obtainable, what does the buyer do? He is at perfect liberty to do whatever he likes with it. He can sell it again for any purpose whatsoever. In short, an absolutely free market in home wheat is retained. There is no interference whatever with the normal course of trade.
The Bill comes in at this point. It makes it obligatory on the miller, the merchant, or the farmer, to keep a correct record of every transaction in wheat. It is obvious that this is necessary for the prevention of any attempt at fraud. It is necessary for the Wheat Commission to be in a position to trace, if it wishes, any particular parcel of wheat. Having concluded the sale we now come to the next stage, that of delivery. The farmer will either deliver his wheat by rail into a mill, or by road, but what is more likely to happen is that the buyer will send a lorry to the farm and remove the parcel of wheat. From the point of delivery we are made aware of the exact amount of the parcel, and the next step is for the farmer to receive from the buyer his cheque. The cheque will be in precisely the same form as it is now; there is no difference at all. The cheque will be made out for so many quarters of wheat at so many shillings per quarter, but when the farmer receives his cheque the Bill comes in again. The farmer must take care to see that in addition to the cheque be gets from the registered buyer he also receives a certificate from the registered buyer upon which will be stated certain facts and figures. First of all, the quantity, and, secondly, the price, and thirdly —and this is most important—a declaration on the part of the buyer that the parcel of wheat was of a millable quality. This certificate will have to be most carefully retained by the farmer until he sends it to the Wheat Commission. It is this certificate which gives the farmer his entitlement to an eventual payment out of the wheat fund.
It may be said that I have drawn the picture of a perfectly simple transaction, as indeed I have, but what about disputes. Assuming that the wheat delivered is out of condition and contains a great deal more moisture than the sample, it may be asked what machinery 1121 is being set up to deal with disputes of that nature? The machinery, as the Bill states, is to be set up under the by-laws. It is interesting to note that at the present moment in most cereal counties there exists an arbitration panel. I do not know whether the Wheat Commission will make use of this panel; but there they are. In my judgment many disputes are unlikely to occur, and for this reason, that the farmer will have every inducement to make a good delivery. He will not be so silly as to run the risk of losing his certificate. Such, briefly, is the picture of a transaction in wheat when the Bill comes into operation.
The next point, and a very important one, is how is the market to be provided how are we to ensure that the available crop of millable wheat grown by the farmers of this country will pass from the farms into some other place during the course of the cereal year, which is of course from the 1st August to the 31st July. This is secured by an indirect method. In the first instance, millers are not compelled to purchase the whole of the crop, but if in June of any year the Wheat Commission advise the Minister that there is a superabundance, a surplus, of wheat remaining unsold in the hands of the farmers, the Minister is empowered by the Bill to take certain action. He can by Order prescribe that the Flour Millers' Corporation, a body of registered flour millers, shall purchase and take a specified quantity of wheat off the farmers' hands But there is a limit to the amount which the Minister may prescribe, and it is fixed at 12½ per cent. of the anticipated supply of millable wheat in any one given year. The Minister of Agriculture also has to prescribe the price at which the millers are to buy this particular surplus of wheat.
Let us examine the effectiveness of this provision. Does the Bill ensure that the farmer will be able to get a market for his wheat as set out in the Preamble? I think it does. The Minister has power to come down upon the Flour Millers' Corporation and order them to buy a certain amount of wheat, which they may not want. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that the millers will not want that to happen. It might be that during June and July the millers have "covered" themselves by forward purchases of wheat 1122 and have all the wheat that they require, and that they would not want to have this extra surplus of wheat thrown upon their hands by order of the Minister. That is one thing. But there is a second consideration. Generally the price of home wheat is higher in June and July than in any of the other months of the year. Therefore, the millers, again, would not want this surplus of wheat to be thrown upon their hands at the most costly time of the year. It is true that there is rather a curious method of dealing with this part of the problem, but on the whole I think it is an ingenious one, and I believe that it will work. What really makes me most confident about it is that I know perfectly well what good will exists between the millers and the farmers of this country. I believe that we can rest assured that this method, if it should ever be necessary to put it into operation, would make the position quite secure from the farmers' point of view.
The next point to consider is that of the additional payment, or, as the Bill calls it, the deficiency payment. The Bill states that the standard price for wheat of millable quality shall be 10s. a cwt., or 45s. a quarter of 504 lbs. Perhaps I might make one personal comment on that figure. I must confess that I would have liked to have seen the price more, but thank goodness it is not less. Let us trace how this additional payment will reach the hands of the farmer. If the average price of all the home-grown millable wheat in any cereal year falls short of the standard price, then the grower becomes entitled to a deficiency payment. The certificates which I have already mentioned give him entitlement to such things. The calculation of the deficiency payment is arrived at by deducting from the standard price the average price of all the home-grown millable wheat sold during the year, and the result is called the price deficit.
An example was given by the Minister yesterday. You have the standard price of 45s. We will say, for example, that the average price of all the sales of wheat in the home market during the year was 30s. The price deficit is 15s. This price deficit will be met by deficiency payments on the production of certificates. But not all of it; there will be a deduction made from the deficiency payments of a sum of money necessary to defray 1123 all the expenses of the Wheat Commission, of the Millers' Corporation and of the Revision Committee which is to be set up in 1935, and, I believe, certain expenses connected with the Ministry of Agriculture. I have not been able to make any estimate, and I do not know whether the Minister is able to give an accurate estimate, but I hope that the deduction made from the deficiency payments for these expenses will not amount to more than a few pence per quarter. The Wheat Commission will set up a wheat fund, and it is out of the wheat fund that the deficiency payments will be made to the farmers. Provision is made for interim payments, but it is obvious that the final payments cannot possibly be made until the end of the cereal year.
Now we come to the great question about which so much was said yesterday —where is the money to come from? The Bill lays it down that the Wheat Commission shall open a wheat fund at the Bank of England, and we have seen that the payments out of that fund will be deficiency payments made to the farmers, and the expenses of the whole scheme. As to payments into the fund the Bill provides this procedure: A quota payment shall be made or levied on every miller and flour importer in respect of every cwt. of his output of flour. This quota payment is fixed at a uniform rate, so that in total there will be provided a sum equal to the total amount represented by the price deficit on the anticipated supply of wheat. I am afraid that that sounds very complicated, but it simply means that so many shillings per sack of flour will be leviable on every miller and flour importer, and in the aggregate that means the whole bill for the whole scheme. Provision is made for a variation by the Minister of the quota payments to be made by millers and flour importers. The reason for that is that the Minister shall be able to keep a wheat fund just in balance. Really that is the Bill. All the rest is merely the necessary machinery. I have designedly left out one point, namely, that of the anticipated supply, which I hope to deal with in a few minutes' time.
In passing I might allude to a few of the general points which occur in the Bill 1124 in connection with the first Clauses. The Wheat Commission which is set up in Clause 4 is given authority to make by-laws. The composition of the Commission appears in the First Schedule. The Minister is also empowered to issue regulations by Clause 11. This point is worthy of mention: Parliamentary control is retained over the whole of this field. Clause 16 lays down that all regulations made by the Minister or bylaws made by the Commission are to be submitted to Parliament. Drawback is provided for by Clause 3, Sub-section (2), in cases of any export of flour; that is to say the quota payment will be refunded. There is no charge on the Exchequer or the local rates.
I must allude to this further point: Those who have to work this scheme have agreed that it is a workable scheme. That opens up a good prospect for the success of the Bill. There is no new Department of State called into being. That ought to meet with the general approval of the House. No farmer is compelled to come into the scheme unless he wishes to do so; and he will be a foot if be does not. At this point perhaps might very briefly give what appear to me to be some of the advantages which attach to the quota system. It is admittedly quite a new system in this country. Although we had the word "quota" introduced in connection with coal, we have not as yet attempted to apply it to agriculture. I, myself, believe that this quota system opens up great possibilities. I think that, in addition to dealing with this great problem of wheat, before many months have passed we shall be having a meat quota Bill and a bacon quota Bill before this House. It can be applied either with or without a tariff. We know that a tariff by itself does not necessarily provide so secure a market or price as does the quota system. The experience' of other countries has shown very clearly, that where they have a high protective tariff, they have found it necessary to make use of all kinds of devices to supplement the tariff. We find that they are making use to-day of quotas, the licensing of imports, export bounties, and even shipping subsidies.
1125 I come back to the Bill to deal with the question of the anticipated supply, to which I have already alluded, that is to say, the extent of acreage which is to benefit from the Bill. In the Bill there is a definite limitation. The limitation is not put directly on the acreage, but directly on the product of the acreage. Only a limited amount of home-grown wheat is to rank for full deficiency payments. This limitation is called the anticipated supply, and is fixed in the Bill at 6,000,000 qrs., or the produce, approximately, of 1,500,000 acres. In addition to this anticipated supply which appears in the Bill, there is another anticipated supply, and I think that this is rather a confusing point. It is the one which the Minister has to fix each year, and that annual anticipated supply has to be fixed within the limits of the maximum anticipated supply mentioned in the Bill. In reading the Bill, I have found it confusing to make quite sure as to which of the two anticipated supplies any particular paragraph may happen to refer. If this anticipated supply even once during the year is exceeded, that is to say, if farmers have delivered more wheat than the Minister has anticipated that they would supply in the cereal year, then the deficiency payments become reduced pro rata.
For instance, supposing 6,000,000 qrs. of wheat were delivered when only 5,000,000 had been anticipated, then the deficiency payments to farmers would be reduced by one-sixth, but if the whole supply was of millable quality it would rank for deficiency payments, although not for the full deficiency payments. Now the Minister is charged with deciding, as soon as he can after the harvest, the amount of the anticipated supply for the coming cereal year, but he is given the opportunity of correcting that figure up to 31st January in the year following. The reason is obvious. There will be three or four months after the harvest during which threshing will take place, and the Minister will be able to make a much more accurate forecast by the end of January than at any earlier date, and, in arriving at his final assessment for the annual anticipated supply, the Minister is charged with making a deduction of 7½ per cent. for seed wheat, which is an allowance for that which the farmers would necessarily have to re- 1126 tain in their own hands for the sowing of the next crop.
The figure of 6,000,000 qrs in the Bill presumably expresses the Government's view of the extent to which wheat growing should be encouraged in this country, and here I feel myself bound to make one criticism. I think that the Government have taken a too restricted view in this matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister told us yesterday that 1,250,000 acres of land were sown under wheat last year in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the smallest acreage ever recorded, and yet, as far as I can see, under this Bill the only room for expansion of acreage is in the 250,000 acres between the 1,250,000 we are now cultivating, and the 1,500,000 in the Bill. Considering that the 10 years' average, from 1920 to 1929, in Great Britain and Ireland was not 1,250,000 acres, but 1,750,000 acres, and that the average production was just over four quarters per acre, it cannot be denied that there is plenty of room for reasonable expansion.
We hear a great deal of talk about unsuitable Land, but I am certain that the price of 45s. is not going to make wheat growing effective on land which is not thoroughly suitable. I believe that the Government would have been perfectly safe if they had framed the Bill in such a way as to make 2,000,000 the figure of the acreage. On this question of unsuitable land, I should like to quote probably the greatest authority on this particular matter, Professor Sir Rowland Biffin, who, in giving evidence before the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee, said:The fact which has been lost sight of in the past 20 years must be insisted on nowadays, namely, that England is naturally one of the best, if not the very best, wheat-growing country in the world. Its climate and much of its soil are almost ideal for the production of the heaviest crops. Were it not for these advantages—if our yield, for instance, bad been only that of the United States, of Canada, or of any of the other great exporting countries—wheat would have disappeared by now from our system of husbandry. But it has kept its place in spite of everything, merely because our yield averages some 32 bushels per acre. It is certain that there are at least 3,000,000 acres suitable for wheat cultivation, and probably considerably more.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us to what agricultural sub-committee that statement was addressed?
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee, presided over by Lord Selborne (Cmd. 8506, 1917). To come back to the point at which I started, I would say that we must view the whole problem of agriculture from the national point of view. When the nation's greatest need to-day is that of increased production and increased employment, why take a too narrow limit when we have the opportunity of reasonable expansion? Surely the fact, simple as it is, is none the less a fact, that every, ton of food we produce here means one ton less to buy and to pay for.
I come to the opposition to the Bill as it emerged in the Debate of yesterday. There were two main points of criticism and opposition. The first point, of course, was that this Bill would, of necessity, make the loaf dearer. That point was exhaustively, and, I think I might say, exhaustingly examined yesterday, but, in my opinion, the whole of the case which the Opposition attempted to make was completely disposed of by my right hon. Friend the Minister in his opening speech. He told us that if this scheme had been in operation in 1930–1931, the deficiency payment would have amounted to about 17s. per quarter, and that the average quota payment would have been equivalent to 2s. 1d. per sack of flour. He went on to tell us that the price of the 2 lb. loaf would have been increased by a farthing—on the assumption that the whole of it had been passed on to the loaf—during 11 weeks of the year, but that in the remaining 41 weeks there would have been no change in price. It is obvious that in the 11 weeks the actual farthing probably would not have stood out by itself, but that the little rise, if any, would have been levelled out over the whole 52 weeks. Therefore, I think that it is perfectly fair and safe to say that the only difference which this quota levy would have made, had it been in operation last year, would have been either just to hasten the rise when a rise was normally due, or to retard a fall when a fall was normally due, owing to the ordinary operations of the world price of wheat.
Two further factors in the case were alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Minister. He said that this quota payment only becomes noticeable at all when bread happens to be extraordinarily cheap, and, as we know, this country at 1128 the present time is in enjoyment of the cheapest loaf in the world, with the possible exception of Belgium. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned that the cheap loaf we are enjoying at this moment is largely secured by the sacrifice of the producers and the workers. In this matter, which I should like to bring to a head, I am going to address a question, if I may, to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The question is this: Is it, or is it not, part of the Socialist policy that the consumer should enjoy his foodstuffs or other commodities at the expense of the producer and the sweat of the brow of the worker?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Our policy is that the consumer shall enjoy the product without paying tribute to landlords, dividend hunters and capitalists.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his answer, but it is not an answer to my question. As he apparently is rather reluctant to give me an answer to my question, I can only assume that it is a part of Socialist policy that one consumer and one worker in one industry, possibly an urban worker, may be able to exploit the agricultural worker.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I can only answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman truthfully as to what is our policy. He has no right to interpret that answer in the way he has, which he knows is quite untrue.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The right hon. Gentleman will understand quite well that I was thrown back on my own resources, simply because of his reluctance to give me a straight answer to a perfectly straight question. If the Socialist party finds itself unable to answer the straightforward question which I addressed to it, what becomes of all the fuss we had last night? The bottom is blown out of the whole case of the Opposition in relation to this Bill and its effect on prices.
May I say a word about the second criticism directed against this Bill in yesterday's Debate? It was that in the selection by the Government of wheat-growing for ad hoc legislation, the emphasis was being put in the wrong place. Let us examine that criticism for one moment. I do not suppose anyone will deny that if increased production and 1129 employment are to be secured in agriculture, it is arable land which will give the greatest response. It is beyond dispute that arable land gives the greatest volume of production and the greatest amount of employment. Having got as far as that, we must go a, stage further. It is also undeniable that of all cereals, wheat is the pivotal crop of the arable working year. Thus, by a process of deduction we arrive at the same conclusion as that at which His Majesty's Government have rightly arrived in connection with this Measure. There are those who say that cereal production is out of date and a thing of the past. If any in this House hold that view, I would remind them of a few facts. They seem to think that there is something antagonistic between animal husbandry and cereal growing. In my judgment those two branches of agriculture are not in the least antagonistic but are complementary.
The fact is that at this moment neither branch is flourishing and one of the reasons for that is because the balance of the industry has been completely upset. Take the case of milk, for instance. We know that the price which the producers are getting for milk supplied to the London market gives them little or nothing in the way of profit. In fact, in many cases the producer is making a loss on the production of that milk at the present price. Is that because he is not co-operating? Not at all. There is a Milk Committee which drives bargains with the distributors of milk. But, owing to the decline of arable farming, many who would otherwise be engaged in arable farming have largely increased their dairy herds until we have reached the point of saturation and more than saturation. The industry, as I have said, is out of balance and I could give many other instances to that effect.
There are those who say, "Give up your arable land since you are always grumbling about it and saying that you cannot make it pay. Abandon cereal growing and go in for animal husbandry." I would address this question to those who take that view. To which branch of animal husbandry am I, as a cereal grower, to turn now for profit? I do not think there is a fat beast alive in this country to-day which does not stand to lose its owner money. I very much doubt whether there is a single pig 1130 in this country to-day which is not losing its owner money. In what direction is the cereal grower to turn? I would like an answer to that question before we hear any more about the necessity of switching over from one branch of the industry to the other. Even supposing it to be wise and necessary to make that great turn over and to abandon arable and cereal production in this country and go over to animal husbandry, where is the capital to come from wherewith to effect the change? I believe that those who seek to draw cast-iron divisions between various branches of agriculture make a profound mistake. The truth of the matter is that it is in the diversity of operations that the real strength of British agriculture lies. There is also the evidence of those who are best fitted to give an opinion on this matter, and I would like to quote one or two conclusions reached by various commissions and committees which have sat in recent years. The Selborne Committee in 1917 reported:The cereal crops are the pivot of agriculture and we do not consider that dairy and stock farming will in any way be prejudiced by our proposals: and that the interests of the State demand that more land should be put under the plough.It may be said that that view was all very well in War time, but I find that in 1924 the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation reported:The disadvantages attaching to any, further considerable decline in the arable area will be so grave that it will be worth while for the country to pay a substantial price for its maintenance.It added that farmerscan make a form of farming pay which will seriously lessen tillage and seriously lessen also the production of food and employment on the land.In 1930 the Agricultural Conference instituted by the late Labour Government passed the following resolution:The Conference desires to place before His Majesty's Government its unanimous opinion that measures should be taken to assure the farmers a remunerative price for cereals.Surely it is impossible in the light of that evidence, from those who have made a close study of the question, from selected people who knew about the industry before they were appointed to these various commissions, to doubt their unanimous conclusion that it is essential to maintain at least a large portion of 1131 British agriculture as arable agriculture. I hope and believe that this Bill marks a change in the attitude of the nation towards agriculture. I believe that the Government are making a real start towards the reconstruction of British agriculture. I should like to congratulate them most heartily, not merely on having had the courage to make that start, but on having had the good judgment to make it at the right starting point.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Everybody who has listened to the extremely interesting speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) will, I think, agree that we are very fortunate in having had two introductory speeches in connection with this Bill on successive days. I must say that I liked the hon. and gallant Member's introduction of the Bill even better than that of the Minister of Agriculture. He gave us a sort of "Little Arthur's History" of the agricultural position and brought it down to the present day in a pictorial and pleasant manner, enabling us to see all the operations in progress. But I think he was hardly fair in some of his remarks regarding the attitude of the late Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Addison, towards this problem. I think that on reflection he will realise that it is quite wrong to say that in Dr. Addison's view marketing was all in all and that nothing else mattered. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member will recall that, there were seven Agriculture Bills introduced in the course of that Parliament and that such matters as land drainage for instance, and a good many other matters to which I shall refer later were considered.
The first point to which I call the attention of the House is that in this case we have had the unusual spectacle of two Members of the Cabinet speaking in favour of a Government Measure. It is only fair to say, however, that they took entirely different lines. The Secretary of State for Scotland was at great pains to point out that this Measure was only temporary and was in the nature of a lifebuoy. I have looked carefully through the Minister's speech and I can find nothing in it about the Measure being temporary. I have listened carefully to the speech of the junior Minister for Agriculture, the hon. and gallant Member 1132 for Maldon, and I have heard nothing about a temporary Measure in it. It seemed to me that the Secretary of State for Scotland had taken to heart the words of a very old Liberal Member of this House and a very old Free Trader, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who rather twitted the Liberals on their moral principles of Free Trade. The Secretary of State for Scotland was at great pains to show that his support of this Bill was merely a temporary liaison on his part, and that he intended to return to a blameless Free Trade life, and to those principles which he had put forward so vehemently only a few days before. But he asked to be excused if on this one point he went in for a liaison with Protection.
I cannot understand the attitude of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is a puzzle to me. I had understood that there were two sections of Liberal Ministers. There were first the Samuelites who were supporting the Government though the Government were introducing things which they thought were disastrous to the country but who claimed to be entitled to vote and speak against the Government on certain matters. Then we had the Simonites who gave the Government a full measure of support and put forward Conservative policies with all the zeal of apostates. Apparently there is now a third mixture which may be described as that of the "in-and-out Liberal" who votes and speaks against Protection one week and puts his name on the back of the Bill like this in the next week. This confirms what Lord Buxton said in another place, that although he was speaking for the Liberal party he did not profess to represent any particular point of view on their behalf as they had different views on every single question.
The point which strikes me about this Government is they never seem to have any thought-out policy. It is always a case of emergency with the Government. I was sorry to hear that even the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon thought it necessary to say that we were still living in a state of emergency. The Government have been living in a state of emergency so long, because they have not got a collective mind and a thought-out policy. All they do is to appease, 1133 from time to time, various vested interests. I thought that the Minister of Agriculture would have given us his views as to the position and future of agriculture in this country. I thought that we would have had something in the nature of a survey from him. I agree that he had to explain a Bill which, as written by the draftsman, was quite incomprehensible to most hon. Members and perhaps he wisely confined himself strictly to his brief. But I think we should have had some statement of his views on the position and future of British agriculture.
I was under the impression that a very strong view was held that there should be a change-over in our agriculture from the cultivation of cereals to the production of animal products. I understood that the accepted idea of most agricultural experts was that it was desirable or at all events inevitable that that should happen. Last week the Government obviously had no mind on that question. They could not make up their mind in regard to foodstuffs. At one time foodstuffs were to be taxed; at another time they were to be on the Free List. Quite clearly the Government themselves had not thought out what varieties of agricultural activity they desired to encourage. Obviously they merely yielded to clamour, and in this Bill there is no coherent policy. The Labour party has a perfectly clear policy with regard to agriculture. It took some time to produce, I quite agree. On the other hand, the previous Conservative Government, in five years, did absolutely nothing for agriculture. The Labour party did introduce the sugar subsidy. I think they were probably done in the eye by the farmers, and certainly by the factory owners. Except for de-rating, which was the peculiar sort of gift that the Conservatives always make, a gift which falls on the just and on the unjust—and usually the unjust get most—they did absolutely nothing for this terrible condition of cereal cultivation.
The Labour party considered that the State should assist agriculture. Lord Snowden, as the Minister quoted, stated that the Government would take all practical steps which could be devised to put cereal cultivation on an economic foundation, and the Minister went on to say 1134 that time and circumstances did not permit of action being taken, but he did not mention what the particular circumstances were, because he has those circumstances now in his own Cabinet. The chief one is Lord Snowden, and the other is the present Prime Minister. Those are the circumstances which prevented action being taken on any lines whatever. The Labour party proposed to take action with regard to cereal cultivation, and it is no secret that a quota was considered at great length. I do not consider that there is something terribly immoral and contrary to all right doctrine in saying that you are going to give a subvention to a particular industry or even to a particular district in this country. I have never taken the Cobdenite line. I think, on the contrary, that the Government should do a great deal more in that way, and any complaint is that they have given too little direction to agriculture.
The country is faced with a very serious condition of affairs in the whole of the wheat areas. There is no doubt that the Eastern counties have been suffering terribly from depression, and you have had a condition of affairs in those parts of England only comparable to what has happened in some of the mining areas and in some of the industrial districts of this country. I hold that you cannot cure the evil in a particular area of this country by some vague, generalised reform, such, for instance, as derating or a general tariff. I think you have to take in hand the particular condition, and there is a strong case for taking action to give support to farmers in the cereal areas provided that with that support is linked up an intelligent policy. The Minister of Agriculture in the Labour Government considered that it was right to give price protection to cereal cultivators for a period of years, coupled with measures which would lead to a changeover in the direction of animal production. I believe that that was perfectly sound, because it would have worked on a plan, but I cannot see where any intelligent policy comes in under these present proposals
If I am to believe the Secretary of State for Scotland, this is a temporary plan. I hope the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will tell us whether this Bill is a lifebuoy, as the Secretary of State for Scotland said, or a permanent mooring, as the Minister of Agriculture 1135 obviously considers it to be. The Secretary of State for Scotland suggested in an airy way that the Government had agricultural policies that would follow this Bill and that this was a purely temporary thing. His liaison was going to last for three or four years, and he was then going to return to the straight and narrow path. On the other hand, when we look at the Bill itself, there seems to be something much more permanent about it. I am inclined to agree that on the balance of the evidence you want a certain measure of cereal cultivation in this country. It is a question of how much, and we gather from this Bill that the idea is that there should not be any definite encouragement. On the other hand, we have had it from the Minister that in 1931 we had 1,247,000 acres under wheat and that we are to go in this Bill, with the subsidy, up to 1,800,000 acres. Therefore, he does contemplate bringing an extra 550,000 acres which have given up wheat, under wheat again.
The question arises as to whether that is right. You have let in the process of going away from cereals to a certain point, but do you want to retrace your steps? The demand put forward by the hon. and gallant Member and the Farmers' Union means a definite going back to trying to promote cereal cultivation in areas that have already departed from wheat-growing, and if I go further back than the Farmers' Union and go to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton, he contemplated getting back to the conditions existing about 100 years ago. I hold that it is quite indefensible to think that, under modern conditions, you can go back and make wheat cultivation again a principal crop in this country. It may be a necessary crop, but it is perfectly impossible to think that you are ever going back to produce wheat for bread in this country on a large scale.
The only justification for a Measure such as this would be that the Government were prepared to take active steps to see that the industry was reconstructed, that they were going to have an active development of the forms of agriculture for which this country is most suited, that it was done under the most strict control, to see that the subsidy which was being given was not going to the landlords or to the middlemen, and to see that the agricultural labourer was going to get fair 1136 rates of wages. That was a point that was put to us by the hon. and gallant Member, who asked, in effect, whether the towns should be allowed to sweat the countryside. I want this country organised on the basis that one section of the workers does not sweat another section, but that is precisely what you will get under your system to-day; and it is pertinent to ask what happened to the workers' claims when wheat was protected before.
Just about 100 years ago there was one of the last revolts of the agricultural workers, who came out because of the disgraceful wages that they were being paid under Protection, when the prices of wheat were high. Memories are long in this country, and we want something more than amiable talk about workers' wages. I understand that the agricultural workers have interviewed the Minister, and I gather that they got very little satisfaction from him. A question with regard to wages was put to the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday, and he airily said: "That will be all right; they will be looked after by the Central Wages Board." But he and his Liberal friends in 1024 insisted on taking away powers from the wages boards, and we have no provision here in this Bill for the agricultural workers.
The right way of doing this thing would be that you should have a diminishing subsidy, but this contemplates a pro gressive subsidy. There is power to revise the prices, and the Secretary of State for Scotland suggested that it was a power to revise the scheme, but it is not. It is only a power to revise the prices, up or down. When we were considering this quota there had been no cuts in the wages of the workers and no reduction of unemployment benefit, there had been no proposals to tax a vast amount of the things which the workers use, such as we have now, but this Bill is proposed at a time when heavy indirect taxation is being put on the workers, when pressure is being brought to bear to reduce the amount given to the poorest of the poor, and that is the time at which you propose to put on what is in effect a bread tax.
After all, this Bill is only a subsidy Bill. The word "quota" got a certain popularity because people discussed it, and it was realised that the selling of 1137 wheat offered this advantage, that as it all passed through mills, it had there a particular point at which you could tackle the industry, and the quota system was put forward because under it you do get a certain amount of control. The word "quota" is in the Bill, but there is absolutely no need for it whatever. The Minister of Agriculture has the gift of prophecy, and there is no need for the elaborate and complicated machinery of this Bill. The whole of this elaboration and this incomprehensible phraseology is merely that you may form in your minds a certain sum which is to be extracted from the pockets, in the main, of the workers of this country, and give it to the farmers. The right hon. Gentleman guesses the supply of home-grown millable wheat, he guesses the production and import of flour, he guesses the average price —the sum given in the Bill is 45s.— and by a simple mathematical calculation he produces the result.
But you could do this without all this elaboration. It is simply a subsidy to be paid to the farmer by the ultimate consumer. I am not going to elaborate the point of view of the consumer, which has already been admirably put by the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) yesterday. It is no good hon. Members dodging about and saying that it is only one-eighth of a penny, or only a farthing, or a halfpenny on the loaf. That is all very well to satisfy Liberal consciences, but when you look at the thing as a whole, the bald fact remains that a sum of anything from £3,000,000 up to £6,000,000 is going to be paid to the farmers. This money must come from somewhere, and it is certain that it is not going to come from the millers, because they have made up their minds about it, or from the bakers, because they too have made up their minds about it. Whatever the sum may be, it is going to come from the consumers of bread, the working classes.
There is no provision in the Bill for efficiency. I am aware that in this House you must not talk about efficiency, because everything in the garden is always lovely. If you talk about industry, the hon. Member for the Moseley Division (Mr. Hannon) gets up and says that it is monstrous to suggest that industry is not efficient, and the same remark applies in regard to agriculture, but there is no provision whatsoever for seeing that cul- 1138 tivation is carried on properly. If you want a subsidy anywhere, it is needed in the Eastern counties. There are counties that do not need it, because they have already been looked after by other legislation; but the Members of the Government are very Christian, and they believe in the rain falling on the just and on the unjust.
There is no incentive throughout the Bill to buy British wheat. The whole thing is merely a device for calling a tariff a quota. There is absolutely no guarantee that bread will not go up in price. As a matter of fact, we know that prices will rise under ordinary economic circumstances, for they are very low. There is no doubt that they went up when the Corn Production Act was passed, and farmers were induced or compelled to buy their holdings at values based on very high prices. There is no protection in the Bill for consumers and no prevention of exploitation by the landowners. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, commended it because he had consulted all the interests. That, again, is characteristic of a Protectionist Government. They consult all the interests except two—the interests of the nation, and the interests of the workers. One thing that the Prime Minister said at the beginning of this Parliament is coming true. He told us that the workers would not be forgotten. They are not forgotten when it comes to paying the piper.
We have wonderful assurances in connection with this Bill. We are assured that the millers, the farmers, and everybody are going to play straight, but I should like to know something more about those assurances. The Minister told us that we have had declarations from those interests. They might be published in a White Paper or put in the Schedule; we might also have the declarations made by the Government to the millers and the baking trade. We object to this Bill on broad grounds, because it gives a dole without insisting on conditions. It will not protect any of the major interests of the community, and it will create vested interests. I do not think that it is for a moment intended to be temporary, as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland declared. It is intended to be a permanent protection. While I am not an abstract 1139 Free Trader, I will only countenance any form of Protection when I have seen that the industry to be protected is to be carried on efficiently in the interests of the consumers and producers, and that it will lead to the control by the community in the interests of the community of that form of economic activity. We have not that in this Bill, and therefore we shall vote against it and endeavour, as far as may be, to amend it in Committee.
In rising to make my maiden speech, may I claim the indulgence which the House is always willing to grant to those who address it for the first time. I intervene in this Debate as the representative of an agricultural constituency where I was born and where I constantly reside, a constituency which is in area the second largest in Britain, and where the other industries, in comparison to the one great central industry, are proportionately as the Cotswolds to the Matterhorn. I propose chiefly to centre my remarks round the Amendment which has been moved from the Opposition benches. It has been a pleasing feature of the present Parliament that there have come from practically all sides of the House speeches pointing to the very distressed condition in which the great industry of agriculture finds itself to-day.
There are several points in connection with the Socialist Amendment with which I am more or less in agreement. I agree with the necessity of framing a complete all-round programme, and it is a welcome sign that at a juncture such as this we should have hon. Members who are pre-eminently representatives of urban constituencies, showing that they are alive to the pressing needs of our oldest industry. It shows that even Bow and Bromley is not altogether unmindful of the position. In this Parliament there have not been, until yesterday, many speeches from the Liberal benches with regard to the agricultural position. I have been wondering whether those who occupy those seats are still in search of a formula; if that be the ease, my respectful advice to them would be that I do not think they are likely to be successful in their search. A second Amendment has been tabled from hon. Members who occupy the two Liberal 1140 benches in front of me, but the proposals contained therein are entirely of a negative kind. They re-echo the sentiments which were expressed yesterday by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) who confined his remarks to the old Free Trade theory and suggested that it was necessary for us to concentrate on cheap articles and cheap foodstuffs, as if we had passed the danger point when our financial position might be such that we might not have the wherewithal to buy any article no matter how cheap they might be.
The Amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition calls attention to the many-sidedness of the agricultural industry. It is because the industry is so varied that the Government have made a very good beginning by bringing before the House this wheat quota Bill. No matter what arguments may be adduced against the Measure, I think that the Government's arguments will be completely successful in proving that it is a vital necessity that this cereal should be safeguarded in the manner delineated in the Measure. It proves conclusively that the Government are handling the agricultural problem in the right way by seeing, so far as is possible, that the districts which are related to special branches of the industry shall have appropriate treatment meted out to, them.
Many parts of the country feel that East Anglia is at the moment filling the picture to the exclusion of their own pressing needs, but they must remember, and they do remember, that the indirect effect upon the industry as a whole will be far-reaching in the extreme.
The Bill makes directly for increased employment in the agricultural industry. Many hon. Members are entirely preoccupied with unemployment as it affects other industries, but I would respectfully remind them that the spectre of unemployment is also knocking at the door of agriculture, and if we were to pursue a negative policy, unemployment, so far from remaining a spectre, would become a grim reality. During the last election campaign, I had several questions addressed to me with regard to unemployment insurance being extended to the agricultural labourer. That was a sign that those actively concerned in agricul- 1141 ture were beginning to realise what their fate might be. Not many years ago the farm servants turned down such a suggestion because they thought then that the experiment would not justify itself. My reply at the Election was that the finances of the country would not permit such an extension; nevertheless, the policy of any Government in the future will have to be that anybody who is out of employment shall not suffer because unemployment insurance does not extend to his particular industry.
I want to say a word with regard to Scotland. This is the first occasion in this Parliament upon which the question of agriculture in the northern kingdom has been raised, and my hon. Friends opposite, co-representatives of Scotland, will realise how necessary it is that the requirements and needs of those concerned in the agricultural industry in Scotland should be voiced as well as the needs of Clydeside. The point was made on more than one occasion yesterday that the wheat output of this country amounted to very little more than 4 per cent. of the total agricultural output. In Scotland it is perhaps a little less than 2 per cent. That is no reason why agriculturists in Scotland should be dissatisfied with this Bill. In Scotland, and in my own part of the country, we are almost entirely concerned with the animal production side of agriculture, and we are extremely thankful that last week the Government acquiesced in our demand that the feeding stuffs which our agriculturists use should be placed upon the Free List. I believe that we were largely indebted to the representations made by Ulster. It was an instance of their being peradventure ten—or was it twelve?—just men, but no matter who was responsible, we are extremely grateful that the Government did not penalise an industry which is already so greatly depressed by taxing their raw materials, while letting in free the finished article. The fall in meat prices during the last few years has been very serious, very heavy indeed. I myself, as a lessor of grass year by year, know what it means in the way of falling rents. Heaven knows what I am going to get for them in two or three weeks' time, and Members of Parliament must certainly not be grasp- 1142 ing. The other night an Amendment was moved which, had it been successful, would have removed meat from the free list of the Imports Duties Act. On that occasion I recorded my vote in favour of that Amendment, not because I am in any way following the dictates of the Press lords—far from it—not because I am enamoured of high Protection—far from it—but because I took the practical view. As the hon. and gallant Member for Malden (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) said this afternoon, I hope that it will not be very long before the Government deal seriously with the meat question, whether it be by an import board, as suggested by hon. Members opposite, whether it be by the direct machinery of a tariff, or whether it be by a quota system. It matters not one whit which course is adopted, so long as the producers secure a fair and square deal.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated in his speech the other night that the Government, at the Ottawa Conference, would take a favourable view of the meat question, and Scottish agriculture emphasises the necessity of such a course being pursued and takes the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his word. Scottish agriculture loyally supported the National Government at the last election. If an appeal to the country were made now, the results, so far as Scottish agricultural districts are concerned, would be entirely safe. This Government, which is National, calls itself National, is expected by the people of Scotland to live worthily up to such a name. We realise that the Government possess a great opportunity, greater than that of any Government which has ever presided over the destinies of the nation. Whatever be the results of their labours, the people of Scotland—certainly the representatives of Scottish agriculture—will not desert the Government; but do not let their support of the Government be based merely on the ground of its being better to keep the evils we know of rather than sample others that we know not of.
We have frequently heard in this Parliament pleas for a redistribution of the national wealth. This Parliament will not consider any such scheme. Possibly in the distant future some other House of Commons may be elected which will be favourable to such proposals. Our 1143 main idea should be to remember the source from which all wealth comes, the land, and to give to the science of the cultivation of that land, in all its branches, a chance in these days of great despondency and grievous loss among agriculturists; to allow it that chance in the great battle for existence which it so richly deserves, even though it is now somewhat late in the day to do so. I support the Second Reading of this Bill.
Mr. HOPKIN MORRIS
I am sure I am expressing the view of the whole House when I say how delighted we were to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), and we shall always look forward with pleasure to his future interventions in Debate. The speech with which this Bill was introduced by the Minister of Agriculture was an admirably lucid one. The reasons he gave for bringing it forward were twofold. There was the general, broad, wider reason, and the more specific reason. The general broad reason was that agriculture, as we have been told over and over again, is going through very difficult times, and I do not suppose anyone in any part of the House will quarrel with that proposition. The two immediate reasons for introducing the Bill, according to the Minister, are that he wants to obtain for the producer a secure market and wants to enable the producer to exploit that market at an enhanced price, and one must criticise this Bill not only from those aspects, but also in respect of its actual provisions.
As regards the first of those two aspects, I do not want to traverse the whole ground which was covered in the speeches yesterday, particularly in the speech of the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), an excellent speech which set forth the whole of the case against this Bill; but on the question of this House being called upon to assist agriculture, I would say that it would be far less necessary to take action if we did not do so much to hamper agriculture. In my view there has been a great deal too much legislation directly hampering agriculture in the last few years. Only last week we had a Bill under which agriculture was handicapped, and now the House is called upon 1144 to do something to redress the balance. It would be a very good thing if some of the legislation imposing difficulties in the way of agriculturists were repealed. But when we propose to assist agriculture by this Bill it becomes pertinent to examine what the Bill will do, how wide is the agricultural field which it will assist, and in what way it will assist that part of the agricultural field which it is designed to cover.
Upon any estimate that I have seen, the wheat grown in this country provides no more than 15 per cent. of the total wheat consumed in the country, and in order to assist the wheat farmers who are responsible for the production of that 15 per cent. we impose a duty of 100 per cent. That is the difference between the standard price and the actual price ruling to-day. It is a duty of 100 per cent. in protection of the home market—[Interruption]—very nearly, practically. Taking the total consumption of wheat in this country, and taking the whole field of agriculture into account, it is a duty of 15 per cent. I do not quite understand the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Last week he demanded a free hand upon a Bill which imposed a duty of 10 per cent., but upon any calculation this Bill will impose a duty of 15 per cent., so there can be no justification for him supporting this Bill, and I was surprised to see his name upon the back of it. It is true that he told us yesterday that in his view the Bill is merely a temporary Measure. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said nothing of the sort, and, indeed, the argument of the Secretary of State for Scotland in favour of his view that this is a temporary Bill was based upon the one thing in the Bill which indicates its permanency. He referred to a Clause providing for a revision of the standard price three years hence as indicating that, in the view of the Government, this was a temporary Bill. If it indicates anything, I think that can be taken as indicating that the Bill is a permanent one; and that the Secretary of State for Scotland really believed it was not going to be limited to three years was shown by an expression of his own view after quoting a letter in the "Times" which stated that the Bill ought to be limited to 10 years. His comment upon that was: "I do not think 1145 the limit should be so long; it ought to be slightly shorter." If there is a justification for this Bill operating for 10 years, I see no reason why he should worry about what is to happen after 10 years, especially in view of the position he took up on the other Bill last week. But I will leave the arguments of the Secretary of State for Scotland alone, and come now to the Bill itself.
The Bill has four objects, according to the Minister of Agriculture. The first is to secure an enhanced price for the wheat grower; the second is to secure a market for home-grown wheat of millable quality; the third is to avoid imposing any charge on the Exchequer, and the fourth is to give no encouragement to the cultivation of wheat upon unsuitable land. I am going to deal with the third point first, and I want to raise a point of procedure with you, Mr. Speaker. It is true that the Bill imposes no charge upon the Exchequer, in form at least, because the expenses are to be provided out of the Wheat Fund, but when we come to examine its provision, I am not sure that it is so limited. In Clause 9, Subsection (3, c), there is a provision for the payment of the expenses of the Wheat Commission. It says:Any expenditure certified by the Minister to have been incurred by any Government Department for the purposes of this Act, and any charge for services certified by the Minister to have been rendered with the consent of the Treasury by any such Department.shall be met out of the Wheat Fund. That means that if the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture or of some other Government Department are called upon to render service to the Wheat Commission they will be paid for out of the Wheat Fund; but who is to do their work at the Ministry of Agriculture in the meantime? In order to carry on the work of these absent officials the Ministry of Agriculture will be put to additional expense, and it appears to me that in those circumstances there ought to be a Financial Resolution for this Bill providing for the additional charge on the Exchequer itself. Clearly all the expenditure will not be met out of the funds of the Wheat Commission itself. The Bill enables the Minister to issue Orders for different purposes. There are no fewer than eight Orders which he can be called upon to issue. He has 1146 to provide for the unsold wheat, for determining the quota price, for varying the standard price, for prescribing the anticipated supply, prescribing the amount of the quota payment, provide another Order, if necessary, to supersede it, and issue an Order to approve of the by-laws of the Wheat Commission. That is a series of Orders completely outside the control of this House. Not only is he called upon to make Orders, but regulations also. The Minister is converted into a Pooh-Bah. How is this Bill going to work? It is largely guesswork with regard to the estimated price, the average price, and the average supply of wheat; these estimates, which are very material to the working of the Bill, have no securer foundation than guesswork. The average price itself, when it comes to be determined for the whole year, has to be set out in an Order, and this will work very unfairly as between one producer and another. In the case where a farmer has sold his wheat below the average price, he will lose money, and where he has sold it above the average price he will gain an additional sum. That point has already been alluded to in the argument used by the Minister of Agriculture.
Another important factor which has been omitted is the question of the payment of the difference between the average price and the standard price. Suppose that during the year the world price alters. A man who sells his wheat at an earlier period of the year may not realise as good a price as another man who sells at a later period, not because he does not exercise as great care but because the movement of the market has been more favourable to the other. That farmer has done his best, but he has to suffer because the markets have been against him during the course of the year. There is no provision in the Bill to meet a case of that kind—[Interruption.] I am afraid that the hon. Member has not seen my point. Suppose that the market price at the beginning of the cereal year is 25s. per quarter, and the farmer markets his wheat at 25s. Later on the average price may be 35s. and in that case the difference is 10s. per qr. The farmer will have lost the difference, and the Minister tells us that that is intended, because the object of the Bill is to induce the farmer to sell at the best possible price, and market his wheat in the best possible way. If the argument 1147 rested there I admit it would be thorough, but you may have the price of wheat on the world market going up, and, although the farmer may be producing the best quality of wheat, and taking every reasonable precaution in regard to marketing, he may, although he has sold in the early part of the year at 25s. per qr., that still loses money because the level of the market has gone upwards. There is no provision in the Bill to meet that situation. I admit that the provision in the first part of the Bill is reasonable and necessary in providing that a farmer must produce marketable wheat, but there is no provision to meet cases where the markets move upwards in the course of the year.
We are told that the object of this Bill is to develop home-grown wheat of milling quality, but there is no provision which compels the millers to buy the wheat. It is true that in Clause 3 there is a provision to the effect that, after an Order has been made on the application of the Wheat Commission and the Minister, the Flour Millers' Corporation shall then be compelled to buy 12½ per cent. of the total production of the year. The result of that may be that the farmer may find himself with a wheat stock on his hands. The object of the Bill is to provide a secure market, but at the best it only provides a secure market for 12½ per cent. of the previous year's crop.
We have listened to-day to a very clear and able speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel RugglesBrise), and he estimated that the cost of the working of the machinery of Part II would not be more than a few pence per quarter. On that point, I am not so optimistic. We have to consider the expenses of the Wheat Commission and also of the Flour Millers' Corporation. The standard price has been fixed at 45s. per qr., but it is not at all likely that the farmer will get anything like the difference between the average price and the standard price. The producer will only get what is left after the expenses of the whole scheme have been deducted. Litigation has already been foreshadowed between the producers and the Flour Millers' Corporation, and this, together with the administration expenses, may reduce the 45s. to a much lower figure. The whole of this machinery has been set up in order to benefit a very small 1148 section of the farming community estimated to be about 4 per cent. What is going to happen to the other 96 per cent. of those engaged in the agricultural industry?
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon foreshadowed that we might have a further system of quota for meat and bacon, and other agricultural products. I do not think that is likely to happen very soon. What the amount of the tax is going to be I do not know, but I understand that it will vary according to the market price of wheat. At any rate, it is intended to be a tax. The other quotas which have been mentioned would be equally a tax on agricultural products, and in the circumstances, quite apart from the usual fiscal arguments, that might prove to be a very serious thing, because it might tend to divorce the agricultural interest from the industrial interest, and raise the cost of living at a time when the pound is unstabilised, a state of things which might very well lead to the ruin of the agricultural interests and other interests in this country. There can be no justification for a Bill which purports to help the agricultural industry as a whole, but which really leaves the great mass of the agricultural industry—to the extent of 96 per cent.—out of consideration. To say that this Bill will assist the agricultural industry is a great exaggeration and a misuse of language, because it will do very little to assist it.
§ Major ALAN McLEAN
I would like hon. Members to visualise the position in which the Eastern counties of England find themselves at the present moment, and, particularly, the county of Norfolk for which I speak. In my county we find many bard-working farmers going through the bankruptcy court. Many other farmers, although they are still carrying on, are coming to the end of their resources. Farms are being given up in all directions, because it is impossible to find tenants for them. I have had a letter from the owner of a comparatively small estate in which he says that last year 5,000 acres of land were turned on his hands and he says that it was quite impossible for him to carry on farming on land to that extent. Many farmers are now going through the bankruptcy court after having been driven from their farms. It is also very serious to see the condition of the agricultural labourers 1149 who, in the past, have been dependent upon the land which has now ceased to be cultivated. The waves of past depression have left their mark on Norfolk, where you can see the marks of the old fences reminding one that the land in the past has been cultivated. This kind of thing is destined to go on unless we take immediate steps to assist agriculture.
What happens at the present time? Land which cannot be cultivated as arable land goes down to grass gradually deteriorates and becomes absolutely valueless. The owner at the same time is handicapped by the cost of keeping up useless farm buildings. You cannot expect the landowner, whose land is not being cultivated, to keep up his agricultural buildings, and this is involving a tremendous waste of capital. Agricultural buildings are coming down, the farmers are despairing, and the labourers are losing their employment, and the problem which we have to face at the moment is that of finding remedies for this agricultural depression. If we allow it to go on, these skilled labourers will drift away to the towns on the chance of getting work there, and although possibly we might get capital back into agriculture fairly quickly if it becomes prosperous, it will not be so easy to build up again the skilled labour or to get the skilled farmers that we desire.
The relief must be quick and definite, and the relief that is given by this Bill is both quick and definite. That is why I support it. There are many points, naturally, that will require consideration in Committee, but there is one point on which I should like, if possible, to have some enlightenment even at this stage. It is with regard to the expenses of the scheme. The expenses of the scheme come out of the amount from which the deficiency payments are to be made to the farmers, and the farmers are anxious to know how much they are likely to lose in that way. They have very little control over the amount of the expenses. It is true that they will have representation on the Wheat Commission, but really the expenses will be outside their control, although they will have to pay them. If the Minister has any estimate of what the expenses are likely to be, it would be relief to the farmers to know what it is. The hon, Member for Cardigan (Mr. H. Morris) referred to the effect of 1150 selling at an unfortunate moment. It seems to me that it would be going altogether outside the province of this Bill to provide relief for a farmer who was unfortunate in his marketing, and, still more, to give him relief without his giving value for it. Therefore, I do not see how it would be possible, or even advisable, to help the farmer who was unfortunate in his marketing.
I do not want to protect the man who markets badly. I only want to protect the man who finds the market bad when he gets there.
Major Mc LEAN
I agree that that is the hon. Member's object, but I cannot see how it would be possible to attain it without at the same time relieving the man who markets his goods badly.
What is the alternative to this Bill? It has been suggested that we ought to revert to livestock production, but I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Colonel RugglesBrise) that, although that may be possible in some cases, there are many cases in which it would not be advisable. We ought to support more strongly the production of livestock in this country, and we ought to help the growers of fresh fruit and vegetables, whom the present Government are already doing something to help; but, even if it were practicable to help agriculture by means of a changeover to livestock or any other branches, my objection to that course now is that the relief would not be quick, but is bound to take time, just as all the other measures which have been suggested in the Debate, and some of which are referred to in the Amendment of the Opposition—better organisation, better marketing, and so on—are bound to take time. I urge upon the House very strongly that, if we are going to save agriculture in the Eastern counties, we want very speedy relief indeed. Looking at the Amendment, one cannot help wondering how far those who drafted it remembered that the quota system was at one time strongly supported by the party opposite. They seem to be criticising a Bill the objects of which are to provide wheat growers with a secure market and an enhanced price—the very things which many Labour Members told the people in the country that their Bill would produce for farmers.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
If the hon. and gallant Member will read the Amendment, he will see that it refers to those as the "sole objects" of the Bill. That is the whole point.
§ Major McLEAN
The Amendment refers to a number of things, but I think it would defy even the powers of the hon. and learned Member to draft a Bill that would carry out all the recommendations that it mentions.
§ Major McLEAN
There is one point in the Amendment on which I agree entirely, and that is as to the urgency of the problem, but I do not think that the measures suggested would bring about the urgent relief that is necessary. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) referred to the sugar-beet industry. It is true that help for the sugar-beet industry by means of a subsidy was suggested by the Labour Government of 1923–24, but they never carried it out; it was carried out by the Conservative Government in 1925, despite the opposition of a considerable proportion of the Labour party. It is true that ever since that time Labour Members have gone about the country saying that the Labour party gave the sugar-beet subsidy, and in a year or two, when this Bill is the success that I hope it will be, they will probably be saying that they are the true authors of the quota proposals. I believe that this Bill will give the immediate relief that is so urgently necessary, especially in the eastern counties, and I hope that the House will speed the Bill through the remainder of its course as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. LEONARD
The hon. Member who opened the Debate to-day expressed the opinion that insufficient attention was being paid to the Bill itself. I will take that hint, and refer definitely to the Amendment which is before the House, and which expresses a desire for a Bill which will provide for an improvement in the condition of agricultural workers and adequate organisation inside the industry, and will protect the farmer, who is supposed to be the beneficiary under the Bill, from the exploitation to which he may be subjected by the landlords of this country. These provisions 1152 may be contained in the Bill, but the Bill is so complicated that we may be excused if we admit that we can see no sign that any of these three items is attendee to in the Bill. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), who is s farmer himself, said yesterday that he could not grasp what the Bill contained, and perhaps it is permissible for me, or that statement, to quote the "Economist," which, referring to this Bill, stated that:There is a scurrilous story going found the grain trade that, at the Cabinet meeting to which the original draft of the Bill was submitted, so many Members found its details incomprehensible that a special Quota Sub-committee was appointed, 'so that at any rate a few of us could understand it.'I should not have quoted that passage but for the smiles on the faces of some of the Minister's colleagues when he was explaining the details of the Bill, because those smiles gave colour to the story which is described as scurrilous in the quotation which I have read. There is another passage, which has been referred to as one of the main parts of the Bill, and which, although it has been quoted before, there will, perhaps, be no harm in repeating. It is in Sub-section (1) of Clause 3, which, referring to the calculation of the "quota payment," lays down that it shall be:of an amount calculated and prescribed in accordance with the provisions of this section so as to represent, as nearly as may be, a sum equal to what would have been the price deficit in respect of the quota of home-grown millable wheat which would have been used in the production of that hundredweight, if the anticipated supply of such wheat for the cereal year in which that hundredweight was delivered had been Used it a uniform rate per hundredweight of flour in the production of the estimated supply of flour for that year.The comment of the "Economist" upon this provision is as follows:We commend to British farmers attentive study of the terminology of this device specially calculated to meet the needs of British agriculture.'As far as I can see from the Bill, there is to be, first of all, the Wheat Commission. The Wheat Commission is to have the guidance of the Flour Corporation, and I think it is right to say that, in connection with the Flour Corporation, the need is visualised for a Flour Importers' Corporation. Clause 15 of the Bill allows certain powers to be trans- 1153 ferred to the Agricultural Marketing Board, and I think that in the whole scheme there will be a need for someone to represent the consumer—a Consumers' Committee, and, perhaps, a Committee of Investigation. Therefore, this simple Measure for the guidance of farmers will very probably, before it is finished with, have six guiding committees, and, perhaps, with their aid we may be able to see what can be done. We on these benches have been twitted on one or two occasions with opposing this proposal when it was really nationalisation. I am hot prepared to enter into a discussion or what nationalisation is, but, if this be nationalisation, I agree that it will be a form of nationalisation which every member of the Tory party will be prepared to accept, because it is a form of nationalisation that will allow the milling industry to exploit the consumers of this country, and it will be possible to nationalise any industry, as far as the Tories are concerned, provided that the power of exploitation is allowed to reside with them. All that they desire is to retain that power.
With regard to the question in general, I am informed that this is a part of the national policy, but I am wondering if the national policy warrants acceptance of this proposal. Sufficient has been said on that point to allow me to touch on the details of the actual results of research into farming in this country. I do not know if hon. Members will accept the source, but it is eminently respectable, and has been mentioned already in this House. I refer to the Agricultural Economics Research Institute of Oxford University. The institute quite recently has published wheat castings, gathered, I presume, after much research, and giving a series of figures 'showing the cost of an acre of wheat. According to this impartial source, as I may term it, the cost of labour per acre, from the ploughing to the threshing and delivery, is, on the average, £3 3s. 2d. Rent is given at £1 4s., seed 15s. 6d., artificials £1 12s., coal, binder twine and so forth, 8s. 10d., and overheads, Including management and interest on capital, El 4s. 6d.; and I would like to point out that in this item of £1 4s. 6d. there is no less than £1 for profit. They state, in addition, that during 1931 wheat had been selling at Gs. per cwt. They estimated the yield last year at 18 cwts. per acre, and they allowed 1154 £1 per acre for the proceeds of straw. That would give a return of Ss. per acre. There is, therefore, a gap of £2 per acre to be bridged in order, as it were, to guarantee a fair profit to the farmer. That would require a subsidy of 10s. per qr., not on the best farms but on the least efficient, that is, by hand labour. Yet the farmer under this Bill, who is, according to this research, entitled to 10s., is to receive an additional 20s. per qr.—in the opinion of the investigator, twice what is necessary.
Then there is the position of the efficient farms—the mechanised farms, as they are called here. It is held that harvesting and ploughing could be cheapened by £1 4s. 3d. per acre on this type of farm, which many think to-day is the only kind of farm. The gap to be bridged is reduced to 16s. an acre, or 4s. a qr., yet this man is to receive 20s. a qr. In another form, he will receive an excess of 37s. per acre. That is a detail taken from a, source which cannot be deemed partial to our point of view, and I put it forward as one of the reasons justifying our statement.
It has been asserted that this quota is related to other quotas which have been discussed, if not definitely put before us. I notice that, in a, leaflet issued by the Conservative party, the home quota is linked up with the Dominion quota, and the Dominion quota is put down at 49 per cent. I presume this 49 per cent. will be a part of the national policy related in some way more definitely to the 15 per cent. I should like to know, if it is to be a bargaining point, whether it will work up and down according to the requirements of this country's trade, or will it be held fast at the point that it is at. The Dominions have their interests just as we have ours, and they call them their national policy, just as we call them our national policy, and when we realise that their surplus is five times what we absorb, you can realise that we cannot expect very much help from them, in the form at least that some hon. Members visualise. If the figure stated by the Premier of one of our Dominions is correct, you are going to leave a very small margin for your friendly foreign relations and, when we send the Prince of Wales, as I am informed we did, to act as a representative for us when he goes to a country such as the Argentine, which does a tremendous trade with this 1155 country, what are going to be the repercussions on the £600,000,000 of British interests, what is going to be the effect of the fact that in that country 50 per cent. of the ships that enter their ports are British ships? Is that going to fit in with the national policy? In my opinion it will fit in, but not to the advantage of this country.
Another point that I have heard touched upon is the question of the land, its capabilities and so forth. I notice 'that the National Council of Industry and Commerce has put out a "Case for Agriculture." In it they state quite definitely that they are not worrying so much about the farmers as about the importers of wheat. I had better quote it.The importance of wheat lies in its being a necessary crop in a good rotation, not in the small fraction (only 5 per cent.) which it contributes to the total value of 'our agricultural output.I have heard discussions on this very point and, although I cannot remember where I heard them, a statement is fixed on my mind to the effect that it is estimated that one-sixth of the land at pre-'sent used for wheat might suffer if the rotation were interrupted, but five-sixths would not be inconvenienced much, and none of that land would go out of cultivation. So we should not lose the use of the land at all, even if we adopted what some persons think the more sensible idea of allowing the production of wheat to be carried on in countries which are able to do it more economically than we can. There is also the question of the definition of the land that is to be used, and so forth. That also requires more detailed consideration than has been given.After we have given a guaranteed price on ordinary land.That means that people who have better than ordinary land are to receive excessive profits. The dairy farmer who grows wheat, perhaps, as a by-product is to have an excess profit also on his by-product. That is a point that is germane to the subject, and should he put forward as one of the reasons why we are opposing the Bill. With regard to the amount of land under cultivation, the Minister named a figure. I presume some of his details have come from the same source from which Dr. Addison took his details. Dr. Addison, in the "Farmer 1156 and Stock Breeder "of 30th November, said that suitable wheat was not capable of producing much more than 15 per cent. of our requirements. We are very near that at present, and much extension of this form of activity will not be capable of being indulged in.
I protest against this quota, because it is definitely a tax upon food. It is not only a tax upon a staple commodity, but upon a staple which is more important as trade becomes depressed. The greater the trade depression, the more important this commodity is, and I cannot understand why hon. Members countenance it as they are inclined to do. As to the question of who is going to pay, the Chairman of the National Association of Master Bakers states definitely that, in his opinion, the millers are not philanthropists, and they will not bear it, but it will be borne by the bakers and consumers. If I know the bakers, they will bear as little as they possibly can, and the people who swallow it will be the people who will bear the expense. The agricultural labourer is put up as a bogey to frighten us. I am deeply con-concerned with all people who perform a service for their living, and the agricultural labourer does that as well as anyone else. I wonder why the Minister could not give him a little more definite safeguard than he has done in the Bill. He has announced that the present Agricultural Wages Act is to be more strictly applied in the future. That means that there have been people who have not been getting those wages in the past. I should like to ask whether you are going to apply the Act more strictly by taking away six inspectors from the Board? Are you going to put them back on the list? I am rather doubtful whether there is any great anxiety on the benches opposite as to the agricultural workers. The publication to which I have referred with regard to this "Case for Agriculture" states that the crop at present is very unprofitable, and that this is mainly due to the wages fixed by the Wages Boards. So that you will have this very strong body of opinion pitting itself against any suggestion that the six inspectors might be put back or that the Minister of Agriculture should endeavour to tighten the machinery.
We have to be guided by what has happened elsewhere. I have here a reference in a Frankfort newspaper to the posi- 1157 tion of the quota in their country. It says that wages are reduced and the burden of taxation is great. But the immense sacrifices are accepted in order that, behind the tariff wall, the price of foodstuffs should be kept at a high level. Millions of pounds have been sacrificed to bolster up the agrarian illusion, from which the German peasant gets no benefit. They have a 90 per cent. quota of Protection, and yet the peasant is receiving no benefit. I object to this quota because it is undisguised Protection. It will give no advantage to the Exchequer, and it is protecting and subsidising an industry which represents a very small portion of the farming industry. The "Economist" in November last said that, if the experience of other countries is a guide, there will be continual pressure to raise the quota and, with it, the cost of bread, and, unless the Government propose to control wheat prices, a ring of British wheat growers will send British prices soaring. They go on to deal with other interests in farming which are represented in the House, and which have already given voice to what they desire in the very near future. The crisis in agriculture is not one affecting this country only. The Economic Council of the League of Nations has stated that agriculture is do-pressed everywhere, and in, Great Britain least of all; yet we are going to apply the expedient which has made other countries worse than we are and, for that reason, I object to it. It has been proved that war does not end war, and economic war will not end a trade war or a trade depression. The only way to do it is to recognise that the common people of all countries shall receive the wherewithal to live, not the life that they live at present, but a much better, fuller and more acceptable life than they have done.
An hon. Member referred to Scotland, and said that wheat production there was only 2 per cent. There is a working class organisation in Scotland which mills flour. I refer to the Co-operative Mills. They require special flour for the bread baked in Scotland. It is baked in a different way and requires to be treated differently. They are of the opinion that, with their 800,000 sacks of flour, they will require to purchase certificates of no less than £100,000 a year. They are also of the opinion that the Scottish bread requires 1158 20 per cent. of imported flour. They deem that to be essential. With a 10 per cent. tariff, that means 3s. on the sack already. Add that to the increase under the quota, and it will not be very long before the price of bread in Scotland goes up. In Scotland the earning class will not receive very much because they do not indulge in this form of production. The people of Scotland will have to pay for a quota which is of no use to them. An estimate has been made that the farmers will get back under the quota £250,000, but the people of Scotland will have to pay, because of the quota, no less than £750,000. An hon. Member whose speech I enjoyed yesterday stated that the Bill contained a message of hope for the farmers of the East. It will also contain a message giving hopes of affluence for farmers in the West and for those who are very well situated. It has also been termed "nationalisation without tears." Hon. Members may accept it as nationalisation, but it is not nationalisation without tears, because it will increase the anxieties of thousands of working class homes in the country, and may cause tears. Therefore, I am not prepared to accept the statement that there will be no tears. In the course of another maiden speech, we were told that it was very regretful that nothing had been done for the cow with the crumpled horn. We received evidence yesterday that the cow with the crumpled horn will crash its way through, as did other cows when they secured protection under the Import Duties Bill. They will do it quickly if the speeches which I have heard are any indication of what is intended in the future. I object to the Bill because of the serious effect it is likely to have upon the working classes.
§ Mr. R. J. RUSSELL
The Minister of Agriculture is to be congratulated, after the speech of the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard), that, at any rate, he has enabled this country to get from Scotland something for nothing. I congratulate him also upon the manner in which he has tackled the subject of the quota, and the Bill which he has produced. As one who for many years has been concerned with the whole question of agriculture, and especially the application of the quota principle, and knowing some of the difficulties which have faced 1159 the Minister during the past few months and how those difficulties have been overcome, I congratulate him upon the manner in which he has managed in the Bill to overcome those difficulties. The House is also to be congratulated upon the diligence and care with which it has examined the details of this complicated and novel Measure. We must not forget that at the present time we are facing such great difficulties in this country that they demand new methods of treatment, and in those new methods of treatment it must be the business of the House carefully to examine every step lest we make a mistake and go upon lines upon which we ought not to go. Some of us at all events on this side of the House have examined with care many of the Measures which have been introduced, because they cut across many of the principles which we have espoused for many years, and it has been with difficulty that we have agreed to some of them. None the less, we have, without hesitation, faced the fact that at the present time we have to cope with such conditions and that those conditions demand new applications in regard to the principles we have hitherto held.
As the Debate has proceeded, I have noticed an almost complete absence of an appreciation of the times in which we live, as compared with the times from which we have come. Some of the speeches which have been made might have been delivered in the good old days when Africa was still a jungle, Japan an almost unknown country and North America a place where our great aunts and uncles were rapidly going in order to find a living. We have not realised, as we ought to have realised, that we are to-day acting in consequence of what has been done in this House in the past. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. H. Morris) said that the condition of the farmer was largely the outcome of legislation by this House, and I agree. But would the hon. Member desire to undo much of the legislation which has been passed? Many of the Measures which have affected agriculture have been the direct result of the efforts of the intelligent predecessors of those of us who sit here. As one of their successors, I feel that it is up to me and those who sit on these benches to face the issue, because it is necessary that we should continue 1160 the progress made in the years that have gone. We cannot to-day go back to the old times *hen men received 10s. a week for working all the hours that God gave them. We have changed all that, and because of that we have now to face the new position, and in this Bill we are trying to face it. In the discussion which has taken place we have had enlightened speeches. We listened to the excellent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) and we have profited by it. We listened to the wonderful metaphors of the hon. and gallant Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) when he brought to us the "wolves of Protection" last night, and we were interested and amused. But we have to face the facts as they are to-day.
Although I dislike interference of any description with trade or with the life of the people, I support the Bill. There are great national reasons why I support it. I am not going to waste the time of the House by referring again to the oft-repeated questions as to the decay of agriculture, of neglected agriculturists and the effect upon the nation, but I would point out that the statistics for migration show that by far and away the greatest proportion of those who emigrate from this country have gone from the farm labouring classes. We have very largely depreciated and depleted employment in our countryside. I have listened to a great deal of comment upon the small amount of wheat produced in this country. Figures have been produced to show that after all it does not matter whether wheat is grown in this country or not. I wonder whether, when we touch upon the question of wheat, it is thoroughly realised that we touch upon the prime commodity in the food of the people. It is the one thing which goes to every table and into every home. If all the land in this country is to be brought into cultivation and kept under cultivation, we must grow wheat. It is sometimes disputed as to how much land will really go out of cultivation if we cease to grow wheat entirely, but it has been definitely put that 500,000 acres in this country would go out of cultivation if wheat was not grown. The land would become derelict.
There is one peculiar feature which I have not seen mentioned. Perhaps it comes home to me because of the peculiar circumstances of my early life. I was 1161 born within sight of a windmill, and on the other side there was the site of some large docks. In those early days the windmill was turning and grinding wheat. The docks were practically derelict. The windmill ceased to operate many years ago, but the docks have become the largest milling centre in this country. What does it mean? Side by side with that there is the fact that the country mills throughout all districts almost have been closing down. The millers have tried to get their mills to the nearest point of supply, and they have closed down in the centre of the country and gone to the port where they can most easily take up their supplies. It is a natural tendency in modern civilisation to give up the distribution of your industry over long distances and take it as near as possible to the source of the raw material. I wonder if I shall be stretching my imagination too far if I ask the House to consider that there is a possibility ultimately, if we cease to grow wheat in this country and the mills go right to the source of supply, that we may cease to be a milling nation. That has already happened to a very large extent in certain other industries. At the same docks 40 years ago there was a great industry dealing with the importation of live cattle and its slaughter. Tens of thousands of beasts were slaughtered at those docks and under the industry 40 subsidiary trades grew up, but the time came when it was decided to slaughter the cattle in the Argentine, and the whole of that industry was swept away. The industry went across the seas to its source of supply, with the result that to-day there is a tendency to supply this country with its meat in cartels right from the place where the meat is grown.
It is the business of this House to look a, long way ahead. One of the things we have to do is to take such action to-day as will anchor our milling industry to this country, and we must see to it that not only does it prosper, but also, at the same time, we must develop agriculture as we desire it to be developed. It has been declared for a couple of generations by report after report that wheat is the key of the agricultural situation. I am not going to stress that point. The strange thing in this House is that nobody seems to know anything about agriculture if he happens to be engaged in it. A farmer may make reports but, of course, 1162 he knows nothing about it. We have to go to the townsmen if we want to know anything about agriculture. The House has not yet been told, as it might have been, what an essential crop wheat is to agriculture. It is not only a question of the extent to which wheat is grown. Wheat is one of the very deep-rooted crops. Oats will take their nourishment out of the first six inches of soil, but wheat will take its nourishment six feet below the surface. It is essential in the rotation of crops from that standpoint.
There is also the question of animal agriculture. In animal agriculture it is absolutely essential that you should have something with which you can tread in your manure. I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members fully realise that it is no more possible to treat land with artificial manures and keep on doing it than it is to feed a man all the time on patent foods and patent medicines. You must have something else to put into your land. Take a concrete example. I have in mind a farm of 500 acres where they import 1,000 tons of straw manure in order that it may be put into the land to produce the necessary crops of potatoes. There is a limit to artificials, whether on the land or elsewhere. We have to deal with the question of wheat in order to safeguard the feeding stuffs of our stock.
I agree with many hon. Members who have said that the future of agriculture is largely with livestock—with animals and animal products. What is the best way of increasing animal products? Not long ago the Department published a book in which there appeared the following statement:From all parts of the country there is evidence that owing to the violent fluctuations in recent years of the prices of feeding stuffs, pig-breeding among farmers, smallholders and allotment holders is on the wane. The feeding stuffs specially mentioned were middlings and maize meal. Close examination shows that the price variations of middlings have had a more deleterious effect upon the pig industry than those of maize or barley.In other words, the best way in which to increase animal agriculture is to increase the amount of wheat feed in this country. It is estimated that at the present time we have something like 1,750,000 tons of wheat feed consumed in this country, but there is a potentiality of something over 3,000,000 tons 1163 of wheat feed in the country. Therefore, the more we can reduce the importation of foreign flour—I would go a much longer way than this Bill—and put in its place grain and milling and so increase our wheat feed, the better. If, side by side with that, we can induce the millers, as I think we can, so to help the farmers that they will know at the beginning of the year, approximately, what their offals are going to cost later in the year, we shall be doing the greatest possible thing to stimulate animal agriculture. A great deal could be done at the present time along those lines. Our greatest contribution towards the increase of the animal population in agriculture is to increase offals at home.
I am glad that the Bill does not suggest that all land must be ploughed. If there is one thing that has struck me, it is the sanity of the Bill in facing this problem. It does not go to any extraordinary lengths. I was a little afraid what one was going to see in the Bill. I thought that perhaps we might have something extravagant, which might induce people to go ploughing up land all over the place. That would do nothing but harm. We need to insist that the land which is best for wheat shall be kept on wheat, and the result will be to bring all other forms of agriculture into a sense of prosperity. If we do not do that, and the land falls down to grass, the result will be disastrous. One cannot help being amused sometimes at the contentions of the man who takes a walk across a field and declares that the field should be put down to grass. If some land went down to grass and sheep were put upon it, we should have, very quickly, the sheep on their knees, praying to be taken off it. It cannot be done. The way in which we must face the problem is along the lines suggested in the Bill.
Let me say a few words on the vexed question of price, and who is going to pay. I have spent a. good deal of time in trying to find out how much this Bill is going to cost, and I think the Minister is a bit too generous in the figure that he has put down. I have never yet been able to work out a figure of more than one-ninth of a penny on the 2 lb. loaf. To get that small figure I have been able 1164 to throw away entirely all offals, and to let them have the benefit of that and the other things that are contingent upon the process. It is all very well to prophesy what is going to happen tomorrow, but what happened yesterday? Is it not true that, in so far as the price put down in the Bill is concerned, in 1924–5–6–7–8 and even in September, 1929, that price was exceeded on the market? Therefore, having regard to what happened in those years, if the conditions in those years should recur the Bill will not cost the consumer, the miller or anybody else anything. They will get all the money that is in the Bill.
Suppose the cost is passed on to the consumer. What has been the result in other years? Let us take 1929–39, when the loaf was 8½d. and the price of English wheat varied from 9s. to 7s. I am omitting decimals. At that time Manitoba wheat varied from 51s. to 37s., a much larger variation than there is in this Bill, and yet the price of bread remained at the same level. When the price of bread was at 9d., the variation in the price of English wheat was from 10s. to 8s., and of Manitoba wheat from 58s. to 47s. These figures mean very much more than appear on the surface. When you have satisfied your highest quota, it is only a small percentage of the increased material which is bearing the higher price. If the price was, say, £1 and the quota percentage was 10, it would mean on the whole amount of wheat only 2s. per quarter, or. cutting out offals, 1/9d. on the 2 lb. loaf. It is noteworthy from the figures that bread prices have remained about the same throughout. Yet we hear all this talk about the coming rise in the price of the loaf. Hon. Members must not overlook the fact that bakers and traders generally do not always want a reason but only an excuse to raise the price, and it is for us to see to it that if it is only an excuse, they are brought to book.
Many hon. Members will have read the Linlithgow Report in which there was issued a return showing the general price level of bread throughout the country. The price of bread at that time varied from 7½d. to 1s. 1d. per 4-lb. loaf. I believe that within the industry itself there is ample margin to deal with the small amount of increase that will be brought about under the quota system. We have reached a point at which no in- 1165 dustry can hope to carry on without reference to the industries that are dependent upon it. A most encouraging thing in the Bill is the fact that we have got together the miller, the baker, the farmer and all those who are interested, with the single desire to co-operate in the national interest. That is a great thing. When industry in this country gets on to the ethical meaning as well as the economical meaning, we shall see a new day dawning. There is an old saying of Demosthenes that,To find fault is easy and in every man's power, but to point out a remedy is the proof of a wise councillor.I congratulate the Minister on having given that proof.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I do not rise to take part in this Debate as one who understands a great deal about the farming industry, but I am sure that hon. Members will allow one who is rather a novice to state one or two objections he has to the Measure. I desire to associate myself with the Amendment moved by the official Opposition. It states a point of view which is absolutely accepted by those who hold the Socialist point of view. It is essential that we should not adopt an entirely negative policy, like that adopted by a section of the Liberal party, and that in opposing this Measure we should be constructive as well and put forward an alternative scheme. I would rather have seen the National Government tackle this question in the way they have tackled other problems in the last few months. They might have put a tariff on wheat coming into this country and thus appeased that section of their supporters which are clamouring and demanding taxes upon food. But they have adopted a more cunning device, and propose to pass this tax on to the bread of the people, not by an orthodox method of Protection, but by compelling the consumer to pay into this pool for which farmers are to draw a tax on the bread consumed in this country. Perhaps it was too much to expect the Liberal section of the Government to swallow completely a tariff on food. But while they are prepared to dissent from a direct tariff on meat and potatoes they are prepared to subscribe to a bread tax imposed in this way on the staple article of food of the lowest-paid section of the 1166 people. They may ease their consciences and go every week-end to Edinburgh and, elsewhere, and hold counsel with the hierarchy, but I am sure that the people of the country will not be misled by the line of demarcation which is attempted to be set up between the Tariff Reformer and the dissenting section of the Cabinet.
The Minister of Agriculture has given us a detailed explanation of this Measure. I do not condemn the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman to put the farming industry on its feet. Capitalism has put it on its back, and the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to revive a dead man. We are suffering in this world from a glut of wheat production. Wheat is coming into this country at a lower price than the farmers desire, and we are seeking by this Bill to give them a, guaranteed price for their wheat. I cone gratulate the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are obeying the dictates of a section of the exploiting community which has helped to put them on those benches, giving them bribes and guaran, tees in order to keep their continued support, and are carrying out these measures in a proper class way. If I may say so without presumption, I hope that the Labour party will take a leaf out of their book, and when they are in office will carry out, on behalf of their supporters, who are the exploited part of the community, measures which will attack the exploiting section in the same way.
In these days it seems to me we are passing on trouble from one to another. The farmer is passing on his troubles to the Government, and the Government are passing them on to the community. It reminds me of the story of a Jew who, being in desperate straits, was walking: up and down the bedroom into the early hours of the morning. His wife remonstrated with him and said, "Isaac, who cannot you come to bed and sleep?" He said, "I cannot sleep, Rebecca; I cannot come to bed because I owe Mantel-stein £100 which I have to pay at 10 o'clock to-morrow morning, and I have not the money." Rebecca thereupon jumped out of bed, threw up the window and called out, "Mantelstein," who lived opposite. After she had done so several times, a sleepy voice said, "What is it r and Rebecca replied," I want to tell you that Isaac cannot pay you that £100 because he has not the money." And with 1167 that she shut down the window and said to Isaac, "Come to bed and sleep. Mantelstein will now do the walking up and down." That is exactly what is going to happen in this case. The consumer is going to do the prancing, wondering how he is going to square his accounts in his home in order to balance the budget and pay the money which the farmers demand.
It is all very well to pass on the trouble to the other fellow, to satisfy the demands of the farmers, but we have to recognise that the purchasing powers of the working-classes of this country are very limited, and that a large proportion of their income goes in bread. If a man and wife with two in family, spend 4s.-per week in bread out of an income of 27s. 3d.—not an exhorbitant sum—it is one-seventh of the entire income, but a man who is a Cabinet Minister, or a Prime Minister, enjoying the salary of about £80 per week, who pays 4s. per week in bread, is only paying one-fourhundredth part of his income. And there is also the prospect of the addition suggested by the "Manchester Guardian," of one halfpenny being passed on for a period of the year on the two-pound loaf. It is all very well for one hon. Member to suggest that it is only one-tenth of a penny, laid for another hon. Member to say that he cannot make it more than one-ninth of a penny. We know that in the working out-of these things the farmers, millers and others in the thieves' kitchen will pass on just as much as they can. If we have one halfpenny passed on it will be a not inconsiderable addition to the cost of the staple article of food in thousands of working-class homes, and we have no right to pass on a burden to a section of the community which should not be asked to bear it. It is a burden which you have no right as civilised human beings to expect them to bear.
You may pass this Bill, but I suggest that by these methods, by your wages cuts, your dole cuts, your means test, your tariffs, your Abnormal Imports Act, and this tax on bread you are doing more than any gold-fed organisation of Moscow in this country to sow the seeds of a revolutionary movement which will yet be something with which you will have to grapple. Hon. Members may laugh and think that I am exaggerating, 1168 but, although I do not know a great deal about farming, I know something about the mind of the common people and their actions, activities and developments, and I can see growing up in this country a revolutionary movement created by hon. Members opposite by a misuse of their powers in carrying out these vicious schemes against the lowest-paid sections of the community. You are dealing death and destruction to some sections of the working classes. You may get by this Bill what you desire for the farming community, with its antiquated ideas of production. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] have been round many farms, and I am certain that we want a drastic reorganisation of the farming industry.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Then God help the other industries. No wonder that the country is in its present pitiable plight. Organisation is essential. The farming industry could be organised by the State taking over the land of the country. We suggest that the whole system is worn out. Every industry is clamouring for assistance. In bygone days it was said that industry wars all right, there must be no State interference, politicians must not be allowed to touch industry. To-day, industry, which is incapable of readjusting itself to changing world conditions, comes here clamouring for interviews with Cabinet Ministers and departmental chiefs. Assist the coal trade, assist the iron and steel trade and the shipbuilding trade, assist the woollen and the cotton industries, and assist the farmers. I suggest that if the country is in such a bankrupt state after this House has passed something like 2,000 laws, then our progress has been backward, not forward. We should get specimens of the working men and put them in a museum, with the label, "They died in trying to live—the results of gradualism."
The farming industry is the same. The right hon. Gentleman makes the best of a bad job and brings in this Bill to give the farmers a guaranteed price. When we ask for a guaranteed wage for the labour of farm labourers we are told that we must trust the farmer. I would as soon trust an anti-betting league to a bookmaker or a temperance society to a 1169 brewery as trust the farmers to pay good wages to their workers. I know quite well that farmers are prepared to exploit their workers to the utmost degree. I have never known a more unreasonable section of the employing community than the farming community of this country. [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] Hon. Members may differ from me, but I can say with all sincerity that often the amount of dissent from my statements is exactly what is required to convince me that I am right. The farming community are not prepared to pay decent wages in return for labour. If the Government are going to give a guaranteed price to the farmer, they should give a fair and guaranteed price to the man who will sow the wheat and mow the wheat. The Government come along and say, "The labourer is also to get a guarantee," and when we ask for the guarantee they say, "Trust the farmers." It is just as the bogus Christian mentions the word of God in order to make you believe that he is a Christian. I am confident that farm labourers are not going to get out of this industry what we are told they will get, and we are entitled to expect guarantees.
Changes are essential in the farming industry. The only honourable way of dealing with the problem would be for the State to take over the whole concern and run it as a State industry for the good of all the people instead of for the good of a few. If the Government did that they would at least justify their existence. I know that hon. Members opposite will not agree with that view. No matter whether creeping paralysis passes over industry or not they will hold on to it so long as they can, until the clutching hand of the working class is upon them and compels them to surrender to society that to which society is entitled. The poor to-day are undergoing a gruelling time, with all the impositions that have been placed upon them, and the Government are adding to the burden by this Bill. I was always taught to respect a man when he was in the Government, but seemingly the action of so-called gentlemen is to take with all their might and to administer all the punishment possible to the workers when they are down in the gutter. I do not admire that attitude.
1170 The Front Bench to-day, the Cabinet, are acting just as Al Capone and Jack Diamond dealt with things in America. But Al Capone and Jack Diamond got round a table and discussed how they were going to break the laws of society in order to rob society. The modern Al Capones get on to the Government Front Bench and decide that they will alter the laws in order to assist their friends by legalised force. Jack Diamond and Al Capone took the risk of imprisonment and death, but the modern politician of the gangster type takes no risk; he is the legalised robber whom the policeman salutes as he passes through the front gate. He is the modern Dick Turpin. I say to hon. Members opposite, you are acting on these methods fairly successfully. Some of us do not know a great deal about the farming industry, but we do know something about the ultimate punishment that is bound to ensue as a result of this Measure. We know that you are going to fill the pockets of your friends, but in the process you are also going to fill the graves of a large number of working-class children. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may dissent and they are entitled to dissent. I think I am very successful to-night when I see so much antagonism being displayed.
I do not want to appear as a modern angel. There are so many experts on farming in the House that to be a novice is rather out of place. There are so many modern angels in this House that to be a bit of a devil is sometimes to be admired. You are pursuing a vindictive and cunning policy in this House; of that there is no doubt. Ultimately you will create in this country something that will destroy yourselves. If an election were to take place within six or 12 months of the applications of all these schemes of yours, the sweep would be just as great against the National Government as it was in its favour a few months ago. I say to the Liberal Members of the Cabinet that again they are making the most of two worlds. They are safeguarding their lines of communication. They see the drift that is bound to take place, and they want to keep contact with the outer world; but when the fall of the National Government does occur I predict that the Liberal dissenting Ministers will not be inside the temple; they will have escaped by a side door in order to 1171 try to get an advantage out of the accumulations of indignation against the National Government. They will try to take advantage of the country's outraged feeling in order to help their own party.
I am watching the manoeuvres. I am watching hon. Members' attitude in this House, not because I am indifferent to the accumulation of sufferings of the people outside. I know that progress can be made only through suffering. I know that the working classes are enduring a long night of darkness and despair, but I can see in the distance the gleam of that Socialist light that will usher in a new system of society amidst the confusion, the outraged feelings, the desolation, death and destitution. I can see the rising and growing band of workers who are determined to have justice for themselves, their wives and their families, who know the results of your orders and your Bills, sending workers into national institutions, sending children into sanatoria because of lack of the essentials of life, and all that in a world teeming with wealth and all the food and nourishment that are required. The workers will come for you yet with that clutching hand, and they will get you, and drive you out of your seats of power to make way for the working class to run this country in a humane and civilised way instead of in the brutal and cunning way that you as a National Government have adopted.
§ Captain SOTHERON-ESTCOURT
In venturing to address the House for the first time, I ask that the indulgence which is usually shown to new Members may be shown to me—an indulgence which has been granted to other Members who have lived before me, whose name I bear and who have had the privilege of contributing to the Debates in this House. I welcome this opportunity of speaking, because I believe that the provisions of the Bill 'will go a long way towards solving the difficulties with which the farmers of this country have been faced for a long time past. These difficulties have as their source causes of varying degree, economic, technical, social and industrial, some of them temporary, others of a more permanent character. I maintain that no legislation will be of much service to the agricultural industry unless it has a quality of permanence, 1172 extending over a term of years. The Bill provides benefits which will be available in respect of home-grown wheat of millable quality harvested not only in 1932 but in subsequent years. I, therefore, claim that the Bill is a Bill of a permanent character. The necessity for a policy which has some degree of permanence has been repeatedly stated. It has never been explained more clearly that in the Report of the Imperial Economic Conference Council in 1931, on the subject of the wheat situation. Here is a short extract:Purely industrial manufacturers who produce to order can meet a declining demand by closing down their plants and reducing output, but producers of primary products, particularly farm crops, cannot make a correspondingly quick adjustment of reduction to the fall in demand. Consequently the price of such products tends to fall more heavily.That explains the position very clearly. In order to deal with the present problem we must have legislation of a permanent character. The whole situation to-day presents a problem of vast magnitude, not only to this country, but to the Empire and the world. When depression afflicts the economic life of the great majority of civilised countries, when industrial output is diminishing, when the urban population is struggling against an increasing volume of unemployment, the world as a whole is faced with a superabundance of wheat, and the farmer is faced with prices which mean that vast areas of wheat-growing land do not pay for the cost of cultivation. I have taken some trouble to go into the factors which contribute to the depression in wheat prices. It has been argued that the fall in wheat prices is due to lack of consumption. I do not hold that view. In the report to which I have alluded it is stated that:The world's demand for Wheat is increasing in consequence of the growth of population.7.0 p.m.
It is a fact that the demand for the wheat in the world has grown not only absolutely but also relatively—I mean the per head consumption. Therefore, if it is not lessening in consumption which is responsible for this fall in prices, it follows there must be over-production. Indeed, this seems to be the case. During the last 30 years there has been an increase of 100,000,000 acres in the area under wheat. Again, new countries have 1173 entered into the export market. Especially in this respect we must note the sudden entry of Russia in the years 1930 and 1931. The figures of production in the case of Russia are extraordinary. In 1929, she produced 703,000,000 bushels, and in 1930 this production had risen to 1,084,000,000 bushels, an increase of 381,000,000 bushels, which is a total to be compared with the total Canadian crop of 1930. Then, again, restrictive policies have been pursued by some of the West European importing countries—restrictive policies which have been implemented by duties, by State monopolies, by licences, by import boards, and also by quota legislation.
Further, as the result of the operations of farm boards and wheat pools in countries like Australia, the United States and Canada, we have a great aggregation of these crops, especially in North America. In the four years ending July, 1931, the stocks in North America rose from 223,000,000 bushels to 450,000,000 bushels. Added to that, we have the spread of industrial depression throughout the world, which, added to the abundant supplies and the visible stocks of wheat throughout the world, has destroyed confidence and driven the level of wheat prices to the lowest point since 1895. During this period of falling prices British wheat growers have been exposed to the full force of competition of cheap wheat prices, and the restrictive policies, to which I have referred, have intensified this competition by making the United Kingdom, to an extent even greater than existed in pre-War days, the one great wheat-importing country of the world. Indeed, with the exception of the Irish Free State and Denmark, this country is the only free wheat-importing market in Europe. It has been evident for some time that this state of things could not continue.
For reasons, into which I shall not enter now, I believe that this Bill, by providing a secure market and an enhanced price for wheat of millable quality grown in this country, will benefit not only wheat growers but farmers as a whole, and, indeed, the whole community. If we get more land under wheat and under the plough, it is not only the farmer and the ploughman who benefit, but also the man who makes the plough. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for North- 1174 East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) who said last night that he was speaking as a townsman on behalf of the townsmen. But, if you can get more ploughs to work, it follows, especially nowadays—because the ploughs are made in the towns—that it is the townsman also who will benefit from this policy. Therefore, I claim that I am right in maintaining that this Bill will benefit not only the wheat grower, not only the ploughman, but all sections of the community. It is rather remarkable that the agricultural population of this country has expressed their views on wheat in no uncertain fashion. At three great mass non-political meetings which took place in the spring of 1930 at Cambridge, Salisbury and York, mass meetings which were representative of thousands of landowners, farmers and farm workers, all over this country, one resolution alone was put to the meetings and passed unanimously, that wheat must be put on a profit-showing basis. By preventing more land being put under grass, and perhaps by causing some of the land under grass now to be ploughed up, not only the wheat grower but the dairy farmer, the stock raiser and the grazier will benefit and be free from some of the competition which now threatens them from the ex-arable farms.
I maintain also that this Bill will be a great national advantage by keeping people on the land. I know it is a debatable point, but I believe that arable land in many districts of this country employs three times as much labour as grass land. I believe that, when the full effects of this Bill are felt, some 750,000 more men and women will be employed directly and indirectly in agriculture than are employed at present. I am one of those who believe that the strength, the manhood, and the vitality of this country depend ultimately on agriculture. To keep and to increase the population on the land is a national need. Rural exodus from the country into the town is to be avoided, even though in doing so we may have to make substantial sacrifices. The worker's home and the cultivation of the land are things to work for. They are ends in themselves which it is the legitimate aim of public policy to secure. Therefore I welcome this Bill, because I believe it is a practical Measure, and I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentlemen who are responsible for the introduction 1175 of this Bill. I hope, indeed, it will receive the support which it deserves from all parts of this House not excluding the Front Opposition Bench, for they will admit that the apparition of a quota is not altogether a strange phenomenon to them. In conclusion, I maintain that this Bill is a long-sighted, far-reaching Measure, and is a production most worthy of this great National Government.
§ Miss MEGAN LLOYD GEORGE
I am sure I shall be expressing the wishes of the whole House in congratulating the hon. Member upon his very admirable maiden speech. He said that he supports this Bill because he believes it to be thoroughly practicable; I oppose this Bill because I believe it to be thoroughly impracticable. As I represent a constituency where, out of 140,000 acres of crops and grass, only 88 acres are under wheat, it is not very surprising that I do not share the enthusiasm for this scheme which many hon. Members have shown this afternoon. The quota has been through many vicissitudes, and has undergone many changes. First of all, it was the taxpayer who was to pay for this scheme, but that has been abandoned owing to the exigencies of the time. No one could contemplate that at this moment the Exchequer could expend a sum of approximately £5,000,000, not upon agriculture as a whole but upon a section which represents nearly 3 per cent., or thereabouts, of agricultural production. So the original method has been abandoned, but the scheme itself has been revived, and the money has to come from somewhere. Nobody can imagine that the millers have withdrawn their opposition and have accepted this scheme because they are to get lower profits, or simply for the sake of assisting the Eastern counties, although that is a thing which, we all agree, is greatly to be desired if it can be done on an economic basis.
The hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate this afternoon said that the Minister of Agriculture had finally disposed of the idea that the price of bread might be increased to any extent. The Minister of Agriculture, in one part of his speech yesterday, said that he did not think there would be a permanent increase in the price of bread. Shortly afterwards in the same speech he said that he hoped that the citizens of 1176 the towns would be prepared to assist the farmers, whose lot had been such a hard one. There seems some difference of opinion as to the extent of the liability, but, obviously, there can be no doubt as to the fact that there will be a liability of some kind. The shifting of the burden, which the Secretary of State for Scotland said would be a violation of the pledge given by the National Government, has already begun. This is only the second load to be transferred. The National Government claim that they have the support of Members of all parties. I do not think they will claim that their policy is equally representative. I shall not say where I see the greatest deficiency, but I do agree with the hon. Member who said in the Debate yesterday that there was undoubtedly a tinge of Socialism about this Measure. I am sure the hon. Members would not be so eager to support it if they had been conscious of it. But there is a great deal of reactionary revolution about it. One of the main planks in the platform of the Socialist party has been the redistribution of income by the State. That has been done, and is being done, by the Government, but not in the way which the Labour party contemplated. It is a sort of "Socialism through the Looking Glass." The principle is the same, but the redistribution is the other way round.
That feature is even more obvious in this Bill than it was in the Measures which were passed last week. The burden of the direct taxpayer has obviously been moved on to the shoulders of the indirect taxpayer and in such a way that it must inevitably press most hardly upon those who are least able to bear it. I should hardly have thought that this was a scheme which would have commended itself to the Home Secretary. From the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman in Glasgow on Saturday last it was clear that he had not changed his mind about the quota or about the principle of the quota, which he has declared in many speeches to be a vicious one. I do not think that he would to-day love the quota quite so much, did he not love the National Government more. Last week he and his colleagues agreed to differ. This week, they are following the same arrangement, only they have swallowed the difference. I 1177 seem to remember that the Home Secretary has more than once twitted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), whom we all sadly miss, upon his frequent changes of place and of opinion. But I think that this at any rate can be said about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping—that he believes passionately in the things that he does believe in at the moment. That obviously cannot be said, to the same degree, about the Home Secretary.
This Measure is not even a compromise between the various sections of the National Government. There is no quid pro quo about it. A distinguished Member of this House once said about another Measure of the same doubtful character, that he could see the quid but where was the quo? I think we may say the same of this Measure. I believe that no single tax that has been imposed up to date will fall with such severity upon those who have the slenderest incomes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last week that he could not include meat in the Measure then under consideration because of the danger of raising the price and thus affecting the poorest households. But meat this not nearly so important nor so indispensable a part of the working man's daily fare as bread is. It may be said that it is only a matter of a halfpenny on the 4 lb. loaf, and that that is a very paltry and insignificant sum. Even if this halfpenny is the limit which may be expected as a result of the home quota, this is only half of the scheme, and the liability here is only less than half of the total liability.
I do not know how far I am permitted to refer to the Conference at Ottawa, but perhaps I may make a passing reference to it without going out of bounds. It is perfectly clear that if Ottawa means anything at all, it means an extension of the burden and, in all probability, a very serious extension. If the home quota of 6,000,000 qrs. means a burden of a halfpenny on the 4 lb. loaf, what would an extension of those advantages to the Dominions mean? Canada sent us 5,000,000 qrs. last year, and her export surplus has varied from 52,000,000 qrs. to 22,000,000 qrs., and again, in 1929–30, to 34,000,000 qrs. In Australia surpluses have varied from 8,000,000 qrs. to 1178 15,000,000 qrs. in the last year or two. It is obvious that they will not be satisfied with securing a market only, but that they will, quite reasonably, demand a guaranteed price. As far as Canada is concerned, Mr. Bennett has made the position clear. He has said definitely that the primary concern of Canada is, profitably, to sell its wheat. He has expressed the belief that the way to a solution of the problem is to establish a better market in Great Britain. If we are to strike a bargain which is satisfactory to them we can safely assume that it will cost us dear. I do not believe that the taxation of one part of the Empire for the benefit of another has ever been a very happy Imperial policy. Whatever its merits may have been in the past, whatever its merits may be to-day, it has not had the advantage, nor will it have the advantage, of binding the Empire in closer union.
The Secretary of State for Scotland told us last night that this Bill was only a temporary lifebuoy thrown to the wheat grower. He went on, in a very significant phrase, to say that this temporary assistance was to be given while the necessary process of adaptation—which we fully realise is necessary to the new economic condition—is proceeding. We are entitled to know, and the farmers are entitled to know whether that means that the Government policy is to encourage the growing of wheat, or whether they wish to give time to agriculture to turn from Wheat to things which might be more profitably produced. Does it mean a change of policy in that direction? We might also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is expressing the opinion of the dissentient Ministers or whether he is expressing the policy of the Government. They are two widely different things, and have had, so far, no relation to each other whatever. We all realise that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are in a somewhat embarrassing and delicate situation. During the Election they made pledges that they would not accept food taxes. Can the reason for that very significant phrase of the right hon. Gentleman be that he is anxious to prove that, while he may be prepared and indeed has been prepared to accept food taxes of a temporary character, he would not be prepared to accept food taxes of a permanent character? I hope that these 1179 things may be explained to us later in this Debate. It is a little difficult to understand the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who opposed food taxes last week and voted against the Government to which they belong, on that issue, and who this week, with equal readiness, are prepared to support this Bill which will also raise the price of food.
I have been told that it is always a mistake in this House to discuss matters upon which one has had no practical experience, but having done it several times already I may perhaps be permitted to embark upon that course once again. Several Members have compared the National Government to a matrimonial alliance. All I would say is that you have only to look at the Front Bench to see that it is not a love-match. It is not an affair of the heart. It is obviously a marriage of convenience, and there is incompatibility of temperaments and tastes. They do not even try as some ill-assorted couples do, to keep up appearances. We have seen that they can hardly be civil to each other in public. There is some indication that, at any rate, the Home Secretary and his colleagues have now realised that the only thing to do to avert a separation is to cultivate the art of give and take, and to give way always on small things. When the larger issues arise, well, there are always larger issues still.
No one can deny that the wage-earner is less able to bear the strain of indirect taxation now than at any time since the War. An hon. Member who spoke recently from below the Gangway made a very powerful appeal upon that ground. It is obvious that this imposition is being put upon them after a long period of privation and distress. We have it on the authority of a perfectly impartial commentator, the "Ministry of Labour Gazette," that there was a decline during 1921 in the average level of wage rates, exceeding the record in any year since 1922—a decline which has affected about 3,000,000 people, to the extent of about £20,000,000 a year. That is a very serious drop. We may add to those 3,000,000 people their dependants. That is a figure at which it is very difficult to arrive, because in many cases members of families of those people may be augmenting with their earnings the income of the home. In any ease the dependants form 1180 a fairly large addition. Then there is another section, namely, the workers not employed for a full week or for full pay, who do not qualify for unemployment benefit and whose resources are sadly depleted. Finally, there is the despondent army of the unemployed who, as has already been said, have suffered cuts direct and indirect in their meagre benefit.
It may be said, on the other hand, that prices have been abnormally low. That may be true, but that does not affect rents, which remain at an altogether abnormally and disproportionately high level. It is also perfectly true to say that in many areas, before these cuts took place, the unemployed were totally unable to meet their food bills. As a result, they ran up bad debts, and as a result of that, many of the shopkeepers in those areas went bankrupt. That has happened in my own country. But if that has happened in times which we must consider now as having been more favourable to the unemployed, what is going to happen now that a rise in prices is imminent and inevitable? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us quite openly that there will be a rise in the cost of living, and when those accumulated stores of which he spoke in his first speech on the Imports Bill are exhausted, and when the rise in certain commodities that have to be purchased in countries still on the Gold Standard takes effect, their condition will become a pitiable one.
We have endured, I suppose, a more prolonged and a more acute industrial depression than any other of our allied neighbouring countries since the War, and yet there has been no starvation in this country, but, on the other hand, there have been thousands of people who have been suffering from malnutrition and undernourishment. There is no question about that. We have only to pick up the reports upon maternal mortality and upon child disabilities and diseases to realise the full truth of that. All these impositions, including this last one of the paltry halfpenny, must inevitably increase the number of those people who are under-nourished and underfed. I shall oppose this Bill on the ground that it will promote the interests of one small section of the agricultural community while ignoring the needs of 1181 agriculture as a whole, and because—and this is, in my judgment, an even graver charge against the Bill—it will impose further burdens upon the people who are least able" to bear them.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who has just addressed the House and has given so eloquent and, if I may be permitted to say so, delightful a speech, has confined herself to one point, the same point as that to which other hon. Members on the opposite benches have confined themselves, and that is, an anticipated rise in the cost of living. This question, however, must be looked at from a wide angle, from the point of view of its effect on employment, of the need of keeping the exchange at a proper level, and of its effect on the general national welfare. Even when regarded from the point of view of the cost of living, I venture to think that the Minister of Agriculture successfully disposed of the objections to the Bill in the speech which he made to the House yesterday. The Bill has been eagerly awaited by the agricultural community for several months, and it fulfils fairly adequately the pledge that was given to provide them with a market and a, reasonable price for their wheat grown in this land. I, like many other speakers, regret the terminology which has been employed in the Bill by the draftsmen. It seems rather unfortunate, when quite simple things have to be said, that they should be so framed that practically no one can understand what they mean.
I take the view that our national advancement and prosperity demand a progressive and prosperous agricultural industry, and that the welfare of the industrialist must always be very closely linked up with that of the agriculturist. Agriculture has been referred to rather slightingly, I think, in the course of this Debate. It does not seem to be generally recognised that it is the third largest industry in the country, and that it would be a disaster if it were allowed to wilt and to die. The Bill will improve the position of agriculture, not so much by the subvention which it gives, as by restoring the balance of cropping on the farm lands of the country. Comment has been made in the course of the Debate upon the fact that the wheat grown in the country forms such a small proportion of the total produce of the land, 1182 but in those localities in which wheat is grown it forms a very considerable proportion—much more than 4 per cent.—of the output of that section of the country.
The Bill is necessary because of the interference by Parliament with the industry. I believe that that interference was right and proper—interference with the regulation of hours of labour and conditions of employment—but, if you interfere with one side of the industry, it inevitably follows that you must do something to restore the balance. The wheat crop is the crop upon which the agriculturist in the Eastern counties is dependent for the payment of his wage bill, and that crop commands a lower price now than it has ever been known to command since records were kept. Farmers have been obliged, therefore, to give up the growing of this crop. Agriculture is a delicately balanced business and is easily disturbed. Let me give a simple illustration. Sheep are bred in the mountains; they are brought down from the hill country to be fed on roots in the South, and they produce meat and at the same time fertiliser for the soil from which the cereals are grown. Agriculture has a very complicated cycle, and, if there is a break in the chain, the whole industry inevitably tends to suffer. There is no question but that there has been a very bad break in the cycle and the farmer has been subjected from overseas to fierce competition which he is quite unable to meet.
Some here have urged that more attention should be devoted by the agriculturist to the growing of fruit and vegetables. I agree that those are very desirable lines of development. At the same time, I would point out that it is not everywhere that you can grow fruit and vegetables. Questions such as accessibility to markets, the height above sea level, frost belts, composition of soils, temperature, and even prevailing winds, quite apart from capital and experience, all have to be considered. This Bill will tend to keep under wheat cultivation land which would otherwise have to be abandoned and would become derelict. I think the price which has been inserted in the Bill, although it is not a price which will satisfy all wheat growers, is at any rate a reasonable price, and it has the merit that it will not tend to attract to wheat cultivation land which 1183 might be used in other ways perhaps more suitably.
Hon. Members opposite, when they sat on this side of the House a few months ago, were constantly saying that they were going to do something for agriculture, and we have heard, in the course of the Debate this evening, in the speech made, I think, by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), to whom we on this side are always glad to listen, that the late Minister of Agriculture did in fact prepare a quota scheme. That scheme must inevitably have dealt with the questions of price and markets. His colleagues, it appears, turned down the scheme because they preferred the policy of the nationalisation of land, although it has never been made clear to me how such a policy would make the land produce more or how it would in any way be better for those who are associated with its cultivation.
At the present time agriculture is a sweated industry. Although the party opposite, when they sat on this side, were content to let it remain a sweated industry, we on this side are not content with the present situation of the industry. We hold that a living wage is due, and must be paid, not only to the farmer, but to the man who works with him; and employment is the keystone of our policy. But how is that living wage to be forthcoming unless the produce won from the soil can be made to realise a fair market price? The importance of the cultivation of grass generally can easily be over-estimated. It is only suitable to certain localities where there is a considerable rainfall, and moreover in any case it is a matter of national importance that land, as far as possible, should be kept under the plough. As has already been pointed out, about three men are required to cultivate 100 arable acres, and it may easily mean more than that, but that is the minimum figure, while one man only is required for 200 acres under grass. There is more money per acre to be won from arable land than from grass land, and that money is sadly needed to maintain our trade balance, to keep down our imports, and to save our country from serious trouble as a result of these unnecessary imports.
I see in this Bill many advantages. There is not going to be a tariff of any kind on imported wheat, and those who 1184 use wheat for feeding stuffs—and they are many in this country, such as poultrymen and others—will not in any way be disturbed. There is, in all parts of the House, general agreement that something must be done. The Bill is needed, and action must be taken, and I believe that this is a workable Measure. At the same time, I would ask the Minister to consider whether it will not be possible to provide that the anticipated supply to rank for quota payments should in all cases be the maximum figure in the Bill. This does not visualise a greater cost, but it does visualise a sure and certain market for the wheat producer. I also think that the right hon. Gentleman might raise somewhat the acreage which he has in mind. The Bill provides for about 1,800,000 acres, but as mechanisation proceeds—and it is proceeding fairly rapidly in some districts—so is land released, because where farming land with horses a considerable number of acres have to be devoted to providing the food which those horses require. Therefore mechanisation has the added advantage of freeing more land on which to grow the food of the people.
I am not one of those who say that in no circumstances can the Bill mean any charge on the consumer. We are prepared to face the fact that it may in certain circumstances, although I do not believe that it will. It is an economic Measure, for in so far as world prices may tend to rise, so the contributions under the Bill will tend to diminish. It provides a safeguard for the agricultural workers, and the Exchequer will gain by its provisions. If we can only re-establish agriculture on a sound financial basis, the general body of taxpayers will reap a rich reward. The alternative is to do nothing—laissez faire; folded arms. To take no action means that men will lose their jobs and that the huge capital which is invested in land, in drains, gates, buildings, roads and other things will all be lost. The re-establishment of agriculture will not only assist a great and sorely pressed industry, but provide employment and a certain market for the goods of our industrialists who are in crying need of new markets in this country as in the world as a whole. I beg, therefore, with great respect to offer my congratulations to the Minister upon this Bill, and to hope that it will very shortly reach the Statute Book.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
From the expressions of approval given to this Bill by those representing land-owning and farming interests, it would almost seem as if the benefits to the community which they say will ensue have already been conferred, but some of us on these benches are very doubtful about any benefits being conferred on the community at large by this Measure. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) talked about those who are opposing the Bill as not being up with the times. He talks as though we were not aware of changes which have taken place. I am rather inclined to think that it is those who are responsible for bringing the Bill before the House who are out of date and who have closed their eyes to the essential facts on which their attention ought to be concentrated at this time. The Bill is but another illustration of the futile policy which is being pursued by the so-called National Government in their miserable endeavours to grapple with the far-reaching and grave problems which confront the nation. Many hon. Members during the discussions on the Import Duties Act talked of it as a tonic for British industry. I suppose that this Bill is intended to be a tonic for one section of the agricultural industry. Those who are prescribing these tonics ought to be ranked as quack doctors and patent medicine vendors rather than as people whose actions are calculated to have beneficial effects upon industry or agriculture.
During the week-end the newspapers supporting the Government were telling the country that yesterday inaugurated a new era in our national life. It is rather ironical that to-day we are discussing a Measure which everybody agrees will to some extent tax the people's bread. On the Government Bench, we have been told by the newspapers supporting the Government, are the master builders of the new England. They are, on the contrary, absolutely incapable of generating a fresh idea of any kind. Never was that bench occupied by a body of political plagiarists to the same extent as it is to-day. In every Measure they have brought before the House they have borrowed its fundamental idea from somewhere else. First, we are given a continental tariff system. Now the 1186 Government are borrowing the idea of quotas from the Continent. They are a Government of all the talents, and yet they are incapable of putting before the House any new suggestion to deal with the problems that face us. There cannot be a better illustration of the failure of the Government to grapple adequately with big, pressing and urgent problems than the pettifogging character of the Bill which we are discussing. There could not be a more glaring illustration of the misuse of the title National Government by the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who occupy that bench. They think in all their Measures not in the national interests at all, but in terms of sections of the community who are able to bring to bear pressure of a particular character and force Measures on the Cabinet—on some sections, at any rate, very reluctantly.
We shall have an opportunity at a later stage of discussing the Bill in detail. I want now to challenge the policy behind it, and incidentally the policy of the Government. The whole object of the Bill is contrary to the national interests, and looked at in relation to the matter with which it seeks to deal, it is most mischievous. I do not think that I shall be wrong in characterising it as a political bribe rather than as a considered act of far-reaching statesmanship. The landlord and the farmer have always been the pampered darlings of the Conservative party. We have only to run over the history of the Conservative party to see that very distinctly. Look at what has been done for this class of the community in relatively recent times. It has been relieved first of one-quarter of the rates on land and buildings, then of one-half, and now it has been entirely de-rated. Now the Government come along with a Measure which proposes to give that class a subsidy out of the pockets of the poorest. The party opposite have always carefully considered the interests of the landowning and farming classes. The Bill may be said to have a second object. I agree with the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) when she suggests that it is also an attempt to create an atmosphere for the Conference at Ottawa. It may be regarded in that respect as a preliminary for quotas for 1187 Dominion wheat, and in so far as it is that, it merely furthers what I consider to be the fantastic idea that obsesses the minds of many hon. Members opposite of developing what they call Imperial economic unity.
As I listened to some of the speeches of the supporters of the Government, it was astonishing to find how they have thrown overboard the economic creed which they have for so long been passionately advocating. I remember many instances when, in advocating that creed, they have poured scorn on what they call Socialist economics and have pointed out that only in a competitive world can we hope to see exemplified those qualities of enterprise, initiative and ability on which the progress of the country has been built. Now they have entirely thrown over that economic creed, and they make speeches clearly indicating that they have no longer any faith in it. They have completely abandoned the foundations on which they once professed to stand. Having abandoned that creed, they now request that the strong arm of the State should be stretched out to rescue them. Where their system is breaking down, and certain sections of it are down and out, they come along and ask the strong arm of the State to assist them out of their difficulties. They crowd those Benches as defeatists. Their own economic system is falling into decay and ruin, and all types—industrialists, farmers, landowners and financiers—crowd those benches as defeatists who have lost all faith in their own economic system.
We have to consider, as I suppose that hon. Members do from their particular point of view, the effects of this Bill and its social consequences. I cannot understand hon. Members who have suggested that, because some of us sitting here have no detailed knowledge of farming, we are not entitled to take part in this Debate. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Eddisbury that the townsman ought not to intervene very much in these discussions, and that we should leave them to the landlord and the farmer. I would remind the House, however, that it is the townsman who has to pay, and from that standpoint those who come from the towns and who 1188 represent industrial constituencies are entitled to say something about the social consequences of the Bill. Even if we have no specific and detailed knowledge of farming, some of us who occupy these benches have taken an interest in agriculture and have tried to understand the implications of the agricultural systems not only of the present day but throughout history and in all parts of the world. The Bill is so out of keeping with the general tendency of agricultural development throughout the world that those who take the larger view have no option but to oppose it. Let us think of the progress of agricultural development from stick digging to hoe culture, from hoe culture to plough culture, and now to great commercial culture, which can be carried on only in those areas of the world which are specially fit for it. Instead of the National Government pursuing a policy which would make for the integration of the economic life of the world they have adopted a policy making for its disintegration, a policy destined in the end to fail; because sooner or later, although there may be temporary advantages to small sections of the community, the electorate who sent the Government here will be disillusioned by the operation of the Bills which they are placing on the Statute Book, and we of the Labour party look forward confidently to the day when they will wreak their vengeance upon the Government.
After listening attentively to the Debate since it began yesterday afternoon, I really feel that those who are opposing this Bill have not realised the purpose for which this National Government were elected. They were elected to restore the balance of trade, and if there is one way of doing that it is by the improvement of the agricultural industry. The largest item in our annual bill is that for the purchase of wheat from abroad, and naturally one of the first things this Government did was to see whether it was not possible to try to grow some of that wheat at home. Looking at the statistics of wheat production, we can rightly claim that our farmers are the most capable wheat producers in the whole world, and I resent very much the implications in the speeches of some hon. Members that there is inefficiency in this class of arable 1189 cultivation in this country. In my Division, which is the largest wheat-growing Division in Great Britain, we have the most efficient and expert wheat growers in the whole world, yet the situation created there by the administration of the last Government, and preceding Governments, has resulted in one of the finest wheat-growing areas in the world becoming almost derelict.
I strongly resent the remarks of the Secretary of State for Scotland last night that wheat is not a pivotal crop, and represents only 4 per cent. of our agricultural production. In the matter of giving employment, wheat represents over 10 per cent. of the labour-employing capacity of the whole of the agricultural industry of the country, and, what is more, on our arable farms more stock is raised than on the grass farms. It is perfect nonsense for hon. Members to say that this country can suddenly change over, can switch on to grass farming and expect to raise the same animal population that we have at the present time. We have to decide whether we are to go ahead with this crop—not go ahead with it in the form of extending the cultivation, but go ahead in the sense of keeping it as a crop at all. If nothing is done there is no doubt that wheat growing will absolutely drop out in this country, and then we shall lose the absolute foundation for the whole of British agriculture. Whilst I agree that this Bill will help materially, in my view it does not go nearly far enough in dealing with the problem of wheat production. We can grow a great deal more wheat than is provided for in this Bill, and grow it to the national advantage.
I would assure hon. Members that they are not making a generous gift to farmers by this Bill. The cost of growing wheat in this country is £8 10s. per acre, on the most efficient farms, and if four quarters per acre are grown only £9 will be obtained by the farmer if he realises the maximum under the Bill. That does not provide him with a very substantial margin; 10s. per acre is not an enormous profit for a farmer to realise. Though arable farmers appreciate the Government's interest in this particular crop, they are not of opinion that this Measure is a very generous gesture. First of all, I think the minimum price is not high enough. I was surprised to hear the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss 1190 Lloyd George) speaking as she did this afternoon wihen I recall that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) fathered the Corn Production Act. That did not put the figure at 45s. a quarter for wheat; in that Measure the figure was 60s. a quarter. When she described this Measure as one that would inflict very grave hardship on the poorest in the community I began to wonder what sort or hardship had been inflicted by the right hon. Gentleman when he passed that Act some years ago.
Wheat growing is not an insignificant part of agriculture. There are 75,000 people engaged in wheat production in Great Britain, a very substantial proportion of our agricultural population. Wheat forms the pivotal crop in many districts, and is indispensable to the future of any sort of agriculture in those particular areas. With this Bill we shall secure a turnover of £12,500,000 in the agricultural industry, which will do something towards putting the balance of trade more in our favour. I cannot help reminding the House that in April, 1928, they did me the honour to pass unanimously, on First Reading, a Bill to give home wheat growers a definite quota scheme. Unfortunately, I was never able to get a Second Reading for the Bill. Many of the people who were in charge at that time did not believe in quota Bills, and I was told that it was not worth the paper on which it was written. I notice, however, that it was put in the forefront of our party's programme when we were appealing to agriculturists at the next election, and I feel very bitterly the neglect of this crop by our Ministers of Agriculture after the unanimous decision of the House upon my Bill in 1928.
What appeals to me about this Bill is that it is an effort to encourage employment. I do not want to say very much about my own constituency, but there, on the best wheat growing land in. Great Britain, and amongst the most efficient farmers, there are 12,000 agricultural labourers out of work because of the fall in the price of wheat. Last year the Russians dumped into the port of Hull thousands of tons of wheat at. 18s. per quarter, and simply put my farmers out of business, and they have been steadily going out of business ever since. I could take the Minister of Agriculture or any other Member to my con- 1191 stituency and show him farms which formerly were the pride of everybody who saw them, and which could support a full staff of labour, which now have no labour on them at all, and in many cases not a single head of livestock. The farmers depend on the wheat crop for the money with which to pay wages, and having had a loss on their wheat they have no money with which to pay wages, and to pay their rates and taxes and to meet their living expenses they have had to sell off their livestock. That is a very serious state of affairs. I believe that by this Bill we shall do something substantial to alter it, and though I do not think the Measure goes far enough it is one which will at any rate help. But I do hope we are going to have more encouragement—that as the farmers show what they can produce so we shall have the quota extended, so that there will be a greater volume of industry.
I was rather amused yesterday afternoon by the speech of the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), whose effort kept out of this Debate many people who would have liked to take part in it. Speaking as one interested in the baking industry he criticised our farmers most severely. The farmers of this country have nothing for which to thank either the bakers or the millers. For years the latter have done their best to depress agriculture, and I am glad to see that at last they have awakened to the fact that now that the balance of trade must be restored and we must conserve our resources at home, the farmer, who is the initial producer of the food of this country, must be given encouragement, and so they have come into line. I hope this alliance of the bakers and the millers and the Ministry of Agriculture will be maintained, and that it will build up a stronger and more vigorous agriculture for us. I desire to thank the Minister for what he has done. I congratulate him on getting all these constituent elements together and on the masterly way in which he has drawn up this Bill. I believe it is watertight. One thing about the Bill which pleases me more than anything else is that there are so many sections interested in it that they have all got to keep one another honest. They -sill all be checking one another—in the different ways in which they fit into the Bill. The Bill will work better because 1192 we are putting people to watch one another. I believe, therefore, that the success of the Bill will be real, and will be felt in the immediate future.
May I ask the Minister to consider this point? The farmer will not receive any money before these deficiency payments have been calculated, and I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of giving him some temporary assistance towards his operations in connection with this year's crop. Some slight assistance given now will make all the difference to the success or failure of this Measure. If British farmers do not produce 6,000,000 qrs. of wheat this year people will say that they are not efficient, and, if they have sufficient money available, I feel sure that they will produce that crop. For these reasons, I ask the Minister of Agriculture to consider very seriously some proposal for extending credits to farmers in order to enable them to carry out this season's operation. That is a point which I hope the Minister will look into. In conclusion I thank the Government and the Minister for introducing the Bill. I congratulate them upon the Measure which I hope will meet with the success which it certainly deserves.
As this is the first occasion upon which I have addressed the House, I claim the indulgence of hon. Members. I speak as a ruralist who represents an industrial constituency, and consequently I feel that I can take a stereoscopic view of this matter, and get a truer outline and a better perspective. There is also another advantage in speaking on an agricultural subject when one represents an urban constituency, and it is that one cannot upset one's supporters. Anything I may say about the wheat farmers cannot lose me a single vote in my constituency, nor can any criticisms which I may make of the farmers. We are dealing now with a question which not only affects countrymen, but which affects ourselves as well. It is absolutely necessary for our national existence that we should have a sturdy population living on our soil if only for the purpose of feeding our towns and cities with new blood. For many years past we have had a constant stream of new blood flowing from the countryside to the towns. That source is now exhausted, and, if we are to continue to exist as a nation, we must 1193 strike a balance between the town and country population.
It is the duty of any Government not only to stop that stream of people passing from the country to our large towns and cities, but to reverse the stream in order that more men and women may leave crowded cities and towns and get back to the countryside. We must devise schemes to recolonise the countryside which ought to be the backbone of our national existence. Naturally a reform of this kind will cost money. I have never yet met anyone who objects to social reform, but they frequently object to finding the money which social reforms cost. The reform I have suggested in regard to the countryside is such a matter of life and death to this country that we must be prepared to face a certain amount of cost. I am prepared to go to those who supported me at the election and say: "Surely you do not object to paying a little more for your food if it will help those people living on the countryside." That is the problem which we have to face.
I know that there are some blocks in the way, and one stumbling block is the attitude of the farmers. On this question I speak of what I know, because I live in the midst of a large agricultural area. I keep well in touch with the farmers who work on the land around me. On Sunday mornings I visit them, and the House will be surprised to hear how many farmers ask: "What are the National Government going to do for us?" They are all very anxious that the Government should do something for them. Bunyan, in his "Pilgrim's Progress," draws a picture of a man with a muckrake, a crown above his head, and his eyes cast on the ground. The English farmer is the exact opposite. He has his eyes on the clouds above him, looking for State assistance and State tariffs, when his gaze should be on the muckrake, the muck-heap, the plough, and the harrow. We have to get that spirit out of the English farmer.
A gibe has been thrown at us by hon. Members opposite that by this Bill we are putting farmers on the dole. I do not object to that gibe; doles are very necessary at times, to aid an industry or an individual during a period of depression, but the curse comes when the man depends on the dole, ceases to help himself, and looks upon the dole as a right 1194 which brings no duties in its train. That is what farmers are beginning to do. We constantly hear from these benches and from committees a call for bigger doles for agriculture. Some farmers are not satisfied with 45s. per quarter, and yet this kind of thing goes on. The agricultural industry must be placed in such a position that it can stand on its own feet. It has been said that some people are not happy until they are miserable. The farmers will not be happy till they are dole-full, but we cannot keep on filling them up with doles.
In 1930 the Agricultural Marketing Act was passed and farmers are only now just beginning to use it. One would have thought that English farmers would have been making their plans to take advantage of such proposals when the Bill was going through this House, and that they would have had all their plans ready for putting into operation when the Bill became an Act. It has taken two years for them to discover that the Marketing Act will work and can be made to do a very great deal of good to the agricultural industry. It is quite true that the farmers were very suspicious in regard to the source from which the Act came, and they doubted whether any good could come from Addison. Now, at last, they are going to put it into operation, and I think that that Act will do more for British farming than any Measure that we have had since.
I know something of markets. I go very frequently to the market in the county town near where I live, and it is one of the tragedies of British farming to attend that market. Practically every farmer from within a radius of six or seven miles is present at the sales. Some of them come in with a few chickens, some with a cow and calf, another will bring a pig and a few piglets, and another, rather than come empty-handed, will bring his wife and family. The whole collective brains of the district are crowded into that small area, and the industry is left to run on just as it likes. What would happen to any industry if those in charge of it left it alone on one day a week? Indeed, we need not look at industry; what would happen in this House if those brains that do the directing and provide the main ideas absented themselves for one day a week? Suppose that we left the Front Benches to 1195 carry on on one day every week. What sort of legislation should we have?
I have often seen pigs sold in that market at a price which I knew meant ruin to many a smallholder, and shortage to many a farmer. They fell into the hands of a ring of dealers, and that ring met at the inn afterwards, when the beasts were put up again and realised a much higher figure; and then people wonder why, while pigs are cheap in the market, pork is dear in the shops. I have seen pigs sold at 5s. a stone, and then, going into the High Street not a quarter of a mile away, have had to pay Is. 6d. a lb. for pork sausages. And the pork sausage of to-day is a synthetic article. By that I mean that, owing to the scientific processes which are constantly being introduced, a portion of the material reaches the sausage without going through the pig and pork stage. I do not suggest that sausages should be sold with a pedigree. That is obviously impossible, because, when a pork sausage is "pure bread," it ceases to be a pork sausage except for purposes of trade.
The marketing scheme applies to many crops which the farmer at present cannot make pay. The other day I traced a consignment of potatoes back through six hands, not counting the railway, between the grower and the person who had the potatoes to eat. Each one of them made a profit, and yet people wonder that the farmer in Lincolnshire complains that he cannot make farming pay, and the consumer in London complains of the high prices that he has to pay for farm produce. I believe that the British farmer has ahead of him the finest time in his life. He has at his very door the best market in the world. In the next few seasons he will be able to secure a market such as he has never enjoyed before, and one which is capable of expansion to any degree.
The British working man does not buy foreign condensed skimmed milk because it contains more vitamins than the fresh article that he gets from the English farmer. He does not buy Argentine beef because he prefers its flavour. He does not buy Chinese eggs rather than English new-laid eggs because he has acquired a taste for the delicate cheesy flavour of the former. He buys these products because he cannot afford the better ones, and he will buy English farm produce as 1196 soon as our industrial conditions improve, as soon as wages are better, and as soon as unemployment decreases. He is the farmer's best customer. The other day I followed a milkman round, and I found that, as he went from one working-class area to another where the wages had been increased by 10 per cent., the consumption of milk increased by 20 per cent. That shows what a revival of industry is going to do for the farmer when he is ready and able to meet it. I noticed that, when the Minister first introduced his proposals for dealing with agriculture, a "Morning Post" placard stated that farmers were happy at last. I suggest to those farmers that they should not let their happiness evaporate before the next meeting of the county wages committee. I was on a farm the other day, and, on going round to the back of a haystack, I found the farmer contorting his face in a very peculiar manner. I said to his son, who was standing near, "What is the matter with your dad?" He replied, "Oh, he is all right; he is only getting his face in position for the next meeting of the wages board." I do not want anyone to get his face in position for the next meeting of the wages board. I believe that farmers have a better time coming. Let them go to the wages board with suggestions for an increased rate of wages, and not wait for the other fellow to do it. The psychological effect will be wonderful. It would make it much easier to plead the case of the farmers to the townspeople if they would do a thing like that. We should then feel that we were backing up an industry that deserved it, and should back it up all the better. We on this side of the House are very modest in the claims that we make for the National Government; we are very careful about the praise that we bestow upon them; but I think we can claim that they have one of the divine attributes—that they have proved themselves in this Bill willing to help those that help themselves; and I think that now it is up to the farmers of this country to help themselves.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House in a maiden speech need not be as bashful as he appeared to be when he commenced. I feel quite sure that he is an expert speaker, and the House is very much indebted to him for the in- 1197 formative address that he has given us this evening. He has displayed a knowledge of agriculture and of rural conditions, and has even ventured so far as to give a Maskelyne and Cooke demonstration of the mysteries of the pork sausage; and we shall all await with pleasure his future appearances in our debates on this and other subjects.
He did not, however, examine the Bill with as much care as he might have done. Indeed, the Bill has been left by most speakers without the attention which it deserves. There has been either an excess of praise from Members on the other side, or keen criticism from Members on this side, but it appears, even on the second day of the Debate, that the Bill is not fully understood. Therefore, I will ask the House to go once again over its main provisions, in order to see what it has to do, and its effect on the agricultural industry and on the nation in general. One of the speakers this afternoon surprised me by displaying an innocence even greater than that shown by the maiden speaker to whom we have just listened, for, apparently, he believed that this Bill is going to find employment for 750,000 additional workers in this country. He cannot have read the Bill, or have the faintest idea of its scope and limitations.
The Bill is one to provide payment, to growers of millable wheat, of a subsidy on their wheat of millable quality, at the rate, under present conditions of prices and supplies, of from 4s. to 5s. per cwt. That is the measure of the subsidy. The Rouse must not forget that last year we bought all our wheat supplies from Australia, Canada, the Argentine, the United States and Russia; and almost all our wheat supplies last year were bought at an average price of less than 5s. per cwt. This Bill is to provide that, after it becomes law, we shall have to pay, for home-grown wheat, 10s. per cwt. or twice as much as we paid for the wheat sent into this country last year from all parts of the world. It is going to double the pike of that portion of the wheat that we shall grow at home. This payment is to be guaranteed. There has been a good deal of controversy as to where it is to come from. Is it new taxation? Who is to find the money The payment is directly guaranteed from a fund to be known as the Wheat Fund and administered by a Wheat Commis- 1198 sion under the direction of the Minister of Agriculture.
The Wheat Commission is to have power to make by-laws which will require quota payments to be ascertained and paid in respect of all flour milled from imported wheat at a rate per cwt. which will enable the estimated required subsidy to be paid to registered growers. The quota payment is to be adjusted in accordance with the variations of the average price during the year of home grown wheat and the supply of flour for that year to be delivered and retained for consumption in the United Kingdom. The Minister last night claimed as a virtue that under the Bill the lower the market price of wheat the higher the levy on imported flour and the subsidy on home-grown wheat, and per contra the higher the market price of wheat the lower the levy on imported flour and the subsidy on home-grown wheat. There is no limit to the subsidy to be paid under the Bill unless it be the limit of 10s. per cwt. on the total quantity of 27,000,000 cwts. referred to in Clause 2.
The next point is that there is no limit to be placed on the levy of imported flour in the form of quota payments. The Government and their supporters say this is not a tax on flour, yet it must be admitted that all payments to be made to registered growers are to be provided from the proceeds of a tax on imported flour, which is to be checked and confirmed by the Customs and Excise officers as if it were an addition to the Customs Duty for the time being in force. The Customs officers are to confirm every payment made in the form of quota payments as the wheat passes through their hands. The quota payments are actually paid into the Wheat Fund. The Wheat Fund is to be under the direction of the Treasury in regard to the investment of moneys received into it and in regard to the form of accounts to be submitted to the Minister from time to time. This is really taxation. The money is paid into the Wheat Fund as a, convenient means of distribution, but the Treasury is in. control and directs the policy all the time. These quota payments, or import duties, as they might properly have been called if it had not been for the 10 per cent, already charged on imported flour, are paid into the Wheat Fund and paid out to the wheat growers. For the time 1199 being, the rate of duty, tax or levy, call it what you like, will be ls. a cwt. on imported flour. The right hon. Gentleman confirmed that in the statement he made that it would be at the rate of 2s. 6d. per sack, which is another way of saying the same thing. He will not deny that, in regard to imported flour, already subject as from yesterday to a 10 per cent. tax, there is to be an addition under this Bill of another 10 per cent. tax on all imported flour.
It is a considerable protection that is to be given to the millers in exchange for their support of this Bill. All these forms of Protection have to be paid for. What the farmer is to get will have to be paid by someone. Who is to pay it? There is no mystery about it. It is another instance of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Peter in this case is the consumer of bread and Paul is the grower of wheat. The Minister and his chorus all say the same thing. There was an honourable exception just now. One hon. Member did not quite fit into the harmony which has been prevalent on the other side. He struck rather an independent note, but the note was clear and musical as it came from his lips. The Minister and his chorus say, "It is not worthy of mention. It is only 2s. 6d. on a sack of flour. It is a portion of a penny on a lb. of bread. No one will notice it." The Minister is a Scotsman. He knows the old Scottish say, "Many a mickle makes a muckle." The farmers' account is to be swollen by £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. That is what a small number of farmers are to get, not as a reward for added effort or for greater efficiency but as public assistance, and not to deserving cases.
The farmer is to produce the same crop and the same quality. Whether he loses or gains by his industry, he is to be paid according to world prices without regard to world conditions and without regard to the value of the pound at home or abroad. He is to get 10s. for each cwt. of wheat whether it is used to feed animals or human beings. Wheat for poultry or pigs will get the same price as wheat of the best quality that is to be used for making bread. The farmer is not even asked to pay better wages. Nothing is asked of him. He is not asked to spend a part of his new revenue to improve his equipment. He is entitled to pocket the whole of the subsidy. He 1200 may, under favourable conditions, grow 20 cwts. of wheat at a cost of 5s. a cwt. It is being done at present. He will be entitled to draw on the Wheat Fund for £5 per acre without being required to pay an additional penny to his partner in the industry, the agricultural labourer, who is not even mentioned in the Bill.
The Minister will say there is a wages committee to which the labourer can make application. That is so. There is a wages committee in each county, but that is a long way round and a good many obstacles have to be overcome before the labourer can get a shilling a week advance in wages. The county agricultural wages committees are not solely representative of the registered growers of wheat. There are few counties where wheat growing is even a considerable part of the farming industry. Apart from two or three counties, any application by the labourers will be met by the farmers saying, "We get no benefit from this. You do not expect us to pay additional wages because a few farmers in other counties are making a good thing out of wheat farming." There is nothing in the Bill about rents. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) last night referred to the Corn Production Acts. We should be sorry if the farmer is to be lured into paying a higher rent or, worse still, paying enormously inflated prices for his farm, as thousands of farmers did to their cost at the time of the Corn Production Acts. We shall be sorry if the history of the Corn Production Acts in that regard is to be repeated this year, or next year, or in the years to follow. The farmer who grows corn to-day without making a profit or without suffering a loss is to get an additional 18s. or 20s. a quarter which he does not need. He will grow rich out of the fund, and will, in the case of the owner-occupier, be able to keep it all to himself without being asked to do a thing in return.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
10s. a cwt. is the price mentioned in the Bill, and I said that there are farmers producing wheat and selling it at half that price, and still managing to meet their expenses.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
They manage to pay somehow, and they are still carrying on. The landlord will get his share, but that can usually be done without help from this House. The agricultural labourer is not guaranteed anything, and even if, after long and difficult negotiations, he obtains a shilling or 2s. additional wages, he will have to spend the whole of it on his increased family bread bill due to the increase in the price of the flour from which bread is made. There will be plenty of opportunity for moving Amendments on the Committee stage, and to-night we are urging the Minister of Agriculture to examine the real nature of the complaints of the agricultural industry. The industry is suffering from depression in world prices, but it is affected in a lesser degree than are other industries in the country. It is a manysided industry, providing food and raw material for the industrial workers and toilers in the towns. On the whole, it has suffered less than the depressed industrial areas where the population is largely unemployed and in receipt of public assistance. Agriculture, on the whole, will not be helped by the Bill. The number of wheat-growing farmers who will benefit do not stand in a special position. Let the Minister bring in a comprehensive Measure for the reorganisation of agriculture, for the improvement of cultivation and of equipment, for improved housing and better wages, for more efficient preparation of commodities for the workers and for the more economical distribution of commodities of the highest quality, which modern marketing conditions require.
We have presented our Amendment to the House, and we believe that nothing short of the terms of the Amendment will meet the situation. We believe that agriculture in this country can be made prosperous once more, but it requires effort on the part of the farmer himself. The hon. Gentleman spoke with more detailed knowledge than I command, but I, too, represent a large number of farmers in this House. I have not had a single application asking me to give support to the Bill from the 800 small family farmers who, in the great majority of cases, do their own work in the country to which I belong. There are only 60,000 paid hands in the whole of that country. Our people do their own labour. The men, women and children join in the 1202 family task on the farm. They make no complaint, and have made no application for a dole. They want a square deal. They will perform their duty with efficiency. Indeed, I can claim to represent farmers performing varied kinds of agricultural operations, all of them efficient farmers and prepared to stand on their own feet. They are ready to join in a national scheme for the reorganisation of the production and distribution of their products, and to recognise that there have been changes in the world which require changed methods on our part. They are all ready to join in any system which will bring prosperity, not to a handful of farmers dependent upon wheat-growing, but general prosperity to all sections of the industry in the country.
§ Viscount ELMLEY
This Bill is the second instalment of the agricultural policy of the Government, and in spite of what the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) and others opposite have said, not only in the division which I represent, but throughout the length and breadth of the country, there is a feeling of great satisfaction that such a Bill is being brought forward. That is the state of feeling, as far as I am able to gauge it. In common with a great many other people at the last Election, I told my constituents that the Government, if returned, would very likely have to deal with agriculture upon these lines. If we were to sit still and do nothing, or not bring forward a Measure of this sort, we should not be doing what we were elected to do, and those who sent us here would probably tell us what they thought of us in no unmeasured terms.
One of the most satisfactory features is the large measure of agreement about the Measure. Not only are various trade interests in favour of it, but I was glad to see reported in a newspaper this morning that such organisations as the National Land Workers' Union and the National Transport Workers' Union had sent a deputation to the Minister, and, among other things, had expressed their approval of the principle of the quota contained in the Bill. Therefore, in spite of what has been said below the Gangway and opposite, the country is cordially approving the things which are envisaged in this Bill.
1203 There bas been a certain amount of criticism, and I cannot help thinking that most of the Amendments which have been put down are asking a great deal too much. They say, What about all the other sections of the agricultural industry? They seem to ask, Why are you doing nothing for them? I hope to show that the Government are right in tackling the arable problem first. I am sure that, after that, all the other sections of the industry will benefit, and, also, all the other things for which the hon. Member for Gower asked, such as better marketing, better grading, and so on, will come along in their time. There is one thing which I do not think has been mentioned. This scheme will not apply at all if the price of wheat goes above 45s. a qr. That is how I read the Bill. It ought to be remembered that there are nine other countries which have found it absolutely necessary to have a system of quotas, including Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, France, Portugal, Latvia and Czechoslovakia. All those countries have a quota system. If I may make a humble suggestion to the Ministry of Agriculture, it is that they should try to study as far as possible those systems in operation in other countries, and avoid the things which are not working well, and, perhaps, adopt some features of the schemes which are working well in those countries.
Why is the Bill necessary? First of all, I will say a word about the county of Norfolk, a division of which I represent. This year unemployment in Norfolk among agricultural labourers is worse than it has ever been. The number of unemployed is well over 5,000. These unfortunate men do not get the benefit of unemployment insurance. I only wish they did, and I hope that, later on, that will be one of the things which the Government will be able to deal with. In previous years it was often found that if a man was discharged from a farm he could get a job on the roads, hut, since there has been the need for economy and road building programmes in all parts of the country have had to be curtailed, that source of work has been partly stopped. There is another way in which the present difficulties make things harder for the men. There is in my division a big sugar-beet factory, and in the off season a large number of men, 1204 many hundreds of them, used to work on the farms, but to-day, owing to the fact that large areas of the county are going down to grass, there is no work for these men. There is also the effect of the general depression. I can assure the House, from my own observation, that the distress in the county of Norfolk generally, and particularly in my own division, is very great.
I believe that when this Bill has been passed into law it will do a great deal of good in East Anglia generally. It is the kind of thing we want. If we sit down and say: "Let us wait until things right themselves," it will be worse than useless. I am afraid that there has been a spirit in this country for some time of waiting for things to get better and not doing anything to make them better. The House seems to feel that something must be done. It is a fair proposition to say that we should help the farmers to secure a market and a fair price, in view of the fact that for many years they have been handicapped in various directions. I have been the first to admit that wages are too low, but in spite of that fact they are in many cases higher than the farmers can afford to pay. The farmers are also handicapped by regulations relating to stock, seeds, buildings and so forth. I do not say that all those regulations ought to be removed, but there ought to be some measure of encouragement for the farmers in order that they may be set off against some of the handicaps. The Bill will help in that direction.
Wheat is absolutely essential for about 500,000 acres of land in this country, because you cannot grow anything else on that land. That applies to the Division which I represent more than any other in the country. It is a maxim for all agriculturists that you ought to grow things which will be best in a particular place. By the Bill wheat growing in suitable areas only will be encouraged. Many thousands of acres of land will be saved from going down to grass. In the last 10 years 545,000 acres have gone out of arable cultivation. Wheat is absolutely necessary as a rotation crop. Moreover, straw is essential for a hundred and one various agricultural purposes. For all these reasons, I support the Bill and I hope that in a few years time we shall see the agriculturist better off, getting a better market 1205 and a better price. I hope, too, that we shall see a bigger supply of wheat offals than there is at the present time, that good land which is now in cultivation will remain in cultivation and that our millers will do more business.
I agree with the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) that there is not going to be an increase in the price of the loaf. If hon. Members who are interested will look at pages 67 and 68 of the Linlithgow Report they will see it stated there that it is not so much the price of wheat in the loaf which affects the price of the bread, but other things such as labour, organisation, and the distribution of the product. All these things affect the price more than wheat. Therefore, as is stated in the Report, there is no reason why a loaf made from British wheat entirely should cost any more than it does now. I would respectfully congratulate the Minister on the Bill and express the hope that he will go on from strength to strength, and that we shall find at the end of two or three years that the industry of agriculture is in a far better position than it is at the present time.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I do not claim to be an expert in agriculture, but I do claim the right to speak on behalf of the consumer. As far as I am able to understand the Bill, which quite candidly, is not very far, there are two specific designs in it, first, that the producer shall receive more for his product and, secondly, that the user must pay the extra money. It is stated in the explanatory memorandum that no charge upon the Exchequer or upon the local rates will be created by the Bill. No argument is used to show that the price will not be increased. We are told that it is the deliberate purpose of the Bill to provide wheat growers in the United Kingdom with a secure market at an enhanced price for home-grown wheat, without a subsidy from the Exchequer. I am puzzled to know how you are going to increase the cost of wheat to the tune of £6,000,000 without somebody paying that £6,000,000. If it is not to be handed on to the consumer, there has been something seriously wrong up to the present time. What is the amount of the subsidy?
1206 The provision in the Bill is limited to a maximum of 6,000,000 qrs. and the price guaranteed is 45s. a quarter. My information is that the present day price of wheat is something between 25s. and 27s. per qr., so that if we calculate the subsidy as 18s. to 20s. per qr., it means an added cost to the consumer of between £5,000,000 to £6,000,000 per annum. If we take it that this scheme is to be in force three years, reckoning the same figures, there will be an imposition of between £15,000,000 and £18,000,000 during that period. It may mean more or it may mean less as world prices vary.
The production of wheat in this country represents 4 per cent. of our total agricultural output and more than one-third of it goes in the feeding of poultry. In my judgment this subsidy means an artificial increase in price of 80 per cent. on British wheat and 15 per cent. on the total wheat used. It means that 90 per cent. of our population who are engaged in industry are to be taxed in order that the 10 per cent. may have a direct present made to them; and of that 10 per cent. at the most not more than 3 per cent. are occupied in the production of wheat. Mr. Garvin describes this Bill as a Measure which involves the maximum of expense for a minimum of sectional benefit. These quota systems encourage an uneconomic over-production of wheat, coupled with an artificial dearness of bread. The hon. Member for East Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) said that there were nine countries with a quota system. My information is that the number is 11, and every one of these countries have dearer bread than we enjoy in a free market at world prices. May I quote Dr. Taylor, a director of the Food Research Institute, California? In giving evidence at Stamp Commission at Winnipeg he said:These various impediments in the course of trade do hamper transactions, divert and pervert them, render them more costly, and often impose elements of indirect as well as direct costs. Without question they constitute a burden upon the international market. Without question the facility of movement of wheat over the world would he greater, and the margin between producers' and consumers' prices would be narrower, in the absence of these artificial impediments and restrictions.The policy of the quota has been discredited in every country where it has been tried. Some few days ago the Imperial Economic Committee published its 1207 report on the wheat situation. Several references have already been made to that report and I want to make one or two quotations from it. In the introduction to paragraph (4) on page 7 there appears the following:The wheat position to-day presents a problem of the first magnitude to the Empire, indeed for the whole world. At a time when depression afflicts the economic life of practically all civilised countries, when industrial output is diminishing and the urban population is struggling against an ever increasing volume of unemployment, often accompanied with severe privation, the world as a whole is faced with a superabundance of wheat—its primary foodstuff—and farmers with prices which, over vast areas of wheat growing land do not repay the cost of production.It gives a table of the average world production of wheat. From 1909 to 1913 it was 3,020,000,000 bushels and for 1930 3,704,000,000 bushels. In 1931 there were only three countries, the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State and Denmark, which had markets unhampered by duties or quotas. The report further states that—the consequence of quotas has been to raise the prices of wheat in the countries which have quotas above the price in free markets. This has reacted on the price and even in some countries on the quality of the bread sold.There is one other fact to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. During 1930 the following quotas for domestic wheat were fixed: France, 97 per cent., Germany, 55 per cent. Between February, 1924, and February, 1931, the price of wheat, expressed in sterling, had fallen in England and Wales by 52 per cent. but it had risen in France by 39 per cent. and in Germany by 60 per cent.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
The price of bread has not fallen in the same proportion. I do not see that the way to cure that is to increase the price of wheat. In the same report it is said: 1208The position which has been reached is equivalent to one of over-production in relation to effective demand and has led to a situation in which wheat production has ceased to be profitable over vast areas of wheat growing land.I want to ask the House whether it is wise in face of these facts to encourage the further uneconomic production of wheat. Is it vital to the needs of the community? I cannot agree for one moment with the Amendment as proposed by the official Opposition. I see very little difference between the policy suggested by the Government and that suggested by the Opposition. They are both Socialistic in character. They interfere with the freedom of the purchaser to buy in the cheapest market. Let me refer to some words which were used during the course of the last election by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for the Colonies and who was then the President of the Board of Trade. In the "Yorkshire Evening Post" of Tuesday, 27th October this appeared under the heading, "Nailing a Socialist lie!" The right hon. Gentleman referring to the price of bread said:I see the official organ of the Socialist party is making a last moment attempt to stampede voters by telling them that bread will cost more. The price of bread depends on the price of flour, and the price of flour depends on the price of wheat. Whatever Government is in office wheat must be bought at the world price.I want that sentence to be noted— "wheat must be bought at the world price." This Bill prevents it and demands an artificial standard price. I promised at the last election to oppose food taxes, and this Bill imposes them. The poorer you are the more important is bread as an article of diet, and the bigger proportion it bears to the total household expenditure. It is perfectly true that a halfpenny on the loaf means virtually nothing to the well-to-do, but to the poor it means a great deal. The Bill keeps out no foreign imports and so will do nothing for the pound, but can anybody say that it is not protective? I suggest that if money is to be spent on agriculture it could be better spent on reorganisation, on marketing schemes and credit facilities. To give a dole to each particular industry seems to me to be starting at the wrong end. British wheat can never compete with foreign wheat either in price or quantity.
1209 This scheme will not help national economy. It sets up a new Department; it enforces an artificial price to benefit one small section of the community at the expense of the industrial worker; it will add to the cost of living when stability is needed; it will impose further hardship on those who can least afford to bear it. The Secretary for Scotland said that the Bill would place no burden on the taxpayer, but indirect taxation or an increase in the cost of living is as burdensome to the consumer as a direct cost on the Exchequer. While I was at home last week-end there came to see me a man and wife who have to live on 25s. a week, out of which they pay 7s. 6d. a week for rent. If you reckon that that man and his wife require four meals a day seven days a week, that is 28 meals for each of them, 56 for the two in a week. You find that there is 3d. for each meal, and every 6d. of food taxation deprives that man and his wife of one meal. I could give innumerable instances of that description. When I go home never a week-end passes without cases of that kind being brought to my notice. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) described the cry of food taxes as a bogy. I have taken the trouble to go into the Library and see what the dictionary gives as a definition of a bogy. It states:A bogy is a nursery name for some evil spirit. A goblin.I want to say that it is an evil thing to tax the food of the poor. To the poor, food taxes are a grim reality, and not a dream. I appeal to the Government to act in a national sense, and to discard this sectional legislation. I oppose the Bill because it bolsters up an uneconomic industry at the expense of those least able to bear the burden. Liberals surely have no part to play in granting privileges to a. small section of the community, and I appeal to them to vote against the Bill. To provide industry with an incentive by means of a dole is a dangerous procedure, and to do it at the expense of those with a bare minimum of existence is opposed to every tenet of my creed. I desire to support the Government in any plan that will restore prosperity to the country, but it must be a plan which is equitable and just to all our people. This Bill does not fulfil those conditions, and consequently I shall oppose it.
I desire to claim the indulgence of the House, indulgence which is always given to one who addresses it for the first time, and I am sure I shall need it, particularly as I have been a Member of the House for less than three weeks. I wish to support the Bill in the interests of the whole countryside, and especially in the interests of the farmer and agricultural worker. I am a little anxious about the details of the Bill, as regards the standard price and the closely related question of the maximum anticipated supply, and the effect of these two limits on the unemployment which undoubtedly exists in the agricultural world. But those are Committee points and should not be laboured now.
I know the countryside well. When I say that I wish to support the Bill in the interests of the countryside, I take it as a whole, because I know the countryside as a kindly place and the folk in it are kindly folk. I do not believe there is any farmer who is such a curmudgeon as not to want to share better times with his men if only he can see his way clear. An hon. Member who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench said that the agricultural landlord could easily look after himself without any help from Acts of Parliament. I am sorry the hon. Member has left the Chamber, because I would have told him, in case he had not made inquiries, that in East Anglia at any rate the chief function of the landlord for the last two years has been to make very large remissions of rent. The agricultural labourer has not had to rely on the kindness of the farmer, because he has the protection of the Agricultural Wages Board. That was, I think, started by the Corn Production Act of 1920. The part of that Act which guaranteed a standard price to the farmer was repealed and the farmer got nothing, but the agricultural labourer was left the Wages Board protection.
Hon. Members of the Opposition are opposing the Bill because they say it will raise the price of bread and will lower the standard of life. Luckily we have some figures to guide us. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister for Agriculture told us exactly what would have been the effect on the price of bread if this Bill had been in operation in the cereal year 1930–31. He made it abundantly clear that there would have been 1211 no justification for the price rising by more than one farthing on the 2 lb loaf for 11 weeks in the year. That is equivalent to the 4 lb. loaf not rising by more than one halfpenny for 11 weeks of the year. One halfpenny a week for 11 weeks is 11 halfpennies. If we divide that by 52 we find that the average increase in the price of the loaf throughout the year would have been something less than one-ninth of a penny.
We have had various estimates by hon. Members regarding the rise in the price of bread that they say will take place under this Bill, and the peak was reached by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), who, I think, said that the rise would be a penny on the 2-lb. loaf, or in other words 2d. on the 4-lb. loaf. I hope I am not doing him an injustice. There is a very big difference between one-ninth of a penny rise, according to the figures of the Minister of Agriculture, and the estimate of the hon. Member, and I prefer the figure that is based on facts rather than on the flight of fancy of the hon. Member for Shettleston. Further, I am not at all sure that even the one-ninth of a penny will be passed on in full to the consumer, because the price of the 4-lb. loaf moves one-halfpenny only for each 4s. change in the price of 280 lbs. of flour, and, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) pointed out yesterday from personal experience and with some warmth, there is a grave discrepancy now between the price received by the farmer for his wheat and the price of flour.
Though the hon. Member who has just sat down fully realised that, he did not make the same deduction from it that did. I make this deduction, that there is a margin between the price of wheat and the price of flour which can absorb a considerable proportion of any possible advance in the price of flour, and, therefore, of the loaf. What seems to me much more likely to affect the price of bread is any alteration in the world price. That price may go up or down, but it will not be the fault of this Bill. If the world price rises, the deficiency payment falls. If the world price falls, the bulk of the flour will come in cheaper, and, therefore, the price should tend to remain steady. If hon. Members opposite are still not satisfied that there should be no rise in the price of bread as a 1212 result of this Bill, I ask them to consider what was said by a former right hon. associate of theirs on 18th January last. Speaking at Norwich on that date, Dr. Addison, in expounding his views and policy on agriculture, and dealing with the rise in prices, was reported in the Press to have used these words:I say the Socialist party does not ask to obtain its bread at the price of the starvation of the agricultural labourer.It is quite true that Dr. Addison was speaking about a different scheme, which I must not discuss now, because I should be ruled out of order, but I think I am entitled to quote his views as to Socialist policy on bread prices. When I saw that statement of his, I hoped hon. Members opposite would have accepted this dictum of their former leader in matters agricultural. If, however, they repudiate him, it seems to me they must repudiate his statement also, and it looks as if the Socialists care only for the workers in industry and care nothing for the Agricultural labourer. The converse of that statement that Dr. Addison made I am not going to take literally, but will regard it as a rhetorical flight, although the hon. Member for Shettleston charged those who supported this Bill with wishing to starve the agricultural labourer's child—
The children of the working classes—I will not follow the hon. Member into that, although I believe hon. Members opposite will very rightly disclaim that, and repudiate it. I will put the converse in much milder language, and say that if they do not accept Dr. Addison's dictum, then the Socialist party do ask to obtain their bread, not at the price of starvation, but at the cost of the agricultural labourer. I think that is a fair interpretation, and it contrasts rather badly with the newly-found interest they have in the agricultural labourer. I say newly-found, but perhaps it has been rather spasmodic, because at the General Election in 1929 they said that agriculture must be made to pay, and it certainly was not paying then. May I remind the House that in 1929 the average price of British wheat was 9s. 10d. per cwt., while the average price of imported wheat was 10s. 3d., so all that we are really trying to do in this 1213 Bill is to restore British wheat to what was its price in 1929, with the price of imported wheat vastly lower. I deduce from that the fact that the price of bread is certain to remain considerably lower than it was in 1929. In 1929 the price was 8½d., and it is now 7d.
Perhaps hon. Members thought I was stingy when I spoke of the one-ninth of a penny which I thought to be the possible increased price, but even if I am more generous in giving the halfpenny, which is usually believed by the Opposition to be the additional cost in bread, we are still going to keep the price of the 4 lb. loaf at least a penny below what it was in 1929, when the Labour party was saying agriculture must be made to pay. That is what they are shying at like a team of frightened horses. Why, they might have said that a higher price for wheat should be put in as a standard price if they really had at heart the interests of the agricultural labourer!
We must try this scheme. Does anybody in the House or in the country really desire still to do nothing and to let the arable farmer go bankrupt and the agricultural labourer be put out of employment? We must act, and act quickly. To my mind, it is far more important to act quickly than to criticise the details of the scheme. This is the only constructive scheme before the country. The country expects something to be done; that is why we were all sent here. Finally, may I remind hon. Members opposite that if the countryside benefits from this Measure, it will not benefit alone. People do not bury the money they get or eat it, but they take it into the towns and spend it on necessaries like boots, shoes, clothes and a dozen other things that they want for themselves, and thereby help to make industry prosperous.
§ Mr. SAVERY
It has been evident that the House has been very much interested in the speech to which we have just listened, and I feel it a privilege that it has fallen to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member on the ease and power with which he has performed his maiden effort in this House. To those who hold that there is no future for wheat farming in this country, the Bill which we have been considering will naturally seem ineffectual and likely to bear little fruit, but to those who take a broad and hope 1214 ful view of the industry, this effort on the part of the Government to encourage arable farming will be more than welcome. We are glad of it, because we know that in the past wheat farming has been the backbone of British agriculture. We believe that its revival under this Bill will be a stimulus to the whole industry. We also know that the wheat producer has been hit more hardly of recent years than any other food producer in the country; and it is therefore wise for the Government to have recognised that it is essential to intervene between the wheat farmer and his impending ruin.
Unfortunately, in many instances that intervention has come too late. Already hundreds of arable farmers have gone down in the struggle, and the reason for their downfall has not been inefficiency or idleness, but has been due to that harsh fact which the farmer has had to face for so many years, namely, that in all his labour there is little or no profit. The price which the farmer can obtain does not meet the cost he must incur. That has been true, in a tragic degree, with regard to wheat farming. In my own constituency, farmers have sustained a loss of as much as £6 per acre in growing wheat. To meet that staggering loss he has had to encroach upon his reserve funds and he has gradually seen his capital dwindle away. It is only by stringent economies, by painful sacrifice and by the exercise of the most dogged perseverance that the survivors in arable farming have been able to hold on from one bad season to another. These men are, for the most part, the salt of the earth. They are among the very best of our racial types. They are far too independent, far too self-respecting, to sob out a pitiful tale for themselves. But I can assure the House that in. their lives, in many cases, there has been enough, not only of anxiety but of anguish and actual suffering to warrant the most woeful complainings.
It is on their behalf that we welcome this Bill, and not for their sakes only. The misfortune which has overtaken the farmer has reached his workers too. We believe that the Bill will benefit them, and there are indications that they themselves are of the same opinion. Unless some speedy help arrives, there is no doubt that the volume of unemployment among agricultural workers will gradually increase, because the conditions in the 1215 Wheat-growing districts are most deplorable. One hears of bankruptcies in the most unexpected quarters. Many of the victims have generations of farming experience behind them. I know of farmers in my own district, men, apparently of substance, men, certainly of experience and skill and meritorious industry, who have been farming for themselves far years, and who in their brave endeavour to carry on during these distressful times have lost all their savings, have seen their homes sold up, and are now working as farm labourers.
Those engaged in agriculture admit that much of the depression may be traced to world causes and to the exigencies of nature, but there are other reasons as well, to one of which the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. H. Morris) referred. He said that agriculturists complain bitterly that their troubles have been increased in number and accentuated in degree by State interference. The farmer has been harassed continuously with a swarm of orders, rules and by3aws. The locusts of legislation have fastened upon agriculture to such an extent that they have almost turned the harvest into a pestilence, until men have said, "What profits it to sow?" The whole nation has ignored the needs of the agriculturists, and Governments, one after another, have been more or less intolerant of her claims.
It seems to me that for far too long the State has been inclined to regard agriculture as a humble suppliant, pleading for recognition and relief. I suggest that the time has come for a totally different view of the relationship. In the great task which lies before us of balancing the nation's trade, the State will have to look upon agriculture, not as an encumbrance, but as a helper and an ally. A true balance of trade will never be struck until the Government admit agriculture as a definite factor in the equation; and are prepared to employ its potential power. The development of that power is surely a task not too difficult or too complicated for a National Government. We welcome this Bill as a step towards that development; but only a short step. A great deal more will have to be done before agriculture is rejuvenated and raised to the highest pitch of productive efficiency. The decline has 1216 been too protracted to allow of any sensational recovery, but I firmly believe that nothing will advance that recovery more certainly than to put into legal effect the main intention of this Bill, namely, that those who spend their lives and energies on the soil, shall know for certain that their work will receive its due reward.
I ask why the fulfilment of that promise is to be deferred until next autumn, or perhaps even beyond that period. The farmyards of Great Britain to-day hold quantities of produce which cannot possibly be sold, except at a loss. I urge the Government to let that wrong be righted now, under the authority of this Bill. If the Minister could assure to the British farmer a certain market and an enhanced price for the wheat which he now holds, I believe that a new spirit of hope and enterprise would surge through the farming community. The return would certainly be well worth the concession. The Government need have no fear as to the response which the farmers will make to this or any other effort towards the reestablishment of agriculture. They will hail with acclamation any opportunity of restoring the strength of their industry. They will rejoice if they see agriculture once more filling its proper position in the economy of the nation; and they will be proud to prove that skill and business capacity can again use the land of this country to its full advantage.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
May I as a next-door neighbour add my quota to the congratulations which have been extended to the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Major Mills) upon his maiden speech. It has been estimated I believe that were full time allowed for all the maiden speeches which could be delivered in this Parliament, the House would be listening to such speeches until next September. I cannot help thinking that if all those maiden speeches were of the sample to which we have recently listened from the hon. and gallant Member, then the House would be very well occupied in listening to them. It has been my privilege since 1930, at one time and another, to try to consider, and if possible to get on paper, some ideas on this wheat quota Bill, and the thing that has struck me, as one who has also tried, with a great deal of tongue-twisting and very little success, to explain it to his constituents, is, in spite of its astonish- 1217 ing complications—and it has cost me many wet towels round my head—the amazing common sense that exists in it to any practical man. If I may make a plea for my fellow farmers who may have the same difficulty as myself in understanding the wording of the Bill, with its 10-line sentences from comma to comma, it is that the right hon. Gentleman should in effect issue some form of precis as lucid and admirable as his own exposition of the Bill last night. I observe—because I was unfortunately away on other duties last night and could not be here—that in the course of the Debate my name was quoted as being that of a very likely person to oppose the Bill. For the job that it does, I support the Bill whole-heartedly, because it is the first recognition of the real principle of Protection that we have had in this Parliament yet, and it is the first thing that has not been a compromise over agreement to differ. The great virtue of the Bill is that, instead of the population having to pay for the whole, only one-sixth of the cost will be paid for, that is, the production in these islands; and, instead of having the fluctuations which you would have under a tariff, you get a State guarantee of a permanent price, for three years at least, and a settled market.
Many hon. Members have tried to argue the difference that it will make to the consumer in the price of bread. Hon. Members opposite have got up one after another and denounced the principle that the good man should get the equal of or more than the bad man at his job as a wheat farmer, while at the same time they denounce the principle that you should, in regard to the dole, ask for a means test or for a genuinely-seeking-work test. They do not in the least object to the bad man getting the equal of the good man, but they hate to see the good man getting the equal of or more than the bad man. Hon. Members below the Gangway have been flogging the old "Dear food" horse pretty hard, and the hon. Member who spoke last from that quarter against the Bill quoted the Free Trade countries in 1924 and 1930. Among them he specifically mentioned Denmark. The price of the 4-lb. loaf in our own Free Trade country in 1924 was 8½d. and a little more, and in Denmark it was 1s.1½d and a little more, but in 1930, when, by his own admission, the price of wheat 1218 had fallen in this country, still under Free Trade, by 50 per cent., the loaf had fallen here by 10 per cent. or rather less, but in Denmark it had risen to 1s. 6½d.
There is not the time to go into the details of this Bill, but there are two points that I would like to mention. Schedule 2 provides for a Flour Millers' Corporation, but it does not provide for a Growers Corporation, though it hints that this may take place. Surely that is an admirable thing to try to provide for, if you are going in for general agricultural organisation. The second point is that, though the Minister has given us an assurance of a gesture on the part of the millers not to export their milling offals, at the same time there is no assurance whatever in the Bill that there is going to be any control of the export of milling offals. It may or may not be a good point, but it can be very important, and I have this practical suggestion to offer to the Minister, that there should be a quota payment produced for all milling offals exported out of this country, just as there is for milling flour on the whole.
I want now to come to what seems to me to be the crux of the whole matter. Hon. Members opposite have said that the Bill provides for nothing in the way of the whole future of agricultural development in regard to livestock. As to that, I am in complete agreement. I am a livestock farmer, having to gain my living in a completely arable country dependent on wheat. Nothing will provide for the necessary transitional stage from the one form of agriculture to the other until we can have something steady in the arable farming system of this country, and this Bill does provide for it without a rise in cost to the consumer or to the taxpayer. On the other hand, it seems that the Bill must stand or fall on whether it is a step alone or one step in the staircase of the Government's agricultural policy.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) devoted a considerable time to showing, in his most lucid and able speech, that wheat in arable agriculture is the absolute pivot of this country. Wheat in arable agriculture is the pivot of agriculture as it stands to-day, but to say that the growing of wheat by itself is going to cure the difficulties of the livestock farmer is to fly in the face of the experience of the 1219 last few years. The farming industry of this country does not in actual fact depend so much on whether wheat alone is there to relieve the pressure on the livestock industry. For if you consider the barley, oat, and potato acreage in the years 1928–9–30, you find those acreages practically steady, while wheat fell by some hundreds of thousands, and in the same period the cattle and sheep population of the country actually declined. It seems to me that we must take this Bill for its guarantee of the principle that Protection is not only included in tariffs, but can be carried out by other commonsense methods, and it relieves at a time of intense strain, the agricultural industry. At the same time it does not touch the problem of the real revival of agriculture.
The Minister himself has told us that unless we get an indication that farmers will help themselves and will produce their own schemes, we cannot have quantitative control of the imports of bacon, or of meat, or even of milk. And yet he has given that quantitative control in one form or another for wheat, without any guarantee whatever, because he recognises the imperative necessity of wheat. All over the country at this moment pigs, breeding sheep and breeding cattle are being slaughtered simply because there is no guarantee for the future. That is one direction in which the balance of trade can be redressed and employment in agriculture can be given better than anything you can achieve on arable land; because, whatever may be said, too easy a price for wheat and nothing done on the other side will help the mechanisation of arable agriculture which does not require capital—I have done it myself without capital—and reduces the cost of production and the employment of labour by one-half. If this Bill is to stand, as I hope it will, it will only be because it is part of a great principle; and I hope that we shall refuse any longer to play with the problem but put that principle into operation in full in all branches of British agriculture.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
The House has listened to no more damning indictment of the Bill than that which has been delivered by the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington). I am sorry that the Secre- 1220 tary of State for Scotland was not here to listen to his very frank statement of what is a fact and cannot be hidden, even to salve the conscience of a onetime Free Trader. Although this may be greeted by the Noble Lord as a recognition of the real principle of Protection, he has shown without the slightest doubt that he would condemn any policy which was based solely upon the principles of this Bill. When the Minister of Agriculture introduced the Bill, he said no word about it being some part of an extended scheme which the Government had in mind. It has been put before the House as a single piece of policy unlinked to any other piece of policy that we know is to be brought forward. We have always adopted the attitude that was taken by the hon. Member for Eddie-bury (Mr. R. J. Russell), that there are many people in the House who do not realise that times have changed.
We do not believe that the problem which confronts British agriculture to-day can be met by a policy of laissez faire. We agree with the Government that some-thing has to be done. While the Labour party were in power, they attempted to initiate a policy, against the keenest opposition on many occasions from the Conseravtives, of co-operative marketing as the basis upon which a new agriculture could be built up. I have no doubt that the Minister of Agriculture, when he came to draft this Bill, regretted deeply that there was not in existence a wheat marketing board which he might so well have utilised and of which the Noble Lord has deplored the absence. Everybody in the House appreciates that farming, like a great many other industries, has been hard hit by the fall in world prices, but we must not close our eyes to the fact that farming over a considerable time has been complaining of declining prosperity. Although the present time is undoubtedly worse than the years which have preceded it, there is something more than the mere agricultural trouble of the low price of wheat to be dealt with in curing the farming position. The majority of the arguments which the House has heard upon this Bill have proceeded from those Members who are largely interested in the eastern sea-board country where wheat is grown as a prime selling crop, and where it is, to some extent at least, a key or pivotal 1221 crop; but we believe, as many hon. Members on those benches believe, that it would be fundamentally wrong to develop an agricultural policy in this country which made the key position of that policy the growing of wheat, for it is generally recognised, I should have thought, that it is impossible for this country ever to take its place again among the wheat-growing countries of the world. It may be desirable that wheat should be grown on some of the land, and that, in regard to particular areas, assistance should be given to farmers who are obliged for a period to grow cereal crops until they can change over to some other and better crops. The First Commissioner of Works agrees with me, and no doubt he agrees because he knows that it has always been part of the Socialist policy to adopt that attitude.
That is a very different proposition from applying a general measure such as this to the whole of the country, a measure which, in our view, must necessarily tend to increase wheat production in this country. That is a curious step to take when it is generally admitted that the trouble with regard to wheat all over the world is over-production and not underproduction. One can imagine some kind of help being given to those farmers who are now producing wheat and who have been unable yet to change over to a more profitable form of agriculture, in order to assist them in that change-over, but it is difficult to imagine in a world where admittedly the wheat production is too great that steps should be taken to increase the amount of wheat production.
The House is entitled to ask for two things when a Measure of this sort is brought before it. The first is that it should be made quite clear that the Measure will not in any way militate against the development of British farming upon those lines which are thought to be best as a matter of national policy. In order to do that one must ascertain that there is a national policy, and so far the House has had no statement showing that there is any agreed policy in the minds of the Government. In the second place, the House is entitled to ask that any such Measure as this shall safeguard interests other than those of the farmers who are to receive a subsidy under the Bill. If the farmer must be helped, we say it must be on terms, and not at the expense of those who can least afford it.
1222 Let me consider the first point. Will this Bill affect the general policy of British farming? In our view a Bill of this sort, which applies to the whole country irrespective of whether different parts of the country should or should not concentrate upon wheat growing, will indubitably affect the general centre of gravity of British farming. What it is saying to the farmer is this: "You will only get help if you grow wheat. If you want to take the benefit of this largesse you must grow wheat as one of the crops in your rotation." That will inevitably lead, in a number of counties, to an increased cultivation of wheat. In the county in which I live plans have already been made by the farmers to grow more wheat, in order that they may get the benefit of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I quite appreciate that there are many hon. Members who believe that is a wise policy, but there are also many hon. Members who believe it is an unwise policy. The Noble Lord opposite, who is such an authority, agrees with me about that.
What we do ask is that before embarking on a policy of this sort we should at least be told whether the Government has unitedly made up its mind that the right policy for this country is to return to wheat growing as a key crop, rather than to discourage wheat growing and try to change over to those other crops which we believe are so much more likely to prove a profitable and permanent foundation for agriculture in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?") I should have thought that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would know. If they do not know, let me tell them. Meat. [HON. MEMBERS: "Crops!"] Dairy produce. [An HON. MEMBER: "IS meat a crop?"] Certainly. Does the hon. Member think that the only thing that is a crop from a farmer's point of view is something that is rooted in the land. [An HON. MEMBER: "These lawyers again!"] If one believes, as we do, that the whole centre of gravity of farming should be changed to the production of meat, poultry, vegetables and the fresh marketing products for which our market is best suited —and a very large number of agriculturists believe that is the right outlet for farming in this country—then we say that the policy in this Bill is the wrong one from the purely agricultural point of 1223 view, apart altogether from the question of the unfairness or the inequity of the way in which the subsidy is to be paid.
Even if one takes East Anglia, which is admittedly that region of England in which wheat growing is most concentrated, one finds that in the last nine years there has been a progressive change over from wheat as a selling crop to various other crops. I will not trouble to go through all the details of the percentages, but probably Essex presents the most remarkable case. There has been there a reduction of 34 per cent. in wheat growing, and an increase of 23 per cent. in their cattle, an increase of 137 per cent. in poultry products, an increase of 9 per cent. in vegetables, of 21 per cent. in the orchards, and of 44 per cent. in the cultivation of small fruit. That is only a typical case of the slow change-over from one type of agriculture to another, and anybody who is familiar with Essex has probably recognised it when going through the county. It is that type of change-over which we are anxious to encourage, and we find nothing in this Bill which in any way assists it. Even if it is granted that it is necessary to give some form of subsidy while the changeover takes place, there is not one word in this Bill which says that it is for the purpose of facilitating a change-over, or that induces anyone to do anything except continue growing wheat. We say the permanent nature of the subsidy—for it obviously is permanent, in spite of what the Secretary of State for Scotland may say—is an inducement to continue in the existing form of agriculture, and not an inducement to effect that changeover which we believe to be absolutely essential.
It is not only that we wish the changeover to be encouraged, but we also wish the marketing and organisation of agriculture and its distribution to be improved; and again we find nothing in this Bill which is intended to accomplish that end. The great success of Danish agriculture has been ascribed, by reliable writers and observers, as to 90 per cent. to standardisation and as to 10 per cent. to marketing. We believe that any subsidy for any crop in the rotation, it does not matter which it is, should be made dependent upon proper reorganisa- 1224 tion of marketing and standardisation on a co-operative basis. It has always been part of the policy of the Labour party to try to get farmers, compulsorily or voluntarily, to co-operate in their marketing. It was for that purpose that the Agricultural Marketing Act was passed—in a somewhat attenuated form, owing to the activities of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends; but such as it is it remains on the Statute Book; and we believe that, whatever crop the farmer is to be subsidised on, the subsidy should be made dependent upon his reorganising his whole system of distribution.
The subsidy in its present form will affect a very large number of farmers throughout the whole country. Merely to give a subsidy and do nothing more is, we believe, to mistake the shadow for the substance in agricultural reorganisation. We agree, and we always have agreed, that for some limited period, in certain areas in this country, some form of assistance is necessary if the farmer is to be encouraged to change over to the more lucrative forms of agricultural development, and we have always been ready to adopt a policy on those lines; but that is a very different thing from a policy of universal subsidy intended for all the wheat land now under cultivation, and, as some think, for a million acres of wheat land not yet under cultivation which obviously will be brought under cultivation by this Bill. That is the first and fundamental objection we have to the lack of policy in this Bill.
But even if the case exists for helping the East Anglian farmers we say that there is no possible excuse for the clumsy and indirect procedure wrapped round the subsidy in this Bill; wrapped round, I may say, with exceeding ingenuity. Why is it necessary to parade on the front of the Bill that it is without a subsidy from the Exchequer, giving a sort of conjuring trick atmosphere?
The right hon. Gentleman, with that benevolence which always charms the House, is going to produce £6,000,000 out of the bat, and hand it to the farmers. If it is not coming out of the hat, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman where it is coming from? Can we get from the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply to this Debate a categorical answer to the question—who is going to pay the farmer between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "the Wheat Commission." I wonder he did not say "the Bank of England," because that is where they are going to keep their accounts. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether it is to be the millers, the bakers or the consumers, or are they each to pay something? I ask that question for this reason. I say seriously that it is most unfair to lead the public to believe that the millers and the bakers ought to pay a portion of this £6,000,000 unless that is the policy of the Government. The baker will otherwise be told by his customer when the price of bread goes up, "You are cheating me. The Government said the price of bread would not go up." Will the right hon. Gentleman be candid with the House, and say frankly where this £6,000,000 is coming from? I think that that is a duty which he owes definitely to the country, and especially to the milling and the baking industries, in order that they may not have to bear the brunt of the blows which ought to fall upon his head.
I am surprised that it should really have been necessary for him to wrap up this question of who is to pay in such a mystery except that he saw the Secretary of State for Scotland here. Perhaps it was the instinct of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, lest he should hurt that too tender conscience near him. Even that that statement, so carefully wrapped up, should be able to salve the right hon. Gentleman's conscience seems a little incredible after the really fierce denunciation of the food taxes which we had from him on a former occasion. Let me remind the House what the right hon. Gentleman said:There will never be a more sympathetic and a more knowledgable Minister of Agriculture than the present Minister. He is a Protectionist, and there T part company with him—But they are walking out once more.but he and those concerned with him in dealing with the problems of agriculture are doing the best they can on Protectionist lines, and I warn the farmers of this country, so far as my voice can reach them, that they are making a great mistake if they think that some other Government will come in and give them all that protection which they believe they require, give them prosperity at the expense of the masses of 1226 the consumers who represent 93 out of every 100 people in the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1932; col. 1505, Vol 261.]A curious change of opinion seems to have come over the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that fierce denunciation of the people's food taxes seems to have disappeared in view of the abracadabra in this Bill. I can assure him that, however carefully it is wrapped up, this is the means, and, as the Noble Lord said frankly, the only means, of bringing about the protection of agriculture in the true sense of the word "Protection." Wrap it up as you will, camouflage it as you like, the fact will become apparent before very long, that unless the right hon. Gentleman has agreed with the millers or the bakers that they are to bear the burden, the burden will inevitably fall upon the consumers.
The House will remember this, that the figures in the first few months will be deceptive, as a result of a method which is so ingenious that it must have come from the right hon. Gentleman's own brain. As I understand it, the first 16 months of quota under the Bill are going to pay for the first year's production of wheat, so that there will be that much less quota during that initial period of 16 months, or whatever the period is, from the time when the Act is passed; and that, of course, will lead people to say, "Oh, this is much less than was suggested." The figure which the right hon. Gentleman gave was 2s. 6d. as the increase in price per sack. The actual figure that he had—I am not complaining in any way—was 2s. 7d.; by the courtesy of his Department I have had the calculation supplied to me. That shows that the calculation was based upon a production during the current year of only just over 20,000,000 cwts., and, if we increase that production up to the 27,000,000 cwts. at which it will inevitably arrive in the second year, the increase, assuming present prices, will be 3e. 5d, per sack, so that it approaches the figure of 4s. which leads to the increase in price of½d. which was the figure that was given us, a little prematurely and a little to the shock of the right hon. Gentleman, by the Home Secretary in a previous Debate. We say that that figure is far too much to expect any consumer of bread in large quantities to bear for the sake of subsidising the farmer.
1227 If there must be a subsidy, if it is the only way of getting over this difficulty, it must be limited to a precise area, and it must come from the Exchequer, and not from the poorest persons, who will have to bear the tax in this case; unless, of course, the right hon. Gentleman has arranged—and we should be only too grateful for it—that the subsidy should come out of the profits of the millers and the bakers. We think that there is probably plenty of room there for the profits to come from, and it may be that we are going to have announced to us almost immediately that that, in fact, is the arrangement which the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to make, and that it was only his natural modesty which prevented him from declaring it at an earlier time. At least, if an Exchequer grant were made, it would be a straightforward grant which could be understood by everybody, and to which everybody would contribute according to his ability; and not, as the hon. Lady who spoke from these benches said, a sort of Alice-in-the-looking-glass inverse taxation, falling, as the Secretary of State for Scotland pointed out so admirably in his speech on the Import Duties Bill, with the greatest weight upon those who could least afford to bear it, like all food taxes.
We say, further, that, if this subsidy is to be paid, it should only be paid upon certain terms, which should be insisted upon in the Bill—not vague statements that of course the millers will do this, or of course the farmers will do that, or of course someone else will not do something else. If those statements are accurate, let us have them in the Bill as conditions, because then we shall know exactly where we are. Why is it that, whenever industry or agriculture is in trouble, it flies to the State for help, but seems to resent the fact that the State seeks to impose some conditions on the giving of that help? We are only too anxious that industry and agriculture should come permanently under the wing of the State in a very real way, but we are not satisfied merely to allow it to come and draw its money unconditionally and without any type of control at all.
The right hon. Gentleman says the wage earner will be protected. If he is to be protected, let us have it in the 1228 Bill. Let us have a guarantee that some proportion of this extra profit which is going to the farmer as a subsidy shall find its way into the wage earner's pocket. We are not satisfied, however good the intentions of farmers as a whole may be, that there may not be some who will delay this money in its passage to the pockets of the wage earner, and we shall ask the right hon. Gentleman, and give him an opportunity we hope in Committee, to insert some provision. But there is one fundamental condition which we believe to be more important than any, and that is that, before the State or the consumers are called upon to enter into any expenditure for the purpose of agriculture, the land should be nationalised so that the State can get the benefit of the expenditure. I should like to ask any hon. Member opposite who owns land whether he would be prepared to lay out large sums of money on his neighbour's land without any right of ownership whatsoever. There is not one who will say "Yes" to that question.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I do not know the domestic concerns of the Noble Lord, and I cannot enter into the conditions under which he owns land, but that does not seem quite to answer the question. Is he prepared to lay out his money on capital expenditure on land to which he has no title whatsoever? The answer is "No." I am glad to get his confirmation. We say the position as regards the expenditure of State money on agricultural improvement is precisely the same. So long as an individual does not want State assistance, let him go on with his farm and farm it himself. If he wants the State to spend money on it, the State must have the ownership of the land. That seems to me to be a very natural and a very sound principle, and I do not believe any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite can possibly dispute its soundness. They may dislike it. I have no doubt they do. Many of them, on the other hand, would welcome nationalisation as a means of getting rid of a bad investment. It is for these reasons that we believe that, in any large expenditure upon agricultural policy, nationalisation must first take place, and we object to any further expenditure un- 1229 less it is made upon the basis of safeguards. We object to this Bill because we believe it is giving a wrong direction to British agriculture, a direction which will not enable it to reconstruct itself in the future, but will leave it in five years' time in precisely the position in which it is now.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)
The hon. and learned Gentleman at the beginning of his speech was almost complimentary to the Government Bill. In fact, he went further than some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway on this side in frankly admitting that there was a case for dealing with wheat now, and that it is a specific problem with which the Government have to deal. That, no doubt, is why the Labour party opposite have not put down a blank negative to this Bill, but the device of what is known as the reasoned Amendment. But though he admits that something has to be done, at least in the Eastern counties, the whole point of that admission was completely done away with, not merely with regard to the Bill but with regard to every single Measure for agriculture, because he said that before the State has to do anything for any branch of agriculture the land has to be nationalised; that nationalisation has to proceed before anything can be done for agriculture. It is not the mandate of the people of this country at any rate for five years. Nothing at all is to be done for agriculture if we are to adopt the device, and, incidentally, the very terms of the reasoned Amendment of the Opposition.
They still believe that the only way in which to do any good for the people of this country is for the Government to own everything and run everybody. Everybody knows that that would be the end of all progress and prosperity. It would stereotype and sterilise all activity on all estates. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that one of the reasons why they do not like the Bill is that it will not speed up the change over of agriculture. What change over? Is it so that the industry shall be controlled by politicians and civil servants? They know perfectly well that by trotting out this old stalking horse of Nationalisation based upon Karl Marxian doctrines they are flogging a dead horse which is 1230 never going to win a race in England. The House realises what I mean.
I come to the point which the hon. and learned Gentleman made, that there are other objections apart from the objection that the Bill does not begin by nationalising the land. Their specific objection is that it deals only with wheat. They say, "Oh, this is not a comprehensive Measure." It does not pretend to be a comprehensive Measure. It is entitled a Wheat Bill, and it only deals with one part and one element in the agricultural policy of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture a few days ago read out a statement of agricultural policy which included a number of the things to which the hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention. It even included the setting up of committees and commissions under his pet Marketing Act. The Government have every intention of going forward. Until you have dealt, at any rate in part, with the cereal situation and with the depression in the cereal areas, you will never get effective co-operation of the agricultural interests of this country in those matters. Unless you deal with the most urgent problem and the most depressed area of agriculture, you will not, I believe, be able to get that useful progress and effective co-operation with the industry in developing your milk policy, bacon policy, fruit policy, potato policy and all the other groups seriatim. The more one studies the various branches of the agricultural industry, the more one realises that they have to be taken step by step and that the simile of the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) was perfectly correct, that this is one step in the staircase.
Let me come to the report which has been quoted so often, the report of the imperial Economic Committee, which came out a short time ago. Some extracts have been given from the report but not the most important ones. The report says:With the year 1930 began a long period of falling wheat prices, which has continued ever since. The year 1930–31 was disastrous.They go on:The relative fall in wheat prices has been much higher than in the prices of general commodities. This disparity of fall was specially noticeable in 1930–31.1231 Here is another quotation:The general trend of wholesale prices of wheat relative to those of the other agricultural commodities has been unmistakably downwards. In fact it would appear that the purchasing power of wheat relative to other commodities has declined 40 per cent. in recent years.Another quotation:The outstanding feature of the wheat situation is the catastrophic fall in prices since the autumn of 1929, following on the relatively slow but continuous downward trend of prices since 1925.Those are the facts which they bring out, and if we compare the lot of the wheat grower with the admittedly depressed agricultural areas outside the wheat belt, we must admit, on the evidence, that they have suffered far more and that, depressed as the other sections of the industry are, the wheat section is the most depressed and, therefore, demands some priority of consideration.
I admit that more than half of the present wheat acreage of England and Wales, I exclude Scotland, is situated in six counties, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Lancashire and the East Riding of Yorkshire. Although more than half of the present wheat area is there, no fewer than 120,000 farmers out of 400,000 farmers in England and Wales do grow some wheat. Therefore, this Bill affects a number of the most depressed counties, where the pressure of lower wages is felt, where the bankruptcies are most numerous and where the present condition of everybody engaged in the agricultural industry is worst. While it is primarily intended for them, it brings direct benefit to a very large number of farmers, admittedly on a much smaller scale.
It is true that in the six counties, for geological and climatic reasons, particularly for geological reasons, wheat must certainly remain the pivotal arable crop. But even outside that area wheat must be of some importance as a pivotal crop in rotation in the supply of straw and in the balance of farming necessary to the progress of livestock farming which, like the hon. and learned Member, I wish to promote. Looking at it from the point of view of the Eastern Counties this is a definite attempt to relieve real distress. Let us look at it from the national point of view. I believe that the majority of this House, indeed the majority of this 1232 nation, do not wish to see wheat production disappear from these islands. That desire is based on broad national grounds. Whatever the pure Free Trade dogma may say it is desirable that some portion of wheat cultivation should be maintained partly as a line of defence and partly as an element in our husbandry. That is the object of this Bill.
Now as regards the degree. Clearly this is not a, Bill for the unlimited expansion of wheat growing. There are two definite considerations—the 6,000,000 qrs. and the standard price, reviewable after three years. These two provisions are designed deliberately so that we shall, as it were, be bound to the broad consideration that it is desirable that approximately 15 per cent. of our requirements of flour—that is not asking too much—should be produced inside our own area. The hon. and learned Member said that the 6,000,000 qrs. will be reached. I wonder; they may he. I hope they will. He thinks that the price of 45s. per qr. is very attractive. It is attractive to those farmers who are now only getting 27s. or 28s. per qr., but it is not such a price as is likely to lead to the ploughing up of good grass land or to the cultivation of wheat in areas which are unsuitable for the crop. Probably this year and next year we shall not reach the 6,000,000 qrs. because it means the production of a good harvest on about 1,750,000 acres. It is perfectly clear that we shall not get a rapid extension to that point, but even if we do it must be remembered that when we reach that figure we shall only be up to the average of the five pre-War years.
British wheat production has been steadily declining. In the seventies, at a time when the great slump in agriculture began under the long history of Free Trade, we had 3,600,000 acres under wheat. We had a long decline down to this 1,750,000 acres, from the average of the five pre-War years. Then, owing to the propaganda of the Government and the necessities of the nation, the acreage increased enormously. After the War farmers were encouraged to keep that acreage under wheat, I think probably rather unduly encouraged. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) went to that famous farmers' meeting at the Central Hall, Westminster, and said that 1233 never again was the land to go back to grass; it was to be kept under the plough, and all the rest of it; and the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Corn Production Act, Parts I and II. We all remember what happened. In one year Part I of that Act, with the guaranteed price for cereals, went, and Part II, imposing, quite rightly we all think, the necessity for higher costs of production and for a standard of wages which had not existed before the War and which all parties supported, permanently put up the farmers' costs at a time when prices were steadily coming down. I regard this Measure as at any rate doing something to undo the injustice clone to the farmers of this country by the partial repeal of the Corn Production Act by the Coalition Government. Farmers have felt that the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs let them down.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I voted against the repeal of the Corn Production Act. I opposed the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs vigorously on that subject, in speech and vote. It is perfectly clear that the system adopted in this Bill is in effect a form of protection. A tariff is not the only form of protection. Many of the proposals of the party opposite are even more violent protection than anything in this Bill. Some of us, incidentally, are most anxious to protect the consumers of this country as well as the producers from the kind of protection that is frequently advocated by hon. Members opposite. But let us see how this particular proposal has been devised, and let us realise that at last, both in the matter of quotas and in the matter of tariffs, we are going, I hope, to be able to get away from the kind of arguments, I admit used on both sides, which really lead us nowhere—the kind of argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman led up to in the attempt to ascertain whether the miller or the baker or the biscuit manufacturer or the consumer, or whoever it was exactly, was going to pay the difference. You cannot possibly tell exactly, except by practice, by ascertaining in practice what happens.
1234 Let us look at what has happened in the last few weeks. People who dogmatise have had one or two rather rude awakenings lately. I remember being told that the moment the country went off the Gold Standard, ipso facto by the amount that we went off the Gold Standard so prices would rise. We went off the Gold Standard, and prices actually fell. Equally, we are told in all these textbooks and in the arguments of hon. Members opposite, that rents would be raised by increased prices. If they put that in their answers in Ruskin College, they must be proud. Thank goodness, we are going to ascertain whether these pure doctrines which have been trotted out in the name of political economy really do work out in practice. We believe that the increased cost to the consumer will be either nothing at all, or infinitesimally small. We do know that a sum of money will be collected on every sack of flour, whether it is milled in this country or whether imported. It may go into bread or biscuits or anything else, but that sum of money on that flour will be paid to the Wheat Commission and be called the quota payment, and the Wheat Commission, at the end of each cereal year, will pay to the farmer for each quarter of wheat a payment to be called the deficiency payment.
That is the whole Bill. There is a lot of legal verbiage, but that is the effect of the whole Bill. The producer is concerned in having a certificate of the sale of wheat which he can present to the Wheat Commission, and at the end of the year he will get the difference between the standard price and the average price for the year. In order to get that money, all the sellers of flour will collect the payments so as to establish that fund. The rest of the Bill is machinery, and I want to say a word about the machinery, because it is important that it should be understood. It is very important in the interest of the harmonious and successful working of this scheme that the farmers should not hoard their wheat. It is essential for the smooth working of the scheme that after the harvest, as the wheat is threshed, it should be sold over the period of the year. It is important that that should be realised, because a great deal of the success of the scheme from the national point of view and that of the farmers, will depend upon it—and certainly the question of its permanence 1235 will very largely depend on its smooth working in that respect. Therefore, it is most desirable that the farmers should take the opportunity of the market.
It is also important to make it clear to hon. Members opposite and all concerned, that not every farmer will get 45s. Some will get more and some less, according as these get a good price by their own personal sale or not, because the deficiency payment is a flat rate for all and the farmer, by having well-graded, well-harvested and well-bagged wheat, will get the benefit as against the man who does not do the work as well. We leave, and, I think, we wisely leave the trade, the corn merchants, with the minimum of interference, though there must be registration. We hope that the growers will organise themselves locally at first and increasingly later on, but it is most important to maintain the ordinary channels of distribution. That is vital, in the interests of the country mills, in the interests of the local corn merchants, and in the interests of the users of bran, offals and the like and the users of all wheat for purposes other than for milling into bread and flour. One of the designs of this Bill and one of the reasons why its phraseology may appear on the face of it to be somewhat complex, is because we have endeavoured to build up and to start a quota system with a minimum of Government control and Government interference. We desire the experience of the trade and the experience of producers to have free play rather than to impose reorganisation and uniform ideas upon the industry and the farming community.
Let me conclude by saying that this, the first essential step in the rehabilita-
§ tion of British agriculture, must not be regarded as standing alone. There is a gigantic field for improvement in our agricultural methods, particularly on the marketing side. It is not by any attempt to stereotype existing methods of production, either of cereals or anything else, it is not by attempting to force one particular crop upon the country or to maintain one particular kind of production that we shall deal with the problem. It is because, in view of the facts of to-day, something has to be done for the wheat farmer and his labourers; it is because something has to be done for the most depressed section of British agriculture; it is because something has to be done for the balancing of the industry—it is for those reasons that this Bill is a necessary first step. Do not let us be under the delusion that there are not other and far more extensive fields for co-operation and building up not necessarily only on the marketing side. There is a great future for the agriculture of this country if the Government, the farmers, the labourers, the landlords and the distributors all co-operate and the best feature of this Bill is the fact that whereas hitherto the farmer has been all too apt to regard the miller as his enemy, in this Bill they have come together to work for a national scheme. So I believe that on the other side of the industry by getting the milk distributors and the milk producers together, we can go forward on a national policy which will refresh the countryside.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 428; Noes, 55.1239
|Division No. 92.]||AYES.||[11.1 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Borodale, Viscount|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Bossom, A. C.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Boulton, W. W.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Balniel, Lord||Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart|
|Albery, Irving James||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton|
|Alexander, Sir William||Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Bracken, Brendan|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)||Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Bernays, Robert||Briscoe, Capt. Richard George|
|Apsley, Lord||Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Broadbent, Colonel John|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd, Hexham)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.)||Brown. Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Blindell, James||Browne, Captain A. C.|
|Buchan, John||Ganzoni, Sir John||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Gibson, Charles Granville||Leckie, J. A.|
|Burghley, Lord||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Burnett, John George||Gledhill, Gilbert||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Glossop, C. W. H.||Lewis, Oswald|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Liddall, Walter S.|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Goff, Sir Park||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Goldie, Noel B.||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Carver, Major William H.||Gower, Sir Robert||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd.Gr'n)|
|Cassels, James Dale||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||Granville, Edgar||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Graves, Marjorie||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Greene, William P. C.||Lymington, Viscount|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)||Mabane, William|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.(Birm., W)||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgbaston)||Grimston, R. V.||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Gunston, Captain D. W.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Christle, James Archibald||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hales, Harold K.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||McEwen, J. H. F.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||McLean, Major Alan|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Ztl'nd)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hammersley, Samuel S,||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Colville, Major David John||Hanbury, Cecil||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Hanley, Dennis A.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon James I.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Magnay, Thomas|
|Cooke, Douglas||Hartington, Marquess of||Maitland, Adam|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hartland, George A.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Copeland, Ida||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenn'gt'n)||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Marjoribanks, Edward|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Haslam, Henry (Lindsay, H'ncastle)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Meller, Richard James|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Cross, R. H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Millar, Sir James Duncan|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hillman, Dr. George B.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Milne, Charles|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)||Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Hare-Belisha, Leslie||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hornby, Frank||Mitcheson, G. G.|
|Denville, Alfred||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Horobin, Ian M.||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres|
|Dixey, Arthur C. N.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond)|
|Donner, P. W.||Howard, Tom Forrest||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)|
|Drewe, Cedric||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Moreing, Adrian C.|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Morrison, William Shephard|
|Eales, John Frederick||Hurd, Percy A.||Moss, Captain H. J.|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Muirhead, Major A. J.|
|Eden, Robert Anthony||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Munro, Patrick|
|Edge, Sir William||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Nall-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Iveagh, Countess of||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.|
|Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.|
|Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Jamieson, Douglas||Nicholson, O. W. (Westminster)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Jennings, Roland||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Normand, Wilfrid Guild|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||North, Captain Edward T.|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Nunn, William|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Ker, J. Campbell||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ormiston, Thomas|
|Fermoy, Lord||Kimball, Lawrence||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Fox, Sir Gifford W. G.||Knebworth, Viscount||Peake, Captain Osbert|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Pearson, William G.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Peat, Charles U.|
|Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Penny, Sir George|
|Perkins, Walter R. D.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Peters, Dr. Sidney John||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Petherick, M.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Thompson, Luke|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Savery, Samuel Servington||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Blist'n)||Scone, Lord||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Pike, Cecil F.||Selley, Harry R.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Pybus, Percy John||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Train, John|
|Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Ramsden, E.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Rankin, Robert||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Ratcliffe, Arthur||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Rea, Walter Russell||Smithers, Waldron||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Somervell, Donald Bradley||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Reid, David D. (County Down)||Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Soper, Richard||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Renwick, Major Gustav A.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Robinson, John Roland||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Rosbotham, S. T.||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Ross, Ronald D.||Stevenson, James||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Rose Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Stones, James||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Rothschild, James A. de||Storey, Samuel||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Stourton, Hon. John J.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Strauss, Edward A.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Runge, Norah Cecil||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield,B'tside)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Russell, Richard John (Eddlsbury)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Salt, Edward W.||Sutcliffe, Harold||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Taylor,Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gtn,S.)||Captain Margesson and Mr. Shakespeare.|
|Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Templeton, William P.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grundy, Thomas W.||McGovern, John|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Harris, Sir Percy||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Buchanan, George||Hicks, Ernest George||Mallalieu, Edward Lanceiot|
|Cape, Thomas||Hirst, George Henry||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Holdsworth, Herbert||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)|
|Cove, William G.||Hopkinson, Austin||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Cowan, D. M.||Janner, Barnett||Owen, Major Goronwy|
|Cripps, sir Stafford||Jenkins, Sir William||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Daggar, George||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Price, Gabriel|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Edwards, Charles||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Leonard, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lunn, William|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]