§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The spectacle of a Minister of Agriculture introducing a Bill upon his subject in any country is one which excites the liveliest apprehensions in the minds of almost every section of the community. Agriculturists fear lest some interference with them and with their ancient customs is contemplated. Consumers do their utmost to see that their interests are not being neglected, and, as for the Opposition parties, they gather round feeling that at any rate this is a subject upon which everyone regards himself as an expert and upon which everyone is anxious to give the benefit of his opinion to the House and to the country.
Furthermore, the Minister himself in any such Debate is speaking, of course, not only for a great industry, and an industry which is closely bound up with the interests of the other industries carried on in his country. In almost every country in the world there is a certain, I will not say conflict of interests, but necessity for co-operation between the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture, and this as I say arouses the liveliest apprehensions on the one side among the supporters of the President of the Board of Trade and, on the other side, among the supporters of the Minister of Agriculture. Only in Germany has this conflict been resolved and, there, the same Minister holds both these portfolios. Whether it would be an appropriate matter for the two to be amalgamated and the two matters to be "squared" in mathematical terms I cannot say, nor can I say which sign would be affixed to that equation—plus or minus. I can only say that those of us who have to deal with those discussions realise to the full the close importance which they carry both to trade, and to the ancient industry of agriculture, which, more and more, among the peoples of all lands, is being regarded as a lifeline, by which alone, they may be able to pull 1624 themselves out of the present slough of depression.
We have three tasks before us in the Debates which are just beginning upon this Bill. The object of the Government, first of all, if it can be done, is to hold and to improve the position of British agriculture. Secondly, we have to reconcile our work with world economics in order to make our contribution to the very difficult questions which are being placed before economists and statesmen in connection with the present economic chaos which weighs on the exchanges and on the markets of the whole world. And, thirdly, we have to see whether it is possible—as I believe it is possible—for agriculture to give a lead to the twentieth century state in organisation and development, so that it may pass from being the least organised of industries to the most adequately organised of industries, and we may be able to secure partnership between the producer, the processor and the distributor, which is one of the great problems of our time and leads to a continuous course of dispute growing more and more acrid as times have gone on.
When this Debate was announced the House, with what I can only consider to be a kindly disposition towards the success of the Measure, universally felt that it should not be introduced and concluded on a day with the unlucky number of 13, and therefore it asked for a further day, which I understand, is to be given next week. That enables us to be sure that the proposals of the Government will be very thoroughly and carefully canvassed. In the interval of a week it will be possible for far more attention to be given to these proposals than would have been the case if they had just been introduced and concluded in one day, or even in a Debate of two consecutive days. That is right and necessary. The proposals which we bring forward are admittedly drastic, far-reaching and novel, and our only justification for them is that they are not more drastic than the situation demands, that they are not more novel than the circumstances which confront us, and that they are not more far-reaching than the emergency which has brought these proposals into being. We are dealing with a crisis superimposed upon a decline. In the post-War years agriculture, after tumbling from the initial peak of high prices to which the 1625 War and post-War years gave birth, moved into a term in which the price-curve more or less flattened out, up till, say, 1929. Although agricultural prices were declining, agriculture as a whole was not in a condition of acute crisis in this country. It was in a position of great difficulty, because, as I shall show later on, we have to compete on every occasion, or had to compete, with the selected man, producing the selected product at the selected moment. But world agriculture as a whole was not unprosperous.
I will make one exception to that. It is an odd thing in examining the price movements and the commodity productions of the post-War period that the first agriculture to feel the shock was tropical agriculture, and that in the tropics the production of staple products did in these relatively prosperous years encounter the same shock and go through the same stages of collapse as we are now experiencing in temperate agriculture. The production of sugar, for instance, came upon extraordinarily hard times and fell upon very evil days. As to the production of rubber, as we all know, the prices in respect of rubber production fell catastrophically, and it is well worth remembering that in addition to the catastrophic decline in the prosperous decade, they have suffered another decline scarcely less catastrophic in. the slump between 1929 and the present day. It is a very interesting speculation as to the extent to which that could have been avoided by planning. There were plans brought in for both those commodities— the Chadbourne plan for sugar, and the Stevenson plan for rubber. It is true that the latter scheme failed, but that was because it was impossible to get in all producers. The Chadbourne plan— the sugar plan—has, at any rate had more encouraging results. If one looks at the prices of sugar one will find that there is not a second slump, and that would seem to indicate that by planning at any rate, some of the evils which lie before agriculture in this crash period can be prevented.
But, passing to agriculture of the temperate zone, we have to realise that it is a world problem and that the fall in agricultural prices is not confined to this country alone. It has been specially intense in this country, because as door after door was slammed all over the 1626 world, as continent after continent closed its doors against agricultural imports, such agricultural imports came in increasing velocity and in a cumulative avalanche upon our shores, so that, in addition to meeting this selected man, producing the selected products upon the selected day, we had to meet what is nothing more nor less than a, series of bankrupt sales. While it may be true that the British producer is equal to any man, or to any two men, in a competition of mutual bankruptcy, it is useless to suppose that, in addition to being a most scientific man, he should also prove to have the longest purse in competition between this Island and the whole of the rest of the world in bankruptcy.
Between 1929 and 1932 the prices in the chief exporting countries had fallen to a half; in 1929 they were double what they were in 1932. It is worth while for the House to observe that, although a decline in industrial prices had also taken place, yet that was immediately reflected in a decline in industrial products, whereas a decline in agricultural prices of 50 per cent. was only accompanied by 1 per cent. diminution in agricultural production. Although the world was showing more and more clearly after every month which passed that it was not anxious or able to absorb the quantity of agricultural goods which were being offered, and saying it in the most clear and unmistakable fashion by a fall in prices to that catastrophic amount, yet agriculture was only able to respond by a 1 per cent. diminution of the production which it was asking the world to purchase from it.
It is said that a farmer can go on seven years after he has been made bankrupt. That enshrines an economic fact which it is well worth while to remember at this time. The long slow processes of agriculture go on for several years after it has been clearly proved that the processes are uneconomic, and there is a succession of years' products that have still to be put on the market. The processes cannot be arrested by turning the wheel or by locking the door as can be so many of the processes of industry. When this position was reached, that is, the position in which the prices obtainable were clearly below the replacement value and below replacement value all over the world, every country began to examine its own particular position and 1627 many remedies were brought forward. One of the obvious objects of attack was of course any fixed charge which agriculture was bearing, more particularly the charge known as rent.
I notice that my hon. Friends opposite have put down an Amendment in which they animadvert upon the possibility of rent being maintained under any system of remedial measures which is put forward. If one adopts this simple criterion of replacement value, one can see that there is no escape from the agricultural depression in the abolition of rent, not even in the total abolition of rent, because, as any practical man knows, the chief item in rent—and in Great Britain, actuarially speaking, the only item in rent just now—is the replacement value of the plant and equipment on the land. That will have to be put there under any system of agriculture; it will have to be maintained under any kind of tenure. Therefore, sooner or later, these charges will have to be borne by agriculture or by the consumer of the product of agriculture, for they are an unescapable part of the sum total of the charges which any agricultural product will have to bear. There is, therefore, no avenue of escape along that line.
It is said also that the middleman is the villain of the piece. I am willing to discuss that question, although I think that it comes more into the consideration of the Committee stage, for this Bill puts it once and for all into the power of the producer to test that statement by organising to see whether he can do it cheaper or not. That is the only final test. There is no escape in saying that it is a terrible thing that it should cost so much to distribute an article. The question is: can the producer do it cheaper? That will be the test, which in future it will be possible to apply to any of the processes in which the agriculturist is interested. I think that it will be found that there is not so much hope along that line either, and that an over-emphasis can be placed in these days upon the necessity for those 100 per cent. super-effective efficiency schemes. There is a type of rationalisation of industry which more often produces as much hardship and as much expense as the small margin of inefficiency and waste which it is designed to do away with. The Lord President of the Council on a pre- 1628 vious occasion gave an account of his work in Worcestershire, where there were a certain number of old gentlemen who did not do very much but sit down on barrows and smoke. It may be better for the world that such people should be ruthlessly eliminated from the processes of fellowship with their fellow employés. That may be a question of argument in industry, but I am sure that agriculture cannot operate this razor edge efficiency which has come to be the fashion in Taylorised industrial production.
So we come bluntly upon the solution that we must seek to establish an equilibrium of price levels. We must seek to establish replacement value as the criterion of what shall be asked from the consumer for the product which he is attempting to consume. We must, therefore, ask ourselves what that level is to be. Is it to be determined by the lowest cost of the most favourably situated producers? That was the solution of the nineteenth century. It was the gospel associated with the widely renowned names of the Manchester school. They followed this to the extreme, and said, "Let all the barriers be swept away, and we shall succeed in getting an absolutely homogenous planet in which everything will be produced at the most favourable rate, and no interference of any kind will be made in the currents of trade." You cannot cover that blank sheet of paper with all the restrictive covenants of the Labour organisations without some of the writing showing through on the other side. The Manchester doctrine of Free Trade involved the lack of recognition of any kind of labour organisation, and Bright defended in this House the employment of children from 5 in the morning until 8 at night, because, he said, it was wrong to interfere between employers and workmen as that was an interference with trade. When the House abandoned that doctrine, it abandoned the complementary doctrine of an absolute freedom of movement of goods about tae country.
It is no longer the national policy to buy all over the world in the cheapest market, because we cannot afford it. That is a great lesson which we have learnt to-day. Is home agriculture to be asked to compete against and to beat the selected man producing the selected product on selected land, and marketing it at the most favourable moment for him- 1629 self? If so, British agriculture is doomed. The replacement value must be, for the renewal of products which can reasonably be produced in this country as in any other, replacement value here in these islands. Here in these islands we intend to ensure that British agriculture shall continue to thrive, and, if we can ensure it, to flourish. Other countries have the power to say that Britain shall no longer be the workshop of the world. They have the power to lock us out of the factories. As other countries lock us out of the factories, they send us into the fields, and the rest of the world may well consider what will happen if the whole weight of the power, the skill, the inventive genius, the sympathy with the soil which the British have shown in the past, are flung back into the ancient industry of agriculture, in which this country is not second to any, and from which it was temporarily seduced for 50 years because there were other much more amusing and profitable things in the factories, the mines and the workshops upon which to engage.
We have to deal with facts as they are, we have to consider how other countries have now put up barriers against the products of this country which only with the greatest difficulty can we succeed in moderating at all, and we have to take it for granted that they will not in the future sweep away all these barriers, as so many of our economists and some of our politicians are so anxious to persuade us that they will. We have to deal with the twentieth century, a century which sees countries organising nationally the exchange of their products, and certainly when we deal with that situation we shall work out to something much nearer the provisions of this Bill than of the ideal world as it was sketched by the nineteenth century economists.
It is necessary to deal for a moment with the Amendments which have been put down by the Opposition, and also by the opposition to the Opposition which I am glad to see is in its place. The Leader of the Opposition has put down an Amendment for the rejection of this Bill on the ground that it is:primarily designed to raise the prices of agricultural products by the creation of scarcity in a time of plenty, fails to give the Government any effective means of controlling or planning the agricultural industry, provides no protection for the consumer or any improvement in the lot of the agricultural labourer, and will, so long as the land1630is left in private ownership, result in the consumers subsidising the middlemen and the landlords.I compare that Amendment with interest with the Debates on the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, which at any rate the Leader of the Opposition will remember, for he was a member of the Cabinet which introduced and backed that Bill. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will also remember it, for he also took an honourable part in that administration; and, indeed, the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) will remember it, for he defended it on the Floor of the House during its passage into law. Are not most of the points which they raise in their Amendment met by the fact that the proposals in this Bill are the logical development of the proposals of the Act of 1931? I am grateful to them, and I am grateful to the opposition to the Opposition also, for having done their utmost to convince, not my hon. and right hon. Friends in this House, but the Press outside, that this is not, as some of the Press fear, a mere Socialistic Measure which has been pushed upon the Government of the day by an all-too-skilled Opposition. I can point to these Amendments in proof of the fact that it is not.
The Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, was accepted by all parties in this House when it was under consideration here as a non-party Measure. It had developed out of many experiences which we had had in the past, and was more strongly supported, I think, by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Aldershot Division (Viscount Wolmer) than by any one else in the House. It is true that we divided against the Third Reading, and why did we do so? We divided against it, as our Amendment said, simply on the ground that the Bill was part, and only part, of the whole story; and it is an example of consistency which is not, perhaps, always found in the history of parties in opposition who subsequently find themselves in office that I am able to refer to the Opposition Amendment when we were in opposition, moved by two hon. Friends of mine, who certainly could never be accused of being Socialists in disguise, or any other kind of Socialist —
§ Major ELLIOT
It was moved on behalf of the whole Conservative party by the Opposition of the day. It is an interesting thing that we can now put our finger on that Amendment, which proposed that:This House cannot assent to the Third Reading of a Bill which, despite great depression in agriculture, imposes upon home producers solely a dislocation of trading facilities while leaving unfettered freedom to competing importers." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1931; col. 168, Vol. 255.]To-day we come before the House to complete this story, and to write into this series of Statutes the words which alone can make that scheme effective. Nobody can deny, and certainly not Dr. Addison, to whom, I think, the agricultural industry eventually entrusted a great deal of its confidence, that as those Debates continued it became more and more clear that to say that we could organise, regulate and control the agricultural products of Kent while leaving open at Dover a door through which the whole of the agricultural produce of the Continent could pour in without the slightest check or restriction was to ask British agriculturists to accept something which was not common sense. The proposals which we bring forward are in-tended to deal not with half the market but with all the market. The market cannot permanently endure in a state of half chaos and half order, especially if the chaos is all on this side, but we say further without hesitation that the market certainly cannot endure if the only one to organise, the only one to submit to all the difficulties which organisation brings about, the only one to be regulated by the British Government is the British producer. It is quite clear that under those conditions regulations will not be accepted by the British producer.
The proposals in this Bill deal with the whole of the market, and therefore it is a proposal which we may commend with the utmost confidence not merely to the House and to the country but to the industry, and unless we have the support and the agreement of the industry it is useless to suppose that any of these proposals will work. We know, in fact, that since it has been manifest to the industry that they would not be alone in being asked to regulate, that the surplus would not entirely be dealt with at their expense, a complete new spirit has breathed 1632 over the agricultural industry and the whole of the ideas of marketing which the 1931 Act enshrined. While it is true that only one agricultural marketing scheme is at present in operation, nine more, as I said to my hon. Friend at Question Time, have since been brought forward, and brought forward, I venture to suggest, almost entirely because of the promise held out to the fanners that if they would organise at home the Government would see that that organisation was not swamped by imports from abroad. The Amendment speaks of:The creation of scarcity in a time of plenty.Surely it is an odd thing for the Labour party to put forward an Amendment-couched in those terms. It seems an odd thing for a party who have always quite explicitly held that it is necessary to withhold certain things from the market if that must be done for the sake of producers as a whole to come here and argue that everything that it is possible to put on the market should be put on the market without any question of what it will fetch. "A time of plenty," when, as we know, the man who sows the barley cannot afford to drink the beer. "A time of plenty," when the man who feeds the pig is unable to afford to eat the bacon. "A time of plenty," when the man who flays and cuts up the beast has to use rubber or cardboard for the soles of his boots instead of honest leather, which he might otherwise get. It is all very well for my hon. Friend to say that it is a wicked world. He is not by this Amendment which he is supporting doing anything to remove its wickedness, whereas we are taking some definite step whereby, I hope, we shall in the 'end secure his support.
I do not wish to deal further with the Opposition Amendment at length, because it seems to me that it must be dealt with point by point and rather in the Committee stage than upon Second Reading. There we shall be able to show that we have secured a rise of from 20 to 30 per cent. in the wholesale prices without a rise of more than 1 or 2 per cent. in the retail prices. As to the charge that the Billfails to give the Government any effective means of controlling or planning the agricultural industry,1633 we shall be able to deal with that by the simple means of saying that it is not our desire primarily that the Government should control and plan the agricultural industry, but that the agricultural industry should control and plan itself, while this House should be left to say whether a scheme finally shall be accepted or refused. As to the argument that the Billprovides no protection for the consumer,we shall meet that by quoting the arguments that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves used in support of their own Agricultural Marketing Act. The suggestion that it guarantees no improvement in the lot of the agricultural labourer we shall be able to deal with by quoting the simple fact that in this country a statutory guarantee of wages has been on the Statute Book for long enough to be a firmly entrenched part of our agricultural policy. Whether it has been effective or not we can prove by the simple fact that while in the United States during the last two years farm wages have fallen by 48 per cent., farm wages in England and Wales during that time have fallen by less than 2 per cent.
As I say, this Bill has developed out of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. It is, as I have tried to show, entirely consistent with the Conservative Amendment which was moved on the Third Reading of that Bill. Since that time, the crisis has not diminished; the depression has not passed off. We have had, first of all, to go to the country to get a free hand; and, secondly, to use that free hand to give direct assistance in some cases, as jn the wheat quota, in others tariffs as in the Horticultural Products Act, and, finally, quantitative regulation. It is interesting to know that the principle of quantitative regulation was agreed to by the Cabinet as a whole long before there was any suggestion that the Ottawa Agreements were going to bring about the resignation of certain most important Ministers. The quantitative regulation of bacon, which is altogether one of the main reasons of this Bill, was agreed to by declaration of policy of 11th February subscribed to by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caith- 1634 ness (Sir A. Sinclair), which was worked out as the result of a committee on which we sat and spent many anxious weeks of the closest consideration. It was entrenched in an agreement, and as it was not followed by an agreement to differ, we must take it as one of whole-hearted support.
At the Ottawa Conference further movements into the arena of quantitative regulation had to be undertaken, and during the whole of that time we referred to the Lane Fox Commission as one of the main planks in the agricultural policy of the Government. We had accepted in advance that we should attempt the quantititive regulation of imports into this country, and we pledged our word at Ottawa that we would see that that was carried through. Not only had my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen and my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness accepted that, but my right hon. Friend Lord Snowden had also accepted it, as he was also a Member of the Cabinet which accepted the declaration on the quantitative regulation of bacon.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in his record. I cannot very well, by way of interruption, explain the whole of the circumstances, but we did not pledge ourselves to any quantitative regulation.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has called attention to some agreement that was come to by Members of the Cabinet, is it not in order that he should lay that document on the Table of the House? He has referred to a document which contains an agreement arrived at between Members of the Cabinet, and is it not the custom that he should lay that document on the Table of the House?
§ Major ELLIOT
I was referring to an answer to a question in the House of Commons given at great length by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, then Minister of Agriculture, enshrining the agricultural policy of the Government, and stating that it was their intention to deal with the regulation of bacon.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
What do you know about it?
Mr. LANS BURY
I know exactly what I am talking about. The hon. Gentleman may be a very learned person, but he has no right to make an insulting statement.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I apologise for an observation which was not intended to be heard, and which should not have been made.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
My point of Order was that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman called attention to the fact, as he stated, that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) sat on a committee which formulated a certain policy. I ask that that document embodying that policy should be laid on the Table.
§ Major ELLIOT
Really, my right hon. Friend himself having been a Member of the Cabinet is not unacquainted with the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. If he thinks that a Member of the Cabinet can get up and make a statement of policy such as that he is prepared to appoint a Commission to work out the regulation of bacon on quantitative lines if a satisfactory scheme can be prepared, without it having passed his colleagues in the Cabinet, surely he is attributing a degree of irresponsibility which I hesitate to attribute to the proceedings of his own Government. I say, again, that an answer was given on 11th February in the House that if a satisfactory scheme could be evolved, the Government were prepared to contemplate the regulation of bacon on quantitative lines. That is all that I wish to say. I do not wish to press my right hon. Friend beyond that, but I do say that he was a Member' of the Cabinet which drafted and passed that declaration, and which shows that he was at one with them on that point.
Therefore I say that we had to deal with a situation by quantitative regulation or by exploring the possibilities of quantitative regulation, and that we did that with the consent of all those who were Members of the Government; that is to say, it was approved by all. It is 1636 true that at Ottawa further steps were taken with regard to quantitative regulation, and the Ottawa Agreements, either for that reason or another, did not meet with the approval of my right hon. Friends below the Gangway. But the course which the price curve followed showed how necessary it was to find some means or other to avoid a disastrous crash in British agriculture, and that led us to- the further negotiations on quantitative meat restriction which I had the honour of announcing in the House last autumn. I do not wish to repeat them to the House, but they were examples of what could be done in the way, first, of getting hold of the home market by ensuring that supplies were not thrown on that market which it was impossible for the market to absorb, and, secondly, they were an example of the possibilities of coming to agreements with foreign countries even though it involved some restriction upon the imports from those foreign countries, which not only could be carried through in a friendly and equitable manner, but were, in fact, welcomed by the suppliers to the market as a whole as bringing a touch of order into a position which had previously been that of chaos. That is really the next important point.
We are dealing, as we must, with these questions under the shadow of the World Economic Conference. The world has a right to say to Great Britain, as we have a right to say to the world, that international trade shall not be conducted on the lines simply of bringing out the great import and export trades of the world and having them shot at dawn. We must deal with these things as a world market, and Britain as a world market is not merely concerned with the import side but is also concerned with the export side of her trade. It is, therefore, necessary for us to see if we can bring forward a scheme which can be shown to be not merely advantageous to Great Britain herself, but to bring order where there was chaos, and therefore make our contribution towards the stability of world trade. The proposals in this Bill have been framed with an eye to that possibility. It is true that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will bring forward that as a source of attack rather than as a source of support. They may say—I see one of the hon. Members for Southampton—it is easy to say that, 1637 but in the Bill are words which say that the Board of Trade in deciding whether to make an order shallhave regard to the interests of consumers of the product to which the Order relates (including persons who purchase that product for the purpose of subjecting it to any treatment or process of manufacture) and to the effect which the regulation of the importation of that product into the United Kingdom is likely to have upon commercial relations between the United Kingdom and other countries; and the Board shall not make such an Order unless they are satisfied that it is not at variance with any treaty, convention or agreement for the time being in force between His Majesty and any foreign Power.It is certainly true to say that that is taking a world view of Britain's interest, which is to the advantage, I believe, of Britain as a whole, but will need to be very carefully and thoroughly justified to the agricultural industry. I do not despair, but I confidently anticipate that we shall be able to justify it to the agricultural producers of this country.
I commend those words and that attitude of mind to those hon. Members and right hon. Members who are in opposition to these proposals, and particularly to the great, ancient, Free Trade party, those who form the real opposition to these proposals. I ask them whether there are any better words which they could have suggested. Is there, any other aspect in which we could more securely present these proposals to the world, taking into account, as we have to, the fact that their primary object is that of ensuring that British agriculture does not perish and become altogether a lost art? We have done our utmost to ensure that world trade does not simply stagnate, by being strangled and restricted by a series of arbitrary decrees under this Bill. We shall ensure, in the discussions which take place on the Floor of this House and with foreign countries, that the whole question of British trade, both import and export, is most thoroughly taken into account in making any regulations under the Bill.
We have hopes that we shall be able to do these things and yet to preserve our friendship with foreign countries. Great Britain is one of the world markets in agricultural produce, and for many agricultural products it is indeed the whole world market. No less than 94 per cent. of the bacon which is produced in the whole world is indeed brought to 1638 these shores to be bought and consumed, and the same is true of 96 per cent. of all the mutton and lamb which is exported anywhere in the world. In the case of the dairy produce of the world, half of the cheese of the world comes here. Out of every ten tons of butter made for export anywhere in the world, seven tons are made for consumption by the inhabitants of Great Britain. In all these matters we have a responsibility, as a great trading community, which we certainly shall not shirk.
How do we propose to do this? We propose to do it by emphasising the point that a remunerative level of prices is an advantage to all the suppliers of the market, and that an unremunerative level is not an advantage to anybody; nor is an unremunerative level of prices an advantage to the consumer himself. A man who is supplied at an unremunera-tive level of prices is a man who is watching a clock which is running down; he is a man watching a fire which is burning out. Sooner or later, the prices will have to be put back on to the basis of replacement value and on to the basis that you pay for what you want at prices which will enable that thing to be again produced and marketed. So much for the contribution that we hope to make to world economic affairs by this Measure.
We also have to make our contribution in the case of the building of the new order, which is coming into being here and there throughout the world, and to which all the world States are, in their way, making their contributions. We are making a particular attempt to deal with that in Part II of the Bill, which deals with development schemes, and which we hope will be accepted and extended by the action of the industries themselves. Part II of the Bill deals with development schemes, which have to be submitted by two or more marketing boards constituted under the 1931 Act, or the complementary Act for Northern Ireland. At least one board must be regulative of a secondary agricultural product, and one board must be regulative of a primary product. If there are two or more regulating inter-related products, they may submit a development scheme carrying the organisation one step further. The keynote of the development scheme is organisation of production. Organisation of the sales is the 1639 only organisation which we are attempting for primary products, but the organisation of production is, under this Bill, enabled to be applied to secondary products.
At the moment we have only bacon and ham in mind. This scheme arises specifically out of the Lane Fox Report, and so far, bacon and hams are the only secondary agricultural products to which this applies. There may be other agricultural products to which it may apply, such as canned fruit or vegetables, and there may be other products still to which this part of the Bill may be found intensely useful. This part of the Bill deals also with the whole question of plant, factories and the possibly redundant plant which, as we all know, is, in many instances, a millstone round the neck of industry without any hope of earning adequate returns. Nothing is easier than to run up, here and there, redundant processing plant which, in the long run, either has to be scrapped or bought up.
Here are the producers and the processes coming together and regulating the whole aspect of the development of the industry, and we look to this work to exercise a two-way pressure. The bacon producers will go to the pig producers and will say: "We believe that you can produce your pigs more economically, and, if you can, we can sell the product at a cheaper price, or more widely, and therefore we shall all be busier." It enables the producers to go to a processer and say: "You are waste-fully operating, and you have redundant plant. You are operating in an old fashion and with an out-of-date technique. We, the producers, cannot afford the inefficient handling of our products, and we, for the first time in agricultural economic history, come and tell you that processing can be more effectively done and better run. We are willing to co-operate with you, and to help to do it." This is a departure which can be of great value. A few years ago, the Pig Industry Council reported that bacon factories were working to about half their capacity. To-day the position is probably worse. The existing factories in Great Britain, the Lane Fox Commission's Report says, could deal with three times the present output. They say: 1640Existing factories, with some structural alterations, could be fitted for producing half the total requirements of the United Kingdom.They also say:In the interests of efficiency, it will be desirable to concentrate production as far as possible. We therefore recommend that the Quota Advisory Committee should insist that the curing industry should rationalise the utilisation of its factory capacity.There are many new principles of economics, enunciated in the report of the Lane Fox Commission, to which this House and the agricultural industry owe the utmost debt of gratitude. I suggest that the proposal for the Development Board, this bringing together of the producers and the processers, will be found the most fruitful of all of them. It will be noticed that it has been accepted spontaneously by the producers of pigs and of bacon. In the schemes, as they are brought forward, there will be criticisms, no doubt, that this is an undue interference with every individual, and an undue interference in particular with the small man. Will it, for instance, stop a man being allowed to cure his own bacon, and will it stop a man being allowed to cure a little bacon and sell it to his friends? We are fortunate in that these schemes have already come to an advanced stage, and are now being submitted for consideration to the industry as a whole. I have before me a scheme for regulating the marketing of bacon, and another for the marketing of pigs. The scheme for the marketing of bacon, be it noted, was drawn up by the bacon section of the Food Manufacturers' Federation of Great Britain and not by the Government, and the scheme for pigs was issued by the National Farmers' Union, of Bedford Square, and not by the Government. They will come before Parliament for acceptance or refusal, but not for the particular control by Parliament of every detail of the industry. We consider that to be the proper way in which these schemes should be evolved, and in which they should find legislative sanction.
In the bacon scheme you will see, for instance, that the position of the small man is safeguarded by the fact that all producers who do not use machinery, or who do not put into curing more than 50 cwts. of bacon in any consecutive period of two months, shall be entitled to 1641 exemption from the scheme. This is parallel to the milk-marketing scheme, where any man with fewer than five cows is entitled to exemption from the operation of the scheme. This is our practical, detailed scheme, by which it should be possible to safeguard the smaller producers, which, as we all know, is one of the things to which this House always attaches the greatest importance. So much for the Development Board and so much, in fact, for the Bill 'as a whole. The essential constructive part of the Bill is in Part II.
The Bill has a legislative background of industrial planning and of co-operative organisation. It contains the policy which was built up in the times of the Labour and Conservative Governments, and by the National Government. It is upon its merits that it deserves the support of all parties in the House. It is at least interesting to those who say that this is enslaving the British farmers and putting fetters on him, and is interfering with the liberty of the subject to read this morning's Press. This morning we read of the American farmers coming on a deputation before the President of the Republic, led by the Minister of Agriculture himself, and asking that exactly the same sort of control should be taken into the hands of the President of the United States to regulate and supervise marketing and processing of their agricultural products. Many other schemes were suggested which could be closely paralleled in the Bill which I have the honour to lay before the House this afternoon.
I do not think that it is possible for us to continue in a series of anarchic crises. This may not be the way out of the crisis, but it is a bold and vigorous attempt upon the difficulty. We believe that our problem is not only a problem of currency and of exchanges, but a problem of quantity, and that unless we tackle the quantities we shall not be able to tackle the currency and exchange problems, which express those quantities. We have in our hands great power. Great Britain, in spite of all, is still a tremendous supplier of her own market. We deal here this afternoon with huge and important trades, themselves greater, even in their minor manifestations, than many of the trades which excite much more sympathy in this House and in the country. Dairying employs 50,000 more 1642 people than the whole of the motor engineering industry of the country. Agriculture employs more than the whole of the textile industries, woollen, worsted and artificial silk put together. That is a point showing the employment value of the trades that we are considering. As for the value of the outputs that we are covering, this is a market which consumes £155,000,000 worth of meat in the year, and of that quantity we still produce £69,000,000 worth here at home. It is a market which consumes £113,000,000 worth of milk, butter and cheese, and of that we still produce £59,000,000 worth here at home. It consumes £29,000,000 worth of poultry and eggs, and we produce £18,000,000 worth here. Production has been increasingly expanding. In the last two years we increased our production of mutton and lamb by 5 per cent., of pig-meat by 18 per cent., of milk by 6 per cent., of poultry by 20 per cent., of eggs by 18.5 per cent. —
§ Major ELLIOT
In the last two years. It is our business to see that these increases of production do not add their quota to the demoralisation of markets which has taken place all over the world, but that we can sell these things when they are brought to the market. We shall have to deal with the problem of the necessity for expanding consumption as well as dealing merely with the problem of restricting supplies. But we shall not get an expanding consumption by bankrupting the industry of agriculture. To produce a thing to-day is one point; to sell it is 10 points. It is 10 times as difficult to sell as to produce, and we have to be sure that, when British farmers have produced their products, it is possible for them to sell those products at a remunerative price.
We have a great industry to deal with; we have the food of our people under consideration; and, more than anything else, we have agriculture as a mode of life—the ancient power of man to till the soil and extract nourishment therefrom. Flocks and herds, crops and stock, are not things which any country can afford to neglect. The coloured counties of England cannot be replaced by asphalt and tar macadam. Cinemas and tinned food shops are all very well, but these are not the things upon which nations are founded. We may do well or we may do 1643 ill, but we are sincerely tackling a very great problem. If fortune smiles on us, we shall have done something really great, perhaps greater than many other more spectacular things which we are discussing in these days. If we fail, we shall have tried, and in these days any failure may be pardoned if it is accompanied by effort and there is no lassitude. But nothing in the way of abandonment, of folding of hands, will be forgiven now either by this country or by this House.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House, whilst recognising the Government's conversion to the principle that it is essential for the community to exercise control over the production, importation, and sale of agricultural products declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which is primarily designed to raise the prices of agricultural products by the creation of scarcity in a time of plenty, fails to give the Government any effective means of controlling or planning the agricultural industry, provides no protection for the consumer or any improvement in the lot of the agricultural labourer, and will, so long as the land is left in private ownership, result in the consumers subsidising the middlemen and the landlords.In moving this Amendment, I desire to congratulate the right hon. and gallant Gentleman upon the admirable speech he has made in introducing the Bill. I wish I were able to add the further compliment that he had explained the Bill very lucidly from Clause 1 to Clause 26; but, unfortunately, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, although he made very fine play with the agricultural problem, did not feel it worth while, presumably, to explain many of the highly complex and highly significant Clauses in the Bill. He commenced by telling us that he had some fears as to the effect upon the mind of the farmer, and also as to the effect upon the mind of the consumer, who might be wondering what was going to happen with regard to prices; and he also said that the Opposition would be anxious to express their point of view, which might be very different from his own. The only person, apparently, of whom he was not afraid, and of whom he made no mention, was the middleman, and I am afraid I must assume that he has made terms with the middleman suffi- 1644 ciently satisfactory for him not to fear that gentleman at all.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman quite truly said that there is a duty before this nation and this Government, and, for that matter, an obligation upon the Opposition, to do whatever they can to help to improve British agriculture despite the fortuitous circumstances of the economic situation in the world, and he expressed the hope that agriculture would give a lead in organisation to all other industries in the country. We entirely agree with that observation, but, after closely examining this Measure, we cannot help feeling that, while the original Act of 1931 was a sound and solid foundation—at least, as a Bill, when it was introduced into this House, though it was toned down considerably after Conservative attacks in Committee and on report—on which a successful agricultural future might have been built, this superstructure of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has no relation to the original intention and purpose of Dr. Addison when he introduced his Measure.
I want to say at the outset two very definite things, namely, that in one particular the "Daily Express" is not strictly accurate when it describes this Measure as a Socialist Measure, and, secondly, that the Opposition will accept no sort of responsibility for this Measure at all. We regard it as being the very antithesis of Socialism, as a Measure which, whatever may be the result of the efforts with marketing boards and so forth, will in fact be the most valuable addition that the National Government have made to the consolidation of private interests in the shape of middlemen and importers that has been introduced into this House during the last 18 months. The Bill certainly is, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, an organisation of security Bill, consolidating the interests of middlemen and importers, and to that extent we shall be obliged to oppose it for reasons, which I will explain. We give the right hon. and gallant Gentleman credit for the conversion referred to in the first part of our Amendment, which he failed to read:That this House whilst recognising the Government's conversion to the principle that it is essential for the community to exercise control over the production, importation, and sale of agricultural products, declines to give a Second Reading1645 and so on. We compliment the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and, for that matter, his Government, on their very recent conversion to the principles of co-operation, despite all that they may have said in 1931. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), of all the Members of the Conservative party during that period, was perhaps the most constructive, but I do not think that even he would claim that he was too enthusiastically in favour of the co-operative principle in that Bill. What he did stand for, however—and I want to do him justice in this respect—was that agricultural co-operative marketing was necessary, but could only be successful if it were allied with Protection. The Noble Lord was persistent in that policy. But, seeing that they did not then appear likely to secure protection or the sort of control which is recommended to-day, I do not think that the Noble Lord would claim that he was helpful in passing the Bill at all, for his party insisted that, unless they could have the one, they were not going to have the other.
This Bill provides marketing boards, a market supply committee, development boards, an agricultural reorganisation committee, an investigation committee, and so forth, but the one thing that the Bill fails to do is to make any sort of arrangement for a national reorganisation committee with power to plan ahead. The object of this Bill can only be one of piecemeal organisation. But, in the future, planning ahead, as all agricultural experts have suggested, ought to be the forerunner of any action taken by this, or, indeed, any other Government. While the Bill is designed to raise prices, I think I can claim very definitely that few or no safeguards are provided for the community. The "Observer," referring some little time ago to the method employed by the right hon. Gentleman, said:A quota in this country is not a policy, but a dodge. It is inspired by electioneering fear, and nothing else. As regards livestock farming itself and the meat trade, wholesale and retail, it will mean the most complicated system of prohibitions, limitations, inquisitions, and endless interference that in time of peace has ever existed in any country.… Owing to its elaborate clumsiness, it will raise prices in the worst way by organising rigid inefficiency and jeopardising future supply.I think we might agree with some part of the remarks of the Editor of the 1646 " Observer." There is, however, another witness who stands for planning for agriculture, and who would not be denied even by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Here is a statement made by the Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, which appeared in the "Observer" a few weeks ago. Referring to the agricultural problem, overproduction, and so forth, he states:The means of production in agriculture and all industries have become immensely and increasingly effective. We could be well provided with even the luxuries "—he was referring to fruit, vegetables, and so on—provided only the machinery of exchange could be got to work. One may, however, conclude that it is wrong to look to restriction of production as the way out; such action in the end can only lead to a lower standard of living all round.I wonder if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has consulted the Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture in regard to the introduction of this Bill? That gentleman tells us that it can only result in a lowered standard of living all round; arid he proceeds:Before any effective policy can be formulated, there must be a review of the situation as a whole, and the implications must be brought home to the average man. Somehow the answer must be acceptable to people at large. Statesmen must feel that they can trust to the reason of those who have put them in power. For the problem cannot be solved emotionally or by appeals to national or party sentiment. Such a scheme would involve not only planning within each business, but State planning as to the scale and nature of the business that would be allowed a monopoly.The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has made no arrangements for national planning. There is piecemeal planning, but no sort of effort at national planning, in the Bill which is before the House to-day, and one can only conclude that, while the right hon. Gentleman, and at least some members of the Ministry, know and understand this problem of agriculture, they find themselves at the last moment lacking the courage to do what they know to be necessary, not only to restore agriculture to prosperity, but to safeguard the consumers of this country and to do a great work for many of those who are unemployed at the present time. I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will have to confess, long before this Bill emerges from the Report stage, that he has surrendered 1647 to the middlemen and the importers to an extent that no section of the community outside this House will agree with when they really understand the full significance of his scheme. Clause 1 provides the Board of Trade with absolutely unlimited power to apply orders where a marketing scheme is either in force, has been prepared or is in course of preparation. They can actually prohibit imports if the Board of Trade feels at any moment that it is necessary for the success of any scheme.
While it states in Clause 1 that regard should be had to the interests of consumers prior to the production of an order, the consumer is no longer mentioned in any of the remaining 25 Clauses. There is no sort of safeguard for the general consumer except just a reference in Clause 1, which gives the Board of Trade power to make an order with regard to any one of these agricultural commodities. The £300,000,000 worth of food which we import annually is vitally important not only to agriculture, and to the consumer as consumer, but to every other industry outside agriculture, and that £300,000,000 worth should be carefully dealt with lest the industrial guerilla warfare should spread throughout three-fourths of the industries of the country. While we produce £60,000,000 worth of milk and import £60,000,000 worth of dairy produce, the greater proportion of which might with perfect organisation be produced inside the country inside a national plan, I see little or no hope for a very long period of any large volume of it being produced in this country. Therefore, the price factor becomes an important factor for the consumer and, unless the right hon. Gentleman is going to think more in terms of protecting the consumer than he has done up to the present, I am afraid again that we shall have to conclude that in the process of trying to educate farmers into the ideas of marketing and co-operation and the process of making the bargains which have already been made, in his efforts over the wireless and elsewhere, he has lost sight of the biggest villains in the piece.
It seems to me that it is the faultiest of all the possible ways that could be devised of regulating the import of foodstuffs. What actually does it consist of? 1648 We import from Denmark a goodly quantity of ham, bacon, butter, cheese, and so forth. We import bacon from Poland, Lithuania, Russia, United States, Canada and elsewhere. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not feel disposed to establish an import board, whose duty it shall be to act in accordance with any order made by the Board of Trade with regard to regulations. He prefers to enter into a series of bargains with first this country and then the other or, at all events, with the importers from the various countries, with the condition always apparently laid down that the importers from Denmark, Poland, Lithuania or Timbuctoo shall restrict their imports from 10 per cent. to 25 per cent., and prices shall be raised to a point satisfactory to the importers. That is, to say the least of it, giving away the interests of the consumer. This is a power that we really do not think he ought to have. Here is what we regard as one of the most vital defects in the Bill. He takes power to provide an order to control the sales of home-grown produce. In Clause 2 (1) he definitely denies himself the privilege, after having regulated the quantitative import, of regulating sales. What do these words say? That the kinds, varieties or grades of the product which may be sold and the quantity of the product or of any kind, variety or grade thereof which may be sold shall be marketed under a scheme:So however, that nothing in an order under this Section shall apply to any product in so far as it is produced outside the United Kingdom.The right hon. and gallant Gentleman enters into a bargain with the importers of bacon. They agree with him very readily to increase prices to a point which will increase their profits out of all proportion to their previous profits. Of course, in the process of increasing the price of the home-grown produce it would be disastrous, and inconsistent with the terms of the Bill and the bargain into which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has entered with them, if they did not increase the price of the imported product. Therefore, this means that the importer, who has the privilege of now buying from the market where supply is infinitely larger than demand, has all the bargaining power in his hands. He could force the buyer to sell at an even 1649 smaller price than hitherto. I hope I have expressed that clearly. The importer reducing, by agreement with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, imports by, shall we say, 15 per cent., proceeds to Denmark and informs them that he now only wants 85 per cent. of the normal quantity. They will be willing to sell at a smaller price than hitherto, but, as the importer has already agreed in his bargain with the right hon. Gentleman that he will increase the price here to the British public, he is going to win on the swings and on the roundabouts.
We have had some little experience already of what that means. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture will know all about it. Last year they entered into a temporary restriction of imports. Lord Beaverbrook stated that in one single night the meat importers made £600,000 profit, and, while one looks with doubt and accepts with hesitation statements made by the Noble Lord, we investigated the figures and we discovered that, within three weeks of the temporary voluntary 'agreement having been made with the Argentine for a reduction in their exports to this country, prices in the Argentine fell from 20 per cent. to 25 per cent., and on exactly the same date prices at Smithfield market increased from 25 per cent. to 65 per cent., so the meat importers won on the Argentine roundabouts 'and the British swings again. Lord Beaverbrook tells us that this increase of l½. per lb. is equivalent to an increase in their profits of £8,000,000 per annum. I do not know how much it is, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will have it worked out.
Let us look at the bacon scheme and see what that means. At present, according to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's own figures, for every ton of bacon produced in this country six tons are imported. A member of the Commission, however, states that for every ten tons of bacon 'and ham consumed in this country approximately nine tons are imported. This has no relation to marketing at all. It has no co-operative basis. The right hon. Gentleman starts out with the definite intention of increasing the price of home-produced bacon, but he enters into such an agreement with the importers and middlemen as to ensure that not only is the price of the one ton home- 1650 produced increased but that the nine tons of imported bacon is increased in a similar ratio. Therefore, we are going to enrich the bacon producer by giving the foreigner £9 for every £l that we give to the British farmer. That is a fairly reasonable way of doing business.
But that is not the whole of the story. I have here a bill of a very illustrous firm of bacon vendors dated 3rd February, 1933. I do not know what relation it has to the Ottawa Agreement. It states:Owing to the extreme shortage of English pigs, entailing an increased cost of raw materials and ratio of overhead charges, we are compelled to advance our prices.I notice that the prices quoted here for Harris Wiltshire bacon of various qualities are just 65 per cent. over the similar qualities of Danish bacon. The margin between Danish and English bacon in 1924 was 12 per cent. It is now 65 per cent. Owing to a shortage of supply prices are about to increase, yet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is introducing a Bill which is going to compel someone to charge a higher price than he actually wants to. I know that, with his usual Scottish generosity, the right hon. Gentleman wants to be fair all round. He talked about the producer of barley not being able to drink the beer. He must know that bricklayers for centuries have been building castles and walking out and building workhouses and walking in.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
Is the import price economic and, if not, is it fair to compare an economic with an uneconomic price?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
We are dealing with the world as it is and not as we should like it to be. The system in existence is competitive, and these figures and facts and problems are due to private enterprise and the laws of competition externally and internally. I am drawing attention to the scheme into which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is entering whereby he permits the producer of home grown produce to market his sales on efficient, sensible and co-operative lines, but the 90 per cent. of the similar product which is imported is to be left in the hands of the importer and the middleman, merely because the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had not the courage at the last moment to see that organisation was the very basis of his scheme. Control your imports if 1651 you must, but control them with your home-produced commodities in one national scheme, so that if the world does care to send us large volumes of cheap food there is no reason why we should be called on to pay extraordinarily high prices which the producer abroad is not likely to get.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not assisting the producers at all. I suggest that the margin of difference between the price of Danish bacon in 1924 and the price to-day—65 per cent.—ought to be big enough to produce an economic price in this country. What is the scheme the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is now attempting to persuade the House to accept? "Elaborate clumsiness," says Mr. Garvin. I think it is elaborate clumsiness par excellence. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says we cannot afford to accept cheap food. He regards a plentiful supply as a sort of nuisance, and says to the world: "It is very true we require a great deal of bacon, butter, jam and all the rest; we know that you have huge surpluses and you would like to dispose of it, but we prefer not to accept it. We prefer to accept a lesser proportion and pay a much higher price for it." The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's generosity knows no bounds. What consideration has he given to the producers of coal and of steel, for after all they constitute the biggest customer of the British farmer? They consume a goodly proportion of home-produced food, as well as imported food.
I wonder if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who tells us we cannot afford to buy cheap food even if the quality is as good as home-grown food, has noted the changes in the consumption per person per annum. In 1913 the consumption of butter per head was 9.9 lbs. Because of the persistent fall in the price level, the consumption per head in 1931 was 18.74 lbs., or almost double the quantity. Curiously enough, during the same period the average consumption of margarine, which in 1913 was 3.71 lbs., diminished to 1.68 lbs. The right hon. Gentleman apparently would prefer to lift the price of butter to a point where the worker cannot afford to pay it, so as to compel him to buy more margarine and less best butter. That is the implication of his Bill, although I know that personally he would not desire that to take place. 1652 Then take the consumption of bacon. In 1913 the annual consumption per head was 16.44 lbs., and in 1931 it was 31.37 lbs., so that the decrease in price permitted the sales of bacon to extend into the lowest and most poverty-stricken layer of British society. As you increase the price by 2d. or 3d. per lb., you will cut off from the market the lowest layers of society, your consumption will diminish, and your second state in agriculture may be infinitely worse than your first. The same thing applies in regard to beef. Consumption went up from 22.15 lbs. per head to 31.05 lbs. between 1913 and 1931, and the consumption of mutton and lamb rose from 13 lbs. to 18.18 lbs. over the same period.
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could have pursued the policy of the Labour party, he need not have cut off the 3,000,000 unemployed as consumers of best butter, beef, mutton and bacon. He could have retained these consumers by the simple process of establishing an Imports Board to operate under Part I of this Bill, whose duty it would be to apply an Order made by the Board of Trade, and who would be responsible for importing from the various exporting countries the requisite quantities according to the Order. They then could have marketed that bacon or other produce at a price which would not have been an increased burden on the consumer, but which, because of its volume, might have ensured that the home producer would have received an economic price for the proportion he produced. There would have been no exploitation by the importer or middleman, and no curtailing the opportunities of the buyer of buying cheap articles. When the foreign producer of bacon and ham sees the wisdom of organising his output to meet a known demand, then he will insist on an economic price being paid for his produce. There is no reason why the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should say "Because you lack the wisdom to organise your output so as to meet the normal demand, you are accepting for your commodity a much lower price than it is really worth, and we will prevent you from sending the normal quantity and insist on you receiving a bigger price than you actually want."
Whatever the Labour party may or may not have done in 1931, they had a 1653 conception of an agricultural policy that would not have left the home producer to market his supply with the importer and middleman always on his heels. That is one of the chief weaknesses in this Measure, which ought to have started from a much firmer foundation and built up much more surely than this Bill is doing. It is a mere question of handing over the consumers in this country body and soul to the importers and middlemen, and to that extent you are creating price-fixing bodies in private hands which will be all-powerful once this Bill finds its way to the Statute Book. I am not sure that the time will not come when these bodies, for which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be responsible, will be able to dominate the home farmer as foreign produce dominates the home farmer to-day, and they can be of no value to the individual producer in this country.
Clauses 4 and 6 seem to me to be concentrated on restrictive output rather than on development. It is all cutting down and no expansion, and this just at a moment when we are talking about employing more people on the land. These Clauses seem to me to be rationalisation to perfection. In one part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said rationalisation was faulty. Then he tells us that under Clauses 4 to 6, a development board will have power to close factories and insist on output being limited, and it seems to me that unless and until the right hon. Gentleman can go one step beyond his present stage of development there is not going to be a lot of hope for any one of the sections of agriculture.
There are three main weaknesses in this Bill. First, the Board of Trade under Clause 1 is to have unlimited power to restrict or control imports by figure; it may be total prohibition. Secondly, no sort of guarantee as to the price of imported commodities is apparently to be laid down, the one desire of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman being that the price must increase. The third defect is that these schemes are piecemeal, having no relation to any national plan. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about the forthcoming milk scheme, and his bacon scheme and his dairy produce scheme. I am not a practical farmer, but my information is that in 1654 those countries where bacon production and dairy production have been a real success, there has been a definite relationship between the production of milk, butter and beef, and that unless these commodities are produced on a previously worked-out plan there can be little or no success for any one of the three, but jointly the three can be made a real success, as Denmark has demonstrated to the world. In Clause 15 the right hon. Gentleman sets out to amend Section 9 of the 1931 Act, by inserting the words "if the Minister so directs." Is the Minister afraid that he might be called on by somebody, in some peculiar form, to insist on the Reorganisation Commission establishing a development scheme against his wish? Surely, if he establishes a Reorganisation Commission it ought to be their duty to do something useful. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to think it is sufficient to have them on paper in the Act of 1931.
In all these schemes, under which the middleman and importer are going to have the time of their lives, there is not one thing set down concerning the consumer. Is it the intention of the Government to call into being the Consumer's Committee referred to in Section 9 of the original Act? We should like to know whether that is intended or not, for unless it is intended we can see nine-tenths of the would-be value of the schemes vanishing before our eyes. In moving this Amendment, we are expressing our dissatisfaction with this weakling superstructure which has been imposed on the Act of 1931. We think the child is not a fit one for its parent. It ought to have been infinitely more substantial, and the next logical step should have been taken. If they must control imports, and I think they must be controlled at this time, they ought also to insist on controlling sales, so that the producer in this country will not be made to suffer. The scheme lacks plan. It establishes and perpetuates statutory bodies, through agreements with importers and the rest, and not merely as regards main commodities, for we are dealing with secondary commodities in Clauses 4 and 6. It is creating a state of vested interests and stabilising and perpetuating them in an effort, ostensibly to restore the prosperity of agriculture, which is going to place round the necks of con- 1655 sumers in this country a burden that they will have to carry for many a long year.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
The Minister's speech was one of charm and earnestness in a great degree, and I should like to congratulate him upon it. I did not think the revolutionising of the whole structure of the industry of agriculture could have been put before the House in a time which seemed to pass so quickly. His motto might well be: "New States built while you wait." The subject of the Bill, if I may make a personal allusion, interests me profoundly, because for 20 years I was first a member and then chairman of the Agricultural Organisation Society, and then chairman for some time of the Agricultural Wholesale Society, which made rather gallant efforts, although not wholly successful efforts, to help the farmers of this country to organise their industry from the bottom. I gave to that work, I do not say the best but certainly the hardest work that I have done so far in my life, and the result of that work establishes this as the first question that comes into my mind as regards this Bill. Seeing that no country has succeeded in building up a successful agricultural organisation except from the bottom, will the Minister succeed in imposing from the top an organisation of that kind? That, it seems to me, is the principal object of the Bill.
The Minister starts at a time like this with things enormously in his favour. The industry is utterly down in the depths as it has never been before, and will stand pretty nearly anything which offers the certainty, of price improvement. Therefore, I can understand the Minister's desire to get the necessary machinery established now while the industry is passing through the present crisis. The agricultural industry is rather like the people who live on the two sides of a torrent. When the torrent rushes strongly on the one side they cannot build a bridge, and when the torrent dries up they say that it is unnecessary to build a bridge. The agricultural industry has passed through times when it could well afford to finance a proper organisation, but when they are inclined towards better organisation they cannot afford it. Therefore, it must appear to the Minister a Heaven-sent moment for 1656 imposing upon the industry a complete system of control, and it must appear to the industry that they have a Heaven-sent Minister to give them higher prices, even at the cost of control. All the same my experience, such as it is, leads me to say that it is no use trying to rush the farmers into anything. They are very good men to lead if one has only the time and enough patience, and one does not mind things taking about five times as long as they ought; but they are very bad to drive. Like their own pigs in this, the more you twist their tails the less they like it.
I would ask the House to consider the penalties contained in the Bill. If under Clause 10 a registered producer contravenes a determination, he suffers such monetary penalties as may be specified. He is lucky that he is only fined. If an unregistered producer, under Part I, does not give the information required, he is liable to a month's imprisonment and to a fine not exceeding £20, or both. Occupiers of premises used by way of trade must make returns of stores, and if they fail to do so, they are liable to three months' imprisonment, or a fine not exceeding £50, or both. That will give a fillip to the art of stock-taking, any way. Anyone who discloses the information of a return without authority is liable to three months' imprisonment, or a £50 fine, or both. Anyone who produces a secondary product otherwise than is required is liable to three months' imprisonment, or a fine not exceeding £100, and also a fine up to the value of the article, or all the three penalties combined. Lastly, a licensed producer, under Part II, who does not furnish accounts is subject to penalties under Clause 6 which are not specified, but I expect that they have something like boiled oil in them.
In the original Act penalties are, I think, only mentioned twice, and in any case there is no power of imprisonment. This is simply an example of how authority grows by what it feeds on. I still have an old-fashioned prejudice against creating any new crimes. I should not mind imposing and, if necessary, increasing penalties if experience had shown the necessity of it, but somehow it goes against the grain that an ordinary man should have all these penalties imposed in advance from the top as an essential part 1657 of this Bill. I could understand the farmer being willing to be driven in this way if this were an emergency Bill for emergency ownership, but this is altering the structure of the whole industry for all time.
The Bill leaves a great deal in doubt, but it stabilises one thing for certain, and that is the whole system of quota restrictions against foreign supplies. I want to look at that question on a little bigger scale than the Minister looked at it. Almust every hour of our lives we realise the fact that the world has got into a terrible state largely because Governments have acted departmentally rather than in a broad national and world interest. They began by saying that they would not buy one another's goods, and then they found that they could not sell their goods. They did not then come to the conclusion that they ought to buy if they wanted to sell. They thought that the reason why they could not sell was that their goods were not cheap enough. Therefore, they proceeded to give subsidies to this or that sectional interest, according to which sectional interests were most distressed or most powerful politically. That stimulated a further world supply of things of which there was already an over-abundance. Other countries retaliated by duties and quotas, a newly discovered weapon against trade depression.
We have to get back out of the process of alternate stimulation and restriction, somehow, and on our chance of doing that we are staking everything, our own prosperity and the prosperity of the rest of the world, on the World Economic Conference. Success at that conference is vital to the continuance of civilised society. Surely, the interests of any individual industry, even the greatest of all, agriculture, in this country ought to be and must be secondary for a time, to the success of that conference. If that conference is to succeed, as we all know, according to the Government's plan, it must be preceded by a good settlement with the United States. Therefore, I would ask the House, does it improve the prospects of the success of that conference and a settlement with the United States that as regards the only named products in this Bill, bacon and ham, it may be intended to put heavy restrictions on imports of bacon and ham from the 1658 United States? The United States was our second best customer in the last normal year, 1930, for which figures are available. This matter is of great importance. The prosperity of agriculture in the long run depends on the return of prosperity to the customers of agriculture much more than on the most heaven-sent marketing scheme. Therefore, sectional interests, however important, must give way to national interests, and in these times even national interests are subordinate to and dependent upon world interests. It is largely because sectional interests whether in regard to wheat, sugar, steel or ships have been specially selected for artificial encouragement and corresponding restriction of foreign supplies that we are in the mess that we are in the world to-day, and if we do not take care this Bill will add to it.
Hon. Members may ask, does that mean that the farmers' interests are to be ignored? Certainly not. The farmers know well enough, if they think, and they are very much inclined to think carefully about these things nowadays, that the main reason why they cannot sell their meat, their bacon, their butter, their cheese and so on is simply because the people in the great industrial districts are suffering from the terrible cumulative effects of long-continued unemployment. They cannot buy and they are down to-day to bread and margarine and potatoes. It is no use saying that these things can be put right by any marketing scheme, so long as that goes on. We are told that the Government are concentrating and planning ahead, and I hope they are doing it now although they do not tell us much about it, for the World Economic Conference and a settlement with the United States. If they cannot be on one foot all the time let them at any rate be on one foot, the same foot, until we see how the settlement goes. Do not let us handicap ourselves in advance by allowing one Minister to take one line by imposing heavy quotas on foreign supplies while other Ministers are trying to clear the road for action in other directions.
Now I come to another point. I have said that agriculture depends primarily on the prosperity of its customers, but it depends also on the good will of its customers, the people in our towns who buy the produce. 1659 I was a member of the committee which was entrusted with the duty of buying forage during the War, and I had to meet the complaint of farmers that I was not giving them enough price for their hay. They have never had such a price before or since, and they would be very glad of the price now. They said that I was hard. I told them that they were not the only pebbles on the beach. When as farmers we are considering these things it is well to put up these figures on our looking glasses so that we can see them every morning, seven on the one side and 93 on the other; and remind ourselves that out of every 100 people there are only seven who want food to be dear and 93 who want food to be cheap. We must have some regard to the goodwill of the 93; we must secure the continued goodwill of the 93 if anything really permanent is to be done.
The Bill, in Clause 2, makes it clear that not until the regulation and control of imports are in working order are sales of any product in this country to be regulated. Duties first, pleasure afterwards is a good principle, but duties and quotas first and regulation afterwards is not quite a good thing. If duties and quotas come on first, industries are apt to take a long time to organise themselves afterwards. We have an example in the steel trade. The Government deliberately gave the steel trade three months' duties in which to put their house in order. It was not enough. They gave them another three months, but not enough. They have now given them two years, and I do not know whether that is enough, although we are told that they are moving. If that happens with regard to foodstuffs there will soon be a strong feeling against the instrument under which it is done, namely, this Bill. There are three things to be noted as arising out of the Measure. The first is, that this idea of restricting foreign supplies before the regulation of home supplies is not in accordance with the recommendations of the Pig Report. On page 23 it is expressly stated that there must be regulation at home so that no curer shall have bacon except from pigs supplied under contract, precedent to the regulation of imports, and they recommend it as a special and essential protection for the consumer. That goes west in the Bill—the order is reversed. On the 1660 second point let me give an authority which is almost as great as that of the Minister of Agriculture. A few months ago there was a political conference at Glasgow at which the Ottawa Agreements were criticised. One speaker complained that it was ridiculous to employ foreign labour to produce food which we could supply ourselves. To that the chief speaker replied in these words:When you organise your industry and make your effort and show that you can do it, then you can ask the Tariff Board to talk business, but don't talk rubbish.That speaker was the precedessor of the right hon. and gallant Member at the Ministry of Agriculture; he is now Home Secretary. His principle, clearly, is organisation and regulation at home first, and restriction of imports second. I prefer that order to the order which it is put in Clause 2. The third point is this: The original Act, the Agricultural Marketing Act, gave the consumer some definite protection by means of a consumers' committee. The Bill takes power to go behind that Act altogether and to regulate the production of any article without employing the machinery of that Act. In Clause 2 hon. Members will see that the Ministermay by Order regulate sales of that product by persons producing it in the United Kingdom or by boards, administering agricultural marketing schemes.It does not say that he may regulate the sales of a product by means of boards administering agricultural marketing schemes, but that he may regulate them by persons producing the commodity or by boards. Regulation otherwise than by boards, which is clearly contemplated, would not give the consumer any say at all in so definite a way as the original Act.
These things are rather ominous, and as a representative of agriculturists I say that they are ominous quite as much from the farmers' point of view as from the consumers' point of view. The farmer wants anything that is done to have some certainty of staying done. If supplies from abroad are restricted without anything much. being done here to extend and improve the service to the consumer, the restrictions will be unpopular; they will not stay done. The Government will not always be able to count on a steadily falling level of world prices to cloak the rise in 1661 the prices of things upon which they put a duty. Sooner or later the shoe will pinch, and the consumer will rebel. No one will be returned from an industrial district unless pledged to take off the restriction. Protection will go, and the farmer will be left in the strait waistcoat of this Bill, with all its regulations and penalties. And he will not like it. I am speaking on the farmers' behalf. They have been had once. They remember that, in spite of the promise of four years, the Corn Production Act was repealed within a year of being passed. They say that they were done in by that repeal. As a matter of fact, I was sitting on the opposite bench at the time and I protested against the speech made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) announcing the policy of the repeal of that Act. When people have been done once they are apt to remember the proverb, that if a man does you once it is his fault, but if you allow the same man to do you twice it is your fault. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a different man."] Yes, but it is the Government of the day, and farmers have been taught by that experience not to trust to short cuts and to realise that it is very dangerous to attempt to do things which may upset the great centres of population, upon which they depend for the sale of their produce. At any rate, the principle of the Bill is that although these regulations will be unpopular with farmers they must be bribed into accepting it by restrictions on foreign supplies put on beforehand. Restrictions put on in that way will never be worth three years' purchase as long as we remain a predominatingly industrial country.
The plan of this Bill may be a short cut in this Parliament, which is, of course, still Protectionist, because the ruling policy of the Tory party has always been 10 years out of date, but it is a short cut which is very dangerous to those it professes to help, and we shall do our best to alter it. That does not mean that I do not think, with many other people who care for agriculture, that we must revive and recondition our country-side. That must be done mainly by townsmen's money, because the country-side is pretty nearly bankrupt, and it should be done by definite measures under which you can show the town taxpayers exactly what they are paying and 1662 what they are getting. It would be much better for the towns to put up a certain amount of money to do definite things than to allow duties and restrictions to be gradually imposed on foreign foodstuffs, because they will inevitably force up food prices which will react on the wages of the people and higher wages will react on the price of commodities which the people produce and, therefore, handicap us in the markets of the world in which we now have a struggle to maintain our position.
This Bill is not for an emergency but for all time. Once it passes, the House of Commons will lose control. Orders, of course, are to be laid on the Table of the House dealing with commodity after commodity, product after product, bacon, milk, cheese—there is only one stage— and if the Order is passed it will settle it, and another piece of partial Socialism will be fastened on the industry. Can we really contemplate this while we leave our land system as it is now? I know that freeholds have been increasing and that large estates have been automatically broken up by Death Duties into something worse, for want of something better to replace them, but a great deal of our land is still under the landlord-tenant system, though that system is failing and should be superseded. This Bill simply props it up. It does not foreshadow or contemplate any better alternative. As a landowner, I say that that is wrong. The whole of the advantage of de-rating has already passed to the landowner, for practically every landowner has been forced to reduce his rents and he would have to reduce them further by the amount of the rates if rates had still been levied. It helps me to prevent myself being entirely ruined. I am living on an overdraft which my bank is able to bear without having to close its doors. If the whole of the advantage of this Bill is to be absorbed by the landlords, if not immediately nevertheless steadily and automatically, when tenancies change, then I think it will be a mistake and is altogether on wrong lines. We cannot revolutionise the structure of agriculture and leave the tenure of land where it is. The necessary work on that subject was done by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the committee which worked with him. That work cannot be ignored when you are revolu- 1663 tionising the structure of agriculture as you are in this Bill.
Does that mean that I should like to see the Bill entirely destroyed? No. As things stand now I feel that I should like to see something very much simpler substituted for it. If Part II, the bacon part, without so many penalties and with more safeguards for the consumer, was brought forward as a temporary measure of restriction and applied to bacon and hams, there would be a great deal to be said for it. The Pig report said that the pig price cycle has been the curse of the industry at home and abroad. Pigs are either gold or mud, but they never remain one or the other long enough for the farmer to make them into a steady permanent element in his operations. Whether we can do that in this country without also proceeding to stabilise by methods of this kind the milk industry, with which the pig industry is so bound up, I do not know, but that special element enters in the case of pigs, as it does not in other cases, and that pig price cycle is of course due to the fact that the pig population can be multiplied so rapidly.
It is rather notable that in the Pig Report it is made clear that the changes in the pig population have been the chief cause of the cycle in pig prices, and that imports have had only a minor influence in that direction. It is a common expression that this or that thing might happen if pigs had wings. Many a farmer, I think, when looking at a numerous litter of pigs must have thought how much easier the pig industry would be to him, not if pigs had wings, but if pigs had twins, like the better behaved sheep, and did not multiply so rapidly as they do and dislocate all his plans. There is this, too, that differentiates pigs from say, stock—that whereas when we come to stock, as we may do later under this Bill, there will be only one market for producers to send their stuff to, and they will have to send their stuff to that market when the market wants it, where the market wants it and of the quality that the market requires, and if they do otherwise will be liable to a fine or imprisonment, but that in the matter of bacon and pigs there is under the Bill an alternative outlook. There will be control, but it will not be 1664 as rigorous as the control in the case of stock, because of that alternative outlook.
The Report says that other countries suffer from the price cycle as we do, and that means that they should be willing to enter into agreements to stabilise supplies. It seems to me that if the Minister, as a temporary measure, were to get the main importing countries— there are only seven that really count— to agree to send us the same percentages as they sent us in the average of the last three normal years, 1928 to 1930, and amounts so limited that they would give us a certain power of expansion as we improved our organisation of bacon factories and our methods of pig production—if things were proceeded with on those lines, I believe there would be voluntary agreement by all those main countries. On that basis a great deal of good and very little harm could be done. Although different poinds will arise that seems to me that that is the surest if not the quickest way of carrying on.
Restrictions of this kind are new to our industry. I regard this matter of pigs as a thing in which there is to be tried a very big Socialistic experiment. If that works, and if the restrictions are accepted, the way will be opened for further measures, if they are necessary, as a result of the experience that has been gained. As the Minister has said, the hop industry has been put into order without any of the machinery proposed to be set up under this Bill. I believe a great deal of progress could be made with other branches of industry on the same lines. I do not intend to mark time, still less to stand still, with regard to other organisations, but I do ask that there should be some hesitation before we try to do the whole thing in one fell swoop in this Bill. The Bill seems to me to be in its main principles a rather rickety colt that is not likely to mature into a stayer. It is by Quota out of Compulsion, which ought to be called Straight Waistcoat. As such I cannot like it, and I am afraid that I do not welcome it, but if the Minister would take a longer view and hasten more slowly I for one would do my best to help. I hope that that point of view will be considered before the House of Commons comes to a conclusion.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Sir GIFFORD FOX
I venture to think that no new Member sitting for a constituency which is mainly agricultural could choose any better occasion than this on which to make his maiden speech, but in claiming the indulgence of the House, I will try not to transgress the Rules. To my mind, no Bill which so profoundly affects the whole of agriculture as this Bill does, has ever been introduced into this House. All of us who are connected with agriculture and have been pressing the Government to pursue an active agricultural policy, must admire the sincerity with which they have embarked on the proposals of this Bill. Whether we like the Bill or not—personally I like it—we must admit the Government's sincerity in embarking on what is a most complicated and thorny problem. It is the first concerted step that the Government have been able to take that will affect agriculture as a whole. It has only been made possible by the abandonment of the worn-out fiscal policy of Free Trade. To my mind one of the reasons why agriculture is in such a chaotic condition to-day is the policy of the State for many years in allowing foreigners to dump all their surplus food products in this country. Our markets have become the sump and dump for the rest of the world. The State, having allowed this, said to the farmer:You do not know your business. You are guilty of disorderly marketing, and many other things.To my mind it is not so much the farmer who is guilty of disorderly marketing as the fact that the farmer has had a chaotic and disordered market in which to sell his produce.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) referred to Danish imports. It is interesting to look for a moment at the way in which the Danes organise their marketing. No doubt it is far easier to organise for an export market than for an internal home market. Danish methods of farming are no better than ours, but they have alongside their production side a highly organised processing side. They have gone in for grading, marking and standardisation. They have their milk factories and bacon factories side by side, working one with the other. A small man may produce milk. In the morning a lorry comes along for it, and after the milk has been pro- 1666 cessed it comes back in the evening as skimmed milk and is fed to the pigs. There is no reason why we should not take a leaf out of the Danish book and improve our marketing and give to the farmer an ordered market instead of a disordered one, which we shall be able to do under this Bill. The first place should be given to the home producer, then secondly to the Empire producer, and thirdly and lastly to the foreigner. I hope that advantage will be taken of facilities for marking produce so that the housewife when she goes to market will know whether she is buying home or imported produce.
We all agree that this is an epoch-making Bill, because it is the first legislative enactment which cuts right across the traditional individualism of the British farmer. The fact that the British farmer is prepared to sacrifice some of his individualism shows the serious and chaotic condition in which he is to-day. No Bill such as this can hope to escape criticism. Doubts have already been expressed as to whether the local country market towns will be seriously affected by the Measure. I am glad to see that there is no line or Clause which directly affects the interests of country market towns. In South Oxfordshire, the constituency which I have the honour to represent, we have perfect types of market towns. They have lived quietly, uncomplainingly, always hopefully upon the return of prosperity to agriculture. When agriculture is bad conditions in those towns are also bad. The local authorities suffer owing to loss of market tolls; people who have not much produce to sell have not much money to spend in the shops; the value of house property drops, and auctioneers and estate agents are the first victims. A blight descends on the entire district.
It is true that this Bill cannot benefit everyone immediately. It may affect certain interests and benefit others. We have to realise that the whole of the countryside is dependent on the prosperity of agriculture. Unless those who toil on the land can get a fair and just reward for their capital, skill and labour we cannot hope to find prosperity restored to agriculture. Under this Bill I think every interest will benefit eventually. It is rather like throwing a stone into a pond. The stone is increased prosperity to agriculture, and the 1667 pond is the stagnated condition in which things are now. The impact of the stone will spread ripples of prosperity over the entire area, and soon everyone will benefit, perhaps. not in the way originally expected, but nevertheless they will equally benefit under the Bill.
While congratulating the Government on the Measure, I think they could have done nothing less. We needed vigorous measures. As had been said, the country will forgive mistakes as long as something definite is done. This Bill is an attempt to solve the problem. The agricultural crisis is evident from figures relating to the land under cultivation. We find that in 1920 there were 12,190,000 acres under cultivation, but in 1932 the figure was only 9,366,506. The workers on the laud fell in 10 years by 130,000. To-day we have real unemployment in the villages, in many cases where it has never been. known before, and we all know that the farm worker when he loses his job does not draw unemployment benefit. In South Oxfordshire we have seen the advantage of Protection. We have the Morris motor works, which we have seen expand and become prosperous under Protection. Agriculturists have looked on and realised their helplessness, because, whatever they might do, the foreigner still continued to dump his produce in our ports.
For 30 years Governments have come and Governments have gone, all pledged in varying degrees to help agriculture. Now, when we do get a Government that is determined to help all of us who are interested hot only in agriculture but in the prosperity of the country as a whole should give the Government all our support. We have had lifelines thrown to the industry in the form of the Wheat Quota, Import Duties and the Regulation of Meat Imports and, under the last mentioned measure, the catastrophic fall in the level of wholesale prices has been arrested. To my mind the fundamental problem which faces not only this country but the world is the question of prices. We cannot build up the prosperity of the consumer on the bankruptcy of the producer. The farmer cannot go on indulging in bankruptcy deals year after year with impunity and food sold at knock-out prices can, like cheap labour, become a national peril. Much of our manufacturing export trade is dependent on the 1668 primary producers in other parts of the world getting reasonable prices for their primary products. If they do not get reasonable prices, they are unable to buy our manufactured goods and, until prices are better in this country, it is impossible to expect prices in those other countries to improve. The recovery of the whole world is dependent on a recovery of prices and I regard this Bill as a definite attempt to raise the level of wholesale prices and enable the producer to get a more economic return for his produce.
I hope that one of the first branches of agriculture to be helped will be the pig industry. In that industry, not only the large farmer, but the smallholder and the cottager are directly associated. They are all interested in pigs and able to produce pigs. We had in Oxfordshire in the past, a bacon curing organisation which proved a failure. I hope that with a national application of the principle, the conditions which caused failure in the case of a local county scheme will be obviated and that success in the future will be assured. To-day we only produce about 30 per cent. of the 20,000,000 cwts. of pig products which we consume, and there is enormous room for expansion of the home production. We import no less than £50,000,000 worth of pig products a year and, I venture to remind the Minister of Labour, there is a chance, under this scheme of finding additional employment for some 70,000 people. I admit that the regulation of supplies coupled with the reorganisation of marketing is a very drastic measure of control, but agriculture is definitely going to benefit under the Bill and must expect to make some sacrifices in return for the benefits that it is to receive. The payment for those advantages is the measure of control to be found in the second and third Clauses of the Bill. I would say in passing that we have the example of the Horticultural Products Duty which has not resulted in increased prices to the consumer but has helped the producer in this country to find a market here for his produce. There is no reason, therefore, why the public should feel apprehensive about this Bill. There is nothing in this Bill to suggest the adoption of untried principles. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir P. Acland) mentioned the hop marketing scheme. We have seen the hop industry working under the 1931 Act and, if we 1669 measure the results of that small attempt, we can anticipate that under this Bill it will be possible to help other branches of agriculture on a much larger scale.
I foresee that an extensive campaign will be engineered against the Bill, and I would remind hon. Members that among the supporters of unrestricted foreign imports are the followers of the Liberal Darwen party. It fell to my lot to fight a by-election for the National Government, and, although I stood down in favour of a National Liberal candidate at the General Election, I fought a straight fight against an apostle of the doctrines of the Darwen Liberal party. In that election we had all the old fireworks and cries about food taxes and "Your food will cost you more," but they all proved like damp squibs, and I can assure hon. Members that the people of this country have at last realised that cheapness is not everything.
In the Bill obligations are imposed on the farmers and producers. It is up to them to produce their schemes and to realise their responsibilities, and I am sure that when they have done so the House will have an opportunity of deciding whether they approve their schemes or not. If the producers do not like a particular scheme there will be a postal ballot and they will be able to vote against it. There is a good deal in the Bill which will need detailed criticism. We have to guard against overlapping by the various organisations which will be set up, some official, some semi-official, and others not official at all. Finally, what is the alternative to this Bill? To my mind there is only one alternative. If we do not get an ordered market in which the farmer can sell his produce, then only bankruptcy lies ahead. We shall see both the farmer and the farm worker faced with bankruptcy; with nothing else to do but to walk off the land, which will mean a continued drift to the towns and more unemployment— the last thing we all want. This Bill, if worked with patience and care and sympathy, not only having regard to those interests immediately affected, but having regard to the country as a whole, will provide a chance of restoring prosperity to agriculture and at the same time helping the general economic position. I therefore offer the Government my warm support with the hope that they will not be weary in well-doing.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
I think that the House will expect me to congratulate —and indeed I do so with very great pleasure—the hon. Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) upon the speech which he has just delivered. It is a real pleasure to listen to a clear voice and simple, practical language, and I trust that the hon. Member will afford us the opportunity on many future occasions of listening to his contributions. I rise to speak in this Debate with some diffidence. I cannot pretend to know anything intimately about the agricultural industry. But I do not apologise because on more than one occasion hon. Members have inflicted on me speeches about the coal industry, and I was as satisfied that they knew nothing about coal, as they may be on this occasion that I know nothing about agriculture. The speech of the Minister was significant in one respect. It is now admitted, except perhaps in the Primrose League or the Carlton Club, that the days of economic individualism are past. The Russians have won their first victory over the West. Planning is in the air. At the moment, however, our tribute to it is purely ideological, but we ought to see in the near future a more substantial contribution than this Bill makes to national planning.
I find some difficulty in understanding why the agricultural industry should be the first to be made the subject of an experiment in State planning. The Minister informed us that the Government had now to deal with what he called "the economics of glut," but why should the agricultural industry be the first selected for this experiment? There are other industries in Great Britain far more adapted to such an experiment than agriculture. After all, agriculture is is still the last great stronghold of individualism in our society. It has more small-scale production than any other industry; its methods are more diverse than the methods of any other industry, it is still subject to the caprice of natural conditions and is, therefore, less plastic and less adapted to the operations of any standardised scheme. If the National Government wanted to try their prentice hands at State planning, one would have thought that an industry more adapted to the purpose than agriculture would have been selected.
1671 For instance, they might have looked at coal. A small beginning has been made. A small contribution has been made to the planning of the coal industry, but the industry is still a long way removed from being in an intelligent condition. Then there is steel. Is the steel industry so highly organised that you can afford to neglect it? Steel and coal are highly standardised products. They are simple products and these are industries which lend themselves, far better than agriculture, to State planning. Why then have the National Government selected agriculture? Is it because agriculture has been distressed for a longer period or has been more distressed than other industries? Is it because agriculture has received less assistance from the State? For the last 25 years agriculture has been the petted darling of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They exempted it entirely from the burden of rates, and now it makes no contribution to the expenditure of local government. I wish to heaven that the colliers of Great Britain were as good propagandists as the farmers. If we had been able to convince Members of this House and the mass of the people that the coal industry was entitled to the treatment which agriculture has received, we should have made progress many years ago.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The Noble Lord knows full well that the Act of 1930 was a very email beginning. It laid the foundation but the structure has not been added to since and the coal industry to-day is suffering as a whole from inter-district competition, just as it suffered from intermine competition before. Why then has agriculture been selected? Not because it has been distressed longer than other industries. I think it would be true to say that, apart from cereal production, agriculture has been suffering grievously only during the last year and a-half. I believe that the Labour Government conducted a Cabinet inquiry into distress in agriculture. The report was a private Cabinet report, but it has been rumoured that that committee found that only 10 per cent. of agriculture could be called distressed, and that that 10 per cent. represented cereal production. Yet it is this industry, with much the shortest 1672 record of depression of any of our great industries, and with more State assistance than any other industry, which is selected by the National Government as the subject for this policy.
Why has that been done? Obviously, because the landlord class is now as it ever was the backbone of the Tory party, and the purpose of the Bill is not scientific reorganisation, but the restoration of the revenues of the landlord class which are being imperilled. We shall see how far the reorganisation is to be accomplished. It is certainly not State planning as State planning has been understood. It is the substitution of organised plunder for disorganised theft. Whenever the Tories want any encouragement and advice they always borrow from the Left. The Tories never listen in this House to speeches with so much respect and awe, and, very often, lack of understanding, as they do to the speeches of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture and the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) because they speak the language of Socialism, and the Tories pay an unconscious tribute to the learning and understanding which they lack. Whenever a job of this sort has to be done they select the Minister of Agriculture, as he is able to make a piece of reactionary legislation so like the last edict of the Comintern, and the Tories dearly love to be considered advanced. Now planning is in the air. Everybody is planning nowadays, even Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Everybody plans.
We welcome the Bill in so far as it is a declaration that economic anarchy ought to be destroyed, but we do not subscribe for a moment to the idea that the Bill now before the House is in any way a contribution to the scientific reorganisation of the agricultural industry. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the purpose of the Bill was to raise agricultural prices. I admit that he put in the word "wholesale" before "prices," but that sort of thing has become the ordinary bunk of politics. Everybody knows that the purpose of the Bill is to raise the level of prices of agricultural products generally. Why have the Government not gone forward in a straightforward manner and put on tariffs? I do not agree with them, but 1673 why do they not do it? Why are not the Government honest? They have said that tariffs are the most effective and direct way of raising prices. Why, in the case of agricultural products, have they not done what they have already done in the case of steel and in many other cases? Why have they not put on tariffs? Obviously, because there are certain difficulties in the way. One difficulty is the fact that there are Tory Members of the House representing industrial constituencies who would be frightened by a direct tariff. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If the primary purpose of the Bill—and the Minister has explained it—is to raise the prices of agricultural products, have they not clapped 15, 20 or 25 per cent. on to the price? It is the direct thing, and, as they say, you get money. They would be serving the double purpose of raising the price of agricultural products and balancing their Budget. There can be nothing better than that.
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) explained, if there is any increase of prices most of it now will go into the pockets of the importers. Why not adopt the traditional Conservative method of putting on a tariff so that the money will go into the pockets of the State? Merely because there are difficulties in the way. The first reason is the fact that the representative of the industrial constituency in the House of Commons still has to try to satisfy his industrial constituents that he is not taxing his food. The second reason is that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade gave a very awkward pledge. He must be saved. If you are to maintain the structure of the National Government the right hon. Gentleman must be kept in it. And look what a nasty pledge he gave! You cannot put on a tariff; he stands in the way. It is true that he will not accept the 30 pieces of silver—he is a strong Nonconformist—but perhaps he will take payment by cheque. Is it payment by cheque? If there were some indirect way of doing the job, he might swallow it.
There is a further difficulty in the way. There is the Prime Minister. After all, the Prime Minister, although somewhat bedraggled, still has a few feathers left. He is still needed as the decoy duck to 1674 attract followers into the Tory fold. You have to save the President of the Board of Trade, you have to save the Prime Minister, and you have to protect the representative of the industrial constituency, yet, nevertheless, you must try to restore the revenues of the British landlords. It is a great difficulty. Nobody can solve the problem like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, because it has long been known that he is the idea factory for the Conservative party. He comes forward with this proposal to-day, the principal purpose of which is to get the National Government out of their difficulties and, at the same time, to give the reality of food taxes without the political unpopularity of imposing them.
There is a further difficulty in the way of tariffs. There are the Ottawa Agreements. Indeed, the Ottawa Agreements are not merely difficulties with respect to tariffs but difficulties with respect to these schemes. There was no reason why you should have import regulation in order to get marketing schemes. Import regulations are not necessarily a structural part of the marketing schemes. They become a structural part only if the marketing scheme handles the sale of the imported product. But a tariff would satisfy all of the requirements of the agricultural marketing scheme. I have heard hon. Members say that if you could impose a tariff and give Great Britain safeguards and shelters against the capricious tides of world prices, you could, behind that bulwark, organise and plan the production of Great Britain. If you put a tariff on your imported products you could still have behind that bulwark a marketing scheme, because, as we understand it, the marketing scheme is to apply to the products produced by members of the marketing scheme and not by those outside the marketing scheme. In other words, the marketing scheme itself, as I understand it, will not be entitled to take the production of its members and also the analogous product which is imported and sell the lot. So that the answer cannot be, that the reason why you have regulation and not tariffs is because you must have regulation in order to be able to organise the structure of your marketing scheme. The truth is rather that the marketing 1675 schemes are the sugar upon the pill, which, in essence, is agricultural production.
I doubt very much whether, after the Bill has become law, you will see very many marketing schemes. The House will have parted with its traditional powers over the taxation of food. It will have given wide and unprecedented powers to the President of the Board of Trade to regulate the import of food into Great Britain, and once that power has been received the Measure is wholly permissive concerning the reorganisation of agriculture. Indeed, after the Tories have got their power to raise prices they may easily say to the Minister of Agriculture, "Now that you have done your job in agriculture you had better go to some other Department." I submit that if the Members of the House want to try to show that regulation is an essential part of the Bill, of the raising of agricultural prices and of the marketing of agricultural products, we have not yet heard the case. Ottawa is going to be a great difficulty, almost as difficult in the carrying out of these schemes as direct food taxes would be for the Tories in the industrial constituencies, because with regard to dairy produce the Government have committed themselves to the Governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, that not for three years will they either put on a duty or even attempt to regulate the exports of dairy produce from those countries. I will read an extract from the Canadian Agreement which is also typical of the Australian and New Zealand Agreements:As regards eggs, poultry, butter, cheese and other milk products, free entry for Canadian produce will be continued for three years certain.It says later on that this applies even to the quantitative regulation of the product, so that both with respect to price and to volume no import restriction upon any of the dairy produce of New Zealand, Canada or Australia will be permitted for three years. I want hon. Members to note this, if they will do me the honour. If the regulation is an essential part of the marketing scheme, then for three years the British agricultural industry, hit we are told, more on its dairy produce side now than on any other, will not be able to enjoy the benefits of the marketing scheme. The right hon. 1676 Gentleman shakes his head. Is that not so? Does he dispute the fact that His Majesty's Government have in the Ottawa Agreement agreed not to regulate or —
§ Mr. BEVAN
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. It is quite clear. I will read from the New Zealand Agreement:As regards eggs, poultry, butter …free entry for New Zealand produce will be continued for three years certain. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, however, reserve to themselves the right after the expiration of the three years, if they consider it necessary in the interests of the United Kingdom producer to do so, to review the basis of preference so far as relates to the articles enumerated, and, after notifying His Majesty's Government in New Zealand, either to impose a preferential duty on New Zealand produce, whilst maintaining existing preferential margins, or in consultation with the New Zealand Government to bring such produce within any system which may be put into operation for the quantitative regulation of supplies from all sources in the United Kingdom market.It says that you must do this after three years, and even then in consultation with the New Zealand, the Canadian and the Australian Governments. I ask the House: what is left of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's peroration? Over a vast range of British agriculture no protection is to be given to the British producer against Dominion commodities. If it is argued that, after all, this is part of the broad Imperial policy of a National Government, I would point out that in the case of the New Zealand Government there is an almost unlimited capacity to produce certain agricultural products if their import is restricted from any other country outside the Empire. At a time when dairy produce prices were falling, production in New Zealand went up. At the present time, when it is complained in the House of Commons that the whole problem is the fact that prices have fallen so calamitously, New Zealand is increasing her exports of butter, and in order that she may continue to enjoy the advan- 1677 tages of the British market she has already changed the value of her exchange from 110 to 125. By decreasing the world value of her exchange, the New Zealand Government have put a bounty upon the exports of New Zealand to Great Britain and a restriction on the export of manufactured goods from this country to New Zealand.
Is this not against the spirit of the Ottawa Agreements, but is it not in fact permitted by the letter of the Agreements? If New Zealand is able in 1933 to give an artificial stimulus to butter exports, to the great embarrassment of the farmers whom the Government are supposed to be saving, and will be able to continue to do that for three years, and, if we restrict the imports from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, they will be able to increase their exports to Great Britain in just the proportion in which they are reduced from outside the Empire. I would ask the Government to state the purpose of this Bill honourably. Its purpose is to increase the price of agricultural produce to the British consumer in order to put money into the pockets—of whom? Not of the English farmer; there would be something to be said for it if that were the case. If I were a Tory, I would say, following up the arguments that we have heard to-day, that there is something to be said for asking a colliery worker or a textile worker who is trying to live on 15s. a week, to pay more for his butter, milk, eggs and bacon in order that we may restore prosperity to the British country-side. Perhaps we might say that the restoration of prosperity to agriculture might do something to restore the balance of British economy, and, ultimately, to provide employment for the industrial workers. But this Bill will not do that. It will sacrifice the British industrial consumer, not to the countryside of Great Britain, but to New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
I would suggest, therefore, that it is time Conservatives in the House of Commons ceased to listen with such obvious credulity to the blandishments of the Minister of Agriculture, because he has "put it across" them. He has been selected by the Government as the right man to "put it across" them, because he speaks in the language of the young. Like other Conservative planners, he is 1678 walking backwards with his face towards the future, and he is saying," Look where I am looking."I say to him," Look where you are going. "There are some reasons why I sympathise with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He has the same difficulty with his friends as the late Mr. William Graham had with his enemies. When Mr. Graham was negotiating the Coal Mines Act lie had, because of the division of parties in the House of Commons, to produce a Bill which would be largely satisfactory to the miners, the mineowners and the coal factors. All the demerits of that Act are due to the fact that he had to satisfy those different interests. As a consequence, I am bound to say that, apart from the small reduction of hours, it was a rotten Measure. As a consequence of that attempt to placate mutually contradictory interests, it was not possible to produce a piece of scientific Socialist legislation. You have to cut some of the dead wood. out.
It is the outstanding difficulty of politicians that they will try to produce legislation that everybody will appreciate. In order to produce a piece of legislation which will scientifically deal with difficulties, some interests must be Sacrificed. Here is a typical illustration of a Bill imposed on the Minister of Agriculture by the rival interests of the agricultural industry and the importers. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wanted scientifically to reorganise agriculture, the one thing he had to do was' to cut out the importer, but he could not cut him out because he is too deeply embedded in the councils of the Tory party. They are here to defend the importer, and the agricultural industry will have to make up its mind between one interest and another. We cannot protect the British agricultural labourer, the farmer and the factor at the same time. The Government could have come forward with a Bill and said that as Great Britain has to buy a large volume of agricultural produce in the foreign market they would set up a bulk purchasing board to buy at the world price. There is no reason why they should not have done that. The case of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley has not been answered, and" it will not be answered. The Government could have determined what quantity they were going to buy and have. 1679 bought at the buyer's price, because the seller is in difficulties. They could have used the fall in world prices as a cushion to protect the agricultural industry in a time of reconstruction. But they have done no such thing. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that this was a contribution to the raising of world wholesale prices, he was stating what he knew very well was not the whole truth. I will not put it more strongly than that. He knows that it will not increase the price of goods to the exporter, but will very largely put money into the pockets of a number of importers, and neither the agricultural nor the world consumer will have any benefit from it. I submit that behind the highly flexible machinery of a bulk purchasing board it would have been possible to organise the British agricultural industry; but behind this clumsy method, as a consequence of the Ottawa Agreements, it will not be possible to do that. I am not able to enter into the technical details of the production of bacon and eggs, and I will not attempt do so. I can only deal with the general outlines of the structure. I am interested, because this is the first occasion upon which a Government has attempted to apply the principles and the methods of what has come to be known as modern State planning to any industry in this country, but I am frankly disappointed that the Government have not had the courage to say that this job can be done only if we are going to sacrifice certain of the clamorous interests in the trade. The main difficulty, so far as I see it, is this. The agricultural industry has a relative over-production of goods, but, when hon. Members refer to the over-production of goods, let them remember that that is not the whole of the statement. Over-production of goods on the one side is accompanied in Great Britain now by under-consumption on the other. What you call over-production, we call underconsumption. You are not going to save the agricultural industry of Great Britain by making it more difficult for industrial workers to buy agricultural goods. One of the reasons for the glut which exists to-day is the poverty which exists in the world. If you want to solve the problem of glut, solve the problem of poverty first. The problem then would be simply 1680 the distribution of the available labour force over the different industries depending upon the difference in quantities of goods consumed by those who have the purchasing power. I protest against this Bill, first because it is not a real piece of planning; it is pseudo planning. It is commercial brigandage using the language of modern science to conceal their political brigandage. I protest because the House of Commons is being deceived. Before the Government's delegates went to Ottawa, I asked, amid the jeers of the House, what the Government's policy was, and what they were going there for. They came back home with commitments that make it impossible to carry out their present intentions. They have come home with a millstone round their necks. I protest because the House is not getting what the Minister claims he is giving. I protest because the British industrial consumer ought not to be sacrificed to the revenues of farmers in other parts of the world. I protest, lastly, because it is an outrage that the House of Commons should have to consider a Measure the chief purpose of which is to make it more difficult for my own people to live decently, that gives no protection to the agricultural labourer, and that allows the landlord to take his pound of flesh out of the land at a time of increasing starvation in those districts which are already disheartened and in despair after 12 years of industrial depression. 6.45 p.m.
Viscount WOLMER: I rise to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on having introduced this Bill and on his brilliant exposition of it in his opening speech; but I should also like to take the opportunity of congratulating Dr. Addison, and those who worked with him, on the results of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. If Dr. Addison had not made us a present of that Act the National Government would not be nearly so far forward with their agricultural policy as they are to-day, and those of us who are supporting and welcoming this policy owe it to Dr. Addison to acknowledge the service that he rendered to agriculture in laying that foundation-stone. I wish I could congratulate my hon. Friends opposite on their attitude to-day. Instead of rejoicing in the fact that when they were in office they did introduce one Bill 1681 which has been proved of service to agriculture, and taking it as a compliment that the present Government have proposed a development and an extension of that Act, they have resurrected the old cries of party warfare, which really bear very little relation to the problem we are now considering. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was really conscious of the weakness of his case when he was moving the Amendment, because—I hope he will forgive me for saying so—his argument in many places was really a little bit too thin. Of what did he complain? In the first place, he complained that the Bill would raise prices. Everyone who has studied the agricultural problem knows that the first thing we have to do is to raise wholesale prices. The Minister of Agriculture has frequently said that it is the object of this Government to raise wholesale prices, and when the hon. Member's party was in power, and Dr. Addison was Minister of Agriculture, his object was to raise wholesale prices. The Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, said so. In the very first draft of the Bill it said the object was to stabilise agricultural prices. Mr. T. WILLIAMS: Stabilise, but not raise. Viscount WOLMER: I do not mind whether we call it stabilising or raising. We are not going to touch the agricultural problem in England unless we deal with the question of prices, and everybody who has ever studied the problem knows it. Then the hon. Member complained that there was no reorganisation mentioned in this Bill. Under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, and under this Bill, the greatest reorganisation agriculture has ever undergone is to take place. We now hare either in being or on the anvil nine marketing schemes, covering the great part of the field of agriculture. There have been reorganisation commissions on milk and on pigs, there is one sitting on meat and there is a potato scheme introduced by the National Farmers' Union. Those four schemes alone cover the most important products of British agriculture. What does my hon. Friend mean by talking about there being no reorganisation? We have the work of reorganisation going on, and this Bill will implement that work and enable it to be carried out. Then my hon. Friend 1682 said there was no security for the consumer. What about the safeguards in the 1931 Act 1 The consumers committee set up by that Act will still remain. It will have to exercise its functions under every one of these marketing schemes. The co-operative societies are given special representations on that consumers committee. Mr. WILLIAMS: The Noble Lord must remember that while in Clause 15 of this Bill the reorganisation committee is referred to, and actually has been used on occasions, and the investigation committee also has a reference in the Bill, there is no reference to the consumers committee, and we must conclude that the Minister has no intention of using the only safeguard for the consumer. Viscount WOLMER: If the hon. Member reads his own Act he will see that that committee is set up, and the fact that no reference is made to it in this Bill means that it stands and is not repealed. It is going to function, and it will have to carry out its duties in respect of every one of these schemes, and all the safeguards which the Labour party designed to deal with consumers' interests will hold good in every scheme undertaken under this Bill. Mr. WILLIAMS: Will the Noble Lord tell us whether the consumers' committee has actually been brought into existence or not? Viscount WOLMER: The only scheme m existence is the hops scheme, and as the only consumers of hops in the techical sense are the brewers I do not know whether the Minister of Agriculture has thought it worth while to appoint a consumers' committee for that scheme. The hon. Member had better put down a question to inquire. Then my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) damned the Bill faintly. He said that we were trying to force on co-operation from above. That is not quite fair. Every one of these schemes is brought forward by the farmers themselves; in most cases I am glad to say they are sponsored by the National Farmers' Union. They have to be submitted to a poll of the farmers in all the districts, and the idea that this system is being forced upon the farmers is a complete mistake. The truth is that there has been a profound change in agricul- 1683 tural opinion upon this matter during the last two years. It is true that at first the farmers did not like the idea of the Marketing Act, especially when they saw that it was unaccompanied by any Protection, but when this Government told them that Protection and reorganisation must go together the farmers responded heartily. They have had enough of the old plans, the old methods, and are going to try the new methods whole-heartedly. My right hon. Friend went on to say that we must get rid of quotas. Whether it is by the quota system or tariffs or other methods everybody knows we cannot possibly hope to reorganise British agriculture unless there is some shelter against dumping while that reorganisation is going on. Mr. A. BEVAN: From the Dominions as well? Viscount WOLMER: The hon. Member talks about the Dominions. He knows, and the whole House knows, that the Minister of Agriculture has already made a voluntary agreement with the Dominions for the regulation of meat, and there is nothing in the Ottawa Agreements to prevent agreements between the British Government and the Governments of the Dominions going on in the future as they have been so successfully conducted in the past. Mr. BEVAN: Will the Noble Lord say to what agreements in the past he refers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Meat!"] I am asking the Noble Lord what is his reply to the difficulties of regulating dairy produce, which is a very important part of British production. Viscount WOLMER: The Minister of Agriculture was able to make an agreement in regard to meat with New Zealand and with Australia last autumn, and there is nothing in the Ottawa Agreements to prevent him making similar agreements with those Governments, or with the Canadian Government, in regard to dairy produce. That is specially provided for in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of this Bill. I am sure that the agricultural community welcome this Bill and the policy that lies behind it. I believe we are at the threshhold of very great developments in British agriculture. It is true that we have undertaken a most formidable and difficult task. We have got to build up an organisation to deal 1684 with our own market at a time when that market has already, to a large extent, been captured by others, and that has to be done in such a way that the normal food supplies of the people are not interfered with, and without violation to our commercial agreements. We have made a good start. We have schemes worked out for dealing with nine agricultural products, and I am perfectly certain that the farmers are determined to give this new policy a fair trial. I happen to have been associated with the hops scheme, the only one in actual operation. I took an active part in promoting it, and addressed a number of meetings of farmers, and when we had a poll on the scheme over 93 per cent. voted in favour of it. That scheme has been working only a few months, but I am perfectly certain that I am not exaggerating when I say that if we had another vote among the hop-growers to-morrow we should get a majority not of 93 per cent. but of 99 per cent. Although it is possible that that scheme may be improved upon, and that proposals may be brought before the House before many months are past, it is not too much to say that it has revolutionised the economic position of the hop-growing industry. It has enabled growers to get together and to meet their customers on equal terms, which it was quite impossible for them to do so long as they had not the organisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall, whom I am glad to see in his place again, has rendered the greatest service to agriculture in the past in attempting to promote a co-operative society. It was really, if I may say so, his glorious failure which, I think, has made agriculturists turn to the sort of machinery we are considering under the Agricultural Marketing Act. Where he failed and where others like him failed it was impossible to expect that other men would venture. A new method had to be tried. He surely proved beyond doubt that it was impossible to introduce co-operation into British agriculture in the condition of affairs which had existed until two years ago, under which our markets were captured by our foreign and Dominion competitors, and where organisation had passed out of our hands, out of our control. It was impossible to build up a co-operative organisation under those conditions. 1685 The policy of the Marketing Act and this Bill will enable the marketing side of British agriculture to be organised, for the first time, from the producers end. To enable that to be done the State gives its assistance; gives the sanction of compulsion, which is to be found in the Marketing Act, and the sanction of protection, which is to be found in this Bill. Without those two sanctions we shall not be able to achieve the birth of agricultural co-operation in this country, though I am not saying that after it has been established for a number of years, after it has proved its usefulness, we might not be able to maintain it without those two sanctions. I am perfectly certain that it is impossible to bring agricultural co-operation into being unless you employ those two sanctions. The old days of English farming, when the farmer could usefully do all his buying, and his selling of pounds of butter, eggs and pounds of cheese, have passed. At the present moment we do not sell cheese by the pound, but by the ton, and the hundreds of tons. Marketing has to be done by whole-time experts. The farmer has to stick to his job of producing, and leave selling to his own appointed representatives. That is the gospel we have to preach to the agricultural community, and which I believe the agricultural community is showing its readiness to accept. That is the policy which we shall be able to pursue in measures such as that now before the House. I am not afraid when people tell me that this is Socialism, contrary to individualism, or against the traditions of the Tory party. I claim to be as bigoted and old-fashioned a Tory, and individualist, as most people, but in these matters I feel like the squire who said: "Religion is all right so long as it does not interfere with your private life." If common sense, and the conditions of the moment, show me that we require new methods in agriculture, and in the marketing of agricultural products, then I am anxious and willing to try them. I believe that the efforts of men like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall in trying to build up co-operation on a purely voluntary and Free Trade basis, has shown us that there is no success on that line of progress. We have to fall back to the lines of coercion of the individual, and the minority, in the interests of the majority, in order to get 100 per 1686 cent. organisation at home, and to some protection by quotas of imports. With these two instruments, I see no reason why we should not be able to build up an efficient marketing organisation in this country, without which I do not believe British agriculture can survive. Such an organisation is not only in the interests of the farmer, but in the interests of the consumer as well. The Minister of Agriculture was perfectly right when he said that a man who was buying produce at less than its production cost was a man watching a clock running down. Consumers are not to be benefited by a continuance of the condition which prevails in agriculture at the present moment. The town producers are not going to be benefited by the decay of agriculture. Our own countryside is the best, and greatest, market our towns have got. The prosperity of the country will mean the prosperity of the towns. In the chaotic condition in which world trade and agriculture find themselves at the present moment, we must have some method of regulation. I believe the Government are taking a perfectly right step in pursuing that line. 7.5 p.m.
Mr. de ROTHSCHILD: I trust the House is fully aware of the interest the Liberal party has always taken in agricultural marketing, and the reorganisation of agriculture in this country. I was very pleased to hear the tribute which the Noble Lord paid to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). I should welcome this present Bill if I thought it really carried out all that the Minister of Agriculture claims it will do. It is really only complementary to what is called the principal Act, namely, the Bill brought in by the Labour Government in 1931. In one sense it is merely the extension of principles contained in that Act, and it is that part of the Bill which I welcome most. I am alluding to the new schemes which will be extended under this Act to secondary produce, and the industries which depend upon agriculture. This is a very valuable addition which will enable the primary and secondary producers to manage their business in a more economic and comprehensive manner. Bacon at present is the only industry affected by this Act, but there are nine schemes under considera- 1687 tion, and these hold out the prospect that powers may be taken in any one of those industries which are dependent for their material on agriculture. Personally, I look forward with great interest to the time when the great industry of beer will also comer under the same Marketing Act. No doubt we shall have some lively discussions on the Floor of the House on that occasion. The Act, and this Bill, are enabling Measures. The Act of 1931 was an enabling Act, in as much as it put farmers in a position to reorganise their industry by a two-thirds majority vote. This is an enabling Measure, in a different sense, because it gives to two Ministers control over all supplies of agricultural produce which are consumed in this country. On the one hand, it puts import restrictions within the jurisdiction of the President of the Board of Trade, and, on the other, it puts the Minister of Agriculture in control of home products, over and above the marketing boards set up by the Act of 1931. This is a point which it is essential, to my mind, to emphasise at the present time. This later, and new, element brought into the Bill—the extensive powers which are given to the Minister under Clause 2—should at once arrest our attention. It empowers the Minister to regulate, by Order, sales of a pro-duct by persons producing it in the United Kingdom, or by boards administering marketing schemes. It also empower him to determine, for such period as he may specify, not only the kinds, varieties and grades, but also the quantity of any particular product, or any variety of that product. However, the Minister does show, in this respect, some attention to the interest of the State, in as much as the financial responsibility for these schemes will still remain with the Boards. If the schemes brought in under an Order of the Minister are a failure, it will be the Boards which will have to pay for them. This Clause marks a new departure in the relationship of the State to private enterprise. In my judgment, it is, indeed, paradoxical that the distinction between the 1931 Labour Government and the present Bill, which is introduced by a Conservative Minister, is that the present Bill extends State control over 1688 private enterprise far beyond the former Measure. Conservatives in the last Parliament were much exercised by the bureaucratic element in the Act, and the apprehension of the Conservative party was displayed in almost every one of the Debates. There were speeches by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley), and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton). They all pointed to the same thing. Their fears were shared by Members of my own party, and we co-operated with them on the Floor of the House, and in Committee, to reduce the powers of the Minister, with the result that these powers were considerably curtailed. What the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot called the "Mussolini" Clause—Clause 7—was re-drafted and the powers of the Minister were very much cut down. Yet on the Third Reading the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Buggles-Brise) seconded the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I would like to refer in this connection to what the Minister said to-day. The Minister pointed out that he was fully entitled to speak for the Conservative party, and to express the views and opinions of the Conservative party in their entirety. I cannot believe that the Minister has read the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon on that occasion. The hon. Member for Maldon said:We see the denial of liberty to the individual in dealing with what he has himself produced, and what he should have the right to dispose of as he will. We see individual enterprise cut and curtailed at every point. In fact, the Bill provides a glaring example of true Socialism at its worst."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1931; col. 175, Vol. 255.]If that was the considered opinion of the Conservative party then, all I can say is that the Conservative party have travelled a long way towards these benches since. The speech delivered on that occasion by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon was well qualified to arrest the attention of the House, as any Member in this Parliament can tell who heard the very remarkable speech he made on the wheat quota a few months ago. And yet to-day we have the Conservative Minister of Agriculture coming before Parliament with a Bill which goes even further and drives the industry into 1689 most bureaucratic control. The Minister now, on his own authority without the constitution of any board, when a scheme is only under consideration, will be able to say, with regard to potatoes, not only how many may be sold, and how packed and graded, but also how many Golden Wonders and how many King Edward's; with regard to strawberries, how many Paxton's and how many Leaders; and, with regard to apples, how many Bramleys and how many Pearmains. It is a terrible thought. What if the Minister does not like Cox's? What if he does not like Canterbury lamb, or is prepared to sacrifice Welsh mutton to Scotch beef? We must now realise that we have not only an Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, but of the dinner table as well. The Minister has these powers before any marketing scheme is in operation, or before a board is in operation. It is only necessary for a scheme to be in preparation. A bacon scheme is in preparation and, whether it is accepted by fanners or not, the Minister can exercise his powers under the Bill and control the home producer. In 1931 I complained that there was too much Minister in the Act; yet this Bill is nothing but Minister. It is bureaucracy with a vengeance. I am not surprised that the Labour party welcome and give their support to the Bill. This is the very Bill that they themselves would have liked to introduce in 1929. Import boards under State control were what Dr. Addison was aiming at at that time. This Bill is leading us straight to the import boards that Dr. Addison was not able to bring in. I wonder how far the farming industry will be encouraged to frame and adopt new marketing and reorganisation schemes, thereby bringing into operation the powers of the Minister. The Minister's power to fix quantities it not merely a theoretical power; it extends to a policy which will stereotype existing conditions and crystallise what exists at the present time. Suppose that an order is issued for the fixing of the quantity of meat, what will that mean? It will mean that each producer must have a quota to make up the total. But suppose that some farmer, or some group of farmers, want to take up stock-breeding and stock-farming, or to change over to dairy farming, will they be allowed to do 1690 so, and will the other producers have their quotas curtailed? This is not an imaginary difficulty; it is an inevitable difficulty when quantitative regulations are issued on a national basis. We have the example of the Coal Mines Act. We have read in the papers lately that there is a good deal of agitation that the development of new economic seams has been arrested because of the impossibility of increasing the quota. Look at the omnibus traffic regulations. It is quite impossible for a new undertaking to go on to the roads. I do not see how similar results in the case of agricultural products can be avoided, once production quotas are in force. The Coal Mines Act and the traffic regulations have only led to increased unemployment, and I fear that this Measure, if it is carried out, will have similar results. It is aimed at the limitation of supplies, and it does not increase consumption. The import restrictions must also be looked into. The disadvantages of ministerial control in production and marketing are a heavy price to pay for import restrictions. I wonder whether these import restrictions will justify the high hopes which are entertained of them. Clause 1 of the Bill gives very wide powers to the President of the Board of Trade. It appears as though the Clause were designed to enable him to minimise the restrictions as fee thinks fit. That may. be considered a satisfactory safeguard in the eyes of this House, but how will the farmers look at it? When we consider what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) has recently said about quotas, it looks as though a tug-of-war were inevitable—pull devil, pull baker. If I may adapt the familiar quotation:Deep calleth unto deep, at the noise of our Walters Spout.The President of the Board of Trade must also consider the effect of quotas on our commercial relations with foreign countries. Does that mean that he must use the quota powers which ace put into his hands as bargaining counters in tariff negotiations? If so, that must inevitably deprive the home producer of the stabilised production which is promised him by the Minister of Agriculture. Then he must consider the treaties and agreements between this country and foreign Powers, and with the Dominions. This 1691 consideration places a very real limitation upon the powers of the President of the Board of Trade. We axe constantly told that at Ottawa the Dominions conceded to the home farmer first place in the home market. To-night we are faced with the fact that the Government believe that the reduction of supplies, even of home supplies, is necessary, but that they are powerless to restrict the supplies from the Dominions because of the Ottawa Agreements. The Minister himself has stated that the position as regards bacon, in the pig reorganisation scheme, was explained at Ottawa. We are faced with the dilemma, in this effort to restrict imports of dairy produce, that the Minister can restrict dear Danish butter from coming in, but not cheap New Zealand or Australian butter. Thus the fanner cannot be better off. The Minister of Agriculture, only the other day, in giving reasons for adopting quotas, said:The man who says that he can control the butter situation with a tariff is not talking sense. Nearly half our supplies come from the Dominions, to which a tariff cannot be applied.Very well, but we have not yet been told what is the distinction between tariffs and quotas in respect of their applicability to Dominion imports. Can the Government enforce restrictive measures upon Dominion produce? Can this be done under the Ottawa Agreements? If so, then the Dominions were diddled at Ottawa. Major ELLIOT: I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but it would be a great pity if any such suggestion were to go out. Certainly, no such restrictions would be enforced, but, as has been done in the case of meat, they could be agreed upon in the case of dairy produce. Mr. de ROTHSCHILD: If the Dominions do not agree, the farmer will be done again. The quota system will not help him, however much it will help the Dominions. If we rely upon voluntary agreement, as the Minister foreshadows, to curtail Dominion produce in order to increase production here, the sacrifice asked on the part of the Dominions is not conducive to improving our trade within the Empire. The loyalty and affection among different members of the Empire has always filled the world 1692 with wonder and admiration, but it was a free and unfettered friendship, and it was given in the fulness of the heart; this will be loyalty and friendship at a price. There is provision in the Bill for ensuring that eggs should be sold by weight. Judged by that criterion, I fear that the Bill will not come up to the National Mark standard. The mottled shell may make some appeal to the farmer, who may think it is designed to redress the protectionist system which favours other industries, because it provides help for agriculture corresponding to what has been given to those other industries, but when the farmer regards the machinery of the Bill, I fear that he must lose faith. I am convinced that a sound, permanent agricultural policy cannot be based upon the bureaucratic plan of restriction which is foreshadowed in the Bill. The farmer may agree to submit to State control in the present crisis, because the Bill stipulates that it is a measure of Protection. The consumer may also submit to the restriction of supplies while there is superabundance; but sooner or later both will rebel. The Minister has said that he intends his quota restrictions to stay.The policy of quantitative regulation— he said the other day,is not just an expedient for meeting a crisis. It has come to stay.I fear that it is difficult for me to see how that view can be held to-day. There is a universal acceptance of the view held throughout the world at the present time by all the great economists, that most of the world's troubles are due to restrictions on international trade. The President of the Board of Trade described quotas as insane. I can only conclude that the Minister's diagnosis of the world's troubles is that they are incurable insanity. I am not so pessimistic, and I do not go so far as to despair of the world. Other countries, in their padded cell of quotas—they have been in their padded cells for some time—are beginning to see reason. I hope that that glimmering of reason is not to be snuffed out at the Economic Conference, and that it is not going to be snuffed out by the enthusiasm the Minister has shown for permanent restriction. If this policy is to be maintained unimpaired whatever may be 1693 the proposal before the Conference, I should have thought that it was not the way permanently to raise world prices. I should like to see the removal of restrictions. Let me remind the House that the Preparatory Commission of the World Economic Conference definitely states that quotas are inimical to the main object of the Conference, which is to raise world prices. Agriculture can only flourish here when agriculture in other countries is thriving too, and when we not only import but also export agricultural produce. The only profitable agricultural industry in the last 10 years has been that of raising and exporting pedigree stock, and only the impoverished condition of affairs in other countries has hit the British farmer in this connection. The Bill can be considered as an administrative Measure, and, as an administrative Measure, its effect will depend upon how it is worked. It is possible within the Bill for the Minister and his officials to harass the farmer and to restrict his freedom. It is possible for the Board of Trade, balancing the interests of the nation as a whole, not to exercise his powers so as to give the farmers the protective restrictions for which they are asking. Wise, not too despotic and not over active Ministers, may still use these proposals to give farming some measure of organisation and security, especially during the crisis, which is affecting the agriculture of our country so terribly, and which has brought so many farms to the verge of ruin, but do not let us run away with the idea that this can be a lasting or permanent policy, or that it embodies the philosophy of the twentieth century. These restrictive measures go back a long way. They go back to a far earlier time when potentates of the East, hundreds of years ago, found that ill-fed and hungry populations were much more manageable, and they therefore limited the area to be sown with rice. Later, when the cultivation of the poppy was developed, limitations were put upon it in respect of the area which could be planted with poppy seed, in order to raise the price of opium and to fill the Treasury chest. I know that the Minister at the present time has not similar aims, 1694 but the measures and the methods are the same. So much for the twentieth century. 7.30 p.m.
Marquess of TITCHFIELD: There are many Members of the House who, like myself, are great admirers of Mr. Jorrocks, and I know that they will agree with me when I say that the sayings of Mr. Jorrocks were always very profound. He never made a more profound remark then when he said:Betting on the weight of pigs is as useful as backing horses you have never seen. Pigs is for profit, not loss.On the last occasion when I had the honour of addressing the House, I ventured to criticise the findings of a committee which had been set up by this Government, but to-night I am going to do exactly the opposite. I would not only beg the Government to follow the advice of the Lane Fox Committee, but I would beg them to put this Bill into operation at the very earliest possible moment. I believe that the advice given in the report of the Lane Fox Committee will be of immense value to the farmer. The pig industry is a very large one, and, if it could be properly organised, it might be made much larger still. The pig industry contributes about one-tenth of the total value of agricultural produce sold by the farmer in this country, but, in spite of the growing population, the output of pig products in this country has been static for about 20 years. That is an unhealthy sign, considering that Denmark during that time has increased her output by 150 per cent., Sweden by 40 per cent. during the last 15 years, and Holland by 15 per cent. during the last 17 years. What is the cause of this unhappy position in our case? Like all other industries, the pig industry suffers from the disease of lack of profit. The industry is extremely anaemic, and, if the patient is to be cured, better and steadier wholesale prices must be secured. During the last five years the price of bacon pigs has fallen by 42 per cent., and the price of pork pigs by 46 per cent. It is also true that feed prices have fallen, but, of course, to nothing like the same extent. It is the difference between feed and bacon prices that has been the cause of all the trouble. The difficulty with which the pig producer has to contend is the pig and feed cycle, 1695 which lasts for about four years. This cycle consists of a period of rising prices followed by a period of falling prices, but latterly the price variation has shown a tendency to become shorter and much more severe in its incidence. When food is cheap, the farmer naturally increases his output, and when food is dear he decreases it. The output of bacon pigs is much dependent on the price of feeding stuffs, and, when there is a change in the relation between feeding stuffs and pig prices, the farmer changes his policy, and once again the vicious cycle is perpetuated. If the pig industry in this country is to be successful, both the pig and the feed cycles must be eliminated, and I believe that the only way to do that is to have a steady supply of bacon products throughout the whole year, not only in this country but from exporting countries. That, I believe, would lead to a diminution of the pig cycle. There are two distinct branches of the pig trade, namely, the pork trade and the bacon trade; and to a great extent they compete one against the other. When the pork market is flourishing, the bacon trade is depressed. But, while there is only a limited market for the pork trade, the bacon market, I understand, can be increased to a very large extent. This, however, can only be done by basing the price of bacon pigs on feed prioes, and by ensuring to the bacon farmer a regular supply of pig products throughout the entire year. I am certain that this can best be done by quota restrictions. As has been said by a previous speaker, this is the only country in the world that buys pig products. The Baltic States, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia have built up their industries upon our market. I think that a quota system is better than an import tariff, because it regulates the amount allocated, and thereby keeps prices stable. The weakness of an import tax is that it by no means eliminates foreign competition but in some ways rather encourages it, and that means that the price of the commodity goes down still further. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was rattier perturbed lest the price of bacon should increase too much. I do not think he need be frightened of that, because, if the "wholesale price of bacon does go up too 1696 high, the floodgates of foreign bacon can be once more opened, and then, of course, the price will immediately go down. My hon. Friend seemed to think that this was a Bill for restricting pigs. The Bill, of course, does restrict the coming of foreign pigs into this country, but I believe it will increase enormously the birth and growing up of British pigs. He was aghast at the idea of a quota system, but I am all for the quota system. I believe that it will help, among others, the agricultural labourer. I remember that some years ago, when my hon. Friends opposite were bringing in the Coal Quota Act, the hon. Member for Don Valley was tremendously enthusiastic for the coal quota, because, he said, it would be of advantage to the miner. I am very enthusiastic about a quota for pigs, because I believe that it will help in no small way those people who look after our pigs. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) made a very interesting speech. I listened to it very intensely, but, at the end of half an hour, although I realised that the right hon. Gentleman condemned almost root and branch the scheme put forward by the Minister of Agriculture, I was unable to find in his speech any real alternative proposal. He gave us a short but very interesting lecture on what I might call porcine obsterics. He thought that everything would be well if British pigs had smaller and lesser families. I do not think that that will solve the problem, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) will immediately put their heads together and produce one of those variegated reports for which the Liberal party are so justly famed. I should like to say a word with regard to the machinery of the Bill. There is to be, I understand, a quota advisory committee, which is to advise on quota methods, and there is to be a pig industry development board for developing and encouraging the pig industry in this country. There are also to be bacon and pig marketing boards for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I would like to ask, why should there be also a bacon imports advisory committee? Surely the quota advisory committee could do that work? I understand that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is going to wind up the Debate, 1697 and I should like him to inform me as to the reasons for that. I should also like to ask two more questions, which are rather important. The first is with regard to the minimum price. I should like to suggest that 10s. is too little to cover the overhead charges and I would suggest that, instead of that figure, the figure of 17s. should be inserted. I do so because I have been told by expert pig breeders that overhead charges are extremely heavy, owing to swine fever and diseases of that sort. There is another figure in the formula that I should like to see changed. Instead of the figure of l1s. 5d. per score, I would suggest the insertion of 12s. 6d., because here again I am told by expert pig breeders that there would be no profit from a figure of l1s. 5d., and that 12s. 6d. would be much more helpful and valuable. It is banality to say that farming is our oldest and greatest industry, and the pig branch of the farming industry is probably almost the biggest branch of the agricultural industry. I believe that the present scheme will make this branch of agriculture extremely profitable, and not only will it make it profitable, but it will help—and this is rather important— the small man to a very great extent. It will go a long way to solve the problem of unemployment in agriculture. I implore my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture to carry on the good work that he has done for British agriculture since he took up his present office. The wheat quota is working extremely well, I understand; the Pig Commission's report is very helpful; and the Milk Commission's report also will be very useful. If my right hon. and gallant Friend can, by negotiation, further restrict the import of foreign meat, perhaps by double, the agricultural people in this country will feel very grateful to him. I am sure he is on the right road, and, if he proceeds on these lines, he may be able to open up a new market for the British farmer worth, perhaps, £100,000,000 to £200,000,000 a year. If he can do that, he will indeed have inaugurated a new era in the agricultural civilisation of this country. I believe that Horace Walpole once said to Lady Ossory that "the nonsense of one age is not the nonsense of another." When I heard the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) speaking I was rather reminded of these words, 1698 though it seemed to me—I hope I shall not be thought rude for saying so—that his speech could not possibly fit into any generation at all. Hon. Members opposite have always got Russia at the back of their minds. It is the policy of the Labour party to give the land to the people. That has been done in Russia. The people were given the land, and the result was that the people starved the people to such an extent that the land was practically taken away from them and to-day we see collective farming. The agricultural landowners are put into a sort of barracks and kept there for the remainder of their lives. I implore hon. Members opposite not to treat British agriculture in that way. They are always boasting of what they would do and how they would solve the unemployment problem if they got into office with full power. They rather remind me of a story of an American who was boasting to an Englishman about the number and the ferocity of the wild animals that he had shot. The Englishman got somewhat tired of it after 'a bit and said, "Do you know the Dead Sea?" The American replied, "Sure, I guess I know the Dead Sea very intimately." The Englishman said, "That is interesting. I shot it! "The monster of unemployment has been stalking through the land. I believe that, if the Minister and those who are decorating the Front Bench here at the present moment carry on their policy as they are doing, they will be able to say, in a shorter or longer time—I do not know which—with complete truth, and without arrogance, "We shot it." 7.48 p.m.
Major MILNER: The Noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him, the main reason being that I have not quite gathered whether he was speaking originally in favour of birth control for pigs, or a war with Russia, or precisely as to what he was addressing himself. I rather think he was under the impression that we were debating the report of the Reorganisation Commission, on Pigs. That, of course, is not so. Marquess of TITCHFIELD: Surely the Bill is to make the report of the Lane Pox Commission operative. It is the whole point of the thing. I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not in 'when I was talking about pigs. 1699 Major MILNER: I am sure the Noble Lord will share my opinion when he reads what he said. I should like to say, as one who was associated in some small measure with Dr. Addison in the original Marketing Act of 1931, how very much we appreciate the kindly and courteous tribute paid by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) to my right hon. Friend. No one has had more to do with the working of that Act than the Noble Lord. He was largely responsible for the successful scheme that is now in operation, and his tribute will be very highly regarded by Dr. Addison. I cannot, however, agree for a moment that the Bill is in any way related to the Act of 1931. It has been said that it is in direct line of descent from that Act, but we do not acknowledge that. In our view the Bill, if it is related at all, is an illegitimate child, a sort of cuckoo in the nest, suffering from all the evils of one parent, the National Government, and having no relation whatever to the other, the Agricultural Marketing Act. It has been said that the Bill is a further instalment of Socialism. It is true that it may create something in the nature of a bureaucracy, but it certainly is not, in our view, Socialism. What it sets up is something in the nature of a capitalist monopoly. The Agricultural Marketing Act, which laid the foundations for a new policy in agriculture, was founded on the existence of abundance and proposed to control that abundance without restriction with benefit to the producer and without any injury to the consumer. The Bill, however, like so many other of the belt-tightening operations of the National Government, is based on the existence, indeed on the very creation of scarcity in a world of abundance. I noticed some very remark-able words spoken by President Roosevelt in his inauguration address which seemed to have some application to this matter. He said:Nature still affords her bounty, hut the generous use of it languishes in the very sight of supply. This is primarily because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence.Does the National Government think the people are so well fed that they can endure shorter rations still or that they can possibly pay. a higher price out of their diminishing income for what they 1700 require? I do not believe for a moment either that they can pay more or that they can do with less. I imagine that the success of the Bill in the eyes of the Minister will depend on the extent to which he can make the consumer pay, and thereby raise the prices of British and foreign foodstuff. There is no guarantee that the increased price for the wholesaler will get to the producer unless sales and prices are in some way controlled. The Bill controls the sale of home produced foodstuffs but not the prices at which they may be sold. They may, therefore, obviously, if there is restriction of supply, soar to enormous heights and the result may be very great hardship to the great majority of the people. There is already an enormous margin between the wholesaler and the consumer. At present I believe the spread, as it is termed, is 60 per cent. in the case of cheese, 33⅓ per cent. in the case of butter, 30 per cent. in the case of eggs and 30 per cent. in the case of bacon, and in the last two years under the present system, without the advantages which the Bill would give to the middleman, no less than £40,000,000 has been squeezed out of the consumer by the middleman in those four products alone, with no demonstrable benefit to the producer. The dividend of one of the large grocery stores has just been declared at 22½ per cent., which is less than is usually the case. Some of the huge stores have been paying dividends of 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. of recent years. The meat combine's profits in the last few years have amounted to something like £800,000 per annum. The whole policy underlying the Bill is very similar to the Minister's policy on the quota. I was sent the other day a list containing the prices of various brands of British and imported bacon. It says:Market advanced 8s. on Irish and 6s. on all other kinds. This is the direct result of the Government's quota restrictions. All the extra money goes to the foreign countries.There was a letter in the "Grocer" a month ago from the chairman of Warren, Sons and Company, who are large bacon factors. [Interruption.] That does not prevent me making use of a letter in which they indicate the foolishness of the Government's policy in this matter. Mr. Warren writes: 1701The Government's quota scheme on bacon has now been in operation for two months. The bacon market before this scheme came into force was weak, but as soon as the quota started wholesale prices were forced up, and it is computed that between £600,000 and £700,000 extra profit has been paid to the foreign shipper during these two months. It may be added that this extra profit that we have paid over to the foreigner has done no good at all to the English farmer or anyone else in this country. A much higher level of price will be necessary to induce an adequate increase in our home production, if ever it can happen at all. Meantime millions of pounds of extra profits will have been paid to the foreign suppliers in the rather forlorn hope that English produce will rise to the bait of the high price. What a gamble with the people's money! Do the consuming public give their consent to it? It is their money that is going to be poured out. It must be remembered that nine-tenths of our bacon is foreign, so that in order to try to make it possible for the English producer to market an insignificant amount at a very high price the rest of the community will have to pay much increased prices for all their bacon.That is the position under the Government's present Bill. The price of bacon, by reason of the import restrictions, will go up very considerably and the consumer will be asked to pay. There is no guarantee that the increased price will, either in whole or in part, go to the producer and it is eventually proposed to make arrangements with the importers and factors by which very large sums of money will go to them. I notice that the Minister made a speech the other day promising a steady foundation of prices. The curious thing is that in this Bill there is no mention of prices. Prices are to be forced up by this purely artificial means without any limit and without sufficient protection for the consumer. It is certainly true, as the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot pointed out, that under the original Act a consumer's committee can be appointed by the Minister, and is in certain circumstances to be set up, but it has no power otherwise than to report. We endeavoured to extend its powers, but we were opposed by Conservative Members.
One principal objection we have is that this Bill proceeds on the basis of creating a scarcity instead of making the cheap food of the world available to all. Clause 1, which deals with these restrictions, apparently confers no right whatever in the selling or distributing of imported foodstuffs. Our submission is that 1702 the right course would have been to have set up an import board. No less an authority than Sir Arthur Salter at Manchester recently spoke in favour of such a board, which he termed a national purchasing board, being set up. That board would purchase in the cheapest market, and it would take together imported foodstuffs and home produce and so enable, in a great number of commodities, a remunerative price to be given to the home producer without prices being put up appreciably to the home consumer.
Instead of that, in the present Bill, in order that the home producer may receive an extra £l the importers are to receive £6, for according to a speech which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made the other day the proportion of imported bacon and ham products to home-produced bacon and ham products is six to one. In the Pig Commission's Report that proportion is given as nine to one, but I will take the lower figure. I suggest that is neither a sensible, wise nor a fair proceeding. If one could see any benefit to the producer one might take a rather more favourable view of the Bill, but as it is before the House now there is no guarantee that this extra money will go to the producer. The Bill seems likely to lead to the setting up of monopolies of importers and wholesalers or factors. Certainly under the provisions of Part II, the small producer looks like being forced out, as under that part of the Bill the producer can be put out of business by the refusal of a licence to him.
That part of the Bill is said to deal with development schemes, but the word is an entire misnomer, as in fact those Clauses deal with restriction of production. The Clause appears to say that no producer can produce unless certain conditions are fulfilled, and one of those conditions is that he must have a producer's licence. I wonder what would happen if, without a producer's licence, I killed 20 pigs and salted them, and the authorities of the Ministry of Agriculture got to know. I am liable to a fine, I think, of £100, and imprisonment for three months if I do that without having obtained a licence. I suggest that the farming community, when they realise the number of penalties likely to be imposed on them for small infractions of this Bill, will take a very different view of it. The penalty, I would like to point out, is not for sell- 1703 ing an article produced, but for just producing it, even apparently if you keep the article in your own cellar.
Again, there is no assurance under this Bill that there is to be efficiency in the industry, or that only those branches of the industry which are in fact efficient are to be helped. The real truth is that the Minister of Agriculture has lost a golden opportunity of bringing about real planning in the agricultural industry. Had he done that he would have had our hearty support. Had he endeavoured to direct that industry centrally and to coordinate it, had he given some sense of security to the workers in the industry, together with a fair price to the consumer, and had he endeavoured really to develop our own land as he envisaged in his opening speech to-day, he would have had our support. But the Bill does not in any sense help in that direction. It is in our view misconceived; it is founded on the economics of scarcity; there is no guarantee to the producer and ample plunder to the foreigner and importer— all at the expense of the consumer who is already suffering under every hardship that can be inflicted by the worst Government of modern times.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSS
I always listen to the hon. Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) with great interest, but perhaps with less profit when he is talking on agriculture. The most astounding statement I have heard for some time is his deploring the fact that we do not try to develop the land. We are only too anxious to do so, but those engaged on the land already cannot make a living, and the first duty of any Government is surely to see that the people already in an occupation make a living rather than to induce other people to join them. I think we are trying to make the land a place where people can live and can get some reward commensurate with their efforts. In that respect, whatever may be said of this Bill—and this is a most complicated Measure, and I am not naturally very prone to be attracted by complicated Measures—it is at all events far ahead of the Act of 1931, which seemed to me to do nothing. It was a mere facade. It did not deal to any extent with the foreign producer. We were taking all the difficulties that any 1704 piece of rather careful and close legislation brings in its train, and getting none of the advantages. Its only allusion to Northern Ireland was in the last few words which concisely said it did not apply there. I was glad it did not, because it was of no use to the agricultural community of Northern Ireland.
This Bill introduces two new features, the element of control of imported foreign produce whenever that importation affects a branch of the agricultural industry here; and secondly, the acknowledgment, I think for the first time, of the agricultural area of Northern Ireland as being a distinct part in the agricultural entity of the United Kingdom. That is an important statement, and one which I think everyone should appreciate. There is a grave need for something to be done, and this is a bold Bill. People have alluded with horror to the penalties attached. They have suggested that it would do all sorts of different things. At all events, here we have a Minister who is trying to do something. Let us be thankful for it. I have great hope of this Measure. So far, with the honourable exception of the De-rating Act, agricultural legislation that we have seen in the last few years has not been very encouraging to me, because it has generally been of benefit to agricultural areas other than that which I represent. Wheat it is almost impossible for us to grow of milling quality. Sugar beet is a matter of no interest. But the agricultural community must stand together, and I appreciate that there might be districts which are even worse off than our district.
Here we have a Bill which can be of benefit to all agricultural areas. Northern Ireland is predominantly a livestock area. It has two other products of great importance, potatoes and oats. As everybody has talked about pigs up to the present, I think hon. Members will be rather tired of that aspect, and so I will talk about oats for a short time. Oats are our only possible cereal. I would correct at once a superstition which appears to be prevalent in Scotland that nobody outside Scotland ever grows oats, and that it is entirely a Scottish question. I would like Scottish Members to appreciate the fact that last year in Northern Ireland we produced 5,770,000 cwts of oats. The question of oats is a particularly difficult one, because the market is 1705 a diminishing one. For every horse that goes off the roads and is replaced by a motor car less oats are needed in the year. For every person of old-fashioned habits who gives up eating porridge or dies, less oats are required. I have never seen oats depreciate in value from the producer's point of view more rapidly than in recent years. In 1928 the price of white eats was 9s. per cwt. Last week in my constituency it was 4s. 7d. That is practically a 50 per cent. drop. It is very difficult to see how an agricultural community can carry on with a drop of that extent in the only cereal which they can produce.
I would ask hon. Members opposite what would be their attitude supposing wages were reduced by a like amount. I would also ask them to remember that you are here dealing, at any rate in my constituency, not with landlords and large farmers, but with small family communities struggling with nature to make a living for themselves. Last year there was imported into this country 6,400,000 cwts. of oats. That is much too large a quantity for this country to be able to afford to import, and I hope that in any scheme brought forward in respect of that particular commodity we shall see that amount reduced. I should like to know how far we are hampered by Foreign Treaties in respect of the importation of oats. I listened last Wednesday to a very characteristic and spirited protest by Scottish Members on the subject of the importation of oats, and I heard a very lugubrious reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland, who explained that he could not do anything. That was the effect of his reply.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
I think the point made by the Secretary of State was that he could not do anything at the moment, because the question of oat products was being considered by the Import Duties Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. ROSS
I am very thankful for that intervention by one of the Secretary of State for Scotland's fellow clansmen. I think it was not only a question of oat products, but also the importation of oats. The question of oat products was ancillary, and I think there are 700,000 tons of oat products imported, which intensifies the difficulty of the position. At the present time in Northern Ireland we have 286,000 acres under oats, but in 1918, 1706 when people were really anxious to get as much oats as they could, we had 450,000 acres under oats. I am sure that Scotland, if it was made a paying proposition, could increase their production of oats just as much as we did, and that they would be glad to do so. I do not propose to deal with potatoes in detail, except to say that last year, in the corresponding week, the price was 6s. 3½d. per cwt. Despite all the efforts of the Government, and they have tried their best by putting on duties, some 15,000,000 cwts. were imported in the year, and the main crop price is now Is. 6½d. per cwt. In regard to the Channel Islands, which are part of our community and depend upon the early potatoes, nothing can be done against them, but I do suggest that the large import of Spanish and other foreign potatoes, which come in and get the best of the market and make it almost impossible for potatoes to be produced on a remunerative basis, should come to an end.
I pass from these questions of detail to some of the more general principles of the Bill. I would welcome the participation of Northern Ireland as an appointing authority of the Marketing Supply Committee, because I think it would be of real assistance in that respect and could bring a very helpful point of view to the authorities, representing as we do rather a special line in agricultural production. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) is not in his place I was very surprised at several of his remarks, in particular when he objected to the Marketing Supply Committee as overruling Parliament. I had always understood that one of the complaints against Parliamentary Government as we conduct it in this country was that Parliament had so many calls on its time and that Members had to attend to so many different things, that it was impossible for it adequately to fulfil all its functions. That it should be able to delegate some of its functions to a body of experts who will, of course, only be in an advisory capacity and whose decisions will be subject to revision by this House, seems a reasonable saving of Parliamentary time.
I was also struck by the extraordinarily lethargic way in which the right hon. Gentleman approached the whole question. He accused ray right ion. and gal- 1707 lant Friend of precipitancy and suggested various courses which if they were given sufficient time would no doubt be effective. Perhaps his constituents are in a far less critical position than mine as regards the farming industry. Certainly the impression that I get when I have the good fortune to be in my constituency is that things are very difficult, even for those who are the last to complain and who would go to the very end trying to keep things going as best they can. I think that we shall have successful co-operation, as forecast in the Bill. A good start has been made by the Government of Northern Ireland, which has already taken action in connection with eggs, dairy produce, potatoes, meat and fruit. We have a most efficient Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, with whom the Ministry of Agriculture here will find it easy to deal.
There is one question that I should like to ask in relation to Clause 5 (1), which in regard to development schemes makes a statement which, at first sight, looks to me sinister. It reads as follows:Every development scheme shall be applicable to the area, or to each of the areas, as the case may be, to which the related marketing schemes apply for the time being.This is the passage to which I would direct attention:but no development scheme shall be submitted which is applicable to Northern Ireland only.I suspect that that is merely a passage intended not to encroach upon those powers which are perhaps best exercised by the Northern Parliament, otherwise, it would seem to me very strange seeing that there is no corresponding restriction within the scheme confined to Scotland or within the scheme confined to Great Britain. We have heard to-day of a potato marketing scheme for Great Britain, which is a marketing scheme likely to become operative in a very short time. I should like an explanation of that passage, because at first sight it seems a little bad.
We have had complaints from hon. Members opposite about this being a struggle for the landlord class. The landlord class does not exist in my constituency. The tenants have either bought or are in the process of buying their farms under the various Land Acts. 1708 They are not farmers who employ labourers to any great extent. I think the tenant farmers and their families who work their own land in Northern Ireland outnumber the agricultural labourers enormously. We have a habit in this House of sympathy for those whose point of view we see most, and it is a habit that we should rather tend to fight against, because it leads us to distortion in our views and to an unnecessary degree of sentiment. We hear that too often from hon. Members opposite as regards those who live in towns, and it is a sentiment which we must all share. I ask them to think of those who work on these small farms, who have no regulated hours of labour, who work early and late. They are their own masters, and they are working against a hard enemy, sometimes indifferent soil. But they are trying to live by their own efforts as a man should live. They are a virile community, but it is difficult for them in these hard times, and I trust that this Bill will give them some assurance for the future, if it does not then that we shall take such steps as will help them to live the life which by their own efforts their are entitled to live.
§ 8.26 p.m.
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Boss) who speaks with a good deal of knowledge about Scotland and the similar conditions which prevail in regard to farming in his constituency and in many constituencies represented by Scottish Members in this House. In this very interesting Debate we have had speeches from the three political parties in the House. They might, I think, be summed up by saying that we have had constructive efforts from those who support the National Government in its great task with regard to agriculture and we have had from the official Opposition and the semi-Opposition of the Liberal party speeches of a purely destructive nature, or at best of a negative kind. One of the main criticisms against the Measure is that two years ago Conservative Members were very keen critics of it and that the agricultural community saw in it a further advance towards bureaucracy, of which they have always been resentful and suspicious.
1709 The Minister of Agriculture, a fellow-Scot, who thoroughly understands farming conditions not only in his own country but all over Great Britain, very wisely, in recommending the Bill, said that it was supplementary to the Measure introduced by Dr. Addison in 1931. Of course the Conservatives criticised that Measure and the farming community criticised it because in their judgment then, and in their judgment still, it is of no use to introduce legislation for the regulation and marketing of agricultural products if you leave our shores open to dumping or the importation haphazard of agricultural produce from every other country. In the Measure submitted to-day we have ample safeguards against this, and the farming community realising it are willing and ready to co-operate with the National Government in making this Bill the success it deserves to be. It is often said in this House and outside that farmers are grumblers; nobody can please them. Farmers no doubt have grumbled in the past in regard to their industry and the neglect of the State, but to-day they realise that their claims are at last going to be considered.
For over half a century 'agriculture has been sacrificed for other industries. When this country was on a pinnacle of industrial supremacy she could afford to let agriculture slide, but to-day, when we have departed from that proud position, the farming community and the general public of this country realise that it is necessary to do something to restore prosperity to the industry. In the last half-century efforts have been made by the party to which I have the honour to belong to assist the agricultural community. Two elections were fought to induce the people of this country to reexamine the fiscal system which they had so long pursued, and at both elections the Opposition party, or parties, raised the cry that "Your food will cost you more," and suggested to the electors that the policy of the Unionist party would have the direct effect of raising prices to the poorest of the poor. I suppose that all is fair in love and war, but I suggest that the Opposition parties on these occasions went a little too far when they suggested that the proposals then put forward would have the effect of raising the price of every article of food which appeared on the working man's table, or on any other table. Opinion has advanced 1710 a long way since those two elections. That cry did yeoman service in 1906 and again in 1923, but in the General Election of 1931, although a somewhat feeble effort was made once again to scare the electorate, the result showed that a huge majority of the people in Great Britain were no longer to be persuaded that a reexamination of the fiscal system would result in the dire effects which had been predicted.
The Minister of Agriculture has very properly said this afternoon that the days of the Manchester school are gone; and gone for ever. It is necessary for us to-day not to think any more about laissez faire but to face the conditions of to-day with the weapons of to-day. That is what the agricultural community thought at the last General Election. After the election there was naturally a desire by farmers that the National Government should forthwith grapple with the entire agricultural situation. It is, of course, easy to make criticisms and, as I have said, farmers have had to wait a long time, but there can be no doubt that people outside the House have very little idea of how difficult it is to carry legislation through the House of Commons. The National Government did not wait very long before seriously applying itself to the plight of agriculture. We had the Horticultural Products Act introduced within a few weeks of this Parliament sitting. That was followed speedily by the Import Duties Act, which covered a whole range of industries. Then we had the Wheat Quota Bill, a weapon employed with the direct idea of assisting the cereal farmer and thereby adjusting the balance between cereal production and the great livestock branch of the industry.
I am almost entirely concerned with the livestock industry, with the breeding and raising of livestock and with the great dairying branch of agriculture. What is the position with regard to dairy produce? I think I should be fairly near the mark if I said that it is the desire of those who are engaged in that industry that we should see, just as we have seen with regard to meat imports, a system of quantitative regulation put into operation for dairy produce that comes in from the British Commonwealth of Nations. After what the Minister has said I will ask only two ques- 1711 tions, and I would be grateful if he would reply. First with regard to imports of tinned cream, milk powder and condensed whole milk, which is coming in entirely from foreign sources, largely subsidised, and in amount is equivalent to 6,000,000 gallons of milk, could he see his way to provide that these imports should be very drastically restricted if they cannot be entirely shut out? Secondly, with regard to the price which milk producers are receiving. I was very glad that in his speech at Newton Abbot on Saturday the Minister alluded to the position in which producers find themselves. They are receiving only 4d. a gallon for milk which contains 3½ per cent. of butter fat. It is the desire of those who are engaged in milk production that if possible the Minister should initiate emergency legislation until such time as the milk marketing scheme comes into operation.
I have tried to put the case on behalf of the dairy farmer who finds himself in such dire straits. The producer of livestock has had an appalling decline in prices arrested by the wise steps which the Minister carried through in about 10 days in November last, and there is every reason to hope that those engaged in dairying will also receive the right hon. Gentleman's very favourable attention. I hope that the Government will take my plea as that of a whole-hearted Unionist supporter who realises that the onus of responsibility, even in such a Government as this, must, rest upon the shoulders of the party who support it in such overwhelming numbers. We can claim the right to speak for agriculture. If the Conservative party were once to relax its hold upon the counties, the party would indeed find itself in a very sorry position. Surely, in view of the pleas that are frequently made, that there should be lavish expenditure of public money, this Bill is a step in the right direction. It is designed to restore the agricultural industry to the place that it ought to occupy in the body politic. It is directly designed to ensure that that industry shall expand, and reabsorb a proportion of the unemployed. I support the Bill as carrying us a long step towards the desired goal. I believe that, wearisome and even heartbreaking though it has been to the agricultural community to endure what has been a 1712 very long delay, victory is now within our grasp, and in the end we shall find that we have won by waiting.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) is not in his place, because he opened his speech by enunciating a doctrine to which I do not take the slightest exception. He justified his support of the Bill because he regarded it as the first duty of a Government to enable people to get a living. That is not a sentiment from which I would care to dissociate myself. Rather would I associate myself with it completely. But I should have liked to have reminded the hon. Member that there are millions of people in this country who cannot get a living, and I do not think that anything the Government have done so far is likely to enable those millions to get a living better in the future than they have been able to do in the past. Rather have they made it more difficult for many of those millions to live at all decently, and I think this Bill has that effect. I hope that the hon. Member for Londonderry will at some future time support us when we urge the Government to do some of those things which will make it possible for millions of people to get a living and to live decently.
I always listen with interest to the Minister of Agriculture when he addresses the House. I listened to him to-day with very great interest, especially when he assured us that the Bill was a further contribution by the Conservative party to the building of the new State. One would have thought, as one listened to the right hon. Gentleman and to the cheers which occasionally punctuated his speech, that most of the Tory party are now Socialist—but with qualifications, and the qualifications are very important indeed. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman most eloquently denounced the economic theories which have held sway during the 19th century. He said that now a condition of affairs bad developed in which we could no longer allow ourselves to be bound by those played-out economic theories, and that in all sorts of ways there will have to be interference with production and distribution. In a word, he threw overboard the very foundation principles of the Conservative party. That party in days gone by has pinned all its faith to indi 1713 vidual enterprise and initiative. Yet here they sit to-day and cheer the right hon. and gallant Gentleman while he stands at that Box and announces, in effect, that he is throwing overboard, that he is discarding entirely, the foundation principles of the Conservative party.
The Minister went on to assure us that this Bill was another stage in the effort of the Tory party to improve the position of British agriculture. The British agriculturist must, indeed, be an optimist if he thinks he is going to get much more out of this Bill than he has got out of the previous attempts by the Tory party to do good for agriculture. They have been trying for several generations, but during all the time I have been in the House, agricultural Members from all parts of the United Kingdom have been telling us that agriculture is down and out, that it is ruined, that it is bankrupt. Such is the net result of all their efforts. But once more we have the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that, whatever may have happened in the past, this new Bill is going to put British agriculture on its feet and restore it to prosperity. There was something else in his speech which was rather strange. He made an appeal to agriculture, in view, apparently, of the opportunity which it is to get under this Bill, to lead 20th century industry in a new form of organisation. Agriculture is now asked to give a lead to 20th century industry along the lines adumbrated in this Bill.
The Bill, as the Minister reminded us, is largely an effort to implement the report of the Pig Reorganisation Committee. He reminded the House that the world at present was unable to absorb the quantities of agricultural produce which are being offered for sale. I could not help thinking what a curious commentary that was on 20th century civilisation. Millions of people are right down in primary poverty. Millions of people in various parts of the world have not even the elementary necessities of life. Yet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us that the world cannot absorb the quantities of agricultural produce which are being offered. It did not seem to me that during the whole course of his speech he addressed himself at all to the question of why this agricultural produce could not be absorbed. But surely that is the important question. The truth is 1714 that the right hon and gallant Gentleman is being driven by circumstances to resort to the most questionable expedients to implement the promises which have been held out to the agricultural interests by the Tory party and the National Government.
His speech afforded no indication that he was laying the foundation of a planned agriculture and the reason is obvious. Although the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is, in a sort of way, a semi-Socialist, or rather because he is a semi-Socialist, he goes part of the way but he dare not tackle the fundamental issue in regard to all these matters. He dare not tackle what lies at the root of all our trouble—the question of private ownership. He leaves that question alone and dabbles with things that do not matter very much because he knows that if he tackled what is fundamental, he would raise a storm of protest on the benches behind them. We are, of course, still in an atmosphere in which we regard all foreign countries as economic enemies. That was a rather lamentable note which I detected in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech—the suggestion that we should regard those countries in that light instead of looking upon them, as each, in turn, making those contributions which have been necessary to the advancement of the economic life of mankind, of which we hear eulogies, on occasion, even in this House.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that that result has only come about because in the past, whatever may be happening at the moment, there has been some degree of pooling of the world's economic resources and it is unfortunate that he should now strike a note which seems to indicate that most foreign countries are our economic enemies and rivals. I suggest that the expression of such views is likely to give rise to friction which may in the long run have disastrous consequences. Some of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's phrases will long remain in the minds of those who listened to them. He spoke, for instance, of foreign countries, owing to the tariff barriers and trade restrictions which they have erected, locking us out of our factories and consequently turning us into the fields. He suggested that that was due to policies which those countries had been pursuing and which 1715 would lead us to some reconsideration of the economic life of this country.
I understand that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman visualises some process of reorganisation of our economic life as necessary in the changed world conditions of to-day and he goes on to tell us that Part II of this Bill is the legislative background for real agricultural planning. He reminds us that this is based on a definite policy of restriction and he argues that restrictions are necessary. When I heard him say that I could not help reflecting, to what a pass have we come in this the third decade of the twentieth century. Let us recall the fact that while we are debating this Bill here, we are in the twentieth century, after 10,000 generations of agricultural experience, with all the knowledge that is available now of improved methods of cultivation, knowledge of crop rotation, plant-breeding, and animal-breeding, the fertilisation of the soil and the development of agricultural implements—all these things which are responsible for the marvellous productivity of this age.
Only think of the wonderful history of the wheat plant, originally a wild grass somewhere in the Mediterranean area. Yet after generations of human endeavour in tilling the soil and in plant selection we have reached a stage where the world output of wheat is 2,000,000,000 cwts. per annum. We had a situation in 1930 where the carry-over from the previous year was equal to the whole of the world's annual consumption—that is to say, if the whole wheat harvest of the world had failed in that year there was enough wheat left over from the previous year to feed all the wheat-eating peoples of the world. Yet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us that it is necessary to pursue a policy of restriction and when he talks like that one cannot help recalling, again, that there are millions in the world to-day down in the depths of primary poverty.
All this talk about restriction is to my mind hopelessly wrong. Restriction can bring us, in the end, no good at all. The problem is not one of restriction. The problem is one of getting these commodities in ever-increasing quantities, to those whose labours produce them. Until you devise machinery to get back again to those who produce them, the results of 1716 the vast productivity of the modern world, you will never solve your problem by these processes of restriction upon which you are embarking in the Bill. We have the Tory party with ideas of private enterprise and individual initiative. What is it doing at the moment through the agency of the Minister? It is struggling with the necessity for the collective organisation of production and distribution. Rather than tackle the problem as it ought to be tackled, it is dealing with it in the piecemeal fashion outlined in the Bill.
It is necessary for us to read the Bill in relation to the report of the Pig Reorganisation Committee. I saw the other day—I believe it was in a letter in a newspaper—that it was very forcibly argued that the price of certain kinds of meat depended entirely upon the price of cereals. There was a close relation between the two. If that be true, surely the Minister, in tackling this problem, must understand that, in going along the line upon which he is proceeding, he is dealing with secondary and not primary causes. If the low price of meat is largely due to the low price of cereals, surely the proper way to tackle the question, even of rising prices, is to deal with the question of cereals rather than to deal with the secondary causes to which the Minister attached so much importance in his speech to-day. It is all beginning in the wrong place. He is dealing, not with primary causes, even if he wants to raise the general price level of certain products, but with secondary causes.
I could not help agreeing with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), who spoke earlier in the Debate, that if the Tory party really had the courage of their convictions, rather than proceed by the complicated methods involved in the Measure in carrying out a scheme outlined in the report of the Pig Reorganisation Committee, they would have proceeded by the method of tariffs. That seems to be far more straightforward than the complicated methods which they are proposing in this Measure. However crude that policy may be, it would be a simple method, and if they want to do what the Minister suggests, surely it is the best policy. They should do it by the simplest and most straightforward method rather than by the complicated methods proposed in the Bill. I have 1717 been reminded while listening to the Debate of the old tag, that he who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is a great benefactor of mankind. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture wants to go down to history as the Minister of Agriculture who made two pigs grow where one grew before.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL ROSBOTHAM
I rise with pleasure to give my wholehearted support to the Bill which has been so ably introduced by the Minister of Agriculture. I was very much interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). He admitted failure in his efforts to organise the farming community, and he admitted that the farmers and tenantry, and he himself, were on the verge of bankruptcy. He offered no constructive ideas as to how he is to retrieve himself and his tenantry from bankruptcy. He made one notable suggestion which rather alarmed me, and that was birth control in regard to the number of young pigs. I do not know how that could benefit agriculture. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) also made a contribution, which was not of a constructive character, and he taunted the Conservative party with drawing near to the Socialist party. I would remind the hon. Member that the only hon. Member who has drawn near to the Socialist party has come from his party and has crossed the Floor and joined them. I trust that the constituents in certain divisions will study and weigh up the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and of the hon. Gentleman, and see what the farmers and the agricultural workers are to get from the contributions which they of the Liberal party have made this afternoon.
I was very pleased to hear the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) make a speech. In fact I had been waiting to hear what he would say. I was closely associated with the hon. and gallant Member during the period from 1929 to 1931 in helping forward the agricultural policy of the Labour Government and I was rather interested to know what views he was taking upon this Bill. As the Minister of Agriculture has said, it is an enabling or a supplementary Bill to aid and to put into 1718 operation Dr. Addison's Marketing Act, and yet we found no support whatever from the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds this afternoon. I cannot imagine his being very happy in the contribution which he made. The Bill aims at the thorough organisation of the agricultural industry. We know that there can be no effective regulation without such organisation. Marketing schemes will have to be proposed before any branch of the industry can benefit. We have had pigs, milk and other products talked about, and the Debate would not be complete unless I mentioned potatoes. I was very pleased that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) brought in the question of the marketing of potatoes, and it would be impossible ever to have a complete marketing scheme without the incorporation of Northern Ireland.
Clause 1 deals with the importation of agricultural products, and only organised branches of the industry can be brought in to receive benefit. The importation of agricultural products is of great importance to the agricultural industry, and to those branches in particular which can produce a sufficient quantity of a particular product to supply our own needs, and there are many of them. Of milk we can produce sufficient under organisation, and we can produce sufficient potatoes without the Spanish potatoes coming into the country and interfering with the first and second earlies and flooding out our main crop. We can produce potatoes of better quality. There is the question of horticultural produce. Under the policy of the National Government we can produce plenty of such produce in our own country. We can also produce plenty of hops. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Londonderry say that we could produce sufficient oats in this country. We certainly can produce plenty of barley. We can produce plenty of poultry and eggs in this country, and they are products which the Bill will benefit by enabling us to restrict imports when we have sufficient quantities available in our own country.
Secondary products are a very important side of agriculture, and there are great possibilities in their development. We have heard a great deal about bacon, and I ask hon. Members to realise how many men would be employed if we could have 4,000,000 more pigs in this country 1719 and produce all the bacon we required. I was pleased to hear the Minister of Agriculture mention canned fruits and other products for there are great possibilities in that direction. As a result of the regulation of imports employment will be found for a large number of people, and we can confidently hope that work will be found permanently for large numbers of those who are badly wanting it to-day. The land with its possibilities offers great opportunities for providing work to our unemployed. That is an important question, and the Bill was worth introducing if only on that ground.
The consumer is safeguarded under the Bill, but the best safeguard for him is to grow more food at home and to make this country more independent of foreign food supplies. That would keep down the cost of living. This may seem a strange argument, but it is very sound and it is true. The more work and money we keep at home and the more food we produce at home, the more the cost of living will tend to be kept on a lower and even level. We have had evidence of this during the past few months. Even the most ardent Free Trader cannot explain away the fact that the cost of living has not risen. It has not risen because we have been able to produce more food at home, and the cost of living will not rise if we pursue a policy of this character. The Bill aims at producing more food at home and making our supplies more even throughout the year and from year to year. When there is an abundance of a crop one year, the farmer is inclined to be despondent and to say that he will not grow that crop next year. Then comes a scarcity. By this Bill that will be avoided and there will be confidence among farmers.
The principle of Import Boards is introduced into the Bill. What has become of "Labour and the Nation?" Have the Opposition entirely discarded it? It would seem so from the speeches which we have heard from hon. Members opposite to-day. The foundation of the Bill is seen in a few important words in Clause 2 which are:to secure the economic stability.That is what the agricultural industry requires. It wants to be placed on an economic basis. To put it in plain language, it wants paying prices based on the cost of production. If this Bill 1720 brings that about it will help to solve the unemployment problem more than any other proposal which we have discussed for some time. Clause 3 sets out the Market Supply Committee, which, consisting of a chairman and four members, is quite large enough. I believe in small committees, for that is the best way of getting things done. The committee will ascertain the quantity of produce in this country, and, if it is wise, it will ascertain the quantity produced in other countries, and thus be able to render sound advice to the Ministers concerned, especially to the President of the Board of Trade.
Part II is very important, for it aims at development schemes in connection with the production of secondary agricultural products. I should like to draw particular attention to grading and packing, for we in this country have been too negligent in that matter. Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 refers to the treaties, conventions and agreements which are being operated unfairly against home producers. What we heard with regard to oats in the House last week applies also to other products. These treaties, conventions and agreements had to be entered into to enable debts to be paid to us, but it is unfair that they should operate against the cultivator in this country, and some compensation should be made to him when they do so act against him. The Bill, by improving conditions in agriculture, will improve the trade in agricultural implements and repairs to implements. Many farmers cannot afford to buy a new implement or to send their old implements to be repaired. When confidence and prosperity are restored through this Bill, the implement maker and repairer will benefit. The Bill will bring joy to the heart of the farmer when he is turing over his furrow, for there is nothing so distressing to the heart of the farmer and the agricultural worker than to think, when he is putting his plough into the field and turning it over for rotation cropping, "I am not going to get a paying crop, but it will not do for me to leave the land grass side up, although I shall get no benefit from it."
I know from my own experience that it is a bad thing for the countryside that the landlord is being taxed out of existence. Speaking from experience, I would rather be a tenant farmer under a good 1721 landlord and have my repairs done for me and not have to pay Schedule A Income Tax than be an owner-occupier. Estate Duty has caused a big disaster to the countryside. I am one of those who maintain that agricultural land which is rack-rented should never he called upon to pay Estate Duty. It is detrimental to the best interests of the cultivator and the agricultural worker. Do hon. Members of the Opposition expect that the position of the agricultural worker will ever be improved until we improve the position of the agricultural interests? How can farmers pay wages if there is not the money in the industry? This Bill will help to bring prosperity to the cultivator, and the agricultural worker will share in it. There is a closer bond of union between the farmer and his men than the Opposition would lead us to believe. It is such a bond of union that the worker looks upon the crops as partly his own. He says: "Look at our wheat, our oats, our potatoes; look what fine cattle we have." He feels that the stock and the crops are partly his own and part of his life. I support the Second Reading of the Bill, and I hope that we shall soon see it in operation.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
We have had an interesting and instructive Debate on this Bill, and I venture to think that the interest which has been shown indicates the wisdom of allocating two days for the Second Reading. The burden of most of the speeches from the opposite benches appears to be in favour of a policy of do-nothing and laissez faire, but we on this side believe that the time has come when it is urgent that action should be taken. Our overseas competitors have for many years recognised the need for sound marketing. They have instituted many reforms, mainly in the direction of standardising, grading and packing their produce, and organising their marketing. They have also carried through a very effective and efficient system of advertising the produce they have to offer, and no doubt their advertising has cost them many thousands of pounds. So far, the agriculturists of this country have had no effective means of countering those activities. It has been relatively easy for our overseas and foreign competitors, who have at their command a powerful weapon in the control of ex- 1722 ports from their countries, to organise the sale of goods which they send to this country. They have an instrument which compels the loyalty of the producers in their own countries who desire to market their goods abroad. Here in this country we have no such lever, no such powerful weapon.
In the past many attempts have been made here to develop along the lines followed by overseas producers, but owing, I think, to the absence of some weapon of that kind, those attempts have been frustrated either by disloyalty on the part of a section of the producers here or ignorance of the advantages which combination and co-operation in marketing could bring to them. Our need is to face and overcome this difficulty. The difficulty was recognised by the late Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Addison, and I would like to join in the tribute which has already been paid to him in foreseeing the need of a Bill of this kind. One of the chief arguments he used, which made a strong appeal to many of us on this side of the House, was the need of organisation and the advantages of many of the provisions set out in the Act of 1931; but we on this side saw the utter futility of imposing regulations and restrictions on our farmers so long as we had no power to deal with the overseas producer. Many of us opposed that Act because we knew that it could not achieve the objects and purpose which it set out to accomplish so long as foreigners were permitted free and unfettered access to our markets.
Much water has flowed under the bridges since that Measure was placed on the Statute Book. We have had the advantage of the formation of the National Government, because the man in the street said he was sick of the way the affairs of this country were being conducted and that something practical, helpful and constructive must be done. We have also held a great Imperial Conference at Ottawa, where agreements were reached, a new atmosphere was created and the whole position was materially altered. It is an interesting and significant fact—I say this by the way—that agriculture in this country is a far greater industry than most people realise. The agricultural interest in this country is greater than the agricultural 1723 interest in any of our Dominions with the exception of Canada, and surely it ought to receive the greatest measure of encouragement which the State can give it. I am glad to think that at that great Imperial Conference at Ottawa several agreements of real value to the whole agricultural industry were reached, in-eluding the provisos that the home producer should be given the first place in our markets, that schemes for the development of agriculture at home should not be frustrated, set aside and made of no avail as a result of unfair foreign interference, and that the farmer at home should be left free to pursue the fullest development of his own market.
I would like" to congratulate the National Farmers' Union on the progressive spirit and enterprising leadership which they have recently displayed under the direction of the late president; Mr. Mervyn Davies, and the present president, Mr. Gates, assisted by Mr. Morris and Mr. Baxter, who played such a big part at Ottawa. The National Farmers' Union have got a real move on, and are now busily engaged in considering many schemes for the betterment of the industry, including schemes relating to potatoes, to the marketing of milk, and to pigs. It is said among our City Members who look for revival in business that the first bull in the City is likely to be the pig.
There are some people in this country who think that all our trade is really carried in ships, and that if we restore our shipping our trade must be prosperous, but I would ask them to think and to ponder over the position. While we are all proud of the great maritime place we occupy in the world, while much of our trade comes, and will continue to come, from shipping, I venture to think that our trade can be much increased by means of the fuller use of our soil. Two years ago in this House, almost at this time of the year, on 9th February, 1931, the late Minister of Agriculture said that we were producing foodstuffs, such as pigs, pig-meat, butter, milk, cheese, poultry, eggs and home-grown fruits to the value of £203,000,000, but that agricultural produce of the same character and of almost equal value was at the same time being 1724 imported from abroad—that about half our supplies were coming from abroad. Surely, he added, £100,000,000 or more of those goods which we at present get from abroad can be provided by agriculturists in this country. There is much new trade standing, as it were, just knocking at the door of opportunity, and it is for this House to open that door and give that opportunity, which is what I believe this Bill will succeed in doing.
We have repeatedly heard, to our sorrow, particularly from Members on the benches opposite, that there are large areas in this country in which there are many unemployed people who are never likely to be absorbed or reabsorbed into employment in the districts in which they reside. If that be so, surely it is an additional reason for grappling with the question of the development of our soil and doing so with courage and with energy. Let us endeavour to foster if we can what, after all, is our healthiest and best industry and to provide more employment by ensuring a decent living and decent return to those who work the soil. The time has come when British markets must be protected. Authority and protection must be given to a majority against the thoughtlessness or the disloyalty of the minority. No injustice will be inflicted on the minority, because the very foundation of any and every scheme under this Bill is the good will of the producer. So far as the consumer is concerned, he is also amply safeguarded under the provisions of the 1931 Act, which are not tampered with, altered, or impaired in any respect whatever. Other industries have reorganised and are reorganising and revolutionising their systems, methods and ways of production. Surely agriculture must not lag behind but should do the same. Trade unions have for years regulated their output as far as they could and regulated the conditions of employment of their members and the return, that is to say the rates of pay, they could obtain. Surely it is equally fair for a great industry like agriculture to endeavour to regulate its own proceedings. Such regulation would be of the greatest value, not only to the farmer, but to the worker on the land whom he employs.
I hope there will be no serious opposition to this Bill and that those leaders 1725 of the Opposition who are still with us, some of whom led their people out into the desert where many of them, politically speaking, perished, will now try to lead them back to the promised land as shown by this Bill. The Bill makes no attempt to farm, as it were, from Whitehall, and we have much to thank Whitehall for in the manner in which they have cooperated in the preparation of a Bill which will greatly assist and help the industry. The Bill provides protection against foreign competition and against the disloyal section of the industry. The agricultural industry has, as it were, two clear-cut sides to consider. On the one side, it has the commodities which we can never produce to the full extent of our requirements in this country, commodities such as wheat which has been effectively dealt with under the Quota Act. On the other side, it has commodities which we can produce to the full and more of our requirements, commodities of which we can easily by overproduction produce an actual glut, such as potatoes and milk. Unorganised, unbusinesslike production is at the root of the troubles so far as those commodities are concerned. The proper settlement of this question raises a consumers' problem and a producers' problem, a workers' problem and an employers' problem. This Bill will, I hope, lead to steady remuneration of the worker and to a more satisfactory wholesale price-level. If it achieves that purpose, it will do a great deal towards solving the problem of unemployment.
The problem of 1933, our present day problem, is due to many causes which have come into our horizon. Machinery has made great strides and advances. In transport we not only have systems of speedy transport, but the cold storage of agricultural products puts them in almost perfect condition on our table even when imported from thousands of miles away. The scientist, too, has contributed much in fertilisers and in preventing the diseases of plants. For the future we must see that our programmes of production fit into the probabilities of the consumptive needs of our country. We must do everything we can to establish an equilibrium between supply and demand. I have heard in the course of this Debate little criticism on the principles of this Bill. Some farmers feel that Subsection (2) of Clause 1, which deals with 1726 the recognition of foreign treaties, may prevent the regulation of imports in such 'a way as to provide adequately for the expansion of home production. I hope the Minister will deal fully with that point.
For my own part, I consider the Bill a good Bill. We have recently witnessed the terrible and spectacular difficulties of a sister nation across the seas with its great cities and huge aggregations of population. We have even heard with our own ears the world-wide declaration of failure from across those seas. We deplore the position in which that sister nation finds herself, and offer our respectful sympathy to her in her trouble. It is generally admitted that her failure to recognise the difficulties of primary producers and agriculturists has played no small part in bringing about the catastrophe which we see in that great country. So far as we are concerned, we are sailing perhaps on unchartered oceans. We have an old and ordered civilisation and we cannot afford failure. We must develop our agricultural industry in fairness to all parties concerned. We must produce a policy in accordance with our country's many divergent needs, and it is because I believe that this Bill will meet those needs that I have much pleasure in supporting it.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
As a Member who has been in the House some 10 years and has taken an active interest in agriculture, it is a very great pleasure to me to congratulate the Minister who has introduced the Bill to-day. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), when moving the Amendment, expressed the view that this Bill would be looked upon as an excrescence. I am not sure what he meant by the word "excrescence," but if he meant that this Bill was some unnecessary addition to the Agricultural Marketing Act, I 'am confident that it is not an unnecessary addition but a very necessary addition to that Act. That Act, 'as it at present stands, is quite ineffective to carry out its real objects. I was one of those who supported the principle of the Marketing Bill brought forward by the Socialist Government. I criticised its details, as I was entitled to do, but I was in favour of its principles. I frankly admit I voted against the 1727 Bill on the ground that the Measure was then—as it still is—inaffective for the purpose it had in view, because it did not give the power this Bill gives to deal with the competing article coming from abroad. This Bill denotes the greatest change that has ever taken place in Parliamentary action with regard to an industry—certainly with regard to the industry of agriculture. Like all other great changes when they come about, it must expect to receive a considerable amount of opposition. I can see that there might be opposition from certain sections of the agricultural industry which do not see far enough to realise the necessity for and the object of the Bill. Farmers are very great individualists. That is natural, from their occupation. When you have an industry based upon Individualism, it is quite natural that it should offer opposition to a Bill which is opposed to Individualism.
This Bill is an example of Collectivism. Collectivism is coming. You see it accepted throughout all industries in the land, and through the labour in the land. A man cannot sell his own labour to-day; it is sold on the principle of Collectivism through the unions. It ill behoves hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to begin criticism of a Bill which is based upon Collectivism for agriculture, when they have claimed to be the greatest exponents of Collectivism in the country. I hope that we shall not have the opposition from them that some of us have anticipated. For some time agriculture has been endeavouring to solve its problems by co-operation and Collectivism in its own ranks. Great efforts have been made on behalf of agricultural societies, but for several reasons they have not been successful. One reason, of course, is that there is a market at the home door. Agricultural co-operative societies have been most successful where they have been organised to supply the export market. It is common knowledge that if there is one product by farmers in this country which has suffered least, although it has suffered, it is milk. The only reason for this situation has been that there has been collective selling on behalf of the farmer by the National Farmers' Union, and by the joint Milk Board for the distributors. The only reason why that section of the industry has not suffered to the same extent as 1728 other sections is that they have been collectivists and that organisation within the industry has been attempted. In the case of those who failed, it was impossible for them to succeed without the machinery and the power given by this Bill to control in any way the completed article which came from abroad.
Somebody has said that this Bill is Socialism. It is not Socialism; it is collectivism. You might say that Socialism is collectivism. Perhaps that is true, but the difference that I see is that Socialism is the collectivism, as controlled by Parliamentary power, recommended and supported by hon. Members on the Labour benches. I object to political control. This is collectivism with control of the machinery in the hands of industry itself. That is where the difference lies. In the Agricultural Marketing Act itself, the consumer is represented by the independent Members who are put on the various boards.
The hon. Member for Don Valley mentioned what he alleged to be another weakness, that the Bill does not include purchasing powers for a marketing board. The hon. Member did not say how that would benefit the consumer. I doubt very much, even if there were an import board with purchasing power, whether that board would find that they could purchase as cheaply as they thought they could when they had become the only purchasers for this country. Be that as it may, the hon. Member's claim that an advantage is given to the importers of this country cannot be substantiated. He made no effort whatever to show how the cheaper imported article could be transferred to the consumer in this country. It is a certain fact that you could not have, sold side by side, an article at an uneconomical price brought from somewhere else in the world, and an article produced in this country at an economical price. The only advantage that I can see would be to the Exchequer, and by the time that the expenses of the purchasing board had been defrayed you would find that there would be very little left to the Exchequer. Even if the producer in other countries does not receive the immediate benefit which we in this country hope to receive from the Bill, it is up to the Government in the other countries to look after their people and to let us look after our own. That is a problem that we must leave to them.
1729 I know that there are many who wish to speak. I have had an opportunity of expressing my appreciation, so I will not say very much more. Certainly, I will not attempt to criticise the Bill. It is not a Bill to deal with any particular commodity, and I do not think that we should spend time in expressing our views on any commodity, or the way in which it might be dealt with in the Bill. This is a purely machinery Bill. The Second Reading of the Bill—there will be other stages in which details may be dealt with —is to approve of the principle of a Measure. I heartily approve of the principle of this Bill, and I support it, and I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
Agriculturists in my part of the country approve of this Bill. The change in their opinion in favour of it has been absolutely phenomenal in recent weeks. At last we have something that will deal with the lack of co-operation among farmers. The weakest point in our agricultural structure has always been the fact that the farmers would never hang together. The National Farmers' Union have done their best, but they have not had 100 per cent. membership, and very often they have been let down by the undercutting of their members or of farmers outside their membership. I can quote an instance where negotiations were being conducted in regard to sugar-beet. The farmers' representatives had come to a deadlock with the factories. They had asserted that they would not go one inch further, and that they had every farmer behind them. They believed it. When the deadlock came, the chief of the factory representatives rang a bell, and in two minutes' time three men came in carrying piles of contracts which reached up to the ceiling of the room, and which had been made by farmers without the knowledge of their own representatives. The same sort of thing has let down farmers in milk negotiations, year after year.
I welcome this Bill, because I believe that it is only by compulsory control of production that you can help the farmer to help himself. It is a reasonable proposition that the Government should ask the farmer to market his goods better, to pack and grade them in a more orderly fashion, to restrict them if necessary, and 1730 to bring about a better distribution of his goods, and that in return for that, the Government should be willing to restrict and regulate the imports of foreign produce. I give credit to hon. Members opposite for what they did in 1931 when they brought in their Agricultural Marketing Act, but, thanks to the ever-present vision of the consumer floating before their eyes, they never put the complement on their Act, and they forgot also that agriculture itself was a consumer. Was it reasonable to ask the home producer to restrict his production, if necessary, while at the same time allowing an unceasing flood of foreign imports to come in? If we had had a scheme under the Act of 1931, what would have been the position to-day? That scheme would have been in force, and the 26 per cent. increase of foreign imports would not have taken place.
Why should this Bill create, as the Amendment suggests, scarcity in times of plenty? As I understand it, it will only mean the substitution of British produce for foreign produce as and when that is possible, and when we can do without foreign produce. Why should it raise retail prices in this country? I admit that it will raise wholesale prices, and I want it to do so, but, as regards retail prices, is there not plenty of margin? Under the milk settlement of last year, milk was sold in London at 2s. per gallon, of which 8d. went to the producer, 8d. represented the cost of distribution, and 8d. was the distributor's profit. Is there not a margin there for a rise in wholesale prices without a corresponding rise in retail prices? As regards the other commodity with which we are dealing, namely, bacon, the Minister said in his speech earlier to-day that these factories were being run at a little more than half capacity. In my own constituency we have the biggest bacon factory in England, and that has been running for the last year at exactly half capacity. Surely, if it were able to run at full speed ahead, as it will be under the bacon scheme, the reduction of overhead charges will be enormous, and the price to the consumer correspondingly cheaper.
The need for regulation is great. The milk of 4,000,000 foreign cows come into this country, while the number of cows that we have on our own pastures is only 2,500,000, or little more than half the 1731 number of foreign cows. There are 9,250,000 foreign pigs slaughtered every year for the British market, while here at home the number slaughtered is only 3,750,000. As regards poultry, 31,000,000 foreign fowls lay their eggs for British breakfast tables. We see the results of that in the accounts of our farms. The Cambridge University Agricultural Department have just issued the accounts of 400 East Anglian farms, which, even after allowing for the estimated receipts from the wheat quota, show a loss of no less than 17 per cent. The Amendment says that this Bill will not improve the lot of the farm worker. I am at one with hon. Members opposite in wishing to improve the lot of the farm worker. He is a skilled man, and should receive a reward commensurate with his skill; but, after all, that reward has to come out of a pool provided by the proceeds of the sale of agricultural produce, and from that pool both farmer and farm worker have to find their living. I hope that the Bill will mean that there will be an increased return for both.
I would like to emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) as to the extremely disquieting features of Sub-section (2) of Clause I. That Sub-section seems to me to be hedged about with too many restrictions. With regard, in the first place, to the question of foreign treaties, we in East Anglia have particular cause to remember what foreign treaties have meant to agriculture. In 1923 or 1924, we were definitely promised a tax on malting barley. That promise has never materialised, for the reason that foreign treaties stood in the way. The same thing is happening in the case of Empire wines to-day. These Empire wines can only be described as of the port or sherry type, because of our treaties with Portugal. I am desperately afraid lest these provisions as to foreign treaties may mean a great handicap to our marketing scheme in the future. I would also like to draw attention to the fact that, under the same Sub-section, special consideration is to be paid to manufacturers and blenders as consumers. In the Act of 1931, the committees of investigation were specially told to pay attention to consumers who used or consumed the product, and not to manufacturers and blenders, but, under this Sub-section, 1732 special attention and consideration must be given, before an Order is made, to manufacturers or blenders, and I am afraid that, if we have reorganisation schemes for fruit and vegetables in particular, there will be very strenuous opposition from Chose manufacturers.
I would also draw the attention of the Minister to the undesirability, as far as I am concerned, of the Board of Trade having complete control of the Order. Is it absolutely necessary that the Minister of Agriculture, who, after all, is the mainspring of this whole idea, should only be consulted? Could not the Minister of Agriculture make the Order and the Board of Trade administer it? It seems to me to be a thousand pities that we should leave the future of agriculture entirely in the hands of the Board of Trade. The present President of the Board of Trade has been a good friend to agriculture, but in the future it might be a very serious disadvantage to our agricultural industry if it were at the mercy of the Board of Trade.
This Bill is the most serious attempt that has been made to help agriculture since the Corn Production Act. The wheat quota was, after all, limited as regards its area, and it applied, in particular, to the big farmers as opposed to the smaller ones. The present Bill will pave the way for the reorganisation of four special commodities—bacon, milk, meat and poultry. In reorganising those commodities, it will give special help to the small farmer and the smallholder, and it will be reorganising commodities which are universal throughout the land. If we can only make the smallholder— the small man—more prosperous, I see an opening for a great scheme of land settlement, which I am sure everyone desires, and which would ease so tremendously our unemployment problem. I only wish further to express our best thanks to the Minister for the energy and initiative that he has shown in bringing the Bill forward at such speed and his determination to ensure that the British agriculturist shall have the right place, which is the first place in the home market.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I cannot help feeling that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken and the hon. Gentleman who preceded him are 1733 under a misapprehension as to the scope and character of the Bill and that they expect too much to be given to the farmer as a direct consequence of its operation. The latter said it was not Socialism. He need not have told us that, but he probably had to reassure Members on his own side. He said this was a Collectivist Bill run by the people most concerned—the farmers themselves. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite would prefer Syndicalism to Socialism. If the hon. Gentleman is right in his description, it would be a Syndicalist Bill rather than a Socialist Bill. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), too, had very rosy expectations. With his knowledge of the industry and of the trade in agricultural products, I was surprised to find him placing them so high. He said that possibly in a short space of time we should find an additional £100,000,000 worth of agricultural products being supplied by the home producer. I do not think he will get many Members on that side to share this rosy anticipation.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I was endeavouring to quote a statement made by Dr. Addison when introducing his Bill in 1931.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I believe that, if Dr. Addison had been bringing in a Bill, it might have attained that ideal, but this Bill will do nothing of the kind. There is no possibility of increased production at all. Indeed, that is not the intention. The hon. Gentleman was surprised to find us in opposition to the Bill. He said we ought to support it because it is identical in principle with the Act of 1931. That is where he is wrong. There is, indeed, a most fundamental departure from the principles of the Act of 1931, and that is why we find ourselves in opposition. We are not inconsistent enough to oppose a Bill similar to the one that we proposed but, because there is a vital and most dangerous departure from the principles of that Act, we stand here unashamedly in opposition to it. The Act was designed to improve marketing methods, and it lays down a most comprehensive scheme for giving effect to that desire. It is, indeed, a most creditable piece of machinery. The architect, Dr. Addison, finds no critic in the House to-night. Everyone who speaks from the benches opposite pays 1734 his tribute to the Act. We might ask hon. Members why they have not worked the Addison Act. Why is it on the Statute Book but hardly in use? Why have we to wait nearly two years for this tentative effort to translate it into legislative effect?
This Bill is nothing like the Addison Act. Instead of that comprehensive, firm, solid foundation for a marketing organisation we find a small, skinny substitute, carrying no meat and, indeed, no stuffing, a puny thing which will not do anything for agriculture. If hon. Members opposite who represent the farmers expect to see the farming industry return to prosperity through this Measure, they will be disappointed. What can agriculture get from the Bill? The Minister of Agriculture is a very adept debater. We all pay ready tribute to his skill and to his attractiveness of speech, but he knows very well when he has a good case and he knows equally well when his case is not so good. He did not speak with as much clarity and convincing power to-day as he has done on former occasions. He revealed the purpose of the Bill very much more clearly in the country some time ago than he did to-day in the House. He said at Manchester that we had now come to the point when regulation of the quantities of food supplies coming into this country and those produced by the home farmer had come to stay, and added that leaving things to the individual farmers to do as they pleased was dead. Who said Socialism? If we had said things like that outside or inside the House a very short time ago we should have been denounced as wicked, confiscatory Socialists, and no adjective would have been violent enough to express the feelings of hon. Members opposite.
The Minister has been described as a semi-Socialist. I would not account him a demi-semi-Socialist. He knows quite well that this is as far from Socialism as he can get. This is intended to thwart whatever Socialist tendency there was in the Act. This Bill, not containing Socialist principles, cannot help agriculture in its present plight, and the industry, sharing the depression of other industries throughout the world, is waiting for the application of Socialist principles. The very absence of the alle- 1735 viating principles of Socialism will prevent it from being a success at all.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman can disavow his Socialism with consistency and with honesty, but he cannot run in the fact of truth and of fact. He said that incoming supplies were to be subject to voluntary arrangements between the different countries supplying them, they guaranteeing to keep up quality and regularity of delivery and the Government watching imports and home produce to see fair play. What does he mean by that? He did not lay down his standards of fair play. He did not tell us where the foreign competition might be unfair and where the home industry might be protected in order to receive fair play. We would like to know how this is to work. There is another day, fortunately, when the Government will have an opportunity of being more confiding to the House. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said it was to be done mainly by the Act of 1931, and he wanted Members on this side of the House to join with him in a carnival to celebrate the fruition of the work of Dr. Addison now to be finished by this Government. We do not feel as happy as he does about it. We are not proud of the way in which a promising child, having been unwillingly adopted, has been put to evil practices by its foster-parents. We do not recognise this child with the pride which he asked us to share.
The Minister said we had come to-day to complete the story. He gave the impression that the story commenced by Dr. Addison was to have a happy ending. To-day we have seen a story which commenced with sunshine and flowers change in the telling to a tale of ogres and dark places. We have not seen the finishing of Dr. Addison's work. No skilful tale-telling by the Minister will alter that conviction when the House knows exactly what is being done. I have been surprised to-day. I have been wondering whether I was sitting there or here. There was a Minister of Agriculture protesting against efficiency and denouncing the demand for what he described as razor-edged efficiency. From this side of the House we have heard complaints against the drive for efficiency at the expense of those who toil. To-day comes 1736 the complaint against and the denunciation of efficiency, a real reaction expressed by the Minister responsible for this Bill. There are Ministers and Ministers in the Government, but I did not expect to hear this Minister denouncing scientific organisation and production and marketing. But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is afraid of superefficiency. He does not want it. We have to go back. To-day he has brought in an instrument not for progress and scientific advancement, but an instrument of retrogression and non-efficiency open to grave charges.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also said that the Manchester school had finished its period of usefulness, that we had now ceased to find any advantage in buying cheap goods, that it was too expensive for us as a nation, and that we must stop preaching the cult of cheapness. I wish hon. Members on that side of the House would carry their arguments to all fields in which goods are being bought and sold, and go one step further and make up their minds that labour is not a commodity to be bought too cheaply. He said we had seen the folly of the ancient Free Trade party, we were here now to plan production and trade, and this was their contribution to the restoration of world trade and prosperity, this gospel of scarcity. In this Bill, from first to last, there is preached not the gospel of efficiency and cheaper production, but of scarcity and costly production. I would like to know how the Minister can square this gospel of scarcity with that oft-repeated expression on that side of the House, "The gate to more"? We are told now that we do not want plenty, that we have no use for cheapness. It is said, go back to inefficient methods of production because the Government of the day are not prepared to receive with open arms the greater efficiency that is possible to-day.
Let us examine this Bill. Clause 1 gives the Board of Trade power to make an Order regulating the importation of agricultural products, and so on. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot said he wanted the 1931 Act with Protection for the 1931 Act and Protection. He does not realise yet that he has not got it in this Clause. He has an Order regulating and prohibiting, but no import boards, no Protection. Let us see how 1737 Clause 1 might be used. Let us assume we have a scheme dealing with ham, and that the Board of Trade makes an Order to reduce the volume of imported hams by 20 per cent. The intention is to keep up or to raise prices of home-produced hams. Assume that we have an importer who, before the Order is issued, buys 100 hams from abroad. He pays £l each for them, spends £100 in the capital investment of his business, and brings the hams to the market in this country and sells them at 25s. each. He makes a profit on each ham of 25 per cent. Let us assume that as a direct consequence of the reduction of the quota to be imported by 20 per cent., the importer then buys 80 hams. The seller at the other end still wants to sell at least 100, and because of that, and with a buyer for only 80, is willing to sell cheaper and instead of selling them at 20s. he now sells them at 18s. The importer gets the advantage in the price which the Board of Trade Order confers on him. Then he brings the hams home and finds that owing to the scarcity of hams, because they have been cut down by 20 per cent., the ham no longer fetches 25s. in the home market but sells probably 20 per cent. higher at 30s. per ham. The importer made a profit before the Order of 25 per cent. on his capital expenditure, but after the Order has been issued, and scarcity prices have begun to operate at one end and over-abundance has enabled him to buy cheaper at the other end, he finds his profit has gone up from 25 per cent. to 66 per cent. That is the kind of thing that we shall see multiplied in instances of every kind of trading transaction in regard to goods imported into this country.
One wonders why the Government have taken this form of making a scarcity and making things dear. What were we told less than two years ago? This was not the kind of thing which the supporters of the Government professed they were elected to bring about. They went on to the platforms and shouted, they had amplifiers at work and they used the broadcasting agency, to tell the people that the only thing that could save the country was a system of tariffs. What has become of the tariffs now? What has become of Protection? In this Bill they give the importer a chance to line his pockets to overflowing with the 1738 additional prices which the Board of Trade will enable him to charge, and not one penny piece of advantage will come to the State. The Government have relinquished any revenue for the Treasury from the imposition of tariffs in this respect. Instead of collecting for the Treasury the sum of money represented in the simple transaction which I have outlined, they will give the whole of that benefit to the trader who imports products, without a single guarantee that the farmer will get any advantage and with no guarantee at all for the consumer.
This is very much worse than Protection. It is the worst of two evils. It is not a choice between a good principle and a bad principle, but it is the worst of two admitted evils. The importing syndicate, even if they are not friendly to the Board of Trade, even if they are not the political friends of the Government and not the political supporters of the Board of Trade and of Ministers, will be able, in accordance with the principles of the Minister of Agriculture, to make a pretext at any time for restricting the importation of goods from abroad, with the result that prices for all kinds of commodities can be raised to the highest level. The Government will get no revenue. The retailer will get the whole advantage. We want to know why the Government have abandoned Protection? Do they believe in Protection now? Can Protection benefit agriculture? If not, let them say so. Protection has been repudiated and departed from and they are embarking upon a principle entirely strange and new and fraught with great danger. The Board of Trade hand over the consumers to vested interests to do with them just as they like, and there is not one word of protection for the consumer in the Bill. There is not one word in the Bill which will enable the consumer to give expression to an effective protest.
In this Bill, from Clause to Clause, the Minister does not seek to improve upon the principal Act, not to improve upon the work of Dr. Addison, but to vitiate the work of Dr. Addison. There is such a difference between this Bill and the Act that their similarity is hardly recognisable. I thought that there was a germ of a great idea in Clause 3, which provides for a market supply committee of five 1739 persons, who are to survey and examine the industry of agriculture on its productive side and its distributive side. But when I went through it stage by stage I was disappointed. It sounds all right, but the committee has no power. It is like the stage policeman in a third-class theatrical show; a fellow made to look very fierce with a great moustache and a baton, who is not taken seriously by anybody, who looks as if he had all the authority but really has none. All he does is to write a report and send it in. That is the position of this market supply committee. All they can do is to talk about things, look at things, write a report and send in a recommendation to the Minister. This committee should be the core of the scheme of the Bill. If it had a knowledge of the quantity of imported products and their destination, if it were an adequate committee, a representative committee, I could trust it with the direction of the food products of this country and the steps necessary for the augmentation of our own supplies. But the committee had nothing to do. It is put there to make the Bill look a little better. It is a dummy character, which plays no useful part.
Part II contains what are known as the development clauses. Here again I am disappointed. There is no development, no suggestion of any greater production, no attempt to carry on agriculture on more scientific lines. Indeed, according to the words in the Bill it is not to promote efficient production butfor preventing or reducing excessive production of that product.It is to prevent production, to restrict, not to develop. It is a drag on the machine, not a lever; and it is a drag with a constant weight upon it to prevent what is called excessive production. Where is the hon. Member for Cambridge going to get his £100,000,000 more of agricultural products unless there is an intensive scheme for real development? It is not contained in this Bill. Part III contains a large number of amendments of the principal Act, and here again we find the words "to regulate sales of the regulated product," and when we have read the five or six clauses we realise that they produce the maximum of interference with liberty and the minimum of benefit 1740 to farmers and producers, with no possible advantage at all to consumers. I hate to be so definite, but I really feel that the Minister has sold us a pup succesfully this afternoon, but before we take out the licence we shall see that the pup is returned to its rightful owners. We do not intend to bear any expense. The Minister made the Bill appear very attractive but there is no real virtue in it.
In Part IV we find that eggs are now to be sold by weight. The House is to be asked to approve that eggs laid by domestic fowls and domestic ducks shall be sold by weight. This may be an act of acknowledgment which the Government think is due to the domestic duck, but when the eggs are sold by weight they are only to be sold when they are 25 or more in number. The domestic consumer gets not the slightest attention, not as much as is given to the domestic fowl and the domestic duck. He is again left out of it. There is no provision made for him in this new scheme of things, the new State of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks, the new State which is to shine as a great example to the other States of the world. This is the kind of new State it is to be. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has read his Tennyson or other English poets or he would have sounded more effective in speaking of the world that is to come. I do not doubt his poetic vision. Indeed this afternoon he was lyrical throughout, too lyrical for the sober examination of the Bill. He rhapsodised over boards and machinery with great effect.
After he had explained the Bill and after we have examined it, we have come to the firm conviction that the Bill is not a development of the Act of 1931. That was a straight piece of legislation. It has now been twisted to please the friends of the present Government. The Bill is admittedly designed to raise prices. High prices are to be paid by consumers for all goods, whether produced at home or imported from abroad. Additional prices due to scarcity are to be entirely at the disposal of the boards and the importers. The Government are to act as the agents of the importers and to keep supplies down. The Bill cannot benefit the industrial worker. Will it benefit the farmer?
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the countryside with more 1741 eloquence than I can command. I go through the country and I see changes in agricultural conditions compared with the earlier days that I knew. Much greater convenience has come to the farmer. The farmer does not depend solely on the capital invested in the buildings and the land. He depends very largely upon the transport facilities that enable him to take his goods, whether under this Bill or without this Bill, to the most convenient market. The farmer has the use of the best roads in Europe without paying a penny contribution towards their upkeep. He has had many concessions from this House in the past few years, but he does not value those concessions. He still comes back for more and more and still more. Under Dr. Addison's Bill, now an Act, the farmer was encouraged, was helped to help himself.
Dr. Addison's Act of 1931 might have been carried forward. The time is ripe for building upon that Act a further structure which would have completed his edifice. But it would not have been in the form of privilege and benefits to vested interests. It would have been in the shape of a direct contribution to the farmers themselves, the farmers to be free from the difficulties of their collective effort and to be helped to market their commodities in the best market of the world, the market of this country. There is really something wrong with the farmer in this country when, with the best market that is known, he cannot compete with the farmer who is 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 miles away from that market. We shall insist that the farmers be given the utmost encouragement and assistance, but we shall protest against any attempt to give to people who will use the farmer as a shield, the right to ask largesse. We shall protest against any attempt by side-tracking to help vested interests at the expense of the industrial consumer.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Dr. Burgin)
The hon. Member for Grower (Mr. D. Grenfell) will understand that as this Debate does not conclude to-night there will be opportunities for the Minister of Agriculture to reply to the arguments which he has addressed to the House. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister has every reason to be gratified with the re- 1742 ception which this Measure has met with at the hands of the House to-day. There have been a number of very helpful suggestions and speeches, all the points contained in which will be carefully considered. One particularly thinks in that connection of the very interesting maiden speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox). If it is right to say that the comments which have been made on the Bill divide themselves into three categories, that is only what the House would expect. There are those who gladly welcome and realise the value of the proposals in the Bill. It may be said of those supporters that they realise the truth of the poet's words:Order is Heaven's first law, and this confest,Some are, and must be, greater than the rest.The supporters of the Measure who have voiced their approval recognise the enormous contribution to Statute law which is made when there is an endeavour to stabilise a great industry of this kind and when, in a world in which little else is stable, the advantage of the stability of this country is to be applied to one of its great industries. In referring to the speeches in support of the Bill, I must mention that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) and, while thanking him for the tribute which he paid to the President of the Board of Trade, I am afraid it is not possible to suggest that the Orders under this Bill should be made by the Ministry of Agriculture. The machinery is that the working of these Orders should be by the Board of Trade.
The next category of speakers represents the Opposition. They object to the Bill because they say it does not go far enough in the direction of State control of imports, production, sales and distribution—the old Socialist trilogy of production, distribution, and exchange. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, and when one thinks of the world to-day there are few of its troubles that are unconnected with either production or distribution or exchange, in a very different sense from that in which hon. Members opposite are using those words. I would like to examine in some detail some of the arguments brought forward by Members of the Opposition and, first, I deal with the speech of the hon. Mem- 1743 ber for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). In the first instance, perhaps he will allow me to reply on one or two points of detail on the Measure before dealing with his argument. He asked whether a consumers' committee will now be appointed as provided in Section 9 of the 1931 Act. At present, the only scheme in force relates to hops, and it hardly seems necessary to set up a committee for frothblowers, but as soon as there is work for a consumers' committee a committee will be appointed.
The hon. Member then referred to line 29 in the Third Schedule which proposes to insert the words "if the Minister so directs" in the opening sentence of Section 15 of the Act of 1931. The intention of that Amendment is to widen the scope of the principal Act and enable the Minister to invoke the aid of a Reorganisation Commission, not only to prepare a scheme but to improve a scheme or to investigate matters affecting it. I think the object of the Amendment was not quite followed by the hon. Member. It is a helpful Amendment and one of which I think he will entirely approve when he has read it again. As I understood the hon. Member, the main burden of his objections was to the whole question of the method adopted by the Government for regulating imports. Probably, if one said that the House now realised that this country could not be regarded as an international dump for produce the hon. Member would agree. Probably, if it were said that surplus produce from all over the world should not be allowed to be imported into this country without regard to consumers' needs, producers' returns, market possibilities or reciprocal trading he would be the first to agree that those objects were desirable. But, as I understood his observations, he objected to the method which had been adopted by the Government for controlling the flow of these imports.
Let us see what the Government method is. The Government method has so far been tried in regard to two commodities —meat and bacon. I speak perhaps with a little closer personal knowledge of the meat position, because of taking a hand in the various negotiations at the time. What was the method adopted? It was the method of friendly conference with those who were in a position to ensure the 1744 effective results desired. Hon. Members will recollect that just before Christmas of last year the English meat market was suddenly confronted with a catastrophic fall in beef prices. Prices of mutton and lamb had fallen and slipped right away. It was hoped that beef prices would hold, but, contrary to expectations, there was a sudden complete break in the beef prices. The only method of dealing with such a situation—an emergency situation—was to make sure that large quantities of beef were not capriciously thrown on to a market already in glut. It was not the slightest use talking to people who could not prevent or exercise any effective control over the hurling of meat on to that glutted market.
The only people who were in a position to effect the desired result, namely, to stop the meat reaching that market, were those who in practice brought the meat on to the market, so my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade convened those, who by themselves could effectively give a "Yes" or "No." In a conference room at the Board of Trade there met— well I remember it—those who could speak for practically 100 per cent. of the imports from South America. They were asked across the Table: "Will you, or will you not, consent to a sensible arrangement or regulation of advantage to us as the importing country and to you as the dealers in the produce which will prevent this almost perpendicular fall of prices and which will restore something in the nature of stability? "And to their credit, and according to the hon. Member for Don Valley to their material advantage also, they had the good sense to agree.
The point which this country had in mind of preventing a complete break of the meat prices on the Smithfield market was achieved. Our interest was, in the first instance, to think of our own people. That result was achieved by voluntary agreement. Similarly, when it came to deal with bacon products, friendly discussion took place with the countries from which bacon is normally exported into this country, and voluntary agreements were arrived at. I pause to interject an observation with regard to the speech made by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). He concluded an extremely interesting and well- 1745 informed address, such as this House always delights to listen to, particularly from him who is so much an authority on agricultural matters, by saying how much better it would have been to deal by agreements with foreign countries voluntarily. That is exactly what the Government have been doing so far, and what they hope to continue to do in future, but under this Bill they take powers to do it not merely with bacon but with a far wider range of agricultural products.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House whether or not the figures which I gave were true and whether after the Government had entered into the voluntary arrangement for restricting imports the prices in exporting countries fell while the prices in Smithfield Market increased very materially by as much as 65 per cent.?
§ Dr. BURGIN
I am coming to some figures which the hon. Gentleman gave in a moment. It is true that every beginning had its difficulties.Aller Anfang ist schweris translated into every language and everybody's experience. It is true that the first effect of restriction must be to create the possibility that the importer can sell in the dearer market, and it can well produce the effect that the importer can for a short time, until matters adjust themselves, buy in the cheaper. That is the possibility, but the House must look at the matter with a right sense of perspective. If you are preventing undue supplies reaching your own market, the first thing to see is that your method of prevention is effective. The hon. Member for Don Valley made much of the fact that it was the importer who had benefited. I would call his attention to the fact that in the bacon trade at any rate most of the bacon is handled by agents and not by those who are merchants selling for their own account and making a difference in price. Most of the bacon is handled on a commission basis so that the argument that the importer has increased his profit does not hold except to the degree to which the commission has been increased. That applies also to the greater quantity of Australian and New Zealand meat imports. The hon. Member quoted a certain Noble Lord and said that he was reported to have made a calculation that when the South American importers 1746 had reached their agreement with the President of the Board of Trade, £600,000 profit was made in a single night. The House will recall the story of the figure in the Ottawa Agreements, where it was said that by the negligent manipulation of a typewriter an odd nought was added in error. I am afraid that the Noble Lord whom the hon. Gentleman quoted must have added far more than one nought. The figure bears no conceivable relation to the fact.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), in a spirited address, asked if the Minister who replied for the Government would tell the House honourably what the Bill meant. Each of the Walters in charge of the Bill is an honourable man, and the answer to the question must be given. This Bill is meant to put order into chaos, stability into markets, and common sense into our day. There were those who from the benches below the Gangway objected to this Bill on the ground that there was Government control, and they, if I understood them aright, object to Government control in any form. The hon. Member for Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) referred at some length to the provisions of the Ottawa Agreements, and asked how the home producers of the articles to which those Agreements relate were to be helped under the circumstances. He referred, if I recollect aright, to the power of the Board of Trade to stop the importation of the dear Danish butter, but their inability to stop the import of the cheap New Zealand and Australian butter.
I can only say that the self-governing Dominions, who met us round a conference table, are as alive to the necessity of stabilisation as is anybody in this House. They realise that it is of no advantage to their primary producers, no advantage to them as Dominions and no advantage to their merchants and agents in this country to have a dairy produce market with no bottom to it at all, with no assurance that supplies when released can command any market. They are quite willing to meet with us round the table and discuss the common problem, the common interest of the producers of those articles the whole world over and they rejoice that the Government is tackling the matter in a practical manner with a view not to helping the interests 1747 of any one class of the people but with a view to maintaining stability where otherwise there would be complete breakdown.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
Is it not the fact that New Zealand exporters of butter have, in fact, refused to come to a voluntary agreement to limit imports?
§ Dr. BURGIN
So far from that being a fact, negotiations are continuing round a table with a view to arriving at a sensible understanding as to percentages. There was one other point made by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall, to which I am most anxious to give a reply. He pointed out that the hop industry had put itself in order under the 1931 Act without the help of the machinery of this Bill. I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had given that example, for he seems to have forgotten the protective duty of £4 per cwt. by which the hop industry was assisted and which had a good deal to do with the supporting of that industry. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) asked a question arising under Subsection (1) of Clause 5—" Why cannot a development scheme under this Section apply only to Northern Ireland?" We recognise the old Parliamentary point— another injustice to Ireland, but so far from its being anything of the kind it is a direct tribute to Northern Ireland. If Northern Ireland wants a development scheme for herself she can legislate for herself. This Bill only brings in Northern Ireland where she is a partner in a scheme applicable to other parts of the United Kingdom as well. That is the meaning of that particular Section saying that a scheme relating to Northern Ireland alone is not one that can be brought within the Bill.
This Bill realises that in a great industry like agriculture there are three parties who must be considered—the agricultural labourer, the producer and the consumer. It is true to say that the agricultural labourer has had his minimum wage by Statute for some considerable time. But how long are farmers going to be in a position to pay that minimum wage? How long is the finest labourer in the world to be in a position to receive that minimum wage 1748 granted to him by Statute? This Bill may very likely be the sheet-anchor of the standard of life of the agricultural labourer because, unless the economic conditions of the industry are such that the farmer can pay the wage, the maintenance of that minimum will greatly aggravate the agricultural unemployment caused by falling prices. What about the producer? It is quite useless having agricultural production on a large scale if the producer is unable to sell the produce of his farm. This Bill is an attempt to see that market conditions are not at one moment at the peak and the next in the abyss, but that there is some element of stability introduced into market selling conditions. With regard to the consumer, it is the experience of all those who have investigated industrial depressions and industrial booms that one of the consequences most likely to follow a glut is scarcity, unless there is some measure of considered regulation, and so the consumer is to be protected against the possible consequences that follow a glut by seeing that there is no scarcity in its place.
The policy of industrial reorganisation can always be justified on its own merits, but this Bill claims to have a much wider significance. It will take its place as another step in the effort of this country to maintain stability in a world where stability is not the order of the day. It is a miracle that retail prices in this country, in spite of our going off gold, have been so stable. It is a miracle that wholesale prices have remained with so little alteration. At the present juncture nothing is more desirable than stability, and nothing can procure stability except the marriage of science to industry. Whatever there is a glut of, there is no glut of science in industry in this country. The policy of sustaining wholesale prices for agricultural products announced at Ottawa is receiving a practical measure of application by the Bill now before the House, a Bill that has been worked out in the closest collaboration not only by the Departments, the Ministers controlling which have their names on the back of the Bill, but by the Government as a whole. It is a Bill that is intended to regulate supply not on the haphazard system that we find with the quotas of 1749 the Continent, but indeed legislates against some of the effects of those quota systems, which, by barring supplies to entry to those foreign countries, have had the effect of unloading still more on to the unwilling market here.
Experience is a harsh tutor from whom most of us have to be willing to learn. Few there are who decline to do so. Proper tribute has been paid to the author of the 1931 Act and to the measure of success it achieved. That Act was liable at any moment to be torpedoed by the marketing schemes under it being rendered completely nugatory by the influx of goods from other countries. A similar result, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, could be arrived at from within, if production were ever encouraged entirely out of proportion to the consumptive possibilities of the market, and so this Bill aims at introducing an element of regulation into the greatest industry of the country, one with which the problem of unemployment is so intimately associated and one the successful settlement of which will do so much to help us in our troubles.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. C. Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.