§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
This is a Financial Resolution which, if it is carried, will enable the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Bill to be brought in. It is true to say that for some time past the House and the country have anticipated that some statement would be made about the beef position, and I think it is also not untrue to say that the House and the country have anticipated that some action would be taken. It is a commonplace to say that the importance of our agricultural industry itself is very great not only having regard to the size of the industry but also from the point of view of maintaining its purchasing power as one of the largest single sections of our home market. Beef production is a vital part of the agricultural industry. It is an important section of the livestock industry to which our attention has continually been directed, more particularly by those who wish reforms to be brought about in agricultural production in this country. While meat production is an important question in England and Wales it is still more important in regard to Scotland. In England and Wales meat accounts for about 35 per cent. of our total agricultural production, but in Scotland it accounts for 54 per cent. and, unless we are prepared to take some steps for the maintenance of the livestock industry, we must be prepared to see considerable sections of our country going out of cultivation, and the agriculture of Scotland as a whole suffering a blow from which it will scarcely be able to recover.
The reason why the country expects a statement and action is that this is no new problem; and in proposing action in regard to beef I cannot come under the accusation of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) that I am taking what he calls slapdash action. He was a Member of the Government when the delegates went to Ottawa, when it was agreed that the position of the meat industry in this country was highly unsatisfactory; indeed, one of the reasons for Ottawa was an endeavour to bring about an improvement in the livestock industry in general and of beef in particular. In 1931 the index figure for fat cattle was 122; in 1932 it was 115; in 1933 it was 101; and at the end of June, 1934, it was 94. There is in that single table of 801 figures the reason for the action which the Government are taking to-day. It is unnecessary to say that at Ottawa the desire of all parties was that the Empire should have an expanding share in the United Kingdom market, and under the arrangements which were then worked out I think that that expanding share has been secured. The percentage of frozen beef which the Empire supplied in the Ottawa year was 63; to-day it is nearly 66. The percentage of frozen veal which was 76 in the Ottawa year is now 84; of frozen mutton and lamb it was 73 in the Ottawa year, to-day it is 75. Of the total meat imports of the United Kingdom, including bacon, the percentage which we took from the Empire in the Ottawa year was 28.6 to-day it is 33.9. It seems, therefore, that the desire at Ottawa, that a greater share should be taken from the Empire has been absolutely implemented, but the home producer cannot look on any such picture. In 1930 the home producer supplied 584,000 tons of beef; in 1932 he supplied 536,000 tons, a fall of 50,000 tons. It is clear that incidental with an expanding share of the beef market for the Empire there has been a declining share of the beef market for the home producer. It is true that last year there was some recovery, but certainly no recovery which would bring the home producer back to any such quantities of beef as he supplied in the year 1928–29.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The figures for the Argentine are implicit in the percentages I have given. I do not wish to give a complete catalogue of figures. I have given the percentages of imports taken from the Empire, and it is clear that they would also imply the percentages supplied by other producers.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
Will the right hon. Gentleman give absolute figures, as percentages are very often misleading? How far are the sales of home-grown beef due to a diminution of demand?
§ Mr. ELLIOT:
I was giving the percentages because if I recited the whole of the figures from every one of the 802 Dominions it would take a long time. I shall be very pleased so to do if the Committee wish it, but I have not the figures before me at the moment, and I shall be greatly obliged if my Noble Friend will allow me to develop my case, because it is very complicated.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I do not think there is anything whatever unfair in saying that the percentages of Empire meat imports have greatly increased.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There is not the slightest difficulty in answering. The Argentine imports have enormously decreased. As the Committee knows there has been a 10 per cent. cut in hilled beef, and there have been drastic reductions in frozen beef also. I am perfectly willing to give any statistics desired, but my fear is that with a multiplicity of figures I shall not succeed in giving to the Committee the picture that I desire to give. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has put another very pertinent question, as to how far this is due to a decline in demand. I think it is true that during the whole of recent years there has been a declining demand for beef, and that that adds to our difficulty. For this expanding share there has been a declining demand. In 1927 we consumed 69 lb. of beef per head in the United Kingdom; in 1928 the figure was 67 lb.; in 1929 it was 66 lb.; and in 1930 it was 65.7 lb. That shows that a marked decline in beef consumption was taking place during the years when the economic difficulties of this country were not pressing nearly so heavily upon the consumer as they might be said to be pressing now.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
In 1931 the consumption was 64.5 lb. per head, and in 1932 it was 60.7 lb. I cannot take the figures further than that. That has been the demand during the whole of the six years. It certainly would not be difficult to show that the diminution in demand was in 803 danger of going on still. There has been to a certain extent a change of taste. I think there is no doubt that consumption has changed to some extent from beef to mutton and lamb and to pig meat. The difficulty of the producer in this country is that producers in other countries will not realise that there is a diminishing demand for absolute quantities of meat. It is necessary and desirable that all of us should face up to that root fact. It is common knowledge that the Dominions, such as South Africa, desire very largely to increase their shipments of chilled beef to this country, and it is also a fact that during recent years the shipments of beef and other meats have gone up very considerably, both from that country and other countries.
I will quote merely the case of New Zealand in regard to beef and the United States in regard to pork. New Zealand in the Ottawa year sent 377,000 cwt. of frozen beef. The estimates of the Dominion were that there would be an increase thereafter of 10 per cent. The shipments in 1933 on the basis of the Ottawa year, plus 10 per cent., would have been 414,000 cwt., but the actual shipments in 1933 were 700,000 cwt. In the first half of this year they have been over 500,000 cwt., and there is another 500,000 cwt. still to come. No industrial market can stand expansion at that rate. On a shrinking demand it is clearly impossible that such expansion can take place unless by hacking into other classes of imports into this country, and hacking with a blunt axe. What may take place from other countries, unregulated, may be seen from the single figure showing the expansion of United States shipments of frozen pork. Between January and June, 1933, the United States sent 24,000 cwt. of frozen pork, but between January and June, 1934, the United States sent 153,000 cwt. of frozen pork.
It is clear from the figures (a) that there is a declining beef demand in this country; (b) that the home producer at any rate is not expanding in any way commensurate with other great expansions that are taking place; and (c) that the situation cannot be left as it is. As I have said, the difficulties of the home producer are great and increasing and insistent, and unless we deal with the case of the home producer we jeopardise 804 the whole industry of agriculture, with its £1,000,000,000 of invested capital, upon which depends the livelihood of 180,000 people more than there are in the whole of the coal mines and quarries of this country. People say, "If you restrict, you jeopardise our overseas investment." I can see the argument there, but, if we leave the situation to run absolutely unchecked, we not merely jeopardise but condemn to extinction a great portion of our home industry and the whole investment. The investments in agriculture to-day produce 20 per cent, more than the sum total of every penny we derive from every penny of capital invested overseas. That is a figure so extraordinary and unlikely that I have checked it again and again before giving it to this Committee. The suggestion that all our invested capital overseas produces a smaller return to this country than the gross return on agriculture is a figure the importance of which it is impossible to exaggerate.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The right hon. Gentleman is making a comparison between two entirely different things. He is making a, comparison between the net profits on foreign investments and the gross income from agriculture.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The income of the people of this country. I cannot get it on any other basis. The return to the people of this country from overseas investments is something of the order of £150,000,000, and the return from agricultural investment is a figure of the order of £180,000,000. I do not think it will be denied that the figures of the agricultural investments in this country, both as to gross size and as to annual return, are not realised by the people of this country as a whole, and are certainly not realised by the ordinary town dweller.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
This is a very important point. Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that on capital investments in agriculture, which he himself has put at only £1,000,000,000, which is less than one-third of the lowest possible figure of our foreign investments —does he suggest that agriculture is so profitable that it is bringing in a bigger return than what he has calculated as about 5 per cent. on our foreign investments?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am very unwilling to enter into statistics chopping with my hon. Friend at this moment, but I am perfectly willing to meet him upon that point. I think it is clear to the Committee that the figures which I was giving were related to the figure of employment afforded in this country, for instance, as well as to other matters, and there is also the fact to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) referred. The figures which I am comparing and the only figures which you can compare for this purpose are the figures of the returns actually coming into this country from these investments and the gross return from agriculture. Every penny of the gross returns from agriculture is expended in this country and is affording actual employment to some worker on the land here. If my hon. Friends opposite will simply take it from me that in jeopardising agriculture we are jeopardising an investment of over £1,000,000,000, in round figures, affording employment to 1,000,000 persons and with an annual gross return considerably greater than the annual net returns from all our foreign investments—if they will concede to me the case which I have just made on those figures, I am quite willing to concede any deduction which my hon. Friend opposite may be able to make in those figures.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I am sorry to interrupt again, but this is a new point, certainly one which the Minister has never made before, and it is essential that the Committee and the country should be clear upon it. I am not chopping statistics with the right hon. Gentleman at all. He says, I understand, that we have an investment of about £1,000,000,000 in agriculture which we may be jeopardising. Nobody disputes that, but the only fair comparison with that statement, is the statement that his policy, in jeopardising the returns from our foreign investments, is jeopardising something which is three times or nearly four times as big as our investment in agriculture. I suggest that it is quite unfair to take the two figures as the Minister has given them into comparison at all. If he is taking the investment in home agriculture at £1,000,000,000, he must take the figure in respect of foreign investments at £3,000,000,000 or even £4,000,000,000.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
That is why I said I was most unwilling to enter into statistics 806 chopping with my hon. Friend. It is surely clear that investments in foreign countries, as to which we must take the net returns, cannot stand on the same footing in regard to these matters as our investment here, which has so many ancillary factors, the value of which cannot be estimated. For instance, in case of war we call upon the agricultural labourers of this country without a moment's hesitation to supply their quota of life, but we do not and cannot call upon the workers in foreign countries to do so. When I say that we ought not to jeopardise an investment of £1,000,000,000 and an income of a very great figure, clearly I am merely giving that as an illustration, and I would be most unwilling to be led away into comparisons of the actual quantities of wealth involved in these two matters. The wealth of a country is riot all of one kind 'and its accounts are not all kept in one set of books. The wealth of this country consists of the bone and muscle of its people just as much as of entries in bank books.
I think we are agreed that the difficulties confronting the beef industry did jeopardise a very large investment—I will put it no higher than that—an investment which in actual quantity is of the order of one-third of the total overseas investments of this country and which returned to the people of this country in 1932–1933 a sum of £222,000,000 in respect of all agricultural output, as against a total income from oversea investments as given by Sir Robert Kindersley in the Economic Journal for 1933 of £152,000,000. I do not wish to press the point any further. But 1 think the Committee will accept the fact that as regards gross weight of capital involved we are dealing in these discussions with no negligible figure. I think it is of importance when we are discussing a Financial Resolution, involving the voting of a certain sum by this Committee, that we should bear that fact in mind. It is clear that if this sum were being asked in order to protect some small trumpery industry, it would be unjustified. I am bringing forward these figures to show the character of the problem facing any Government which has the terrible and embarrassing task of weighing up the respective difficulties involved to the people of this country in any course of action upon which we may embark.
807 I do not deny that every course of action presents its difficulties, its embarrassments, its losses—but action must be taken. The situation will not remain as it is and we have to deal with the situation by some means. A prominent Free Trade friend of mine said recently that the present situation might be summed up in the phrase "Protection is disastrous, but Free Trade is impossible." In such circumstances, unless we are to sit down and watch the rolling onwards of an avalanche which we are powerless to avert, we must take action, and the business of this Committee and of the House in the Debates which are about to open will be to weigh up the merits of the respective courses of action which are open to us. The one thing which the country will not stand will be a course of supineness.
On a review of the whole situation it appeared to. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that the following courses were open to deal with the situation. First, a reduction of imports from all sources to a figure sufficient to ensure a remunerative price level to the home producer. Second, the collection of a levy on foreign and Dominion imports with a preference to the Dominions, which would provide a fund from which payments could he made to supplement the return accruing to United Kingdom producers while leaving imports into this country unregulated. Each of these courses as the Committee will see presents its advantages and its disadvantages. An unregulated market would meet certain of the objections of my hon. Friends opposite. Clearly we could not allow the home producer to sink under these conditions, and therefore we should have recommended a levy such as was so eloquently defended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), a close associate, politically and otherwise, with my hon. and right hon. Friends who now sit below the Gangway. It is clear as regards the first course—a reduction of quantities —that the expiry of the period referred to in the Ottawa Agreements left His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom free to take action by way of quantitative regulation in the case of Dominion imports. It is also clear, even from some of the figures which I have just given, that to achieve that object 808 any such regulation would have involved drastic cuts in Dominion exports. As regards the second course of a levy, the provisions of the agreements concluded at Ottawa precluded the imposition of a levy on imports into the United Kingdom from the Dominions until August, 1937. Therefore, any levy to be collected by His Majesty's Government here could only be collected with the consent of the Dominion Governments themselves.
Accordingly, consultations with the Dominion Governments were opened. We explained the position of the livestock industry in this country, and a discussion of the whole situation was opened on the widest possible basis. In the course of this discussion a proposal was put forward for an arrangement combining the two proposals which I have just outlined—a duty which for argument's sake we will put at ld. per pound, by way of levy on all meat imports, with, of course, a preference to the Dominions, coupled with a quantitative regulation of imports of Dominions and foreign meat and livestock at a level which, of course, would have been substantially more favourable to the exporting countries than the drastic reduction in quantity which quantitative regulation alone would have involved. We intimated to the Dominions that we ourselves were in favour of a solution on these lines, and we recommended it to the Dominion Governments for acceptance as an alternative to the quantitative restriction of imports on the extensive scale which would have been involved in the first course—that is to say, the recovery of the remunerative level in this country solely by means of a reduction in the weight of supplies for the market. But we pointed out that that course—the combination of levy and quantitative regulation—would, of course, require the concurrence of the Argentine Government, with whom we thereupon opened consultation in view of the fact that, under the terms of the agreement between the United Kingdom and the Argentine, no import duty on beef from the Argentine can be imposed before November, 1936, without their consent; that is to say, we can impose a duty upon Argentine meat nearly a year earlier than it would be possible to make any levy whatever on Dominion meat. The two, therefore, are closely bound up together, since both Argentina and the Dominions are the countries with whom 809 we have done trade in the past, and desire to continue to do trade in the future.
The discussions with the Governments concerned are still proceeding. So far, their consent to the solution which we recommended has not been forthcoming, but, as I said a little earlier, the situation does not stop there. We have to take action, and in the circumstances, and having regard to the serious problem which the course of the reduction of imports on the extended scale necessary would present to certain of the Governments concerned, we have decided to secure time for further examination of the alternatives by instituting the emergency arrangement to which the present Financial Resolution relates. But I should say, however, so that there can be no misunderstanding, that during this interim period it will be necessary to arrange for some degree of supply regulation in order to steady the market, and this is at present being worked out. The Government, therefore, propose to regulate imports, either by arrangement or by Order, to put a bottom into the market, and at the same time to seek the authority of Parliament to provide funds for assisting the home cattle feeder during the seven months from September, 1934, to March, 1935.
The scheme proposes to esablish a fund under the joint control of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Home Affairs—the Secretary of State for Home Affairs coming in because of the Northern Ireland position, Northern Ireland being also concerned in this arrangement because it is a United Kingdom arrangement, and any levy would be on a United Kingdom basis. This fund will at first be fed by advances from the Consolidated Fund, but these advances will be paid back into the Consolidated Fund before the end of the financial year out of moneys which Parliament will, in due course, be asked to provide. Payments to producers will only be made on beef animals, that is to say, bullocks, maiden heifers and cow heifers, which cover about 70 per cent. of home-produced 'beef, but we do not propose to make any payment in respect of the remaining 30 per cent., which consists of cow and bull beef. The payments will be at a rate not exceeding 5s. per cwt. live weight. We do not place a limit on the liability of the Cattle 810 Fund, because this is a temporary Bill where the whole liability comes to an end at an early date, and during that time there is, of course, an uncertainty as to the output of home-produced meat, but the estimated output, excluding cow beef, of the United Kingdom for the whole year is about 16,000,000 cwt. live weight, or which about two-thirds, or 1,000,000 animals, will be marketed during the seven months covered by the scheme, and it is thought that the payments out of the Cattle Fund, which include the administrative expenditure, will not exceed £3,000,000.
The administration of this fund will be in the hands first, of course, of the three Ministers and under them, of a Cattle Committee, a small non-representative body to be appointed by the three Ministers. This, clearly, is not to be a producers' board of the type set up under the Marketing Acts, because the committee will be handling taxpayers' money, and therefore must not represent the interests of those who are to receive the payments. But it is clear, I think, that the task before the committee will be of a really gigantic nature. In six weeks from to-day we want to have a working machine operating throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The administrative arrangements, plans for which will be laid before Parliament, will, of course, involve checking each animal offered for certification, and this will be done at approved centres, which will, of course, run into several hundreds. They will be the dead meat markets and the livestock markets. Something between 30,000 and 40,000 animals, we estimate, will come forward for certification every week, and at the headquarters of the organisation the work will include the establishment of an accounting and recording system. That work could not be done in time, or at all, without the help of all concerned, those in the trade as well as those in Whitehall, and I am confident that we shall have the help and co-operation in generous measure of all concerned.
I have just left a meeting which was summoned to consider the position, a meeting of representatives including the market authorities, the dealers, the farmers and the auctioneers, to discuss the administrative problems which are involved in the very large task which I have just outlined to the Committee. It 811 will be asked, How is the scheme to work —upon a live weight or a, dead weight basis? The answer is that it will work on a dead weight basis in certain established centres, that is the large towns, which will cover, we reckon, about 20 per cent. of the marketings during the period. It will be worked on a live weight basis in the other areas, which, we reckon, will amount to some 60 per cent. of the total, the two together covering some 75 to 80 per cent. The livestock markets will form approved centres, where suitably equipped, and we shall, of course, require certification along lines which will enable the accounting officer of the fund to account to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for every penny expended. Any cattle not covered by either the dead weight market or the approved livestock market will have to be covered by emergency arrangements, and on these the Department and the trade are now at work.
The qualifications on which payments will be made will be that the cattle are fit for the butcher. We have already had some experience in classifying cattle. We have put through some 250,000 animals under the arrangements for control of livestock from the Free State, and I think these arrangements have worked with singularly little disturbance. No doubt the Committee will have other questions to put about the actual working of the scheme, and I shall do my best, either myself or with the assistance of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, to reply to those questions at the conclusion of the Debate. But, no doubt, there will be some further questions asked which I might do my best to answer in advance. If the price falls, do we propose further to limit imports from the Dominions and foreign countries before 1st April, 1935? As I have said, some measure of supply regulation will have to be undertaken forthwith, but the whole purpose of the temporary legislation is to give breathing-space for the negotiations with the Dominions and foreign countries concerned.
As to the scheme itself, I have done my best to outline the lines on which payments will be made, and I now come to a question which will be asked, no doubt, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), or 812 one of his friends, since he has already put it Across the Floor of the House—How will the £3,000,000 subsidy be repaid? It will be repaid, as I say, out of the proceeds of the levy, if a levy is agreed to. If a levy is not agreed to, then after the time when the levy becomes possible, the levy can be collected by the Treasury. But if it is said to us, What will be the advantage if your scheme fails, if your payments are to come to an end in March—will you not simply have expended £3,000,000 of taxpayers' money, and scattered and thrown it away? No, Sir. During that time, if all schemes as to the levy fail, then the negotiations for the supply regulation can be put through. No one doubts that we have the power to alter the supply position to almost any extent we like by a regulation of our imports. It is true that that moans a restriction which we should be unwilling to contemplate if any alternative scheme could be found, and the advantage of the interim payment is that during the period of discussion we can explore the alternative ways—there are already indications that certain Governments may be willing to accept alternative ways of meeting this very difficult situation—without having at the same time to come to our own people and say, "We have the power to remedy your position in our hands and we refuse to apply it."
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
That does not quite answer my question. Suppose the levy proposals do not take effect, are we to understand that the £3,000,000 will not be repayable?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Suppose the levy proposals do not take effect now, when we cannot make them except by consent, and suppose the levy proposals do not take effect in the future when our hands are free, and it is merely our own will by which we waive the collection of this money, clearly the money will not be repaid. If the country decides not to collect the money, the money will not be collected. That is a simple question which it is not difficult to answer. I am more concerned with the more immediate question of what will happen at the end of the subsidy period. At the end of the subsidy period we have the power to raise the price level by quantitative regulation, or, better, to come to an 813 agreement within the subsidy period which will obviate the very drastic reductions which will be necessary to bring about a rise in the price level.
I have tried my best to give a fairly effective picture of the situation as we see it, and the effective measures we are taking to deal with it. This is a matter which is not without interest in any part of the Committee. The Conservative section, by its ancient attachment to agriculture, and, if you like, landed interests, is naturally deeply affected by any Measure which will save from disaster the most important part of our agriculture. Then my right hon. and hon. Friends opposite, the Labour party, with their traditional attachment to the remuneration of the worker, cannot allow this situation to be without the greatest interest to them also. The average wage of 31s. 8d. in 1926, if it followed the course of farm prices, would have dropped to-day to 24s. ld., and unless there is some improvement in the income of the industry, the outgoings from the industry cannot be maintained. Finally, there are my right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway, to whom, I know, many of these proposals present most obnoxious features, to many of whom they appear to be flying in the face of every economic truth and of the interests of this country. I ask them to consider again the weight of the interests which are here being considered. We have, at any rate, taken time to consider cooly and in cold blood the problems affecting our food imports, which come to 43 per cent. of the whole import trade of this country. It is a matter which should not be discussed hastily, and the vote of money for seven months of time is, I submit, not unworthy of the financial house of one of the greatest trading nations which the world has ever seen.
These are the proposals we lay before the Committee. It is the beginning of a series of Debates, and is another example of the Debates which this House will have to tackle in increasing numbers in the years which are immediately before us. The problems of trade are no longer the problems from which any Government can disinterest itself, and the problems of trade and of agriculture in this country are intermixed so closely that it is impossible for any Minister of Agriculture to consider his problem for five minutes without the concurrence of 814 the President of the Board of Trade, or for the President of the Board of Trade to consider his problem for five minutes without calling into consultation the Minister of Agriculture. This is the beginning of a very great Debate, and I hope the Committee will come to right conclusions upon it.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
This is one more instalment in the long story of subsidies, levies, guarantees and financial stimuli to private enterprise, and apparently, from the right hon. Gentleman's closing remarks, we are only half-way through the story. This particular subsidy has occasioned no surprise, for the right hon. Gentleman said long since that it was the meat man's turn. Why not? After all, the removal of £12,000,000 from the agriculturists' rates was fairly equitable, the £4,000,000 per annum given to sugar-beet growers was confined to a more or less small section, the 24,500,000 given to wheat producers was more or less confined to a comparatively small number, the £5,500,000 just voted for the dairy side of the industry met a larger section, the high duties on fruit and vegetables covered some, though not all, and the bacon millions have more or less gone into the pockets of foreigners. Therefore, why should not the meat man have his turn? It is in the proper order of things that every agriculturist should have his snout in the pail. There are still eggs, broccoli, and watercress, but nobody need be without hope while the right hon. Gentleman remains there. A few more millions will not do us any harm. The Lord President of the Council was asked the other day when the Session would conclude, and at that moment he was a wee bit uncertain. It seems to me that unless the Lord President of the Council makes up his mind quickly, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is allowed to continue, there will be nothing left in the Treasury, and it is in the interests not only of the Government but of the nation for the Session to come to a conclusion very quickly.
This is an extraordinary Government, and some of their actions are equally extraordinary. They have already done their best to kill shipping. In the past few weeks they have provided £10,500,000 to keep it alive, and now they are asking for £3,000,000 to make shipping groggy 815 again. One thing, however, can be said about the Minister of Agriculture. He does plan his subsidies fairly well. It is much easier than to attempt to plan agriculture. The latter requires statesmanship and the sort of "guts" that were referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. It is far easier to rob the unemployed and hand on the money to the farmers unconditionally than to attempt to plan the industry with any common sense at all. The right hon. Gentleman is like I should be in a 100 yards race; I should be racing very hard, but I should not be travelling very fast. The Ministry of Agriculture are getting through mountains of work, but I have before me the report of the Economic Advisory Committee over which the Noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture presided. The report is dated 1933, and it indicates how, by a sensible slaughtering method, considerable sums could be saved for the livestock industry, but it is too much trouble for the Government to apply this recommendation. It is very much easier to come to this House and tell us that unless £3,000,000, £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 are made available at once, agriculture will be down and out. To make a comparison such as the right hon. Gentleman made with regard to wages based upon prices in 1926 and in 1931, if the right hon. Gentleman's illustration were correct, what would agricultural labourers who work on a sheep farm be receiving to-day, now that the index figure is 138?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Surely it is very much less than it was in 1926. My hon. Friend cannot be unaware of that fact.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman chooses his starting point and his finishing point, and his method of reaching his index, it is obvious that his illustration will perfectly satisfy the point that he wants to make, but this argument about agriculture going to dust, the workers all going out of the industry, and the nation falling into industrial paralysis unless this extra £3,000,000 is forthcoming, is sheer nonsense and is simply an excuse for the Government's not attempting to organise the industry. All these schemes start on the basis of over-production, superfluity. I think the Government have got an attack of 816 "surplusitis." They know there is a certain market for certain articles at a certain price, and apart from normal, natural changes in habits, the only possible chance of increasing the consumption depends upon either falling prices or increased purchasing power, but the right hon. Gentleman, although he recognises shifting and changing habits and that spending power is a vital question, always seems to forget that spending power on the part of the vast multitude of workers in this country has been falling since 1921, and not only so, but consumption has been shifting from one commodity to another.
Another Ministerial fallacy seems to be this: So long as you can have higher prices, consumption will start increasing. The right hon. Gentleman has never given a moment's thought to the question of producing more spending power for those who would become consumers or to the question of who will be able to pay the higher price if they cannot pay the lower price. It is an extraordinary situation, and we have already had one example for which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are responsible. We dealt with the bacon question some time in 1933, and, as a result, this year there are to be 5,085,000 cwt. less bacon imported into this country. The margin that British producers so far have filled in and expect to fill in during 1934 leaves a definite decline of 4,000,000 cwt. of bacon. That is to say, 4,000,000 cwt. less will be consumed in 1934 than in 1931.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I mean 4,000,000 cwt., and I am taking the right hon. Gentleman's figures for my guide. I say that 4,000,000 cwt. less of bacon will be consumed in this country in 1934 than in 1931. The President of the Board of Trade knows what that means to shipping, and he must have felt very weak somewhere internally when he was asking for a subsidy for shipping, knowing that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is doing what he can to destroy it. This levy will not increase consumption of the higher qualities of meat, and it may tend to decrease the consumption of the lower grades. It certainly will if past history is any guide. I rather regret that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham 817 (Earl Winterton) is not now in his place. I could have supplied what he sought from the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister has not been dreaming during the past year or two) he has been acting, and I want to give credit to the right hon. Gentleman for that. Last year we imported 133,000 less live cattle than in 1931, and 240,000 less sheep and lambs. Of chilled and frozen beef we imported 1,100,000 cwt. less, and of chilled and frozen mutton and lamb 400,000 cwt. less, so that there are 1,500,000 cwt. less of meat available in 1933 than in 1931, on top of the reduction of 373,000 cattle, sheep and lambs. There is no wonder then that the consumption has gone down. The supplies are not there.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
They are not available, despite what the hon. Gentleman may say or think, and I know that he feels that he is the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," "Old Moore's Almanac," and several almanacs combined, but he cannot dispose of this fact, that imports were reduced by those quantities; and those figures are from the Board of Trade Returns, which not even the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) would dare to dispute, since he quotes from them so frequently himself. In this connection I want to leave the expert agriculturist from Croydon, the hon. Member who knows everything about everything, with something to spare, and go to some plain, ordinary, common-sense 'individuals. I want to quote a. document published by the Scottish National Development Council, on the question of an Act of Parliament and what it can do with regard to consumption. This is what they say, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to know something about it.Nor must it be forgotten that an Act of Parliament directed towards the better organisation of agriculture can have little effect on the amount of beef, milk, eggs and bacon which will be consumed by that considerable section of the community that is presently debarred from purchasing these commodities because of lack of means. There are still some 2,000,000 registered unemployed persons in Britain. These, together with their dependants, number seven to eight million. If to this is added the numbers dependent on old age pensions and -.hose dependent upon incomes from investments that have dwindled, and in some cases vanished, it will be seen that between one-fifth and one-fourth of the total population is affected. However willing this large section of the population is to support British 818 agriculture, and however eager it may be to consume more food, it is quite unable to do so until its purchasing power is increased or the price of food is reduced.These are experts.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The first on the list is the right hon. the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine. The second on the list is the Marquess of Linlithgow. They are ordinary common sense people and influential members of the hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why an unemployed person has twice as many dependants as an employed person?
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
He has certainly more time to increase his family. If the hon. Gentleman really wants a more logical reply he ought not to object to seeking information from the Marquess of Linlithgow or the Earl of Elgin, because they have attached their signatures to this report. That is what the Scottish Development Council say with regard to purchasing power, and all the signatories to this document are canny Scots—stable companions of the right hon. Gentleman, and he at least ought to be guided to some extent by what they say.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Will the hon. Gentleman do me the justice of admitting that the legislation which I have the honour to introduce this afternoon follows exactly the line which they suggest? The hon. Gentleman ought, therefore, to support that policy unless he alters his allegiance to that council.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to take the document as it stands and persuade his Government to carry out the whole of the recommendations and not one paragraph that suits the purpose of the Government, I am not sure that the Opposition would not be whole-hearten supporters of the right hon. Gentleman's policy. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman, however, is not designed to help those who find it impossible to consume more of the high grade quality British beef, but it will actually deny them the privilege of consuming as much imported or low-grade cow beef as they have hitherto purchased. That is the section—the 2,000,000 unemployed and all the other sections connected with them—which the right hon. Gentleman will levy in this connection.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Gentleman is under some misunderstanding. There is not a word about a levy in this Resolution.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
If the right hon. Gentleman had not circulated the White Paper called "The Livestock Situation," and if he had not told us in that document that Parliament is being asked to sanction the payment of £3,000,000 from the Consolidated Fund into a Cattle Fund, which will ultimately be secured from a levy on imports, I should not have made any reference to a levy; but the right hon. Gentleman definitely tells us in this White Paper that he hopes to establish a, levy, and he quotes the figure of 5s. per live cwt. and 9s. 4d. per dead-weight cwt. Why should he therefore suggest that a levy is a misnomer? Our attack upon the right hon. Gentleman is very largely based upon the levy. If he succeeds in persuading the people of the Argentine and various sections in the Dominions that a levy is a desirable proposition, he intends to apply a levy which he says, may be one penny a lb., with, possibly, some sort of preference for the Dominions. The levy is to fall upon every consumer of imported meat because they cannot afford to buy English-produced meat.
How will this work out? Birmingham is a fairly prosperous city. We are informed that 50 per cent. of the meat consumed in that city is imported chilled or frozen. We are informed that 45 per cent. of the total meat consumed in Manchester, again a fairly prosperous city, is imported chilled or frozen; and that in London two-thirds of the total consumption is imported chilled or frozen meat. That means that the poorest of the poor will have to be taxed so that the richest of the rich can have their rich joints. It is true that this scheme follows the line of the wheat scheme which was a very simple proposition. It is also true that the right hon. Gentleman encountered lots of difficulties during the negotiations. He had no idea of increasing purchasing power so that the English people could consume English beef. He knew that the Ottawa Agreements have blunted his axe for the moment, and the poor goose has to be plucked again so that the rich peacock can live. The wheat scheme of 1932 being a simple bit of machinery, although a very vicious piece of machinery, 820 the right hon. Gentleman pounces upon it. The "Economist," which no one will charge with being a Socialist organ, has something to say about this latest scheme. It states:The Government's two latest schemes, for beef and sugar, both of which have been in the news this week, seem to combine more of the vices and fewer of the virtues of our present agricultural policy than any so far put into operation. … The 'levy plus restriction' plan applied to beef is particularly bad, for the levy will fall on imported (i.e., low quality) beef in order to subsidise the home-produced high-quality article. The rich consumer of home-pro-produced beef, that is to say, as well as the farmer, will be subsidised out of the pocket of the relatively poor consumer of imports; a peculiarly vicious example of regressive ' taxation.I entirely agree with the "Economist," for there could be no worse scheme than the one before the Committee now. The right hon. Gentleman may in certain circumstances justify a direct subsidy to any section of the industrial community. I would not deny that possibility, but surely, if he can justify a financial payment at all, it ought to be made direct from the Treasury, so that the rich Income Tax payers, who are consumers of the higher grade British-produced beef, will pay it. The right hon. Gentleman is saying in effect to the 2,000,000 unemployed persons and to the millions of others who are very poorly paid, who must buy imported chilled or frozen beef, if any beef at all: "We cannot compel you to buy English beef, because we know you cannot afford it; we cannot compel you to transfer your affections from one food to another, but at least we can make you contribute to the Noble Lord's chop or succulent steak, and how he is going to feel when he has disposed of it I do not know." I have wondered, too, during the week end, and I have had in mind one or two hon. Gentlemen sitting down to a juicy chop or a succulent steak. I imagined that I saw the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham disposing of a very juicy chop, and, during the course of its travels to its final destination, he may have had the painful thought, "After all, some unemployed person has contributed a penny to my chop," and I imagined that the sensation might have choked the Noble Lord. The Minister of Agriculture ought to be more careful before he creates that possibility. Every hon. Member who marches into the dining 821 room this evening and disposes of any English meat of high-class quality, will be able to look forward to the day when they can consume more of that meat at the expense of the unemployed. What a glorious thing for them to look forward to.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if, when distributing this £3,000,000, whether it be drawn from the levy or direct from the State, he will apply the means test to the landowners, the farmers and the rich consumers? After all, this is the Government that applied the means test to the unemployed —
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
On a point of Order. Is it in order to discuss the means test on this Resolution?
§ Mr. T. WILL1AMS
This Government and the hen, and gallant Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) helped to apply the means test to the unemployed. Is the £3,000,000, which is to be drawn either from the taxpayers or from the consumers of imported meat—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
It did not appear to me that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was discussing the means test.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I have no Objection to the hon. and gallant Member for Louth interrupting. If he feels very much in trouble about operating a subsidy at the expense of the unemployed I cannot help it. He will have to talk to the Minister of Agriculture behind the Speaker's Chair. If it be fair to apply the means test to the unemployed, it is equally fair to apply it to those who will receive this —3,000,000. This is not a temporary scheme. The right non. Gentleman tells us that it is a permanent scheme. In paragraph 6 of the White Paper he says:The problem has been approached having regard to the necessity of framing temporary proposals which could be brought into operation forthwith to deal with the beef situation, but which would lead up to the formulation of a permanent policy for the livestock industry.It is not, therefore, a question of £3,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman is visualising a. perpetual subsidy of the rich at the expense of the poor. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the 822 machinery for distributing the £3,000,000 for the seven months, and the figure X for subsequent years, has he forgotten that the Poor Law officers are already in existence. Should it not be possible for the Poor Law officers to distribute this money, since it is in the form of a charity? Poor Law officers dole out relief to destitute families. If farmers are destitute, why should not the Poor Law officers distribute this money to them? We are entitled to take up that position because the Government are going to tax the unemployed, who are subject to the means test. What is good for the unemployed man ought to be good enough for the farmer and the consumer of the British chop. There ought to be no discrimination.
If the Government are subject to any criticism on their term of office it seems to me that perhaps this will be the crowning point, and will reduce them to insignificance both in Rushcliffe and every other part of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah. By elections."]. I quite expect those remarks from hon. Members representing agricultural areas, where they would rob every miner, every engineer and every other worker of his shirt and his singlet and his trousers and his pants in order to pay their political debts to the farmer. I quite expect them to cheer the right hon. Gentleman. In the agricultural Debate a week ago to-day farmers who received a portion of the wheat fund were thanking the right hon. Gentleman for what they had received, and quite right too. If I were going to be a recipient of the £3,000,000 I should thank the right hon. Gentleman. Mr. Christopher Turner, a big landowner and beef producer, writes to the "Times" this morning to tell us all of the glad tidings. He says:As a wholehearted supporter of Mr. Elliot in his effort to co-ordinateHe ought to say "as a supporter of the subsidy"supply and demand, and as a beef producer myself, I welcome the policy Mr. Elliot has just announced.Of course he welcomes the policy, as every other beef producer welcomes it, but that does not make the policy right. We have had in existence for some time research and education institutions with the object of helping farmers to improve quality and to increase output, so that they could reduce prices and bring about increased consumption, but that theory does not 823 work out. This is the more orthodox capitalist economics, of which the hon. Member for South Croydon knows so much. It is one of those theories of his which are going by the board almost every time the Minister of Agriculture gets up on his feet. If the research and education establishments all over the country are to have any value at all, they ought to enable those who yesterday could not afford to buy high quality agricultural produce to be able to buy it to-morrow. It seems to me, however, that these institutions have been almost too successful. We are cursed now by plenty. The right hon. Gentleman has become the "minister for scarcity," says Sir Ernest Penn, in his publication called "The Individualist." Not only is he the minister for scarcity but, worse still, he is the Minister who is creating and feeding more political paupers than any Minister who ever lived.
I want to ask the Minister whether, when this Money Resolution and the forthcoming Bill are passed, he will have the courage to apply the recommendations of the Slaughtering of Livestock Committee, and whether he will have the courage to deal with the butchers who, close observers tell us, will have all the power iii their hands. The margin between the price received by the feeder of the stock and the consumer who buys the meat over the butcher's counter is large enough—if that gap were closed—for the producer to receive an economic price for his stock and for more poor people to be able to enjoy English meat. The right hon. Gentleman knows that if he is going to make real progress he must hack a way through vested interests here, there and everywhere, and that that will he extremely difficult, politically dangerous and most tiresome. It is easy to rob the poor in order to help the rich. Vested interests seem to have been too strong for the right hon. Gentleman, they are fast pushing him over the brink, and as a result of the peculiarly vicious recommendation which he makes to-day, his stock will not only fall in working-class areas but will ultimately fall in agricultural areas. I cannot conceive of any agricultural labourer—and I have been addressing three or four meetings of them during the past week—desiring that a miner with less than 30s. a week on which to maintain himself and his wife should 824 be called upon to pay a levy for the owner of the land on which the agricultural labourer works, and that will be the effect of this policy. We say that it may be possible to justify a direct subsidy straight from the Treasury to the industry while planning is taking place, but this is not a direct subsidy, nor is there any element of agricultural planning within it, and it is because of its peculiarly vicious implications that we are obliged to oppose it.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The Committee always listen with interest and respect to a speech from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) on the subject of agriculture, but I question whether we enjoy a speech from him quite so much when it is a popular electioneering speech. I have no doubt that the hon. Member thinks that he may be able to influence the course of by-elections now pending, but I do not think his speech will influence the course of this Debate. He made a great deal of the effect—or what he felt would be the effect —of a levy.on imported meat in order to assist the production of meat in this country. He said that a number of people whose purchasing power is not particularly high will have to bear the cost of that levy. I will ask him a question or two. No doubt be is well aware of the difference between the cost-of-living index figure to-day and when the Government with which he was so closely associated was in office a few years ago. Under the planning of the National Government that index figure has, happily, fallen very considerably, and there is another figure which has also fallen, the figure of unemployment. That being the case, how can the hon. Member persuade the Committee that the purchasing power of our people as a whole has been decreased? We know, happily, that the reverse is the truth, and that the purchasing power of our people has been definitely increased since the National Government came into power.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not aware of the fact that while livestock prices today have fallen from 122 to 104—[HON. MEMBERS: "94."]—miners' real wages are below a 100, and yet miners are going to pay this levy.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The hon. Member selects one section of the com 825 munity whose real wages, so he says, have fallen from the figure at which they stood a few years ago, but he cannot possibly deny that, taking the community as a whole, its purchasing power has definitely increased during the past three years. And he cannot dispute this further point, that if he and his party oppose all the Measures which the National Government are bringing forward to secure a revival in the agricultural industry, whether it be by quotas or the tariff or, as in this case, by a temporary grant from the Exchequer, we cannot expect the purchasing power of the agricultural community to be maintained. If he and his party say "No" to every proposition Brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister, this great industry, of the size and importance of which in the national economy the Minister has given us some indication, will be left to drift into a state of decay. Yet I do not believe that the hon. Member for Don Valley or his friends, or the Liberal Members who are so closely associated with them have a single reasonable proposal for bringing more prosperity to agriculture which they could put forward.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. and gallant Member is scarcely fair in making that statement. I have frequently indicated the line of the Labour party's agricultural policy. The hon. and gallant Member and his Friends stand absolutely for private enterprise as the be-all and end-all of our economic system, and yet private enterprise is constantly coming to the House to beg for alms because it has made such a mess of business
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
I do not think the hon. Member was quite fair to me. T said that I do not believe that he or 'his Friends or his Liberal colleagues have a single concrete plan to put forward for the betterment of the agricultural industry, and they have not. The action of the Government in bringing forward this temporary measure of relief to the livestock industry is welcomed not only by those who are actively engaged in that branch of the industry but by the whole agricultural community. The importance of the livestock branch of the industry cannot be over-estimated. In fact, it is more than a branch, the livestock industry is one of the fundamentals of farming in this country. In the last decade or so, when arable land was passing from the plough and going down to 826 grass, many arable farmers were compelled to go into the milk industry to save themselves, as they thought, from disaster, and I believe that just as the laying down of so much land to grass has affected the milk industry so the decay in the meat industry has had a, great effect upon the milk industry. I do not think it is too much to say that unless the livestock branch can be brought to a reasonable state of prosperity the solution of the milk problem will be delayed. The National Government are, by their agricultural policy, keeping land under the plough and assisting the milk industry and, by passing this Measure, I believe they will round off the picture. Everything takes time, and in the slow progress of agriculture, when the Wheat Act and the Meat Act are linked together, they will do very much for the prosperity, not merely of the milk side of the industry, but of the agricultural industry as a whole.
The National Government are undoubtedly taking a wide view of the industry of agriculture, and are making a real endeavour to plan for the industry, They recognise that in this country, small island though it be, we have been endowed by Providence with a very curious mixture of soil which enables us to grow something of everything in the way of foodstuffs. That is most important to us as an island nation. I believe that the National Government intend in their long-term policy to reach a position where we may exploit to the full the latent resources of the soil of England in all those diverse branches of agriculture to which that soil is best suited and is best applied. If that be so, the Minister of Agriculture has indicated to the Committee this afternoon a step in the big, comprehensive planning of this vast and most important industry. By this Money Resolution the Government intend to bring relief—temporarily it is true and pending the working out of larger and more permanent plans—to a very important branch of agriculture which is in dire distress. That distress affects the whole of the body politic of agriculture.
It is possibly a matter of discussion as to how far the amount of assistance which the Minister has indicated and which is shown in the White Paper, will suffice to bring back the livestock branch to better times. We know that 5s. per live cwt. means just over a halfpenny per pound, 827 and that 9s. 4d. per dead cwt. means exactly one penny per pound. Those are very welcome additions to the market prices which have been received in the ordinary way. If we take the level of first quality steers and heifers as about 40s. per cwt., the addition will have the effect of raising the price to 45s., and in the case of second quality steers to about 40s. Members of the Committee who have knowledge of the livestock industry will agree that that price level, even with the assistance, will not be extraordinarily high in relation to the costs of production. Nobody can say that the proposals of the Government are wildly extravagant or are going to give enormous profits to the producer, some of which must inevitably pass into the pockets of the landowner or into the channels which hon. Members of the Opposition usually conjure up in their minds. At the prices I have mentioned it is going to be none too easy to produce beef under the very best conditions. All who have knowledge of this matter will agree, however, that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was none the less welcome, and all reasonable people will feel grateful to the National Government for the measures that they propose to take.
From what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, the Government, happily, fully realise that still further measures are necessary if the position is to he made secure. They clearly recognise that if imports from overseas or from whatever quarter are allowed to come into this country completely unchecked, the effect of the assistance will be lost. Unless the position could be held at least somewhere about where it is to-day, there would be no point in the Minister coming to the Committee with these proposals. The market price would fall away and the money voted would go down the drain. Nobody would be any better off and, in fact, the last state would be worse than the first. I was very glad to hear the Minister outline so clearly that the Government fully intend to deal, in so far as may be necessary, with the quantitative regulation of meat imports. They are only following recommendations cf. the Livestock Reorganisation Commission, who stated that in their view imports of all classes of meat and of livestock, irrespective of origin, should be regulated, and that the machinery of regulation 828 should be tightened. I have no doubt that the Minister is considering those recommendations. I am not expressing an opinion whether the machinery is capable of being tightened, but that it was the opinion of the Livestock Re-organisation Commission that the regulation machinery should be tightened. No doubt the Minister will take the necessary measures to that end.
If the Money Resolution which the Committee are asked to pass is to have any effect, or if it is to have the effect which the Government intend, it is absolutely essential that it be accompanied by further quantitative regulations. I rejoice that the Minister said that he is even now considering that very important side of the question. From what we have been told this afternoon, the meat importing countries were given an opportunity in the negotiations to accept a levy, but they have rejected that, and they have forced us to take the Measure which has been brought forward to-day. If they do not accept the levy, they know full well that the Government have made up their minds that the home meat producer must be assisted, and that the Government are armed with power to use quantitative regulation. It can therefore come as no shock to them to learn that further regulations will have to be made in the very near future. I am satisfied that the matter may quite safely be left in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture. He has already achieved much for the industry, and we find in him an untiring friend, despite what may be said by the hon. Member for Don Valley and his hon. Friends. The Minister takes a big view of this big industry, and of the place the industry should take in the economy of the nation. The National Government are doing their best to build up the nation's resources upon perfectly right lines when it looks to one of the larger and most important industries and says: "We will not rest until we have got that industry going a good 100 per cent."
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) has given us a clear statement of the views of agriculture in regard to this problem, and I am not surprised that he welcomes the statement made by the Minister. We all recognise how lucid a statement of the proposal was 829 made by the Minister in his very short speech. There is no doubt of the primary purpose of it, of how it will work out and of what will be the inevitable result. I thank him for his frankness. He made quite clear to the Committee the fundamental cause of the depression in the meat industry; it is a decline in demand. However capable a Minister of Agriculture we may have, he cannot force people to eat meat if they do not want to do so. During the last five or six years, there has been a steady decline in the consumption of meat per head of the population, whatever the cause of that may be, and whether it be due to poverty, as is suggested by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams)—that is undoubtedly a contributory icause—or to change of diet. A greater variety of diet has become the habit of this country. The fundamental food of the average working man is no longer beef and beer, but a more varied daily diet, and that undoubtedly has also contributed to the decline.
I do not wish to under-estimate the effect of the depression in the beef industry. The Minister would be lacking in his duty if he did not use all his ingenuity to enable the industry to meet their problems, just as it is the duty and the responsibility of the President of the Board of Trade to look after the industries of the country and to see how he can promote their interests. That Minister is very ingenious, and I give him every credit for that. He has used every device—I do not wish to be unkind and to say "to bolster up" each industry but—to help each industry during these difficult times. He has done everything in this case, short of a tariff. Some of us have sometimes been surprised. We know that we are living in a tariff country, but beef has been deliberately excluded from the list. That has not been because of high principle, or of objection to food taxes. I have a shrewd suspicion that it is mainly due to the President of the Board of Trade who, in a rash moment, gave a pledge at St. Ives which was interpreted as a pledge against the general taxation of food. When the President of the Board of Trade was challenged on 10th February, 1932, in this House by hon. Members of the Opposition, he was most explicit. He said: 830What I said"—at St. Ives—was that I was against the taxation of wheat and meat."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1932; col. 905, Vol. 261.]All the wit of the right hon. Gentleman has, I suppose, been taxed to get round that pledge. First, we had the stopping of imports from Ireland by a very ingenious use of a quarrel between this country and the sister State upon another issue. The quarrel was ingeniously used to help the meat producers. The right hon. Gentleman used Ottawa, which was a great opportunity and a great platform for the restoration of the industry, and he embarked upon a new policy of quantitative restriction of imports. A bargain was made with the Dominions, which included a bargain with the Argentine, to restore prosperity to the industry, but even that ingenious proposal did not bring the desired result. It forced people to turn from the consumption of foreign or Colonial meat to British produced beef; in other words, the taste of the public was changed.
The other day we had an ingenious proposal from another Government Department for the branding of foreign meat, so that nobody should be under any illusion, when they were buying meat at a butcher's shop, that they were buying British when they were actually buying foreign meat. But, of course, all these ingenious proposals have failed, and we have now come to the new policy of the Government, the policy of subsidies—subsidies for wheat, subsidies for milk, subsidies for bacon, subsidies for sugar, subsidies for shipping, and now subsidies for beef. They do not always work out in exactly the way that is anticipated. The National Government was originally formed to restore our finances, but now its great surplus is gradually getting less and less. Apparently there is no end to it. There is no guarantee that this £3,600,000 will be the total liability for beef, and, if this is good for beef, why should it not be applied to other industries?
I see that the President of the Board of Trade is in his place. We have embarked on a new policy with regard to shipping, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not like giving a subsidy to shipping. It was against his principles, and he only did it from the force of necessity, to save a great industry. 831 But, while he was negotiating with the shipowners regarding this new subsidy, at that very moment the Minister of Agriculture was telegraphing out to New Zealand, and to Australia, I assume, to stop the imports of mutton and lamb. I am told that negotiations were going on in August and September to stop the importation of some 600,000 carcases of lamb, which, if the negotiations are successful, will throw three or four ships out of commission—
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I say that negotiations were going on—does the Minister deny it—with New Zealand and Australia to stop, next August and September, the importation of lamb, to reduce the imports into this country. Is not that right? Have there not been such negotiations?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The negotiations were going on with the object of obviating that. That is the object of the levy fund which I am now defending. If we do not get the levy fund, then we must return to quantitative restriction. The object of our policy is to avoid the necessity for these drastic cuts, but the hon. Baronet is arguing in favour of the cuts.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
No; I said that these negotiations, if they succeeded, would throw two or three ships out of commission. If the right hon. Gentleman has abandoned the proposal, that is the answer. Does he deny that the negotiations were going on?
How will the levy stop the glut? So far from stopping the glut, it will stimulate it, because it will not stop our farmers producing meat, but will force meat into the market. The immediate result of the subsidy will be to stimulate the putting on to the market of British beef, and, so far from helping to steady the price, it will rather accentuate the glut. At the present moment, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the market is glutted with meat; every cold store in the country is full to overflowing, and even boats in port are being chartered to accommodate the surplus beef which the public of this country does not want and will not consume. Now the right hon. Gentleman comes along with £3,000,000 of the taxpayers' money to increase the amount of beef produced in 832 this country and add still further to the stocks available.
I gather from his remarks that the right hon. Gentleman has had to "square" the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is naturally sensitive to the filching away of his surplus by subsidy after subsidy, and so he now pretends in his White Paper that this is not really a subsidy—that it is really a fund to be collected, not by a tax, but by a levy. It is an ingenious word. The right hon. Gentleman is very ingenious in coining words. He does not like the word "duty" after two and a-half years of tariff reform and the imposition of duties, he has suddenly discovered that the word "duty" is unpopular, and he substitutes "levy." He does not describe this as really a subsidy, but as a temporary advance to a fund which is to be under the control of three or four independent gentlemen not responsible to the industry.
The right hon. Gentleman is embarrassed by the fact that he has come to an agreement with the Argentine that no duty shall be imposed on Argentine meat without their consent. November, 1936, is a long way ahead. Much may happen before that. There might be a change of Government. It might be for the worse. My hon. Friends above the Gangway are not bound to implement the agreement. We do not know what will be the future form of our Government; we do not know what the finances of the country will be. Two years ahead is a long time, but the right hon. Gentleman has to wait to impose this levy, with the permission of the Argentine Government, for another two years. As regards the Dominions, he is pledged until 1937—nearly three years ahead; and, on the faith of a possible levy—not duty—three years ahead, we are to borrow from the Treasury £3,000,000. Is this the new finance? Has it the approval of the Treasury? What is their attitude in regard to it? I think we are entitled to know.
I assume that what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do is to blackmail the Argentine—to threaten them with a reduction of their quota if they do not agree to the levy. That is what I understand, reading between the lines of his speech. Is that right? We have the right to know? Is that the way in which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to "raise 833 the wind" to meet this commitment of £3,000,000? Is it a loan, or is it a gift? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean it to be a gift from the country to a distressed industry? If he says that he does, we shall know where we are. It might be justified, in view of the depressed condition of the industry, as a gift from the Government to help them over a difficult period. Or is it a new departure in policy'? We have a right to know. Will it only last seven months? Or, if the right hon. Gentleman is successful in negotiating with the Argentine to agree to a levy of 1d. per lb. after the lapse of seven months, will this subsidy continue? Could we have an answer to that question? Are we not entitled to know whether it is the intention to make this subsidy permanent?
If there is a levy of 1d. per lb., will the whole of the proceeds go directly to the agricultural industry, or will it be merely used as a protective duty? It is true that a duty of per lb. will not keep out all the beef; it will still come pouring in, and will bring in a considerable revenue. What is going to happen to that money? Is it going to be used, in addition to the protection which the duty gives, as a permanent subsidy to the meat industry? If the right hon. Gentleman says "Yes," we shall know what we are voting for. From the right hon. Gentleman's statement it looks as though the whole proceeds of the duty of per lb. which is to be levied—we assume by agreement with the Argentine, if he succeeds in blackmailing them to agree—will go to give a permanent subsidy to agriculture. The hon. and gallant Member for Malclon has said, quite rightly, that it is necessary to re-plan agriculture, but the right hon. Gentleman gave no suggestion of any long-term policy besides subsidies and tariffs. He has talked a lot of his great revolutionary scheme, but hitherto we have only had temporary makeshifts.
During the 16 years since the War, the Conservative party have dominated the House of Commons, and they have had plenty of time to work out their long-term policy, but after the lapse of 16 years they have no policy for dealing with agriculture except a policy of tariffs, subsidies and limitation of production—limitation of supplies, short commons in order to raise prices somehow or other. But, 834 whatever the cause may be, prices do not go up. If prices do not go up, agriculture is still "on the dole," and still has to ask for subsidies, while, if prices do go up, the people in the towns—the consumers, the daily workers—naturally complain. The fact is that there are world-wide causes far deeper than the position of agriculture in this country. It may be due to currency, but I think it is far more due to the universal policy of economic nationalism, which is restricting the free movement of goods and decreasing the consuming capacity of the world. I know that one of the factors which contribute to the lowness of the price of British beef is the fact that the miner and the docker are no longer in the market as consumers, owing to long periods of unemployment. Actually the man who works by the sweat of his brow is willing, when he is in work at full wages, to pay for British beef, and will not be content with a substitute of inferior quality, whether foreign or colonial. I know that from my own personal knowledge, and some very interesting information on this subject is given in the Annual Report of the Central Markets Committee of the Corporation of the City of London. The committee say:When the general run of English beef becomes plentiful, and superior, or even equal, in quality to imported chilled beef, Londoners may be induced to pay a slightly higher price for the home-produced article; but it must be remembered that for more than a quarter of a century chilled beef has held an almost impregnable position in the beef trade of London, a position gained by an intensive study of the trade's requirements, and by supplying with regularity beef of high standard quality at a price which defies competition.It is the price factor that is the primary cause of the preference for the imported article. If it were possible to get the price of British beef down to the price of foreign beef, obviously the consumer would prefer it, but it is common knowledge that, as this reports points out, it is impossible under our present methods for the English farmer to compete with the imported foreign article. The report goes on to say:Massed production, killing and so forth may, in years to come, give English beef a bigger slice of London's trade; but it must be at a price to suit the pockets of the working classes.It is quite clear, therefore, that if this policy of subsidy is to help the farmer, 835 if it is to be a stimulus to consumption, it must bring down the price, and not increase it. If it increases the price, there will inevitably be an outcry from the consumer. If, on the other hand, the price goes down, you are very much in the same position. You are forced again to return to a perpetual policy of subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman is shirking his responsibility by using a makeshift policy of subsidy like this. He has to realise in the 20th century that, if English agriculture is to hold its own, the new world, with its freedom from feudal tradition and with its methods of mass production, requires, not subsidies and not doles, but a revolution in the whole land system of the country. They make agriculture pay in the Dominions, not because they have subsidies or doles from the Exchequer. They have the market here and they pay the freight and wait two or three months for their money. They have the advantage of having a land system suited to modern conditions.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
It has been paying ever since the War up to the last two or three years, since we have had a National Government which has imposed restrictions on imports, closing its market to them and preventing them sending their commodities here.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
It is common knowledge that, before and since the War, agriculture has been paying in the Dominions. A contributory factor to the slump is the policy of the National Government, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit it. Does he not admit that he stopped the importation of butter and meat from New Zealand and Australia?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I challenge the hon. Baronet to name one occasion on which I have stopped a single pat of butter coming in here from Australia or New Zealand.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
The right hon. Gentleman's policy is to endeavour to do so, and it is obviously having a depressing effect on the market. His policy is one 836 of stopping imports and regulating supplies from the Dominions. That is not the way to consolidate the Empire. Apart from that, this country has to face competition from the new world, which has the advantage of a modem land system due, of course, to the fact that they started afresh, unhandicapped by the traditions of the past. You will not save the situation by a policy of subsidies, which must be makeshift and which cannot really meet the situation. In the end you will have to face the new world as you find it and have a planned economy suited to modern conditions.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The hon. Baronet punctuated his speech at frequent intervals by the exclamation "Is that right?" He never got an answer, but I can assure him it hardly ever was right. He came to the conclusion at the end that it would be a very bad thing if prices went up and it would be a still worse thing if they went down, so we were left in some doubt as to the policy that he would recommend, until his final sentences, when he advocated a reform of the land system. I do not think he would find many practising agriculturists who would agree with him. Scotland, which used to be the home of the land reformers and of the Liberal party, never talks about land reform nowadays. I have not heard the question raised in any part of agricultural Scotland in the last 10 years. This subsidy —because it is a subsidy—is the price that we have to pay for 10 years of deflation, for the Ottawa Agreements, for the Argentine Agreement, and for the conscience of the President. of the Board of Trade. Those four things are really at the root of it. For them the Minister of Agriculture is certainly not responsible. If the Ottawa and Argentine Agreements prove to be as flexible as the conscience of the President of the Board of Trade, we ought to come to a satisfactory conclusion in the course of the next six or seven months, because there is no doubt my right hon. Friend has persuaded the President of the Board of Trade to modify considerably the attitude that he originally took up on this question of controlling, regulating, and taxing foodstuffs. The Ottawa Agreements were bad, but the Argentine Agreement was really black, and I am certain my right hon. Friend in his heart 837 of hearts agrees. That is the thing that has hamstrung him the whole way through. That is why we have to pay this £3,000,000, and it is a tall order; but it is worth it if it means the salvation of British agriculture. I believe that nothing less than that is at stake because livestock is really the foundation of agriculture in this country, and if you let that go, you let the whole thing go sooner or later.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said it was the absence of spending power amongst the masses of the country that was at the real root of the beef problem. I do not agree with him. It is a fact that, spread all over, spending power in this country has risen in the last two years. It is equally true to say that the popular taste for beef has to some extent diminished. But the real cause of the trouble is the enormous gap which at present exists between the price of Argentine beef and that of the best beef produced and killed in this country. It is a gap so wide, relative to the disparity in the quality of the two articles that it is almost impossible to expect the working man, who is admittedly hard pressed in many cases, to buy British home killed stuff when he can get this very cheap Argentine beef, which is often imported, boneless, at extremely cheap rates.
The question of the organisation of the marketing side has been raised, and I think at a later stage the Minister will really have to get clown to that as well. It is an old criticism of mine that you must, if you are going to plan or organise agricultural production, tackle distribution as well as production; and in all these schemes he has gone for the producing side first. I do not think anyone can maintain that the marketing of livestock, from the local marts right up to Smithfield, is altogether satisfactory or economical, or that there is not far too wide a. gap between the price paid to the farmer at the local marts, and the price at which meat is retailed in the butchers' shops. This is a question to which attention has been drawn over and over again. The Linlithgow Committee reported eight or nine years ago, and no action has ever been taken by any Government upon it. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some assurance that, in dealing with the producing side, and giving this subsidy, and negotiating these agreements 838 with the Dominions and with the Argentine, the actual marketing side and the reorganisation of marketing will not be forgotten.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Surely my hon. Friend has not read the statement that we put out. He will find our views set out in paragraph 9.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There could not be anything less cursory than that we are adopting an improved marketing and slaughtering system with a view to greater efficiency and economy which the Government regard as indispensible.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I was pointing out that nothing had been done, and that so far my right hon. Friend had not indicated any practical proposals or suggestions regarding the marketing of beef during the period that he has been in office, while he has indicated all sorts of other practical schemes of reform and planning, affecting other branches of agriculture from time to time. Those who represent constituencies which produce primarily livestock regard that side of the question as almost as important as the question of price.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There are three committees whose reports have been considered on that matter, the report of the committee presided over by the Parliamentary Secretary, the report of the Livestock Commission—the Bingley Commission—and, ancillary to that, the Commission on abattoir construction, which was immediately appointed and has now reported.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I am not asking for consideration of reports of Committees but for action. Plenty of committees have reported and their reports have been considered. I am asking the Government to consider them with a view to early action in the matter. It is true that the lower grades will not be encouraged by this subsidy, nor ought they to be. It seems to me that a good deal of coarse cattle may be eligible for the subsidy which I should rather like to see excluded from it, in order to bring the grade of cattle up to the highest level, because the future of the livestock industry in this country depends primarily on our production of the highest grade of cattle, leaving it to the Dominions and 839 the Argentine to produce the lower grades. We have built up our livestock industry on the production of the highest grades of cattle, and that ought to be encouraged. In my constituency we produce Aberdeen Angus cattle—the highest grade you can get. It has been exported all over the world. Aberdeen Angus bulls are the foundation of the Argentine herds to-day.
During the last three or four years the best grade cattle in Aberdeenshire have fetched prices nothing like the cost of production. If we had gone on under these conditions, inevitably sooner or later, and I think sooner rather than later, the industry would have gone down and out. As a matter of fact, there are many farmers who have just been able to hang on by the skin of their teeth owing to the indulgence of the banks. This may just save them, but it could not have continued another 12 months without producing something like a catastrophe throughout the purely livestock producing districts.
When it comes to the question of wages, we have not a wages board in Scotland, but I do not think that the hon. Member for Don Valley would find a single farm worker who would say the farmers have not done their best, and more than their best, in the last few years to keep wages at the highest possible level. But you cannot go on suffering a loss on production, and continue to pay high wages. The wages of the average Scottish agricultural worker to-day are higher than those of the average English agricultural worker, and have been for the last three years, though the losses of the Scottish farmers have been as great, and in some cases greater. And I want to know what the Labour party propose to do about that situation, because something requires to be done quickly. The hon. Member for Don Valley gave a simple exposition of the policy of the Labour party. He put it in a nutshell. He said, "Put the farmer on the dole." if he thought he was making an electioneering speech from the point of view of the by-election that is going on now, I can only say he has made a very useful electioneering speech as far as some of us are concerned a little later on.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member must have misunderstood me. I do not 840 remember saying that. I said that, if the Minister wanted to distribute the £3,000,000 without a new machine, the Poor Law officers are in existence. Why not use them to distribute this relief to farmers? It is this Government who are putting them on the dole and not we.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Still that is an inadequate constructive policy for agriculture. I would say to hon. Members opposite that this is a case for urgent action. They have suggested no constructive alternative at all. What are they going in for if they do not do this? Are they going in for collective farming? Collective farming has cost from 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 lives in Russia over the last 18 months, and has not proved to be uniformly successful even yet. What constructive proposal have hon. Members opposite, in view of the fact that our hands are bound and tied by the Argentine Agreement, the Black Pact, as it is called, and by the Ottawa Agreements to a lesser extent? Something has to be done to bridge the gap between the time when new agreements can be negotiated, or the livestock farmers will be down and out. There is no practical alternative to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has adopted. I do not admit for a moment that he is robbing the poor. I say this to my hon. Friend opposite, that if he really proposes to allow the livestock industry of this country to go down, it will bring practically the whole agriculture industry with it; and if he thinks that would benefit a single workman in any industry in the country he is profoundly mistaken.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. GARDNER
I think that every representative of an industrial constituency is bound to oppose this proposal. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture can understand exactly what a penny a pound on meat really means. It is a very serious thing indeed to the working people, and the poorer they are the more serious it will be. The Minister spoke about a preference on Colonial meat. If I know anything about marketing, the difference between a penny a pound and preference will be lost in the market and in the butcher's shop, and the customer will have to pay the extra penny all the time. I can imagine the kind of thing that will happen with 841 regard to the poor woman who habitually buys frozen meat. The butcher will say, "It is a penny a pound dearer this week." "What for?" she will ask. "For the sake of the British farmer," he will say. "But he has had nothing to do with this meat; it is frozen," will be the reply, to which the butcher will add, "It is because he has had nothing to do with it that you have to pay."
The Minister of Agriculture stated on 11th July that the proposal was to be something on the lines of the Wheat Fund. It is nothing like the Wheat Fund. It cannot be like the Wheat Fund. The levy is put upon wheat after it has been milled. It is milled and blended, and probably British wheat may be among the blend, but 4s. 6d. a sack is levied upon the whole of it. That is the price which the miller charges the baker and the flour distributor. In that case you have not the poor man paying for the rich man, as everybody pays the same amount, although, of course, the poor man suffers a little more than the rich man. In this case a penny a pound is to be levied upon imported meat. The financial result of the levy is to be handed over to the people who raise the best meat. That is the situation, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay more attention to the matter. It is said that it is a levy on imports. I cannot say what it will be ultimately. This is the inception of the Scheme, and one has to criticise it from that standpoint and consider all the implications. It is not a tariff. It differs from a tariff in that instead of the benefit going to the relief or assistance of general taxation, the money raised is to be handed direct to the farmer, as it is under the Wheat Fund. There is no getting away from the fact that the levy will help those who need help the least. The quantitative restriction which is foreshadowed will hit the industrial consumer. Not only will he have to pay the levy which is foreshadowed, but the restrictions are intended to reduce the supply, which must result in a further increase in prices. Therefore I, and, I am sure, every Member of this party, will go into the Lobby against this proposal. I endorse every word the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has said. This is something which the industrialist cannot stand because the charge is altogether too great.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
The speech of the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. Gardner) and that of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) indicate clearly the lines on which the proposals of the Minister will be criticised from their point of view, namely, on the ground that it is unfair to the industrial worker. They ought to bear in mind the burden which the agriculturist is already bearing to the advantage of the industrial workers. I sit for a constituency which still has a branch of the National Farmers' Union in it, though I do not think there are more than 10 farmers in that district. In the main, my constituents are industrial workers who do not want anything which they require to be dearer than is necessary. I am frankly going to face up to, the position that if my constituents are acting on the basis of temporary selfishness to wreck the agricultural workers of this country, in the long run they will suffer very severely indeed.
I have in front of me the June number of the Ministry of Labour Gazette. The July number will not be out for two or three days. I find that in June certain classes of foreign beef were actually 6 per cent. cheaper than in pre-War days. Who is going to suggest that the general level of wages is 6 per cent, less than pre-War? The general wage level in this country is about 65 per cent. above pre-War level. If any hon. Member challenges that statement, he had better work it out with the officials of the Ministry of Labour who prepared the Ministry of Labour Gazette in which those figures are worked out. I do not think that anybody could challenge the general idea that the wage level is from 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. above the pre-War level. [Interruption.] It does not matter whether hon. Members agree or not; it is the truth. If the hon. Member who interrupts does not agree, 611 I can say is that his information is lacking in accuracy: Is it not manifest that the town worker has been sweating the agricultural labourer in recent years? Those of us who represent town constituencies have to say to our constituents; "We are not entitled to take the present unfair advantage of those who live in the countryside." The whole basis of the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley and of that of the hon. Member 843 for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) was on the assumption that it did not matter how far you pressed down the price level of agricultural produce, you were entitled to do it if for the moment you thought that the town worker was gaining something from it.
I congratulate the Minister to-day because he has done, and has persuaded his colleagues to do, a very bold thing. As the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) put it, he has frankly recognised all past mistakes which have been made. The first mistake was made in the Import Duties Act, because we accepted Lord Beaverbrook's policy of Empire Free Trade. I have never believed in Empire Free Trade, but have been of the opinion that we have a right to protect our industries and our agriculture against competition from industries and agriculture of Empire countries, while all the time giving every possible assistance to their produce as against that of the foreigner. I had not the slightest hesitation in opposing, much as I admire his great qualities in other respects, Lord Beaverbrook when he was pursuing that policy. I was one of the 46 who went into the Lobby and voted that meat should not be on the Free List. That was the second cardinal error the Government made. It was unfortunately confirmed at Ottawa, and a system of quantitative restrictions was adopted which was quite unnecessary because we could have done all we needed by tariffs. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer begged us not to vote for a duty on meat because he was afraid that it might raise prices. A year later we were asked to adopt a quota on the ground that a quota alone was capable of raising prices.
At last we are coming to a realisation of a sound policy. We had the dreadful Argentine Agreement. I call it a dreadful agreement. It has hampered the Minister of Agriculture the whole time, and at last we have the frank recognition that it was wrong. Some terrible mistakes have been made. I have the figures of the imports of beef for the last three years. The first year was what they called the Ottawa period, the 12 months ended 30th June, 1932. In that period we imported 12,192,000 cwt. of beef. 844 During the next year we were to have quantitative restriction. There was a very small degree of restriction. The total imports fell to 12,170,000 cwt. so that only 22,000 cwt. out of 12,000,000 were the measure of restriction. Now I come to the year which has just ended, the statistics for which were published to-day. I find that the imports were 12,304,000 cwt., or 112,000 cwt. more than in the Ottawa year. I am not in the least surprised that the policy of quantitative restriction has failed. There has been no quantitative restriction up to now. I have made the life of the Minister of Agriculture rather a burden because every month that Parliament has been sitting I have addressed questions on beef imports and asked him when he is going to do something about it.
To-day I am one of those who rejoice because past errors have been realised and we are starting upon a new policy. Incidentally, the circumstances have forced us to start upon it in the worst possible way because we are beginning with a subsidy. The subsidy is to be recovered subsequently by a tariff. I recognise that the levy is a tariff. I am not ashamed of a tariff, I am in favour of it, and I hope that the time will come when it will be all tariff and no subsidy. Then, nearly all the argument brought against the policy by hon. Members opposite will have vanished. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. The whole case from the other side has been that the system of subsidy since it is only applied to the best quality of beef will benefit the rich people. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) invented that argument, because it is right in his line. It is an argument which is calculated to create a certain amount of prejudice against the capitalist system and the richer beneficiaries thereof.
I support the Government's proposal, but not because I like subsidies; in fact, I hate them. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) on Friday drew attention to the very weighty new financial commitments made during the past fortnight. He left out of account the £3,000,000 in connection with the change in the Silk Duties. I am concerned about the effect on the next Budget, unless we avoid this new burden. There is a prospect that the negotiating capacity of the Minister of Agriculture will save us and that eventually this will not be a 845 subsidy in any real sense which calls on the Exchequer but will be financed in the way the Minister has indicated. I hope that will be the case. If we do not do it, the consequence will be a first-class disaster in agriculture. What does agriculture mean to this country, to my constituents and the constituents of other urban Members of Parliament? Agriculture is industrial Britain's best customer. So far as I can make out, the value of the agricultural produce sold off the farms, and excluding anything that the agriculturists consume themselves, is, roughly, £200,000,000 a year. I do not think that anyone would say that that is not a fair estimate. I am certain that of that amount one-half represents the amount that is used in the purchase of industrial products in this country. I do not think that anyone would say that that is an unreasonable estimate.
What is British agriculture worth to industrial Britain? It may startle some hon. Members when I tell them that the complete destruction of the whole of Africa and of the whole of Asia, with the consequent loss of all that we sell in those Continents, would be less serious to industrial Britain that the destruction of agricultural Britain. There are, I think, 1,200,000,000 living in the whole of Asia and the whole of Africa and they buy less products of industrial Britain than agricultural Britain does. That is a very startling situation. I will make another comparison. France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Portugal in the aggregate are not such good customers to industrial Britain as agricultural Britain is. When we have that amazing fact before us, when we realise that all this export trade—I am all for getting export trade —to these foreign territories is not so important as what we sell to our own neighbours on the countryside, is it not worth while making some great sacrifice to preserve the agriculture of our countryside?
I congratulate the Minister of Agriculture, because he and his colleagues have had to eat a certain amount of dirt, to put it bluntly, in order to rectify the mistakes of the past. There have been mistakes of policy and they have admitted the error. They have come to the House and admitted their error and by so doing they have merited a considerable degree of admiration from us. [HON. MEMBERS: 846 "Oh!"] Yes, I say it without hesitation. We have criticised them and voted against them, and one does not like voting against one s own party, but we did so because we thought that we were right and they were wrong. We rejoice now, not because we say, "I told you so"—that is a most unworthy motive—but because, at last, we seem them adopting a policy which is going to bring prosperity to agriculture. There is not the slightest reason why agriculture, instead of giving employment to 900,000 persons, should not give employment to 50 per cent. more. I see no reason why our land should not give employment to another 400,000 or 500,000 people, and, if so, that will put another 400,000 or 500,000 persons into industrial employment. Without the salvation of agriculture we shall never solve the unemployment problem. Hon. Members opposite will be sorry that they have taken the action of sneering at a policy which, although in its present form may have certain undesirable features, will eventually bring us out of our present deplorable condition.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I had in my mind some of the points which have been so very ably put by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams). Much as I dislike and much as agriculturists dislike having subsidies for any part of our industry, the townspeople, whose sympathy we now have, must not forget, if the case is properly put to them, that we are entitled to the proposed subsidy, because in connection with the Government policy, the Ottawa Agreements, the Argentine, Danish and other Treaties have been made at the expense for the time being of the agricultural industry. That cost is being made up to us temporarily in this way, to give the Government time not only to develop their greater policy, their permanent policy, but also to formulate a long-term policy for agriculture. It has been suggested that this subsidy will not be paid back. It certainly will be paid back if the long-term policy proves prosperous and the meat industry is enabled to pay. It is, therefore, important to concentrate on any suggestions that we have to offer in connection with the long-term policy.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon that the 847 policy of the levy and the tightening up of the quota system are absolutely necessary for a successful long-term policy for the meat producer in this country. It may be difficult to make regulations when the long-term policy comes, and I would direct attention to one or two points which I hope the Government will consider when they are thinking out their long-term policy. It seems to me, and the Reorganisation Committee recommend it, that while we have this protection, whether it be a levy, a quota, or whatever it may be, the industry undoubtedly needs organising within itself. One of the most hopeful lines to pursue is the erection of systematised slaughter-houses for the proper grading of different kinds of meat. Nothing has injured the British meat trade more than the fact that old cow meat, or old bull beef is palmed off in the shops as English meat, when it is inferior in quality to foreign meat. That is one of the matters that could be dealt with if a well-thought-out policy of slaughterhouses were inaugurated.
I hope that it will not be found necessary to interfere with our local markets, many of which have been in existence for hundreds of years. The local authorities and the small farmers would view with great apprehension any proposal to do away with the local markets. The policy of systematised slaughter-houses for the grading and marking of meat need not necessarily interfere with the local markets. The markets could be left in the places which they have occupied for so many years. Therefore, I hope that in connection with any policy for better organisation the local markets will be preserved. It reminds me of the case of the small mills going out of employment, because of the bigger establishments that are growing up in England and Scotland. That means a great deal of loss to the little man, inconvenience and unemployment. If we do away with the little local markets we shall lose more than we gain.
I welcome the Government's proposals. No one who knows anything about the situation will say—I am not interested as a meat producer—that things can go on as they are. My experience has been that one would buy 20 or 30 bullocks and fatten them, but for years past one has lost money every time, and one has had 848 no encouragement to buy stock for fattening. When that happens in thousands of cases and in each case a loss of 20 or 30 bullocks is involved, that means in the aggregate very heavy loss to the livestock industry. The continuation of such conditions is calculated to bring down the whole of agriculture. As was pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise), if we can get file meat industry paying again, the farmers will buy bullocks, and this will mean help for the other branches of agriculture. I asked a question the other day about the number of producers that are coming into the milk industry, and I was told that in six months there has been a large increase. That is because, instead of buying cattle for fattening, people have been buying more milkers and putting them on the land. That is because the meat trade is down. If we get a great turnover to the milk industry we shall ruin the Milk Marketing Board. By paying attention to the milk producer and helping the livestock part of agriculture, which formerly produced the best meat and the best beasts in the world, we shall save the other marketing schemes and the other branches of agriculture.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) spoke enthusiastically of the Aberdeen Angus, which he said is the finest beef animal in the world, and that it had made the Argentine trade what it is. Being an Englishman, I cannot quite agree with that statement. I agree with the hon. Member that the Aberdeen Angus can hardly be beaten as a beef producer. I am a great admirer of the well-bred British shorthorns, many of which go to Argentina. When I was in South Africa, the beasts that were found best to send to Rhodesia and the other parts of the country that we were trying to develop were British breeds, such as Sussex and Herefords. The Government's policy will have some effect on the production and the export of pedigree stock, and anything that will help that will help the producer of beef in this country.
Farmers may be inclined to be grumblers, and perhaps we have grumbled at the President of the Board of Trade that in the agreements with Denmark and the Ottawa Agreements he has neglected agriculture, but one must admit that the President of the Board of 849 Trade knows this side of industry as he does other sides of industry, and while no doubt he looks at these matters from a national point of view, and we feel that we are getting a fair deal, we would like to see him, whenever possible, do all in his power to help agriculture. Everyone interested in agriculture knows that the present Minister of Agriculture is doing his best for us. We realise that the Government have tremendous problems to face. They were authorised to make any experiments they thought necessary in order to benefit trade and industry, and we have only to look at their record for the last two years to be sure that they will keep in mind the interests of agriculture as well as the interests of other industries. I thank them for this temporary assistance to this very hard-pressed industry.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
I have such a real and sincere admiration for the intellectual capacity of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that I am surprised at his attitude towards agriculture. When he talks of agriculture he seems to me to apply a different kind of intellect to that which he applies when speaking on any other industrial question. Take the matter of purchasing power, upon which he made great play. How does he propose to get a strong consuming market, a great purchasing power, by destroying the purchasing power of the agricultural community? He pleaded that there should be no market for the British beef producer, who is to be left to the unrestricted competition of the Dominions.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman could not have listened very carefully to what I said. I said that if agriculture or any section of agriculture were in such a hopeless plight and the position was so serious, a case might be made for a direct temporary subsidy, but that no case can be made out whereby the poorest section of the community should have to subsidise the richest section.
§ Major HILLS
I was not in the least unfair to the hon. Member. I was coming to that. The hon. Member objects to the scheme of the Minister, which is the only scheme in the field to save the livestock industry. This is the scheme, and it is the conditions of the world to-day which 850 we have to meet. It is no good talking of what may happen in the future. We have to deal with facts as they are, and one fact is that the National Government are in office and have produced their scheme. The hon. Member objects to this scheme; he would feed all the industrial population on Argentine and Dominion beef and let the livestock position in this country get worse than it is at present. The first effect of that would be to destroy a large part of agriculture. I am not exaggerating when I say that if the livestock industry goes, British agriculture goes, too. It cannot stand without it. How would farmers and farm labourers be able to buy British bicycles or gramophones, and their wives and daughters buy British silk stockings and dresses? They would not buy them; a large part of our purchasing power would go. You do not make the poor rich by destroying purchasing power.
The hon. Member also said, quite fairly, that a tax is quite a different thing from a levy. I agree. A levy is an import duty, and I still believe that if our advice had been taken on a former occasion, the livestock position would be better to-day than it is. But so far as the hon. Member for Don Valley is concerned, there is no levy at all. All that occurs is that £3,000,000 is paid from the Consolidated Fund to the farmers as a subsidy. That, I believe, meets with the hon. Member's approval; he objects to charging that levy to some future consumer by getting it back by means of a tax on imported meat. I think we had better wait and see. I suggest that "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." I put it to him that he is now looking too far ahead, and that to-day's scheme is one to pay 3,000,000 out of the Consolidated Fund, which is built up by taxes, which are paid chiefly by the wealthy, as well as by the less wealthy. The hon. Member, however, rather gave away his case by referring to the farming community, and I suppose he included the farm labourers, as paupers. He said that the Minister was feeding more paupers than any other person, and that the subsidy had better be distributed, if not as a dole, in some other way by the public assistance committee as a public subvention to people who cannot afford to keep themselves. I do not think that the farmers will thank him for calling them political paupers. If farmers are to be 851 told by the hon. Member that they are political paupers, and his remarks are to be cheered by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) it will be, in my opinion, a boomerang. Phrases like that are apt to come back.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Bootlhby) that our hands are tied. We are quite free after 30th June. We can restrict Dominion imports after that date, and if we do that we can also restrict Argentine imports. Our hands are perfectly free, but the Minister of Agriculture thinks that the position will be eased if we have a waiting period before restrictions came in. I want to say a word on that matter. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), in a very well-informed speech, pleaded for a tax rather than a quantitative restriction. I do not think that a tax alone will do what is wanted. The Minister convinced the Committee of this when he proved that, in spite of the heavy duties on Irish cattle, more cattle were coming here from Ireland than when there was no duty at all, and in the conditions of modern industry there are certain cases in which no tax will regulate imports. We have to have restrictions as well as a tax; that is the right course to adopt. If we do not adopt it, then we shall have to let British agriculture go. There are no two ways about it. It is no good pretending that we can do something by other methods. We have decided that we do not wish to lose British agriculture. It is a decision which has been endorsed by the whole country, by the towns as well as by the countryside, and I think that the hon. Member for Don Valley and his friends realise in their hearts that if they were in office they could not afford to let British agriculture go. The concession that they are prepared to vote for a subsidy from taxes is evidence of that, but they will have to do more. It is not only a case of a, subsidy but of equating supply and demand, and preventing the competition of articles produced under cheaper conditions than prevail in this country. I believe that we can do it and that ultimately we can do it without increasing retail prices, but once we put our feet on this road whatever Government is in power will be compelled to follow on the same road.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
In the few remarks I want to address to the Committee I wish to refer particularly to the speech of the Minister of Agriculture. There does seem to be one point worth making with regard to the somewhat fantastic references which have been made to the Argentine Agreement, because it is a case where the school of economic thought as represented by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) is exposed in all its nakedness. Let me read one passage from the Argentine Agreement:Whenever any system of exchange control is in operation in Argentina, the conditions under which foreign currency shall be made available in any year shall be such as to secure that there shall be available, for the purpose of meeting applications for current remittances from Argentina to the United Kingdom, the full amount of the sterling exchange arising from the sale of Argentina products in the United Kingdom after deductioi of a reasonable sum annually towards the payment of the service of the Argentina public external debts (national, provincial and municipal) payable in countries other than the United Kingdom.It should surely not he necessary to translate that into any other terms. It means precisely what it says, and anybody who endeavours, to persuade us to stop Argentina sending anything into this country, is condemning some unfortunate workman in the export trade of this country to a place on the unemployment list. I do not for a moment put that forward as an argument against the Minister of Agriculture, but I say that it is a conclusive argument against those who have resurrected from the dead such journalese as "the Black Pact." We all knew the worst in the early stages to-day when the Minister said that he meant action, because when he means action he always means getting rid of another wad of the taxpayers' money. But what is of some interest to us is to see how one after another all the excuses which used to be trotted out in favour of this sort of thing are disappearing. We used to be told that the great thing was to get rid of the wicked foreigner and to encourage the Dominions as in some mysterious way that would improve the chances of emigration and increase labour. Now, of course, no question of the foreigner arises, because we are equally as angry with the Dominions for sending in their goods as we are with the Argentine.
853 We used to be told that the real difficulty is that you cannot expect Great Britain to compete with the absurdly low wages that are paid in some foreign countries. We listened to that sort of thing for a long time, but it occurred to some of us that it hardly applied to the agriculturist in other countries. We have heard something of the cause of the general strike in San Francisco, and we can guess what would be said if the agricultural worker in Winnipeg was asked to work for 30s. a week. So the low wage argument went. Then we were told that many of these imports were subsidised and we could not be expected to compete with them. It is true, I believe, that the Australian Government are a particularly bad offender in the way of subsidy, in regard to some of their exports, but they are more or less exceptional. I do not know whether we are to call them our friends or our enemies, but it is not true that the people in the Argentine, who compete with us, are subsidising. Then we used to be told that all these countries depreciated their exchange. That cannot be an argument as regards Canada, because the Canadian exchange is only at a negligible discount compared with our own, and it can hardly be an argument in the case of the Argentine because there the depreciation has been steadily improving rather than getting worse. But I do not press that argument. What transpires from all this is, of course, that it does not much matter what the argument is.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member referred to Canada and the rate of exchange. What connection is there between Canada and what we are now discussing?
§ Mr. HOROBIN
I should have thought that that was clear. Unfortunately the hon. Member was not present when I was using that section of my argument, and it is not fair to the rest of the Committee who were present that I should repeat the whole of the argument.
§ Mr. HOROBIN
For myself I would say, unpopular though it may appear, that I do not think the case has been made out for coming to the rescue of the agricultural industry in this way. If agriculture was organised like any firm that had got into difficulties because of 854 competition, the fact would long ago have become evident that a great deal of the capital of which the Minister spoke is just lost, is gone. Some of us may have noticed quite recently that one of our most important shipping firms had very disastrous dealings with the Australian Government. It bought a very large shipping undertaking; in fact the whole sum of ordinary capital involved was about double what we are talking about to-day. It is gone, largely as a result of that very unfortunate deal, which turned out to be unfortunate mainly because of the extent of the lapse in foreign trade in the last few years.
If we are to come to the help of ordinary shareholders in agriculture, for that is what it amounts to, why were we not asked to come to the rescue of ordinary shareholders in the White Star Line? Why should we not come to the rescue of the cotton industry, or any other industry, by subscribing money out of the taxpayers' pockets? The truth of the matter is that we are trying to do in this one particular industry, which happens to be popular with many Members of this House, what it is obviously impossible for us to do with all and sundry. I see no reason whatever why we should not face the fact that a great deal of what is really ordinary share capital in the agricultural industry has gone and should be written off. I would even ask agriculturists whether they are certain that they are backing the right horse in this matter. What has been happening in the last year or two is that a number of very large bribes have been held out to agriculturists to get them to socialise their industry. I put it seriously to agricultural Members whether they are not in very grave danger of finding that the committees will remain and the subsidies will go. We all remember what happened in connection with the Corn Production Act. They may find that they have put their heads into a very strangling noose by accepting the very attractive bribes which are being held out to them—bribes which cannot go on for ever. It will be much easier to stop the subsidies than to stop the network of bureaucratic organisation which is being tied around them.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
If nothing is done how does the hon. Member propose to maintain the existing very low wages of the agricultural labourer?
§ Mr. HOR0BIN
At the present there are 2,000,000 men in the exporting industries who are worse off still. [Holy. MEMBERS: "No!"] I will not argue that, It cannot be argued that the agricultural labourer who is in work is worse off than the industrial worker who is on transitional payment. There is an unfortunate impossibility now of carrying out this policy on agriculture without injuring the prospects of a recovery in the unemployment figures. Someone said that we have to choose in this matter between two very disagreeable alternatives. I say that the alternative which the Minister has chosen has not been proved to be any better than the alternative of making it possible to reduce the numbers of unemployed in our export trades by encouraging those imports by which alone foreign countries can pay for what we send them.
But this is a Money Resolution that we are discussing, and I want to confine myself to the financial side of the question, and to appeal to Conservative and Liberal friends who in general matters support the Government. Let them cast their minds back for a moment to the circumstances in which most of us came to this House. This country has been very fortunate in its Chancellors of the Exchequer, both in the last Government and in this. The fight that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer put up against most of his own party has not always received the credit which is its due. What was then the situation? He was, unfortunately, not quite strong enough to stop them spending more money than they ought to spend, but he was just strong enough to make them foot the bill, and taxation steadily rose until it reached breaking point. Is there not a very similar danger hanging over us, a danger that our present Chancellor is not going to be quite strong enough to stop this ever-mounting series of raids upon the Exchequer, but that he will be strong enough to insist on our meeting the bill?
The deduction I draw is this: Is every supporter of the Government totting up these bills sufficiently carefully in his mind? Is he quite certain that when the next Budget comes along, or when we go to the country, we shall not be in the position of having disappointed people who are confidently expecting another 6d. off the Income Tax? If we are to be 856 really honest with ourselves, the necessity may come along of putting 6d. back. I would remind hon. Members of perhaps the most effective statement by any civil servant ever made in the lifetime of any Member of this House. That was the evidence given by Sir Reginald Hopkins, which more than anything threw out of office that gang of demoralised burglars, when he said that their financial policy was piling up loans, in effect to a bogus fund, to such an extent that it was exceeding the Sinking Fund and was getting within close limits of demoralising the whole financial situation of the country. The Sinking Fund at that date was nominally £30,000,000. Now we have suspended the Sinking Fund altogether. We have not got a big margin to come and go on. The Minister thinks be has invented a new theory of economics, but the rules of arithmetic are the same to-day as in 1931, and so are the rules of accountancy.
Financial realities broke the Government of 1931, and if we are not careful they will break this Government. This idea of setting everything right by a series of boards, and of altering the whole economics of the world by inventing the word "glut," 99 per cent. of us look upon with considerable misgiving—the light-hearted way in which this House is being asked almost at daily intervals to make loans that are not loans, to pour out subsidies which are not subsidies, when no one really seems to know whether they are to be repaid or not. If they are not going to be repaid, then they become a very serious item when you have no reserve to give you a margin. If they are to be repaid, what becomes of the argument of an hon. Friend opposite that they are increasing purchasing power? They are merely taking from one set of people and giving to another, and taking from people who can ill afford it.
Mr. BOOTH BY
Would the hon. Member smash agriculture in order to get another 6d. off the Income Tax?
§ Mr. HOROBIN
The direct taxpayer is, presumably, someone who is making a profit. If he is allowed to keep the money, instead of our taking it away and giving it to someone who is making a loss, my contention is that it is far more likely to make employment and to provide decent wages and increased purchasing power, than a process of taking 857 it from him land giving it to someone who, by the facts of the case, is either producing something inefficiently or something that people do not want because they can get the same thing much more cheaply somewhere else. As I have said the case has not been made out for this further looting of the Exchequer. I see that the Financial Secretary of the Treasury is present, and I would like to give him a word of advice. I have a feeling that the last Financial Secretary to the Treasury endeavoured to argue with the Minister of Agriculture and to persuade the right hon. Gentleman of the errors of his ways. That is not the slightest use. In the immortal words of Mrs. Malaprop:There is no doing anything with him. He is as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.There is only one way in which to keep the depredations of the right hon. Gentleman I will not say within reason because reason does not enter into that, but within bounds. I hope that the Financial Secretary will take a leaf out of the book of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he sees the Minister of Agriculture coming along and wanting more money, let him not argue with the right hon. Gentleman, but go home and have lumbago. If he will do that, and if we can only get Parliament adjourned we may succeed in rescuing a few of the pennies by means of which we had hoped to achieve another Budget as successful as the last Budget. Otherwise, if this process goes on I foresee this Government and this House—elected almost exclusively as the result of the infuriated demand for economy of a country bled white—spending a great deal more money and spending it even worse than the party opposite which the electors heaved out of office with such a sigh of relief.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I was lucky enough to hear the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin). As I listened to him I asked some of my hon. Friends whether he was a Conservative, and they said "No." Then I asked was he a Liberal, and they said "No," and I asked, "What then, is he?" and I was informed that he was the real National type—new style. I only hope that the Government will not be too 858 disturbed and will not imagine that there are a hundred others like him; otherwise I would be inclined to say, "Save us from our friends. I am not going to follow him in the first part of his argument, but frankly I, for one, congratulate the Minister not on this particular machinery, of which I, naturally, do not approve, but on having adopted the only machinery which seems present to his hand in order to stave off a great disaster. The hon. Member for Central Southwark demanded that the Government should consider certain alternatives —whether they were going to make a tremendous effort to see that the upward tendency in our home industries continued or whether they were going to concentrate upon export trade. I think that is not an unfair description of his argument.
The country has definitely decided to go forward with the policy of producing from our own soil and in our own factories, mills and workshops all our requirements as far as we can. We have learned from experience that beyond the shadow of a doubt, the best way to help the prosperity of the country is to consider first the home market, secondly the Empire, and third, foreign trade. I should have thought that by now any hon. Member, whatever his political philosophy, would have appreciated the extraordinary mesmerism in the past which led us into the completely false economic doctrine that our export trade was comparable to our internal trade. We have come to see that when you put a man into agricultural production, you put another man into work on transport, or distribution or some of the secondary industries. As has been well pointed out already the agricultural market here is far greater than any other market to be found anywhere else in the world.
If we work out the facts—and I think this argument is germane to the Resolution—we must appreciate that our export trade accounts only for a negligible number of the people in employment in this country. I am not suggesting that we should do anything to hamper our export trade. Let us get all the export trade we can, but let us not do so at the expense of our home trade. If we go into the figures we shall find that in the palmy days of our export trade it was only giving employment to 10 or 12 per cent. of the people, and to-day that figure is 859 much lower. Therefore, I congratulate the Government on taking this action even though it is going to cost some money and is on lines of which I personally do not approve. I congratulate them on their determination, in spite of criticism, to see that our agricultural industry shall live. If stock-raising in this country were to perish we should lose the most valuable industry of all.
The hon. Member for Central Southwark was concerned as to whether we were not only not going to get another 6d. off the Income Tax, but were going to be compelled to put 6d. back on to the Income Tax. I agree that many of us must be worried to see this limitation of the balance which we had hoped might accrue, but surely the hon. Member must realise that if the stock-raising industry were lost and if agriculture were to go down again into the depths of despair, it would mean more than 6d. on the Income Tax. It would be a much greater financial disaster to this country. I ask the Government to look further ahead. When we raised this question two years ago, we did not do it merely for the sake of criticism, but because some of us had the fundamental belief that it was imperative that we should keep our hands free to deal with agriculture according to a long-term policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has been forced to take this decision. I am not blaming him for what has happened in the past, for which he was not responsible, but surely it would be unwise to tie our hands in relation to national policy by making agreements for three or four or five years and then to have to go back and consider altering quotas and so forth.
There have been sneering remarks to the effect that we are now beginning to consider the possibility of restricting Dominion imports. Let us be honest. We went to Ottawa for a double reason—to try to persuade the Dominions to increase the purchase of manufactured goods from us and to increase their sales of agricultural produce to this country. If we admit that, then it must be a grave matter to any of us to have to contemplate a temporary suspension of that idea because we all know that it is in the straight interchange of trade between this country and the Dominions that our best hope for the future lies. I urge the 860 Government not to tie our hands in respect of any part of industry from now onwards in such a way as to make it impossible to give the best possible effect to the Government policy in either industry or agriculture. When we went into the Lobby on this question two years ago, we prophesied that something like this was going to occur, as the right hon. Gentleman will find if he reads the speeches made on that occasion. We ask the Government to listen sometimes as earnestly to their friends as they listen to their opponents. There could be no greater calamity than that this country should pass from financial sanity and the general ideas which the Government have been putting into effect, and that we should be driven back into reliance upon such advisers as we have heard here this evening, advisers who show quite clearly by their speeches that political arguments alone weigh with them and who would be ready to plunge this country back into the disasters from which the present Government rescued us.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
The two speeches which we have just heard have been very interesting, especially that of the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin). I was delighted to observe that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has, to some extent, changed his point of view. If I remember aright there was no more enthusiastic advocate of the agreements at Ottawa than the hon. and gallant Member, but to-day apparently he is prepared, with a great many others, to denounce them. The proposal which has been placed before the Committee to-day by the Minister is one which has given me grave matter for thought as the representative of an agricultural constituency. The figures which he put forward in his opening speech were very interesting. I was reading the other day a hook by Mr. Street, and the figures which he gave were even more arresting than the Minister's. Mr. Street says that in 1931 in the six eastern counties of which Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge are part, 69 per cent. of the agricultural production was in livestock, and obviously any measure intended to relieve the livestock industry is one which I am not prepared to pass by lightly. But I cannot say that I am enamoured of the Government 861 policy which this new method of subsidy is apparently intended to inaugurate.
I view with misgiving the proposal that this sum should be recovered by the Treasury by means of a levy on the lines of that in the Wheat Act. Before we extend the principle of a levy we ought to consider carefully whether it is wise or not. Let me remind the Committee that it will involve a great many consequences. I do not think that it will help to restore declining consumption. I do not think that it will raise prices and, apart from anything else, I consider that the principle is wrong. We are here giving powers of taxation to outside, extra-Parliamentary bodies who represent the beneficiaries of the tax, and that is in defiance of the first principles of taxation. I know that the Minister will say that the subsidy is to be administered by three gentlemen appointed by the Government, but that is not so with regard to the levy which is to repay the subsidy.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
Like the wheat levy, which is to-day administered by the beneficiaries in the corn trade just as this would be administered by the beneficiaries in the meat trade. If this levy is run on the same lines as the wheat subsidy levy, it will not be run by the Government, or, at all events, if it is run by the Government, it will be run for certain beneficiaries. It will not be run like the rest of the taxation of this country. I do not observe the right hon. Gentleman to make any sign either of agreement or of disagreement with that proposition, and I take it, therefore, that I am right. This House and the nation should be aware of the annual expenditure. If subsidies are given—and they are a matter for the Government to decide—they should be part of the general fund of national taxation. They should bear on all classes of taxpayers, and should be apportioned between the direct and the indirect taxpayer in the way that this House determines in its annual review of national finance. The nation ought to know the full extent and destination of an its national taxation. I, certainly, cannot believe that the nation should be kept in ignorance on these matters, although I find that this view was voiced yesterday by a notable 862 Sunday organ, the "Observer," in which there was an interesting and illuminating article which pointed out the political danger of a subsidy, because it is so obvious to the public. Is it the Government policy to keep the people in ignorance'? This extraordinary preference for levies by extra-Parliamentary bodies makes this seem likely. For these reasons, I should be firmly opposed to the plans for recouping this money by any levy.
I would say that I am not opposed to a grant of this sum by the Treasury to help the livestock industry over these months, which is a difficult time, as has been described over and over again by many Members of this House. I am not opposed, because we have now adopted a policy, as has been pointed out by the hon. Baronet who preceded me, of wholesale national protection. In fairness to farmers and agriculturists, we say they are entitled to a share of the benefit of this policy. Indeed, the farmer pays more for implements in order that the manufacturer may be protected; he pays more for motors for the good of the motor manufacturers. The manufacturer cannot have it both ways. What happens? Expediency denies at the present time direct protection to agriculture. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture decides that agriculture must have inverted protection by subsidy. This, no doubt, is fair and logical, but I am not certain that the Government want to be logical. I am convinced that the Minister of Agriculture has no desire to be so. In fact, the Minister denied a year ago that the Argentine Agreements and Ottawa Agreements had tied his hands in protecting agriculture. Only last week the Minister of Agriculture said he was in complete accord with the President of the Board of Trade in his policy of trade agreements. Yet we see to-night that the Minister of Agriculture is actually condemning the work of the President of the Board of Trade by promising a levy on imported meat when the agreements run out. No wonder that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture confessed in the House last Monday that his remedies would defy logic. Speaking of the problems which faced him, he said:It may be they will not be solved by the blunt application of logical principles, 863 but will be solved by the working out of a practical remedy which may very easily defy logic altogether."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1934; col. 44; Vol. 292.]The President of the Board of Trade said a few days ago, on that bench, while the Minister of Agriculture was developing his scheme, that all subsidies are evil, and that all countries would be more prosperous without them. He said that with regard to shipping; he was relucantly giving a subsidy to shipping, purely as a method of retaliation. Yet to-day that same Minister is supporting the Minister of Agriculture in advocating a subsidy on beef. We are the first country to do this. It is not an answer to a foreign subsidy, as the shipping subsidy was. It is a subsidy that we are the first to give. I should like to know whether the President of the Board of Trade is ready to cast away the benefits of the Argentine and Ottawa Agreements as early as 1936, or is he prepared to do so now?
The disregard of logic displayed by the Minister of Agriculture, of which he is so proud, has brought us to this position. First of all, we adopted tariffs for protection and to reduce tariffs; secondly, we bargained at Ottawa and elsewhere for further tariff reduction; thirdly, the Dominions and the Argentine gave favourable terms to our manufactures, because we agreed not to impose tariffs on beef, and these agreements were held up to us as justification of the policy of "tariffs to reduce tariffs"; fourthly, because these agreements prevent him from protecting the livestock industry, the right hon. Gentleman asks for a subsidy; fifthly, when asked where he is going to get the money, he answers, "I shall impose a tariff, disguised as a levy, on imported meat." We have thus gone full circle. We take power to impose a tariff, we withhold the tariff in order to reduce the foreign tariff, we have a subsidy to make up for the absence of a tariff, and we impose a tariff to raise money for a subsidy.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I understand that it is very good logic, and that, although strongly opposed to us, the hon. Member is going to vote for the Measure, and 864 that he believes that in the future there should be an unremitted subsidy without any recouping for the Treasury. What is it that he is actually recommending?
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
The Minister of Agriculture asks me for my advice. I am not sent here for that purpose; I am sent here to argue about his own proposals. He is the initiator; I can only be the critic or supporter.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
I am arguing on my own side. The right hon. Gentleman is like a dog chasing its own tail. The right hon. Gentleman has been more successful than the dog—he has caught his own tail. All this may be good exercise for the dog, good mental gymnastics for the right hon. Gentleman, and may teach him that possibly there is some advantage in logic. I am satisfied that the Government cannot do less than give this subsidy to the languishing beef industry. I hope that when the time comes to recoup the Treasury it will be done through the general taxpayer, through the ordinary machinery of the Budget.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) said that this Money Resolution gave him grave concern. I want to say, as a Member representing an industrial constituency, that it also gives me grave concern. As far as I can see, it means an increase in the price of beef. The Minister of Agriculture has stated that he wants to get the Resolution through as quickly as possible. He calls it an emergency Measure. I remember last week we wanted to get through a Motion which was not very bold that would stop the Government preventing a Measure from coming into operation for two and a-half years. The Minister of Agriculture now says he wants this in force in six weeks, because the industry is in such a bad way. A number of Members opposite, speaking about the purchasing power of the working people, have said that industry is in a bad way. The reason why more British beef is not bought is that workers have lost £600,000,000 per annum in wages. If they are not getting money or wages they cannot purchase from the butcher, the baker, the tailor or anybody else. I have got 865 in my pocket some wage notes which I have brought clown this week-end from a mining constituency. I want the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) to listen to this, because in regard to workers being able to buy more British beef if they had more purchasing power he said, "Perhaps." I want to tell him that there is no "perhaps" about it, because the workers would far sooner have British beef than any other. The wage notes I have show that the reason beef is not bought is because the workers have not the money to buy it; in fact, in some towns there is only the American meat shop, the margarine shop and the pawnshop.
I want to make it clear to-day that the whole solution for the farmer is not tariffs, not 9s. 4d. a cwt. on beef, but increased purchasing power for industrialists so that they may buy. That is a point that has not yet been put across. I have pay notes in my hand showing that a man has been working this week for two days, and he is in debt to the colliery company and has not taken a penny home. Hon. Members may say, "Why?" He has had his rent stopped to begin with, and he has had other stoppages, and he had a load of coal and is owing some money for that. He has not taken any money home at all, because of low wages and slack time in industry. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills), who has just left, made a statement against the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), hut I stand by every word that the hon. Member for Don Valley said to-day. The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon said that you do not make the poor rich by destroying purchasing power. You have destroyed the purchasing power of the poor, and they cannot help to make the farmer rich. The solution is not to give £3,000,000 to the farmer for his beef, but to increase the purchasing power of the workers in this country, and, if that can come about in the near future, the meat producer will be able to get his profit or to run his concern in a fruitful way.
The crux of the question is the purchasing power of the workers. I believe it was the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) who was talking about agriculture being the biggest buyer from the industrial areas, but who if he gets his wages, is the best pur- 866 chaser from the agricultural areas? I say candidly that if the worker had an increase in his wages, he would not be saving it up. Immediately he got that money his wife would be going to the shop and purchasing, before Saturday night, and the money would get a quick circulation. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) spoke about a political stunt. It is not a political stunt with us, but a bread and butter question. It is bread and butter politics every time, so far as we are concerned, and I say now that if anybody were to fight a by-election in an industrial area on this matter, he would find an overwhelming majority against the Government.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. DREWE
I want to give my support to the Financial Resolution which is before the Committee. I feel that it is only right that those of us who represent agricultural constituencies and have often appealed to the Government for sympathy and assistance should, when the Minister comes down here and bit by bit unfolds his agricultural policy, come forward and express our gratitude. I should have thought there would have been a fair measure of agreement in the Committee this afternoon, but I have been rather surprised at some of the speeches which have been made by Members of both Opposition parties, and I think those speeches will be read with a good deal of interest in the countryside when the papers come out to-morrow morning. I do not think it has been denied that our farmers in this country are absolutely efficient, and we are not asking assistance to bolster up an inefficient industry. I think it has always been agreed that our farmers are capable of producing the very best quality, and it has certainly not been denied that at present prices beef is being produced at a very heavy loss.
Many of us wish to see, and I should have thought every hon. Member in the House would wish to see, a prosperous and contented countryside and our industry sufficiently prosperous to be able to afford to pay a higher wage to the men employed. We have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Hems-worth (Mr. G. Griffiths) about the low wages in the mining industry. This is not the occasion to discuss that matter, but the Government are doing all they 867 can to assist the mining industry, and to-day they are bringing forward a policy which will assist agriculture and put that industry into the position of being able to afford to pay our people a better wage. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite always make a mistake when they try to compare agriculture with industry, because the two are simply not comparable. Agriculture has to work a seven-day week, and is very largely dependent on climatic conditions, and when a slump comes along you cannot close down a. farm as you can a factory or a shop, but you have to keep going, or else go out for all time. That is why it is so unfair to attempt to compare agriculture with industry.
In the crisis of 1931 one of the questions which caused us much anxiety was the adverse balance of payments, and I submit that agriculture can play a greater part than any other industry in keeping a favourable balance of payments in this country. If agriculture is given reasonable treatment, it will be able to put a larger number of men into employment. I want to see all the important branches of agriculture given a fair and reasonable chance. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Colonel RugglesBrise) pointed out how the various branches were linked together. There is no doubt that a few years ago, when the milk industry was fairly attractive, land which should have been devoted to the plough was turned over to milk production; and so, if we can see the Wheat Act continuing successfully as it is to-day, if we can see the beef industry prosperous in this country, which will in its turn be followed by store cattle, I am certain that we shall see a balance restored to our agriculture, and much will be done in that way to relieve the anxieties of milk producers and of the Milk Board.
I recognise that the Government, through their deliberate policy, have done very much to assist industry and employment in this country, through trade agreements, with which some of us may disagree in certain particulars, but most of all through the change in fiscal policy. We all of us welcome the improvement in industry and employment and in our export trade, but the farmers have had a feeling these last few months that they have been to some extent sacrificed to 868 industry and that tariffs have proved successful in restoring a certain measure of prosperity in industry and in employment that has been denied to their own industry of agriculture. I want to say to the Government that if it be asbolutely impossible, in the interests of Empire trade in particular, to give those same benefits to agriculture, then I think farmers have every right to ask the Government that some alternative method should be produced which will give them the same benefit as industry receives in another direction. That is why I particularly welcome the policy which my right hon. Friend has introduced this afternoon as his long-range policy. I cannot say that I am enamoured of subsidies for anything but for purely temporary purposes, but I welcome the long-range policy which is foreshadowed in my right hon. Friend's pronouncement to-day, and I am certain that he will once more earn the gratitude of farmers throughout the country for the courage which he has shown in formulating this policy and coming down to the House with it to-day.
While there is so much change of thought in these modern days with regard to all these subjects, I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether it is even now too late to ask the Cabinet to reconsider the question of using British meat for feeding His Majesty's forces, for a certain portion of the year at least. I know that this question has been thrashed out over and over again, but to-day British meat prices are extremely low, and it would be a very welcome gesture on the part of the Government for them to reconsider that policy and see if it be not possible to augment the present policy by bringing forward something on those lines. I want to thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done and to wish him every success in the negotiations which are taking place with our Empire And foreign Governments.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Sir J. LAMB
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), speaking from the Labour benches, said that their policy was that of increasing purchasing power, but I would like him to understand that that is not his policy only, but one of which we ourselves are conscious, and no Government have done more than the present Government in increasing purchasing power during the period that they 869 have been in office, because by decreasing the cost of living, they have increased the purchasing power of the public. The cost of living figure in regard to agricultural produce is less than that of any other commodity, and consequently the farmer has made the biggest contribution towards that reduction in the index figure. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has left the House. He said that one of his great objections to and fears about the subsidy was that it was going vastly to increase the supply. I congratulate the hon. Member on the quality of the pasture that he has in Bethnal Green if he thinks he can increase the supply of cattle in the next seven months while this subsidy is in operation.
The subsidy will make it possible for the existing supplies to be marketed on a more remunerative basis to the producer, and I would like to say a word to the Minister with regard to the date on which it is proposed that it should come into operation. I am somewhat afraid that if the date is left until September, there will be a good deal of cattle which will be held back until that date, and there might be rather a glut on the market at that time. There is another reason too. Because of the drought which we have been experiencing, there will be a large number of cattle which really should be marketed earlier. I know I am asking for something which is rather difficult to do, because of the insufficiency of time to arrange for the machinery with which these payments can be made, but, if there be any way by which he can arrange for the cattle to be marketed at an earlier date to receive a subsidy, it would be very much to the advantage of the industry.
The proposal in the White Paper is for a subsidy, and I cannot help deploring the fact that so many hon. Members have looked upon it as though the subsidy were the policy of the Government. It is not the policy of the Government. The subsidy is put forward, not as a policy but as an expedient to tide over the very difficult conditions under which the meat industry is labouring at the present time, and to provide sufficient time in which to continue the negotiations for the policy which my right hon. Friend proposes to bring forward later. It is true that there are sugges- 870 tions in the White Paper with regard to the lines on which the policy might be ultimately developed and proposed to the House, but at the moment those proposals are not before us, and it is not desirable to spend too much time on their discussion until they are actually drawn up.
Many hon. Members have assumed that the meat industry is in a healthy state. Those who know the industry as it really is realise that the necessity for assistance is very great indeed. It was stated by a Liberal Member, and it has also been stated by the President of the Board of Trade, that all subsidies are evil. Very nearly all medicines are poison, but that does not mean that when an industry is in a bad state of health it must not receive some medicine. Although subsidies may be evil when applied to extremes, they are very useful in moderation and as expedients. I congratulate the Government in giving this amount of medicine to tide the industry over a time until it can be put on a better footing.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) expressed great objection to the control of the supplies of agricultural produce which come into this country. 1 was surprised to hear that criticism from him, because he is a strong advocate for the coal industry. No other industry has received more advantage from subsidies to tide it over a difficult time than the coal industry. It was necessary in that case, and I voted for it. On the other hand, no other industry is so much benefiting from decreased supplies or the control of supplies than the coal industry, which is not allowed to produce more than a certain quantity of coal. While the coal industry is controlling the internal production of coal, the proposal in the present instance is to control the amount of imports of an article which is produced elsewhere. The control in both cases is necessary if we are to have reasonable prices for coal and beef. I will not say much about the position of the industry because the Minister dealt so fully and adequately with it and with the part which agriculture plays in the economics and life of the community.
I would remind the Committee, however, that in all these questions of production and supply the crucial point is the price which the producer receives. Everything depends upon price. In say- 871 ing that, I do not advocate high prices. The agriculturist does not advocate high prices. He asks for an adequate remuneration in return for his production costs. He remembers that the consumer is his customer and that it is bad shop-keeping to offend his customer. He knows, therefore, that it is in his interest to produce at as low a price as he can having due regard for his own interest as a producer and the interests of the workers in the industry with which he is connected. There are far more agricultural labourers than agriculturists, and it is assumed by many people that they are not themselves consumers. Agriculture, however, is the biggest consumer of the manufactured products of other industries in the country, and, unless the agriculturist has reasonable purchasing power, he cannot in his turn be of assistance to the other industries. The home market to-day is of more importance to other industries than any other market because of the difficulties they have of maintaining the volume of exports which they had in other days and which I am afraid they will not be able to obtain to anything like the same extent. The agriculturist is one of the biggest supporters of the home market, and the other industries must recognise that fact when he is demanding for himself through his employer the possibility of having reasonable purchasing power.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) suggested that the subsidy should be given to high grade cattle only. I hope the Minister will not, at any rate in this instance, accept that suggestion, because the subsidy now proposed is designed to help existing stocks and not stocks of the type that might be produced in future. That point should be considered in connection with the question of grade. There are many other hon. Members who wish to speak and there will be other more suitable opportunities of elaborating the Government's policy. We are considering now only the question of a subsidy to tide over the industry in its present need in order to give further time for the policy of the Government to be worked out in conjunction with the Dominions. I congratulate the Minister on behalf of those for whom I speak on bringing forward this subsidy as a means of assisting the industry in 872 its present necessity, and I hope that he will be able in future, when the subsidy period is over, to bring forward a policy to put the industry on a sound basis.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
The Minister is fortunate in those who have criticised him. Both the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and the hon. Member for Upton (Mr. Gardner) have decried this Financial Resolution because it introduces a subsidy. At the same time, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) said that if it were a subsidy he could support the Minister and go the whole way with him, but it was an advance. If there were one word about which I would cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb), it is the word "subsidy." If it were a subsidy, he would have the support of that particle of the Liberal party of which the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely is a part. It is an advance repayable in the future. It is for that reason that we must regard it merely as a temporary policy and a temporary expedient to tide over a period.
We have a special meaning for the word subsidy. If it were the kind of subsidy that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely would like, it would be different, but there are subsidies and subsidies, and I will not enter into a grammatical argument with my hon. Friend. I want to turn to the other critics of this policy. By his leave, I am standing in the place of one of the critics who shares his dislike of it with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely. He does not dislike it, however, because it is not a subsidy, like the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely. He uses the argument that if the capital of an industry is gone the industry should be thrown over. That is going back to the old Victorian days of laissez faire: when an industry is done the State should not help it; the State should even kick it further. If we adopted the policy of the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) we should help only those industries which can pay their way without help. It is the old doctrine of helping those who do not need help
873 What would happen with our imports under that doctrine? The only industries in which there is a real demand and which do not suffer from the dumping of imports are the catering, trade, the hotel trade, and the liquor trade, and of course, banking and insurance. H we are to allow agriculture to suffer the depression of great influxes of imported meat, a great part of this country will have to go back to the wilderness and have no occupation, while we shall have new Waterloo Bridges, new bank buildings and new liquor shops in London as the only activities. If we are to plan in this country, we have to see that agriculture is put on a sound footing. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) said we must realise that the coal miner is by far the best customer of agriculture. I agree with him. The Yorkshire and Durham miner are the two best customers of the agriculturist, especially the beef producer. Are we to have a chain of depression? Are we to allow the miner to go down because the agricultural labourer cannot get his wage? Do we not realise that one of the reasons why the miner is not getting his wage is because the agricultural labourer cannot pay for his coal, and also because the unemployment market is flooded with agricultural labourers whom the farmers cannot hire?
I do not want to follow the habit of lecturing sometimes engendered by the hon. Member in whose place I am. The economics of the position are very simple. If a man cannot produce and meet, not so much his overhead charges, but the actul cost of what he puts into the beef, something has to be done. The price of beef to-day is 35s. per cwt. The farmer is buying beef for £12 a. head and after fattening it and keeping it on his farm he is getting only £12 10s. No agriculturist will quarrel with me in these figures. If the farmer is spending money to this extent he must be helped. In this Resolution we are giving a subsidy of £3,000,000 for seven months, and after that period the Government will engage in their long-term policy. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of agriculture will have admiration for the Government's long-term policy. There is no more effective way 6f dealing with the question of beef production than by a moderate levy with restriction of imports. It is by far the most effective way 874 and it will not harm the consumer. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) laughs, but I would like to know if he would regard it as a misfortune if he had to pay an extra penny per lb. for his meat, which would even then cost him a good deal less than lie was paying when the Socialist Government were in office. If we get the price of fat cattle up to 48s. or 50s. per cwt., it would not be any burden on the hon. Member's beef-eating proclivities.
There are one or two questions I wish to put regarding this temporary Measure. The first is to ask whether the £3,000,000 is enough. At first sight this £3,000,000 looks like £6,000,000 for the year, but that is far from being the case. The seven months which the Minister has chosen is the period of the autumn glut, when there is a large increase in the amount of home-produced meat put upon the market. I am very apprehensive as to whether he can give 5s. per cwt. and yet not spend as much as £3,000,000. According to my calculation it will be very "near" at the end. Of course, it all depends on what cattle will get the 5s. per cwt.; and here may I reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb)? It is no good helping people to produce poor beef; far better to teach them to get the right sires for their beef cattle—and by the licensing of bulls we are helping them to do so; but we must remember, especially in view of the very little grass there is in the southern counties, that the beef coming on to the market in the autumn glut cannot be of a high quality. For that reason I ask the Minister to open his hand wide during this first temporary period, however austere and restrictive he is in the later period.
A really important question is what restriction he is going to impose. Everybody who has a knowledge of agriculture will agree with his long-term policy, and all except the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely will agree with his temporary expedient of providing £3,000,000, the only criticism on that being on the question of its being repaid. But will that be enough unless imports are restricted? What has happened during the past six months of this year? Imports of beef from the Dominions have increased from 507,000 cwt. to 905,000 cwt., that is, have nearly doubled, and if those imports increase, or if the importation continues at 875 that rate, or even at a lesser rate, the price of beef will not be 35s. a cwt.—even with the subsidy the farmer will get only 40s.—but will be far less. Therefore, the Minister must combine with the temporary expedient a very drastic system of restriction of imports, and I ask him to do that as early as possible. It is to the advantage of the taxpayer if he does so. If the taxpayer wants to see his money back the Minister must increase the restrictions at the earliest moment, otherwise there will be no livestock industry from which the money can be repaid by means of the levy at a later date.
Next I would ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which I put to him last Monday, and I hope he will not mind my repeating it. When is he going to restrict the imports of canned beef? Will it be at the same time as the Dominion restrictions? Canned beef imports do have a great effect on the livestock industry, especially as regard the lower quantities of meat. If we get really adequate restrictions when this period ends I believe the farmer, with his 5s., should get an economic price for his meat. Whether he does get that economic price or not depends entirely upon the use which the Minister makes of his power of restricting imports. I know that every farmer will thank the Minister for this declaration of his long-term policy, and for this advance of £3,000,000 as a temporary measure, and will wish him Godspeed in the policy of restriction.
§ 7.50 p.m.
I would like in a few words to express my satisfaction with the policy the Minister is carrying through to-night, the temporary help of £3,000,000 and also with the long-term policy which has been announced. I was particularly gratified to hear the Minister emphasising the very important part which agriculture plays in our national economics. Agriculture has for so long been the Cinderella of our industries, has for so long been put on one side and misunderstood, that it really needed a statement such as we have had from the Minister, backed up by the forceful illustrations supplied by other hon. Members, in order to make the Committee realise the extensive nature of the part agriculture does play in our general economy. I wonder whether the Minister, in making his calcu- 876 lation as to the capital invested in the industry, which I think he put at £1,000,000,000 took full account of all the past generations of labour and the millions of capital which have been expended on the land for more than 100 years. Take, for example, my county of Lincolnshire, one of the greatest agricultural counties. Labour and capital by the tens of millions of pounds have been expended upon it for years past in order to bring the land into its present state of productivity.
I ask hon. Members to consider what the result would be if the present position of agriculture were not dealt with? Hon. Members opposite have opposed practically every proposal the Minister has made with a view to rescuing agriculture from its impending doom. They opposed tariffs, they opposed quotas, they opposed subsidies, yet no Member of the Labour party or of the Liberal party below the Gangway opposite, or my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin), has put forward any practical proposition to save the industry. What would happen if those hon. Members had their way? The land would go out of cultivation, agricultural labourers would lose their employment, and they would flock into the urban centres and add to the unemployment there. Hon. Members opposite profess to be greatly concerned about the agricultural workers. Unless the policy which we are discussing to-night is carried out there will be unemployment and wages will fall instead of rising. We on this side are the true guardians of the agricultural worker, and not the party opposite. On one point I would like to join with the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton), and that is to express the hope that during the period of this subsidy the Minister will inaugurate and maintain an adequate system of restriction on supplies. That is a very important matter.
Hon. Members opposite object in particular to a levy and say they would prefer a tax on the general taxpayer. This levy falls on foreign and Dominion produce entering this country, and I would like to submit that our whole experience of tariffs over the last two and a half years has been that a considerable portion of the tariff has been paid by the foreigner and has not fallen on the consuming public. Even those of us who 877 have long advocated tariffs have been surprised to note that the tariff has fallen on the foreigner to an even larger extent than we had hoped or anticipated. The foreigner has shown the utmost desire to retain his footing in this market, and for that purpose has been willing to shoulder a very large part of the tariff. Therefore, I suggest to hon. Members opposite that their fears that this levy will fall on the consumer, and especially on the poorer consumer, may be very largely unfounded. When this penny per pound comes to be levied on imports of meat it may be that only a very small proportion indeed will be borne by the consumer.
I think we may well take into account, and I am glad the Minister mentioned it, the very large capacity of our Dominions to supply us with meat. Australia and New Zealand are increasing enormously and rapidly their powers of supply, there is Canada also, and a new entrant is coming in, namely Rhodesia, and in addition we have the supplies from Argentina, Uruguay and even Brazil. The whole world is desirous of supplying us with meat, and, therefore, I say that this levy, so moderate in its character, so necessary for the preservation of the home farmer, will in great measure fall on outside suppliers. Surely, at this time of day, it does not need any argument to support such a comparatively modest impost in support of this industry. I would say to the hon. Member for Central Southwark that if agriculture were allowed to perish and land go out of cultivation the cost of its restoration would not be £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 but £30,000,000 or £40,000,000, or, alternatively, we should need enormous tariffs and great sacrifices by the consumers of this country if we did desire to cultivate our own soil again. I would like to express my gratitude to the Minister for the great policy he is carrying out.
§ 8.0 p.m.
I have been amazed to hear hon. Members opposite say that agriculture has failed. Agriculture has stood up to its difficulties in this country with courage and solidarity, in a way which is better than in most of the rest of the world. I have just returned from a prolonged visit to the United States which is, as most hon. Members will admit, one of the greatest 878 agricultural producing countries of the world. I found there a condition of things in agriculture which puts our agriculture upon an entirely different plane. Agriculture in that country has had opportunities which we have not had, and it is in an absolutely protected market, but the United States are having to subsidise their farmers, not only to grow things, but to plough into the ground large quantities of food in order that the industry may be kept on a solvent basis. In spite of that, large blocks of farmers in that great continent are daily going out of business.
I am very glad that the Minister of Agriculture has taken this line in regard to the livestock industry. It is a very important part of our farming which hitherto the Government have not tackled properly. I am glad that the Government have frankly admitted the failure of the policy of restriction of imports and are prepared to give practical help to the farmers. Our farmers have been very patient with the livestock situation. Ever since the Government came into office the farmers have been asking them for help to overcome the difficulties which have reduced livestock prices, and it is only now that the Government have arrived at a reasonable and practical way of giving real help. The farmers in my constituency have had their difficult time. While they are very grateful to the Government for the help that has been given to other branches of agriculture, they are aware that this question of livestock affects every branch. The livestock question affects the root crops, and it makes a difference to the barley crop, and in a solution which will give reasonable prices for livestock will be found the solution of other difficulties which are continually cropping up.
Now that they have received the report of the commissions, the Government ought to be able to arrive at the cost of production of livestock in this country. What the farmer requires is not a fancy tariff behind which to hide himself, but an equal opportunity with every other producer to make his business pay. You cannot ignore the cost of production, and, if farmers have to sell below the cost of production, obviously they must go out of business. Member after Member has said that farmers are going out of livestock production, and that practically takes the backbone out of the agricultural 879 industry of this country. I am immensely grateful to the Minister for taking this bold step now, and appreciative that the Government have been able to find time to consider this matter before the Recess. So many things have had to be postponed until we meet again that the farmer, and particularly the livestock farmer, has got a bit tired of Government promises. I believe that the Government are about to show the farmer, by means of the Measure which we are passing to-night, that they are willing to tide him over his difficulties, and to give him an opportunity to hold on until the Government's permanent policy can be put into operation.
The Government should realise that it is no good giving the subsidy to the foreigners. The subsidy is designed to improve the prices of commodities, and great care will have to be taken that, in spite of the subsidy, the low level of prices does not remain. When the Government put a duty of 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. upon the importation of cattle from the Irish Free State the same number arrived and the price continued to go lower. If this subsidy is given, the Government should see to it that the farmer actually gets the benefit of it, in addition to the ordinary price that he is getting now; otherwise, the scheme will be defeated and no benefits will accrue. I admit that this House has been generous to the farmer during the lifetime of this Parliament, but agriculture is by no means over its difficulties in spite of all that has been done. Agriculture is not the sort of thing that you can slow down like a coal mine, or a manufacturing industry; it is a hard job that has to go on all the year round.
We have been told that if the farmer organised in the markets of the world he would get his price. What is the use of organising to sell something at a loss? When the farmer can sell his commodity at a profit, it will be found that he has just as much business acumen as any other member of the business community. He has knowledge and skill which will rival that in any other industry, and, if you give him a proper opportunity, I believe that he will show substantial results. A good, strong, agricultural industry in this country is worth 20 battleships at this time. In all countries of 880 the world there is talk of disturbance, and therefore our food-producing industry is of vital importance to us. When a time of crisis arises, we dash to the farmer and give him everything. Those of us who represent farmers in this House are asking the Government to give farmers an opportunity of making a living in ordinary times. I again register my very sincere appreciation of what the Minister has done, and I hope that the scheme is going to be successful. I would ask him to keep in mind that the farmer himself must receive the money that the Government are voting, or the scheme will otherwise be defeated, and, secondly, that in framing the long-term scheme regard must be given to the cost of production, which should now be within the knowledge of the Government, for all sections of the livestock industry in Great Britain. If we can put some limitation upon importation, and institute a levy which will ultimately find its way back to the farmer, we shall be able to build up a very fine livestock industry again.
Whatever may be said about the British livestock industry, we still supply most of the pedigree stock for the rest of the world. British agriculture has a standard which is unequalled in any other part of the world. We are doing a very great deal of good to-night, not only to agriculture but to the rest of the country, in passing this Measure. Members of the Opposition are sceptical about the effects of the next Budget. I do not care so much about the next Budget. If our agricultural population can go to work now, and have confidence in some sort of future, the next Budget will take care of itself, because they will produce more and more, and enable us to spend less and less abroad. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) pointed out the great value of agriculture to the rest of the community; it is the best asset that we have, and it is worth a great deal more than the trade of many countries with whom we have been making agreements to buy commodities from us. I know that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has a sympathetic interest in agriculture; he will in time appreciate that the people in the industry cannot live on thin air and must be paid a remunerative price for the commodities which they produce. I thank the Government for the legisla- 881 tion which they are putting forward, and I hope that, in a very real sense, that legislation will be a credit to the Government and of assistance to the livestock industry.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I also thank the Minister whole-heartedly, because I represent a constituency which probably has more mixed farming than any other in England. As everybody knows, livestock is a very important part of the structure of agriculture, and, if it does not pay, the whole of mixed farming is in jeopardy. The Minister is to be congratulated on the weakness of the attack which has come from the front Opposition bench and from the Liberal party. I believe it to be a matter of common knowledge that when the attack is weak the scheme is good. When the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has a good case, he is constructive, but all he could do this afternoon was to offer a few criticisms, not very direct; he even had to go so far as to talk about the means test. The mere absence of constructive criticism was an indication that the Socialist party were jealous that they had not been able to do so much for the livestock industry when they were in office. The Minister will have no difficulty in dealing with the opposition of the Liberal party. Although that party criticised the scheme, they are going to vote with the Government as usual, I understand.
I would like to ask the Minister how he is going to deal with the question of the old cows. The old cow problem is intimately linked up with the milk difficulty. While we welcome this extremely good way of dealing in the next six months with the problems of beef and young heifers, the old cows will still be with us, and, while we are developing the milk scheme, I hope that the Government will not forget that problem. In the old days, that kind of meat was very largely used in industrial towns, but now industrial towns, very wisely, will only be satisfied with the best joints, and it is reported that the inferior joints are destroyed. That is not economically sound. I do not know whether it be possible to build up some kind of canning industry, but, unless the problem of the old cow is successfully dealt with, I do not think there can be permanent success 882 for the livestock proposals. I heartily congratulate the Government on the scheme which they have brought forward, and I wish them all success in their long-range policy.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. OSWALD LEWIS
Representing a constituency which has both industrial and agricultural interests, I support this Motion. I welcome it because it affords a further striking illustration of the determination of the Government to assume a balanced national economy in which the manufacturing and the agricultural interests will each have a very useful part to play. I also welcome it because it would appear to afford further evidence that the Minister of Agriculture is not going to allow himself to be led aside by those who argue that in this country we should confine ourselves to this or that branch of agriculture. He seeks to enable us to do as we have done in the past, that is to say, to maintain in this country a richly varied system of agriculture suited to the variety of the circumstances of our different farmers. Of course, the real difficulty with which this Government, like other Governments, have had to contend, is the age-long struggle between the town and the country, the clash of interests between the urban and the rural population—the town asking for importations of cheap food from abroad, and the countryside asking to be allowed a reasonable return on what it produces. At last it would seem that a solution of this problem has been found.
The first evidence of it was in the Wheat Act, where we find a guaranteed price for wheat provided by a levy on flour. I hope very much that the second stage is going to be found in the case of milk. I hope that the plan which has been started by the Milk Bill will develop until we have a guaranteed price for milk supported by a levy on all forms of imported dairy produce. And I think that anyone who listened to the Minister to-day would agree that in his mind the possibility is taking shape of a scheme whereby a guaranteed price, or something of that nature, will be possible in the ease of beef, supported by a levy on imported beef. I hope that whoever replies for the Government on this Resolution will not allow himself to fall into the mistake, into which the Minister fell this afternoon, of complicating the issue by entering into arguments as to the relative 883 merits of the gross produce of agriculture in this country and the net produce of investments abroad, and matters of that kind. They can only obscure the issue. If the Government will take their stand on the absolute necessity of securing prosperity in agriculture, they will be on unassailable ground. May I say, in conclusion, mainly for the consideration of the Opposition, that you will not find in history an example of any country which has prospered long if it has neglected agriculture.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
This afternoon we have been fortunate in hearing a large number of speakers on this very important question. Members representing agricultural divisions have taken a large share in the Debate, and it is right and proper that that should be so, but there is a case to be made out by those who do not represent agricultural divisions, but who represent in the House, despite their smaller numbers, the overwhelming majority of the people of this country who are not farmers. The case has to be looked at from their point of view, and, however, grateful Members representing agricultural divisions may be to the Minister, and however cordially they express their approval of this scheme, there is ground for the criticism which my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) put forward this afternoon. Therefore, I would ask the indulgence of the Committee if I follow in the main the general trend of his attack upon this proposal.
The Minister of Agriculture, in opening the Debate, gave, I think, rather scant attention to the most significant considerations which the House has to bear in mind in connection with this proposal. He felt very uncomfortable, I feel sure, and he was not his usual breezy, confident self. Nor do I see any signs of optimism and enthusiasm on the part of the hon. Gentleman who is tr follow me, and I certainly hope to be able to give him some matters which will tax his ingenuity, which the House knows so well. The Minister stressed the point, with which we are all familiar, that in recent years there has been a diminished consumption of meat in this country, and he gave some figures which showed that our consumption of meat per head per annum had gone down from 69 lb. to 60 lb. That 884 is a considerable drop. We attribute the reduction rather to a particular economic cause than to the change in fashion with which the Minister so gaily connected this very serious falling off. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the increasing importation of meat, not so much from foreign countries as from our own Dominions, and he stressed the enormous increase that had taken place in the importations from New Zealand, far in excess of the anticipations of those who are still members of the present Ministry and who gave attention to this problem two or three years ago. He pointed out also that the United States have sent very large quantities in excess of our anticipations.
All this, he said, had brought about the present price position in the livestock industry of this country, and he said that the home producers were not able to expand. I think that that must be so. If the figures which I have already quoted are correct, if it be true that the individual consumption is less and that importations from abroad are increasing, while there is a small increase of population, the home livestock industry must be contracted. The percentage of homegrown meat consumed in this country is less now than it was a few years ago I think there is at present about 45 per cent. of home-grown meat and 55 per cent. of imported meat. He said that the home producers were striving for a place in the home market.
At the same time he wanted to encourage his supporters, one of whom this afternoon at Question Time asked pathetically, but with solemn seriousness, whether the bondholders in the City of London were to be given preference over the agricultural producers of this country. I feel sure that that was a quite unexpected outburst. Indeed, I think it is wrong to speak of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters. They have ceased to he supporters; they are the drivers of the Government. They sit behind the patient oxen who are the Government of this country for the time being, yoked arid spanned. The leaders at the head of the team change now and again, but the bulk of them follow mutely where the leaders lead. We find that in the changing of the span the contradictions of the Government's policy are revealed. Sometimes it is the President of the Board of Education who is at the head, 885 and then he has a policy which we are able to understand, from the occasional references that are made to it in the House from time to time. Now it is the Minister of Agriculture who leads the span of patient oxen behind him, and he has to come up against the obstacle which has been faced by the President of the Board of Trade on more than one occasion. The Minister of Agriculture turns round to the drivers behind him and says, "Let me go slowly; let me go my own pace; these are difficult problems. I will climb over this obstacle of foreign investment—I must, and I will."
Those are the terms that he used this afternoon. But he has seriously underestimated the obstruction. We shall leave him to it, but we would ask him not to make the mistake that he was in danger of making this afternoon. I heard his statement to-day with astonishment. He said that out net income from foreign investments is not so important as the income of the farming industry. I do not think he had given it full consideration. He made a very serious slip when he compared the net profit from foreign investments with the gross turnover of the agricultural industry. He forgot for the time being that this net income from foreign investments is bread and butter, and a lot of other good things, to a large number of his supporters in all parts of this House, and the other House as well. The two Houses are packed with Gentlemen who live on the proceeds of investments in foreign countries. He had better watch his step or he will stumble in front of the team of oxen and bring the whole team down with him.
I would ask the Committee to see in this difficulty the inherent contradictions of capitalism. Suppose that we become self-sufficient and stop the importation of all these goods that come in payment for our foreign investments. What happens? Is it merely that you strike out £152,000,000 worth of foreign goods that come here? You break down the whole fabric of world capitalism. What will happen to these investments? If yell stop the payments that are being made, those enterprises will have to stop in every country in the world. The men employed in those concerns—mines, railways and other enterprises—must all stop. There will be political convulsions in all parts of the world. When those enterprises stop, world trade stops and 886 this country, which is an exporting country, will cease to export. What fantastic ideas right hon. Gentlemen give vent to in order to minister to the greed of those who sit behind them. Right hon. Gentlemen have not given attention to this matter. Our Dominions are built entirely upon investments from this country and almost all their exports to us represent interest on those investments. They live by paying us interest on the money that we lend them. You will break up the Empire at one stroke if you cease to receive the goods that come in payment of our investments. But that is not our problem. I am just showing Ministers what problems they are faced with. We are not asked today to solve that problem. We are merely pointing out the difficulties that the defenders of the modern system have to contend with and, until they accept the general point of view that we accept, they will be faced with these grave difficulties which will become more insoluble as time passes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Colonel RugglesBrise) scored his first point when he showed that the purchasing power of the whole community rises in proportion to the increased value of money or a reduction in the cost of living. But, if there has been an increased purchasing power on the part of the whole community, will he explain why we buy less meat and why we cannot pay a proper price for the meat that we produce? Why these artificial measures if our purchasing power is improving, as he says it is? We produce the very best meat in the world, but there is not enough money in this country to buy it at a cost which will cover the cost of production. The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot get away from it.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The fact that the public habit has changed and they are buying less meat than they used to do is largely due to the fact that there are many other products of the earth offered to them now in a far wider range than there used to be.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
If that be the explanation, and if the Minister accepts it, I advise them to get together without telling anyone and to discuss it and see how this subsidy is going to change the public taste. Hon. Members are always involved on the horns of a dilemma of 887 their own construction. They construct the dilemma, and they are impaled on one horn or the other all the time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman condemned the hon. Member for Don Valley. I think his criticism unjust and unfounded. He says we have not stated our plans in detail. Certainly not. That is not our job. Those are the people responsible for stating plans in detail. We are here to criticise, and we do it to the best of our ability, and, if we do not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, "Do not shoot the pianist, he is doing his best." It was an outburst of imagination on his part to see the Wheat and Meat Acts rounding off this picture of the contentment and prosperity of the countryside. He talked like a grateful mendicant, and only in the end did he stand erect. When he said that we are endowed with conditions of soil and climate which enable us to grow something of everything, to which I said, Amen. That is something at least for which we have not to thank the National Government.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) criticised the attitude of the hon. Member for Don Valley on the subject of purchasing power and asked how we were to defend our agriculturists against competition from the Argentine and other cheap foreign producers. He said he had voted for the Meat Duty two years ago. We find that the Government are now where the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) were two years ago. That pleases those hon. Members very much, but we should like to know how far the Government proposes to go on the road to ruin in the next two years. The hon. Member for South Croydon gave praise to the Minister for having come round to his point of view. The right hon. Gentleman has chosen his bed fellows and has to lie with them. The hon. Member minimised the importance of our export trade and argued for the abandonment of the struggle for remote world markets and the building up of a market at home. I have been astonished at the tone of many speeches from hon. Members opposite to-day. We are passing through a revolution in the mentality of the House. The hon. Member appeared to me to be 888 more insular than anyone I have ever heard in the House. He reminded me of the idea of the song, "This snug little, tight little island," and he anticipated that by living to ourselves, by neglecting those large countries in Asia and elsewhere, by thinking only of ourselves we should be able to solve this problem of unemployment and put all our surplus unemployable persons on the land in this country. It occurred to me that we are touching very dangerous ground here again. A prominent Member of the Government party, following up the suggestion made by the Minister himself, came to the same conclusion. The Minister having suggested the early and immediate liquidation of all our foreign capital, the Member for South Croydon supports him by proposing the liquidation of all our industrial capital at home. Let them think the matter over again. They will hear from their friends on the matter, and they will not have long to wait.
We on this side of the Committee look at them. Liquidators, winding-up, going to live in their own back gardens. There is not a word about the Empire. The Empire is finished. They have not one word to say for it in this Committee. There is not one word about peopling the great open spaces of which we have heard so much. This political quick change is too rapid for me; I have to give up trying to follow it. The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) received the approval of Protectionists in this Committee, an unexpected thing for him, I am sure. He brought to the Debate the difficulties facing the Chancellor of the Exchequer in paying out these doles and subsidies to industry after industry. Hon. Members who want an import duty rather approved of the suggestion made by the hon. Member, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should cease paying out of the Treasury these large sums of money. They do not want these payments to be made out of the Treasury as they might make a further demand upon their Income Tax and Surtax. They want a more direct way, and they want the subsidies to be paid through import duties. They want a duty sufficiently high to prevent anything from coming over the tariff walls into this country. They want not only the foreigner, but the Dominions too to be denied markets for their goods in this country.
889 The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) quoted from Mr. Street's book, a very good book, but said that he was not particularly enamoured of the proposal of the Government, which is what everybody says when intending to vote for a Bill. But he wanted something to be done. We were brought back to reality by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) who rightly called attention to the low purchasing power of the workers generally who have to purchase in the same market as other people, and who, because their purchasing power is less, have to accept inferior quality. They must buy a cheaper quality of meat. I await the answer of the Government to the speech of my hon. Friend. He said with great truth that the best customers of agriculture are the industrial workers. Agricultural Members should not forget that we represent 93 per cent. of their customers. If you get a decent purchasing power for 93 per cent. of the people, they will look after the 7 per cent. all right. There will be no difficulty. The 7 per cent. will be prosperous when the 93 per cent. obtain a decent share in the prosperity of this country.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth stands as a stern example of consistency. He had little sympathy with the hon. Member who preceded him, whom he described as a National Government new type Member. The hon. and gallant Member spoke of three aims. First the home market, then "your" Empire—it was not our Empire this time—and then foreign trade. What a strange mind the hon. and gallant Baronet really has. He asked us to forget the whole of his past and that of this country, and all the economic developments which have brought us to our present position. The hon. Baronet is so modern that he forgets even yesterday. We have put forward in this country a stupendous effort to win foreign trade. We have underpaid and badly housed our people, stinted their physique, maltreated our boys and girls, even worked our women too hard to win foreign trade. We have exploited our people in order to do this, and now it is suggested that we should scrap all and have no connection with anybody, and that we should have to go through the same miserable period of building up the Whole market on sweated labour once 890 again. We cannot follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He has become more protective than ever and is now evidently prepared to scrap Imperial preference as well.
The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) who, I am sure, will vote for the Motion, said that he was not enamoured of this method, but was grateful for the assistance to be given by the Minister. The hon. Baronet the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) is grateful too. He said that a subsidy is not the policy of the Government; it is an expedient while the policy is being worked out. He said that agriculture wanted a dose of medicine, although all medicines are poison. He hopes that the agricultural industry will survive this dose of poison in the attempt to try and cure the patient. We hope so too, but we are very much afraid, from our experience of subsidies, that it is very dangerous medicine. The hen. Member chided us on this side of the Committee with having benefited more than anyone else from subsidies paid to the mining industry. I have a sad recollection of the subsidy to the mining in dustry in 1925. We never asked for nor wanted a subsidy. A Conservative Government gave a subsidy to Conservative mineowners because of the departure from the Gold Standard and had destroyed the export trade. They spent £25,000,000 in an attempt to compensate the owners and adjust the balance in the coal industry. As soon as the £25,000,000 had been spent, they locked out 1,000,000 mine workers, who lost £3 or £4 in wages for every pound paid in subsidy by the Government. They lost £100,000,000 in. wages because of the payment of 226,000,000 in subsidy, an undesirable and unwanted financial expedient of the Conservative Government. If the present subsidy achieves no more success as a remedy for unemployment than the coal subsidy we shall be very disappointed indeed.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Molton (Mr. Turton) made a very ingenious distinction between a subsidy and an advance. It was very well done. He said a subsidy is not a subsidy if it has to be repaid. I wonder whether the hon. Member has read the White Paper. There is no suggestion that the farmer is to repay. The farmer is to receive before the levy is made. The people who are to pay the £3,000,000 are those 891 who will pay the levy, and they are, in the main, the people who cannot afford it, as the hon. Member for Don Valley said this afternoon. The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) looked sadly to this side and said that we were not in sympathy with the agriculturists. I doubt whether any agricultural Member really believes that we who sit here have no sympathy with the agriculturists. In my own constituency I have 800 very small farmers. I do not think that many of them vote for me. They do not like the idea of having a miner representing agriculturists. They are, however, my friends, but I come to the House in spite of their votes. I feel kindly disposed not only to the agriculturists in my Division but the agriculturists in all parts of the country, although they are not our political friends. They are members of the oldest and most honourable industry in the world, the most important industry in the economy of our time, and we should be fools, politically and individually, if we were not in sympathy with agriculture and with the needs of agriculturists. On behalf of hon. Members on this side, and especially the hon. Member for the Don Valley, who has worked like a galley slave to acquaint himself with the conditions of this industry in order that he may find a remedy for its problems, I think I am entitled to make that statement.
I should like to look the problem in the face. In June of this year we imported meat at a rate greater than in June, 1933, or June, 1932, although the consumption of meat is decreasing. The percentage of meat imported from abroad is higher than before. I invite hon. Members to follow the prices at which meat has been sold this month in the markets. National mark prime beef has been selling wholesale at 6½d. a lb. and Scotch beef at 6½d. a lb. I do not know why the Scotsmen should be paid less than the Englishmen for prime beef. The wholesale price of Argentine beef has varied from 3d. to 4¾d. a lb. and Australian from 2½d. to 3½d. a lb. The retail prices show that English beef has ranged from 10d. to 1s. 2d. a lb., and chilled or frozen foreign beef 6d. to 10d. per lb. There is a. difference in the wholesale price of 3d. to 4d. between the home produced and the imported beef. The difference between the retail prices is 892 greater than the difference between the wholesale prices. We have also this astounding difference, that English rump steak has sold at 2s. 4d. a lb., and foreign rump steak at is. 6d. a lb., a difference of 10d. a lb. Hon. Members will draw their own conclusions from the fact that English rump steak, which has a very limited market, can bear an additional 10d. as compared with the price paid for imported rump steak. That shows quite clearly that there is a market for it and that there are people who can afford to pay this high price.
Who buys the foreign meat? It is our duty on this side of the House to come back to that question, wherever our argument may lead us. I am a member of the Kitchen Committee of this House and I understand that all the meat supplied here is home grown. We can afford to pay for it, and good beef it is. We pay a very much higher price than the average man outside, who buys a little meat occasionally for his dinner. The workman cannot pay a high price and he has to get what he can afford to buy. Some time ago I saw the budget of a number of unemployed people with whom I am personally acquainted. I knew their fathers. We were boys at school together, and the sons have grown up and have now families of their own. I was pained when I looked over the lists showing the household expenses of a dozen families. When rent, rates, light and so on had been paid for the average amount available for the purchase of food of all kinds ran from 2s. to 2s. 3d. per person per week, or less than the price of 1 lb. of English rump steak.
Those people are just as good as any of us in this House. If we assume that they are not, we cannot do justice to questions of this character which come before us from time to time. With that small amount of money they get occasionally a morsel of meat at the weekend. In pursuance of this Resolution we contemplate cutting into a smaller dimensions even that small morsel which those people are able to get at the present time. They have no compensation, no subsidy, no assistance. They get their unemployment benefit and there is nothing more that they can get from any source. Those people will not be able to buy as much meat as they do even at the present time. I wonder how the 893 Government proposal is going to help the meat industry and the rearing of livestock under those conditions? On the other hand, there are people who—I do not profess medical knowledge—are eating more meat than they need. There are a large number of people of sufficient means who could pay a higher price than prevails at the present time, but they are taking advantage of market conditions and getting the best beef in the world at less than the cost of production, if we are to believe what is said by those on the other side of the House 'who represent the livestock industry. Those people will continue to eat beef of good quality without paying any more for it.
Somebody has to pay for the subsidy. The subsidy goes to two sets of people. It goes in the first instance to the farmer who produces the home grown beef, and in the second place this subsidy, which is to be collected from the poorest homes in the country, will go to provide cheap beef for people who have ample means to buy it. We in this House will have our meat cheaper because the poor people will be paying duty on imported meat. That is class legislation. The people who will pay the levy will be one class, namely, the poorer classes, the working classes, while the people who will get meat below the cost of production and who will have subsidised rump steak on their tables, will be the well-to-do people. This House is being made the instrument, the machine by which money is to be diverted from the poorest of the poor to help others. If the farmers need the subsidy, the other people to whom I have referred do not need it. In the case of many farmers they are able to pay their way. A better way than this must be found to meet deserving eases in agriculture, to re-organise the industry and to put it on a paying basis, so that it will give a decent reward and remuneration to those who cultivate the soil and care for livestock in this -the greatest industry in the world, an industry in which we must all seek to build up, to encourage and develop to the best of our ability. We believe that this is a tinkering way of helping agriculture. It is a way that will inflict direct harm on other industries and on a large body of people who are suffering undeservedly more than their share of hardship.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I have listened, as I think the Committee must have listened, with great interest and delight to the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell). The varied play of his mind is always of great interest to me, and he has excelled himself to-night. The Government have no reason to feel any displeasure at the course of the Debate, the sole topic of which is a Financial Resolution to give £3,000,000 for the purposes therein stated. That is the sole object of the Debate, the sole target for criticism, but it has hardly ever been mentioned during the course of the evening. The Opposition remind me of a familiar scene in the street, when two dogs approach each other, but one thinks the other is too formidable and has ardent business on the other side. So far as any discussion of the Financial Resolution is concerned, the Opposition seem to have very urgent business elsewhere. I do not complain of that. The Debate, however, has shown a widespread feeling in the Committee that the situation of the livestock industry is parlous, and any one who glances at meat prices must realise it. There is also a widespread desire that immediate steps should be taken to deal with the situation, and, in the third place, that these immediate steps should be the precursor of a long-range policy. It is to deal with this situation that we ask the Committee to pass the Resolution and, therefore, it is not surprising that there has been no bitter opposition to its terms.
There was one proposition in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) which amazed me. He said that the present Government take no heed and do not care for the development of the purchasing power of the people. Whatever may be our failings and weaknesses, I should have thought that, if there be one object to which we have directed our attention, it is the development of the financial strength of the country, the development of the purchasing power of the people, and our success in this direction is shown by the restoration of credit, the restoration of large numbers of unemployed people and, thirdly, but not least, by the restoration of the heavy cuts 895 which did undoubtedly reduce the spending power of our people. The hon. Member has not fully considered the full implication of these achievements; otherwise he would agree that we have built up to a considerable extent the purchasing power of the people. We are all agreed as to the importance of doing so; the hon. Member might use different terminology, but we are all agreed that the essence of a prosperous nation is that its purchasing power should be high, and I challenge the Opposition to point to a single action of the Government which, either directly or indirectly, has not been aimed at a development of its purchasing power.
If it be true, I think it is not untrue, that the position of the livestock industry is such that in many cases bankruptcy and crash were not far away, then, surely, the application of £3,044,006 is itself a means by which you will build up and maintain purchasing power. I cannot see a more useful application of national finances than to support at a time of crisis an industry which is not far off being on a sound basis, but which needs a little extra to tide it over the crisis. I can imagine no more useful way of spending money. It is surely far more useful than to let the industry crash and for the people to come on the dole, which is the theory of hon. Members opposite.
Sir STAFFORD CFOPPS: Does that apply to all industries in the country?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I invite the hon. and learned Member's attention to this, that the condition of a large number of industries has been and is being improved by this Government by the imposition of a tariff.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The mining industry has, of course, the advantage of a quota, which is sneered at when it is applied to importation from overseas.
§ Mr. SKELTON
—but when it is applied to internal production of coal it is the foundation of the economic theory of those interested in the mining industry. These are fine economic distinctions which I am not subtle enough to follow. I think there is a great deal to be said for the application of quantitative regulation wherever there is any risk of the supply exceeding the demand, but I cannot understand the point of view sometimes expressed by hon. Members opposite, that we shall have quantitative regulation only when it is applied to coal produced in this country.
The Debate has shown no severe criticism of the terms of the Financial Resolution. I do not propose to go into the topic which has attracted the attention of most speakers—namely, the long-term policy. It is clear that it may take one of two forms, but I think hon. Members may have no apprehensions whichever form it takes, whether it be quantitative regulation or a levy. Either of these forms has been justified in the immediate past. No direct economic experiment has been more successful than the Wheat Act, which embodied for the first time the principle of a levy, and while quantitative regulation has not succeeded in dealing with the beef situation, it has succeeded in dealing with the mutton and lamb situation. Therefore, whichever course circumstances may cause us to decide on taking, the Committee need not fear that the long-term policy of the Government in regard to beef will fail. That policy requires time and negotiations, in order to he brought to fruition, and until that time comes I think the whole of the Committee, hon. Members opposite as well, will approve of the Financial Resolution, the object of which is to support, to underpin, the livestock industry of the country.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 215; Noes, 42.897
|Division No. 336.]||AYES.||[9.6 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Bllndell, James||Buchan, John|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Boulton, W. W.||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslle|
|Baldwin. Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Burnett, John George|
|BaldwIn-Webb, Colonel J.||Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Burton, Colonel Henry Walter|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Butt, Sir Alfred|
|Bateman, A. L.||Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Braithwaite, MaJ. A. N. (Yorks, E.R.)||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm|
|Been, Sir Arthur Shirley||Broadbent, Colonel John||Cassels, James Dale|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Rothschild, James A. de|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Ker, J. Campbell||Runge, Norah Cecll|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Russell,Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Leckle, J. A.||Russell, R.J. (Eddisbury)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Salt, Edward W.|
|Cross, R. H.||Lewis, Oswald||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Culverwell, Cyrll Tom||Liddall, Waiter S.||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Savory, Samuel Servington|
|Dawson. Sir Philip||Liewellin, Major John J.||Scone, Lord|
|Dickie, John P.||Locker-Lampoon, Rt. Hn.G.(Wd.Gr'n)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Dixey, Arthur C. N.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Drewe, Cedric||Loftus, Plerce C.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark. Bothwell)|
|Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Skelton, Archlbald Noel|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Smiles, Lleut.Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||McEwes, Captain J. H. F.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Ellisten, Captain George Sampson||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne,C.)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Macqulsten, Frederick Alexander||Smithers, Sir Waldron|
|Emmett, Charles E. G. [...]||Magnay, Thomas||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Spens, William Patrick|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Mayhew. Lleut.-Colonel John||Storey, Samuel|
|Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Strickland. Captain W. F.|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Mitcheson, G. G.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton.|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Monsell Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Glucksteln, Louls Halle||Morrison, William Shepherd||Templeton, William P.|
|Goff, Sir Park||Munro, Patrick||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nicholson. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'd)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Nunn, William||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Greene, William P. C.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Grlmston, R. V.||Patrick Colin M.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pearson, William G.||Tree, Ronald|
|Hacking. Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Percy, Lord Eustace||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hales, Harold K.||Petherick, M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Pike Cecil F.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||Potter, John||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Powell. Lleut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Pownail, Sir Assheton||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Ramsay. T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Hepworth, Joseph||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Windsor-Clive, Lleut-Colonel George|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Ray, Sir William||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M,(Hackney.N.)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Rickards, George William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Sir George Penny and Major|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Ross, Ronald D.||George Davies.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Harris, Sir Percy||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Banfield, John William||Holdsworth, Herbert||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Batey, Joseph||Jenkins, Sir William||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Brown C. W E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Crlpps, Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Daggar, George||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Dabble, William||Logan, David Gilbert||West, F. R.|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Macdonald, Gordon (ince)||White, Henry Graham|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middiesbro'. W.)||Mainwaring, William Henry||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W. Riding)||Mallalleu, Edward Lancelot|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Paling, Wlltred||Mr. John and Mr. D. Graham.|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.