§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House has already had a full opportunity of considering the principles which are embodied in this Measure during the Debate on the Financial Resolution. The Government's long-term policy for the livestock industry is set out in the White Paper, and there we also set out the reasons which have led us to introduce this emergency Measure. As it would be unnecessary and undesirable to review those circumstances again, I would desire to pass as briefly as possible to the actual proposals which were laid before the House. The courses which we examined, of course, were an import cut, a levy without any import regulation, or a levy with import regulation, and we were satisfied, as we state in our White Paper, that the levy with regulated imports afforded the best long-term solution; but as this is not immediately practicable, the interim Measure is necessary to hold the situation, pending this development of the long-term policy. In addition to laying our general proposals before the House, we have had, of course, to Table the Financial Resolution, and now the Bill, all stages of which we hope to get before the House rises.
In Clause 1, we establish the Cattle Fund, and that Clause provides, subject to Treasury directions, for the administration of the fund jointly by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Home Secretary, who are the three Ministers concerned with agriculture in the United Kingdom, the Home Secretary, of course, being the Minister concerned as regards the Imperial aspect of agriculture in Northern Ireland. Subsection (2) provides for a sum not exceeding £3,000,000 to be made available during the financial year ending 31st March next. That is provided out of the Consolidated Fund, and any advances made to the Cattle Fund have to 1290 be repaid from that fund to the Exchequer before the end of the financial year. Sub-section (3) provides for the money being voted by Parliament from time to time, and the House will have seen from the Financial Memorandum that it is not anticipated that the sum required, including all payments and administration expenses, will exceed the £3,000,000 asked for.
By Clause 2 we are empowered to make payment out of the Cattle Fund. The Clause deals with the administration of the fund and prescribes the objects and the limitations thereof. Sub-section (1) empowers the Ministers to make payments in accordance with any arrangements approved by them. The details of the arrangements are to be laid before Parliament. The producers of cattle are defined in Clause 5, which also defines the cattle in respect of which payments may be made. Those, as I stated on the Financial Resolution, Are steers, heifers or cow-heifers which conform to the prescribed standard, or carcases of such cattle, if they conform with that standard. As to the definition of cow-heifers, the House will see in Clause 5 that they are defined as animals which have calved, but which have not grown more than six permanent incisor teeth, which is to ensure that the older classes of cow beef do not qualify for these payments. Other classes of cow beef and hull beef are not eligible. Both the animals and the carcases, in order to obtain a payment, are required to have been sold in the United Kingdom during a period beginning on a day after the end of August, to be appointed by the Ministers, but what is perhaps not less important from the point of view of the House as a. whole is the fact that payments are not to be made in respect of sales after 31st March, 1935, and there is thus a time limit to the expenditure under the Bill. That fully implements the promise we made that this is a temporary Measure to deal with the present situation, and that this House, and Parliament as a whole, will have full opportunity of considering the matter again at a very early date.
Sub-section (2) sets out the maximum rates of payment which may be made out of the fund in the case of both live and dead weight, the rate in the former case not to exceed 5s. per cwt., and that has 1291 to be specified in an Order made by the Ministers and approved by the Treasury. These Orders have to be laid before the House and can, of course, be prayed against. Sub-section (3) limits the types of animals which can obtain payments under the fund, and excludes 'animals in calf. Sub-section (4) prevents an animal obtaining payment from the fund unless the applicant proves to the satisfaction of the person granting the certificate that the animal has been in the United Kingdom for a continuous period of at least three months. That is to deal with the question of imported fat cattle. Payment will be made for beef resulting from imported steers, but not from imported fat cattle. Sub-section (5) enables Regulations to be made by the Ministers about the dressing of carcases, and Subsection (6) provides for the laying before both Houses of Parliament of all arrangements and Regulations. Under Subsection (7) Orders under the Clause are to be laid only before the Commons House of Parliament. That is, of course, because they deal with financial matters with which the other place is not concerned.
Clause 3 requires the marking of cattle imported into the United Kingdom, which is an essential provision because otherwise we should not be able to administer the scheme. Under the Clause, after a marking order has come into operation, it will be possible for anyone to whom an animal is presented for certification to see from the mark whether or not it has been in this country for the period of three months which is necessary. Sub-section (2) provides for penalties to be imposed on anyone who contravenes the Order or, with intent to deceive, alters or defaces any mark placed upon any animal. There is no penalty proposed for the general run of the Bill. We think we shall be able to get full security from the common law of the country. Sub-section (3) provides that a Marking Order shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
That, really, sums up the administrative machinery necessary to make operative the decision which the Committee took, that this financial provision for the cattle industry should be made, but there is the constructive side to which I should like to make reference 1292 Clause 4 empowers the Ministers to appoint a Cattle Committee to advise them in the discharge of their functions and to prepare and submit to them the arrangements referred to in Clause 2 and, if so required by the Ministers, to administer the arrangements because, although it is very desirable that the autonomy of the three agricultural administrations of the country should be preserved, yet it is clearly very advantageous that a thing like this, covering a trade which passes very freely to and fro in the United Kingdom, should be administered by a United Kingdom body if possible and, if we can so arrange it, it will be done by the Cattle Committee acting as agents for the three Ministers concerned. Sub-section (4) requires the expenses incurred under the Clause to be paid out of the Cattle Fund. Clause 5 defines a cow heifer as any female bovine animal which has had a calf but which has not grown more than six permanent incisor teeth. It is necessary for us to consider these matters of definition because we are dealing with growing animals and animals which are subject to more than one use. The dairy trade has beef not merely as a primary but as a by-product, and it is undesirable that old cows should qualify for payment. These are the minimum provisions that are necessary. We have done our utmost to keep down what will be before the House at this late stage of the Session to the absolute minimum necessary to administer the fund that is about to be set up.
Practical details are being worked out in the closest consultation with representatives of the farmers' organisations, the co-operative societies, the meat traders, auctioneers and market superintendents. These are meeting at short intervals in the Department of Agriculture, and they are giving us unstintedly the help and advice that we have asked for; otherwise, it would certainly not be possible to create the administrative machinery in the short time available, for let us be under no misunderstanding as to the size of the task that we are asking the Departments concerned to undertake. There are many men who will have to work long hours and on whom this House has laid many heavy burdens in the year or two years which have immediately passed. There have been many cases of sickness and breakdown among the civil servants who have been responsible for 1293 the administration of the gigantic tasks of reorganisation which have been put through by the will of this House and of the industry in the years through which we have immediately passed. If on any occasion we have given short notice to the House, or our arrangements have not been as complete as we should desire, let us always remember that this work is being done under great strain by a small staff of skilled men who find it almost impossible to recruit at short notice capable assistants to help them in their task, for the tasks have grown up so rapidly that to explain them to others who might be brought in to help would be nearly as onerous as carrying out the work entirely oneself. In fact, as we all know, when you are very busy, the easiest way to do the work is to do it yourself and not ask anyone to come in and help you.
They will have to set up a machine which will cover a million head of stock in the seven months from September, 1934, to March, 1935. It will have to cover from 30,000 to 40,000 cattle a week coming for- ward to the approved centres, which will be several hundred in number. Steps must be taken by marking to prevent an animal being presented and passed more than once for payment. Anyone can see that the possibilities of evasion are by no means negligible, and payment will have to be checked in a manner which will satisfy the ancient accounting machinery of the country that no payment has been wrongfully made and, as the accounting officer for the Department will be responsible for that, we may take it for granted that both he and I are scrutinising with an anxious eye the watertight quality of the work. Payment will be made on the basis of certificates, which will be issued by authorised officers at approved centres, and a certificate that an animal qualifies for payment will be given by a responsible authority. The certifying authority will take the responsibility for accurate recording of weight and, of course, for the marking, and we shall use every endeavour to work through the existing channels and introduce as little disturbance as possible into existing practices. [Interruption.] It is not the fact that the heads of stocks that can be brought in can suddenly be expanded. There are well understood gradations, and it would be impossible to bring forward calves and pass them off.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
Is there any estimate of the number of individual farmers who will be receiving benefit under this scheme?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I could not give the figure now, but it is, in fact, more important to determine the head of cattle, because the certificates will be given on each individual head of stock and, from the administrative point of view, the head of stock passing the authorised standard is the important figure and not the number of persons to whom these payments actually have to be made. I think the number covers a very large percentage of the farmers of the country, because beef is interwoven into the fabric of agriculture so closely that there 'is scarcely anyone on the land who is not at some time or other concerned with the price of store or of fat beasts.
Hon. Members opposite ask the House to reject the Bill on the ground that payment is being made contrary to the principle that reorganisation in the national interest is an essential preliminary condition. The case of the livestock industry has been examined by more than one committee and commission, and they have all, while desiring a certain amount of reorganisation, warned us of two things: First, that unless we restore a remunerative price level reorganisation and marketing facilities alone will not suffice to meet the situation; and, second, that reorganisation will inevitably take a. long time. It is more important to have an industry to organise than to have the organisation without the industry, and the danger before us was that this situation would lead to a widespread crash in the beef-raising industry, and certainly a crash,which mere reorganisation as such would not fully avert. I have not always found that hon. Members who are opposed to the general lines of this policy are any more willing to accept the principle of assistance even when reorganisation has preceded it, because in the case of the milk industry we had long Debates although a great amount of reorganisation had been carried out. En fact, many of them objected to the reorganisation also. We are placed in rather a dilemma if they say, "No advance without reorganisation ".
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It says:which authorises the payment of a subsidy to private interests in the cattle industry, contrary to the principle that reorganisation in the national interest is an essential preliminary condition.I should judge from that that, if reorganisation in the national interest took place, they would have no objection to the payment of a subsidy to private interests. On the other hand, no one will deny that the reorganisation of the milk industry was done in the national interest or that it was done rigorously and meticulously upon the lines which the hon. and learned Gentleman commended to the House in the Act of 1931. Clearly, everything done under that Act must be in the national interest. The Minister, in commending it to the House, specifically said that one of its objects was to promote the organisation of the industry and to have a Milk Board, as indeed was done immediately thereafter. Therefore, clearly, if it be done, if there is reorganisation, the payment of a subsidy to private interests is not, at any rate, ruled out by the terms of the Amendment, although with great legal skill the hon. and learned Gentleman has so drawn it that he may stand on either foot and fight the battle on the grounds that the reorganisation, even if carried out, is not such as he would wish to have carried out and that, although it has been done in the national interest, yet we have not been successful in securing that the national interest has been properly observed.
While these small discussions go on, it is possible that a great national interest is entirely lost sight of because of all the national interests that can come before us at this moment, the national interest transcending all is simply that we do not allow agriculture to sink while we are discussing measures that may be of benefit to it. We are all agreed that we do not wish agriculture to go under, but that we wish it to be helped. Therefore, let us concentrate upon the simple question: "Will these proposals be of assistance and, if they are not, what further proposals would hon. Members desire to lay before the House?" They may say that they are not called upon to prescribe, but in agriculture we have done our utmost, not without success, to secure a certain continuity of policy and to secure a certain national tradition. We have not merely 1296 built upon the foundations of the Act of 1931. In one important case we actually appointed a Member of the party opposite to be chairman of a very important commission under it. We appointed him not without strong comment and great disappointment on the part of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
No, that is exactly my point. It was not a party matter. It was a purely personal matter. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I could have made other appointments which would have caused much greater satisfaction and pleasure to strong party men on this side of the House.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I presume that the right hon. Gentleman selected the person whom he thought best for the post?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I selected the person I thought best for the post with the object of maintaining the tradition of continuity which we had begun to build up and which I thought it was the desire of all parties to preserve. When we on this side of the House have taken the somewhat unusual course of appointing the right hon. Gentleman, who certainly would never hold himself out to be a supporter of parties on this side of the House, to go into the organisation arising out of our agricultural policy, I think that it is a little ungracious of the hon. and learned Gentleman to comment adversely upon such a decision, when, as I am entitled to say, it was done with the object, as all of us admit, of bringing to bear opinions not merely from an agricultural source but from the best informed sources we could get on the very difficult problems which are before us in our agricultural organisation. I was stressing this fact, because the hon. and learned Gentleman made such a point of reorganisation. Reorganisation to him seems to be the essential preliminary to any action. The commissions which have examined the question of reorganisation have stated that it is absolutely necessary, if the proper organisation of the livestock industry is to be carried out, that time should be given. The commission under Lord Bingley made proposals for establishing an efficient system of marketing livestock, and proposals for 1297 raising the quality level of home-produced livestock and meat. They put forward proposals for reorganisation which are receiving most careful study from the industry. They specially laid it down that these proposals were to be gradual in their introduction, and the procedure of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, shows that it must be gradual. That procedure involves a period of from six to nine months before any proposal can come into effect, and during that time it would be a little harsh to say that no steps whatever should be taken for the defence of the industry.
This House, in the Act of 1933, specifically recognised the principle that if a reorganisation scheme were under consideration it was reasonable that an interim shelter should be given to the industry, so that hasty decisions should not have to be made. The slaughtering reform referred to in the last Debate was estimated by the committee of the Economic Advisory Council to cover a period of anything up to 10 years. We cannot wait 10 years while the industry hangs upon the possible saving of even some pounds a head—and nobody can put it any higher even if some slaughtering organisation were to be put through in full accord with the propositions of the committee of the Economic Advisory Council. We have stated in the White Paper that it would be an essential function of the commission to co-operate with any producers' marketing board which might be constituted, and with any interests concerned with a reform of the marketing and the slaughtering systems with a view to greater economy and efficiency, which the Government regard as indispensable to the permanent prosperity of the livestock industry. I do not think that anything could be more emphatic than that.
But that clearly belongs to the sphere of the long-term policy. We have to consider to-day what, if anything, should be done before the House rises at the end of this month to prevent the disaster which is overtaking, and has already touched, the livestock industry of this country. For that purpose, we frankly ask the House to take emergency action, and we are confident that the House will not refuse us its consent in this matter. To say that we should postpone all action until reorganisation has taken place, is to say that when a house is burning we 1298 should summon an architect rather than ring for the fire brigade. The danger before us is not denied by anyone. The steps we are taking are admittedly emergency steps, and we confidently commend them to the House in the belief that the one thing which the country and the House would not wish is to see us sit down and appoint another commission while Rome burns.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which authorises the payment of a subsidy to private interests in the cattle industry, contrary to the principle that reorganisation in the national interest is an essential preliminary condition.I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to introduce, as a justification for the Government's policy, the appointment of a particular individual who happens not to share the political views which he himself holds. I am confident that if ever that individual had thought that such a use would have been made of his appointment he would never have consented to serve in that office.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
This is really an important point. I am most anxious that no injustice should he done in this matter. Let me say, without any hesitation, that I am not using the appointment of any person in any way as a justification of the policy which I am commending to the House or have commended to the House. I am saying that we have done our utmost to preserve a continuity of policy, and I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is taking a course of action which on further consideration he will deplore if he pursues the matter further.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I do not intend to pursue the matter further. I have stated my views upon it, and I shall leave it there. There is one thing which, it appears from the opening words of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, is not concerned with the Bill at all, but which is a matter the House ought to take into consideration, and that is whether the practice of debating financial Resolutions is any longer necessary as regards matters of this sort. We are in 1299 fact starting upon a Debate to-day which is very largely a repetition of the Debate which took place on Monday, but which, under the present procedure of the House of Commons, is necessary. Those of us who desire to expedite and improve the procedure of the House of Commons feel that that is at least one duplication that might in many cases, though not necessarily in all, be got rid of. Naturally in those circumstances the right hon. Gentleman did not repeat any justification for the general policy he is putting forward as regards the meat side of agriculture, nor, indeed, has he explained to us exactly how this scheme is to work. It is not in the Bill. There has not been time to put it there, and I have been unable to follow exactly how he contemplates the scheme working.
Before I come to deal with the form of the Bill, there is one other matter I wish to mention. We should like to pay tribute also to the staff of the right hon. Gentleman who must have worked most heroically during the last few months. We should certainly be extremely gratified if the right hon. Gentleman could engage sufficient extra people to enable his staff to be relieved of that excessive work, which, we believe, really is wasteful. We know of the case of a permanent and distinguished member who was ill for a considerable time as a result of the overwork to which he had been subjected. I do not think that it is a satisfactory system to carry on any service with a few chosen people who work desperately hard until they either die or retire from their work. If the right hon. Gentleman brings forward Estimates to provide for more staff in order to do more work we shall not object oh that score in the least.
When the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replied to the Debate on 16th July it really did not seem, as far as one could see from reading his speech, to offer any justification at all for the procedure which is being adopted in this case. His remarks substantially come to this, "This is a subsidy, and a subsidy pure and simple. The industry is in a parlous condition; therefore, a subsidy is justified." That is a very simple argument, but it is a very dangerous one. When one reads it in the terms in which he put it, it proves to be a very amazing pro- 1300 position concerning the new policy of the Government. It was as follows: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1934; col. 895, Vol. 292.]I asked him whether that theory applied to all industries in the country, and that question, very obviously, he did not answer. What he was in effect saying was that if anyone comes along and says, whether it is owing to their own carelessness or means of conducting a business, or to the economic circumstances of the time, or whatever it may be, "If you can only give us a few million pounds we can get along much better," the proper and right thing is for the Government to take a few millions and hand them out without any conditions or regulations. That, I suggest, is a new departure even for this Government. Surely, one is entitled to ask, if an industry comes forward and says that it is in a parlous condition, why it is in a parlous condition. The cattle industry cannot say that it is Socialism which has put it into a parlous condition. That is one thing they are unable to put forward as an argument. They can say that the economic circumstances of the time and the economic system under which they have been forced to run for the last 200 years, no doubt, has had a great deal to do with contributing towards it, and also, as is. and has been, very generally recognised. the way in which the industry itself is run.
We have heard of legislation about scrub bulls, questions about ungraded meat and wasteful selling, the middlemen taking an undue proportion of the money which ought to go into the pocket of the farmer, and of too much profit by the butchers, who are the retailers. All these points have been raised. The chaotic conditions at the present time and the complete disorganisation of this very large industry are generally admitted to be a very large contributing factor to the parlous condition in which it finds itself. I am aware that the Government themselves are to some extent responsible in view of the policies which they have 1301 found it necessary to adopt. The industrialists made them enter into Ottawa, and the financiers made them enter into the Argentine Agreement, and, naturally, having done that, they find themselves in some difficulty as regards the organisation of the meat business in this country.
When one comes to see what is suggested in regard to this industry—the exact difficulties do not matter—which is admittedly suffering from all kinds of dis-organisation, there is absolutely nothing constructive of any sort, kind or description laid down in this Bill. Once I thought that even the Government had adopted the slogan that before you get State assistance you must put your house in order. We have heard again and again from the Treasury Bench during this Parliament, in regard to the steel industry, the mining industry and various other industries of one sort and another, that, if they desire to get State assistance, whether by tariffs, subsidies, levies or whatever it may be, they must as a first condition start putting their house in order. The House will remember that that was the position taken up by the Government under the Agricultural Marketing Act itself. It will remember the content of Clause 1 of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1933, which made it possible for the Board of Trade to impose import restrictions. The Government then inserted—and I remember that there were several amendments to make the words stronger—a provision that it must appear to the board that there had been or were being taken such steps as were practicable and necessary for the efficient reorganisation by means of agricultural marketing schemes or schemes in respect of those branches of the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom for which any such Order was made.
That was under the recent Act of 1933 when the House made it absolutely a condition precedent of the putting on by the Board of Trade of any regulation of imports—a far less direct method of assisting industry than the giving of a subsidy—and it is inconsistent with the policy that is being advocated by the Government which now comes forward with a Bill which has no word or mention of anything at all regarding the reorganisation of the industry. This is quite apart from any objection to a subsidy as a subsidy and looking upon the subsidy as one of the possible means of assisting 1302 an industry or a part of agriculture which is in distress. There has never been any explanation with regard to this subsidy why the Government are departing from the principle which they themselves laid down with emphasis in the first Section of the Marketing Act of 1933.
We say, they stand convicted on their own past record and their own past arguments which have been put forward to support this very principle. The Minister himself supported that principle when he made his Second Reading Speech on the Agricultural Marketing Bill. I forget whether he said it explicitly, but implicitly he put it forward as a, proposition that what was done under the first Clause of that Bill, and certainly the President of the Board of Trade on more than one occasion made the point in regard to other industries and emphasised this same principle. Yet now we find in this Bill a gift or subsidy whichever you like to call it, of £3,000,000 without any condition of any sort, kind or description, and no conditions as far as we can see in regard to the long-term policy. Taking this as a part of the short-term policy the question as regards a long-term policy is how you are going to assist the industry by levy, restrictions of imports or what not, but nothing is said as to how you are going to reorganise the industry or the absolute necessity in some period of time of a marketing board or a slaughtering board and a nationalisation of slaughtering as was suggested by the Economic Committee of the Advisory Board.
There might be some excuse if Ministers said: "This is an urgent matter and for nine months, or whatever it is, we must have the subsidy, but during that time I can assure the House that the industry will be reorganised. I shall compel it to reorganise because we are giving the assistance, with the necessity of reorganisation as a condition." There might be some justification from the point of view of the present Government if that were said, but there is no such suggestion before us either in the White Paper, in the Minister's speech or in the Bill. There is a further, much greater and more fundamental objection which we have to this Bill. We object altogether to the system of unchecked subsidies to private enterprise. If the condition of the industry has become such that the 1303 State has to step in to carry the financial burden and loss of the industry—and that is what a subsidy means, that the State has to carry the loss of the cattle industry to the extent of £3,000,000 in six months—if the industry has reached this condition, it is time it was taken out of the hands of private enterprise and organised as a State service. If people think that a bad thing, let them not have a subsidy, but let them go on under private enterprise. It seems to us to be illogical to have it bath ways, and say: "We must preserve private enterprise, and at the same time call on the State to pay the loss." We think you must come down on the one side or the other. Private enterprise and carry your own loss: or State enterprise and the State carries the loss.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think the loss would be less under the second system?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I certainly think it would be less. I do not think you could have a greater degree of disorganisation and chaos in the industry as a whole than at present. If you coordinated the whole of your slaughtering, it is perfectly obvious that you would bring about a large measure of saving. Everybody who has inquired into the matter has said so, and I am prepared to take the risk of the State being able to get a better degree of organisation than private enterprise. If I am to be called upon to pay a portion of the loss of private enterprise, I would rather take the risk. If I am to pay the piper, I would like to call the tune. At present the State pays the piper, and private enterprise is calling the tune. It is certain in our view that with a subsidy of this kind a great deal of it will not go to the people for whom it is intended. Presumably it is actually intended for the producer, the man who tends the cattle and does the operations necessary to get the meat on to the market. He is the man whom we have to encourage, and we do not believe one penny of this £3,000,000 will get to that man at all. Some part of it no doubt will get to the farmers, of whom some will be working farmers, who will benefit very materially from the money they get from this Bill, but a great deal of it very likely will go to dealers and middlemen.
1304 There are no provisions that we can see to protect the farmer from the dealer and the middleman being the men who get, not necessarily directly but by the price arrangement, the substantial benefit of this subsidy, and a further considerable sum we believe will go to the landlord, in that the farmer will pay rent where he would not be able to pay but for the subsidy. Many landlords who would not be able to get their rent at all will now get it. That may be a desirable thing for people who believe in the present system, but there is no reason why the Government should pay the money. If this money is to be paid, it should be secured to the person who is doing the job for which we wish it to be provided. We can see no possible safeguard.
There is another very serious objection indeed. There are a great many producers of cattle who do not need this money at all at the present time. HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] A good many are in this House. I do not know whether any are actually here at the present moment, but I am perfectly certain there are a good many Members of this House who have enough money to live on without getting a dole in respect of their cattle for the next six months. Let us take an ordinary case. This subsidy works out according to the Minister at about £3 per head of cattle. A man in a small way selling 10 cattle between September and March next will get £30 or roughly a pound a week. I venture to suggest that there are thousands of people who will get a pound a week or something like that figure from the taxpayer for the period from September to March next who can live perfectly well without it. They have no need for the 21, and, after all, it is a free gift. It is not being used in any sense to control the operation of producing or of distribution, hut simply a free gift to people who would otherwise make less. It will, of course, assist those who could not carry on unless the money were paid, and if we are to maintain the present system it may be necessary to enable the cattle trade to survive, but it can only be justified if it is the only way. We know there are very wealthy people running home farms who sell cattle at Christmas time, say 30 or 40. They are going to get, £90 or £100 as a donation from the taxpayer. How can that be 1305 justified when you see all sorts of things that are urgently needed and cannot be done?
The standard of allowances for children is admittedly too low to support them in decent health. How can you justify doling out these sums of money to people who do not need it? That from our point of view is a very serious objection, and I am quite confident that many of these people will feel when they get these donations extremely awkward about the proceeding. They will feel they would rather not take this money from the taxpayers when there are half starving people quite close who cannot get money from the taxpayer. Cattle-owners in this House for instance will no doubt desire to vote against this sort of assistance to the cattle-owning industry. It is not the proper way of attempting to assist the industry. It is a question here, not of assisting industry at all, but of assisting the individual producers of cattle. We object fundamentally to a system which is aimed at giving State money for the assistance of individual private producers.
Whether this be an isolated effort or part of a long-term policy, it does not in that respect very much matter. If it be merely part of a long-term policy and that policy be the raising of a levy, it will be even worse than the straight provision of this money from the taxpayers' pocket. If it be paid by the taxpayer it will come from the whole of the population. If, however, a levy be used to repay this £3,000,000 at some future time, a levy which is to be raised on the cheaper forms of imported meat, then clearly it will be provided by the people who eat the cheaper forms of imported meat, and those are not the wealthy people in England. They are the great mass of the people and not those who are fortunate enough to buy the more expensive British meat. In that event, therefore, it will be true to say that the poor man's meat will have to pay for the rich man's table. The truth is that, unless this industry be reorganised, there is no possible excuse for the State stepping in and giving a straight subsidy such as is proposed.
The practice of providing subsidies which has now been started by the National Government in order to get themselves out of their past difficulties has become extremely dangerous. The Minister of Agriculture cuts off imports 1306 and shipping gets into a difficulty. "Well," the Government say, "give shipping a subsidy, and that will help it along." The President of the Board of Trade makes an agreement with the Argentine and allows unlimited meat imports. That creates a difficulty for the agriculturist, and the Government say, Give him a subsidy." We shall go on with this system of contradictory policies, Ministers never making up their minds which lot of people they really want to help, and then turning round to those whom they have not helped, saying, "Never mind, you shall have a subsidy." That seems to us singularly like the rake's progress. One of my hon. Friends said of the Minister of Agriculture last week that he ought to be called the Minister of Scarcity. There should be one qualification to that. He can at least produce abundant coffin nails for capitalism, and as far as he does that he is no doubt assisting in the eventual solution of these problems.
As I understand the Bill, this £3,000,000 as it were, only a vote on account. That is the money which may be taken under Clause 1 out of the Consolidated Fund. In addition to that, there can be paid into the Cattle Fund moneys provided by Parliament; that is to say, we may be asked in future to vote additional sums over and above the £3,000,000 if it should become necessary. In fact, there is no limitation of amount in this Bill at all. The only limitation will be the number of cattle and the amount per head, which in fact is paid under the order which can be made under Clause 2. In the case of the Wheat Subsidy there was a limit in order that we should not get an excessive production to qualify for an unlimited subsidy. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that not even a farmer can make a calf look like a three-year-old heifer, but there is the possibility that this scheme may divert a number of animals into the market from other sources. It may mean a diminution of the milk supply and of heifers going into milk, and an increase of heifers going into meat. As fas as I can see, the fact that there is no limitation of any sort upon the amount of subsidy that is to be granted does not enable us to take any steps as regards that limitation if it be desirable.
There is also, as I understand the Bill, no limitation as regards rises in price. 1307 If the price of meat rises there will not be any automatic diminution of the subsidy, which can, in fact, be continued whatever the price of meat. Whether it is to come from the State or not is immaterial, but clearly some protection of that sort ought to have been inserted in the Bill. Clause 2 deals with the necessity which the Minister mentioned for marking and doing something with these animals. As it is drawn, it is a most astounding Clause. We shall within the next few months get some of these steers and heifers going round with blue ribbons on them for having qualified the most times for the subsidy. There will be a regular trade in trotting them round from producer to producer, because apparently, according to the Bill, every time a producer sells an animal which is not for slaughter, however short may have been the time since he bought it, it can, if it be home-grown, qualify for the subsidy. If a farmer sells some cattle to-day, he draws the subsidy. The next farmer who sells them is also entitled to the subsidy. If they are resold next day, they again qualify for the subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] As the Bill stands, that is so. There is no limitation of any sort or kind. I am glad that the Minister is going to make some regulations about marking, but it will be extraordinarily difficult. The Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) knows how a horse can be painted any colour to make it appear to be something different from what it really is—
Marquess of TITCHFIELD
Anybody who knows horses knows that it is impossible to do that. You can fake horses in other ways, but not in colour.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am glad the Noble Lord knows how it can be done, anyway. All I hope is that the Minister will take the Noble Lord into consultation on this matter of faking animals in order that he will see that it is avoided, for it is a very real danger and there should have been some provision in the Bill to avoid it. The rest of the Bill is mere machinery. We realise that in a hurried Bill of this kind you cannot put in all the provisions, and that it is obvious the Minister will have to deal with these matters by regulations. We suggest that it is unfortunate, in view of the fact that none of these regulations can possibly 1308 come before the House before the scheme has been in operation at least six weeks, that rather more detail was not put into the Bill. We take the view that the whole Bill should have been conditioned upon something being done. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the word "constructive" when he came to Clause 4. He said, "Now we come to the constructive part of the scheme." This part of the scheme is to set up a Cattle Committee to carry through the subsidy arrangements. That is not constructive. There is no constructive part in this scheme, and we object very strongly to this method of unregulated, unqualified dole for an industry against all the canons which the Government have constantly put forward and which are enshrined in the Marketing Act of 1933. Anyway, we object to the subsidising of private enterprise and private individuals.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
I should like to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) on his vigorous denunciation of this Bill. I do not often find myself in agreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I do not entirely agree with all that he has just stated. I do not think that the only alternative is Socialism. I think that there are other alternatives. With that exception, I agree with almost every word that fell from the lips of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am in perfect accord with his statement that where there is a grant of public money there ought to be public control, but it is possible to have public control without the State taking over the whole cattle industry. It would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some more information with regard to the position of the Cattle Committee and the extent of it. In that respect I think he might meet the criticism that where there is public money we should have a more strict system of control I agree with the criticism of the hon. And learned Gentleman in that respect. We are being asked to vote £3,000,000 of public money to meet what the right hon. Gentleman has described as the parlous condition of the cattle industry. He said that it was necessary to have this money because Rome was burning and so forth, but he gave us very little information. I ap- 1309 proach this question entirely with the idea of being impartially minded, and I have every sympathy with the agricultural industry, which is our most important industry, but I think the right hon. Gentleman gave the House little or no information. He said he had gone over the ground in moving the Financial Resolution, but we are entitled on the Second Reading of a very important Bill to expect that he would make some addition to what he said on that occasion and give us some facts and figures to prove to the House and the country that this departure is necessary.
It Is a very important departure involving, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, not only a Vote of £3,000,000, but the other policy which is to come later, by a levy, or possibly a duty; and we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to state at considerable length and in detail why the fat stock industry is in this parlous condition. He should give us chapter and verse to prove that it is in such a condition. I do not profess to be an authority, but I move about the country a good deal, and while I have no doubt that agriculture is suffering from the fall in prices, I do not see evidence of this parlous condition and of imminent bankruptcy. Many other industries are suffering to-day and will continue to suffer. Are they also to come and ask for a grant of money? If they do come, and possibly they may, the Minister responsible for moving a measure of assistance for them ought to give us in definite and specific terms to prove its necessity. The right hon. Gentleman failed signally in the few trumpery sentences at the end of his speech. He is not treating the House with proper respect when, in asking the House for this sum of money, he does not bring his case more clearly before it.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
The Minister gave full details on the Financial Resolution. I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House at the time.
§ Mr. MASON
I referred to that fact. I was present and heard every word on that occasion. I have said that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that he had dealt with the matter on the Financial Resolution and that he did not wish to go over the ground again. It is necessary to go over the ground again. 1310 There may be many hon. Members who were not present on that occasion, and as this is the Second Reading of a very important Bill we are entitled to ask for a full explanation. On this occasion we have had little or no information to justify the Second Reading of the Bill. That is not the way to treat hon. Members of this House. There is no justification for treating the House with such disrespect. The right hon. Gentleman has asked us to give a Second Reading to a Bill which not only asks for £3,000,000 but embodies a very grave departure of policy in some respects, which is fraught with immense possibilities for the future of agriculture and many other industries. I object to this slipshod method of asking, in the first place, for a Money Resolution, then bringing forward a White Paper, then bringing forward a Bill and really not giving us the information to which we are entitled. Every hon. Member knows, or ought to know, that in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill we are not merely voting for £3,000,000 but we are subscribing to it in order to give the Government time so that six or seven months hence they can bring in another Measure which will involve a levy or a duty. That is to treat the House with a lack of that proper respect which is due to it and to every Member of it.
In the Debate on the Financial Resolution the right hon. Gentleman was asked whether the amount was limited to £3,000,000. The White Paper says:It is estimated that the total sum which Parliament will be asked to provide under the proposed legislation in respect of payments to producers and in respect of the administrative expenses of the Cattle Committee and of the appropriate Ministers will not exceed three million pounds.It is clear, therefore, that it is merely an Estimate. We do not really know what the Expenditure will be. This haphazard policy of subsidies goes on and on. It is like trying to stop up one leak of water in an ineffective way and the water continues to come out. This is an evidence of the failure of the policy of the National Government. They found chaos, confusion and possibly bankruptcy facing the shipowners, and they come forward with a subsidy for shipping. Then, as a result of the pressure brought to bear on him by agricultural and other Members the right hon. Gentleman feels that he must do something to save the cattle 1311 industry. If and when he brings in legislation to restrict imports he will interfere with the shipping industry again, and I hope that his colleague will have something to say to him, pointing out that if he goes on restricting imports, say, from the Argentine, it will also involve large investments of British capital in that country. If we do not allow Argentina to send in beef, how are they to pay the interest on our investments there? This is an illustration of how the policy of subsidy in one direction interferes with our trade in other directions.
We had an illustration of the same policy the other day when the Government came to the House with a haphazard Measure in regard to German payments. The holders of German bonds saw the possibility that they were not going to get interest upon their bonds. The only way that they can get their interest is by Germany being in a position to trade and to transfer the necessary amount. Germany was willing to pay, but she could not transfer. Therefore, the Government came to the House with a very foolishly conceived Measure and held a bludgeon over the head of Germany, threatening that if she did not pay we should cut off her trade, by introducing machinery to make it difficult for her to trade. Could there be anything more absurd? It is only by Germany continuing to trade and facilities being given for her trade that she will be able to pay the interest on her bonds.
§ Mr. MASON
This House carried an Amendment of that kind, at a time when Germany was retaliating by threatening to bring in another Bill, and we had the spectacle of two civilised nations bringing in Bills to stop each other's trade. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentle- 1312 man's intelligence. Does he imagine that the average Britisher or the average German does not understand that if Measures are brought in cutting off trade that the Germans will be unable to pay their interest? I see Mr. Deputy-Speaker looking at me, and I will ask his pardon and the forgiveness of the House in that I have been drawn into this kind of discussion, but I suggest, with all respect, that it is relevant, because it shows the utter inability of the Government to understand elementary economics. They have displayed crass ignorance. I say that with the greatest respect.
I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Members opposite are anxious and sympathetic. They see dreadful chaos and confusion, but the Government are so ignorant in regard to economics, and they show it in their speeches. I have listened to their speeches, and although I am only a student of finance such knowledge as I have been enabled to master in regard to elementary economics has made me feel amazed at the ignorance which the Government have displayed. I was delighted the other day at an answer the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave to that arch-protectionist the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft) who complained of the increase in imports. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was clever enough to take advantage of an admission by the hon. and gallant Member that despite the increased imports unemployment had been showing very considerable reductions until recently. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an admirable answer. We have always said that when there was an increase in imports unemployment went down. We have always pointed out that when imports have been at their highest unemployment has been at its lowest in this country.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
On the Second Heading of the Bill the hon. Member had better keep somewhat closer to the subject.
§ Mr. MASON
I am sorry. I was trying to show that the Government do not seem to understand these matters. Hon. Members may say to me: "If you object to this policy, what are your alternatives? Have you any suggestions to make" I have no right to stand here and attack the Government without offering some possible alternative, but it is 1313 not our particular responsibility to do that. Our duty is, more or less, to criticise and oppose. I have criticised, and on occasion I have supported the Government when I have thought that they were right. On this occasion I say that, first and foremost, we are entitled to have a definite statement with regard to the condition of the cattle industry. We are entitled to have its parlous condition explained to us. We are entitled to statistics to show that the industry is really in such a parlous condition. If the industry is in a bankrupt condition, which I do not admit, for it has not been proved, then there may be some ground for a direct subsidy. When people are in a semi-bankrupt condition you have to do something for them there and then. The Bill does not refer to the other policy which will follow in six or seven months, and in that sense it is dishonest.
It has not been proved so far that the cattle industry is in a parlous condition and that it is necessary for us to do something at once to save it. I agree that it is an important branch of the agricultural industry and I should be prepared to support it if it was in a state of semi-bankruptcy, because it is most important that we should do something for the improvement of the agricultural industry. If I were in the right hon. Gentleman's place I should first of all give the facts and figures to show that the industry is in a bad state and then ask for a direct subsidy. We are being asked to agree to this duty because the industry is in a semi-bankrupt condition, and afterwards we are to give the Minister the right to prohibit. I hope hon. Members will think what that means. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to buy our food, but there are vast masses of the people who have to consider every penny of their expenditure. The demand for meat has fallen not altogether because there has been a depression but because there has been a change of taste in the habits of the people and also because the working classes are not able to buy. If they had the power there is no doubt that they would buy beef. Under this Bill you are proposing to tax the poorest people on the product which they buy so as to benefit those who are better off and who do not require any assistance. I, for one, shall have great pleasure in voting against the Second Reading.
§ 5.33 p.m.
I crave the indulgence which the House always so kindly grants on occasions when hon. Members have first the opportunity of addressing the House. If I had waited for many weeks I could not have chosen a better opportunity on which to make my voice heard, first, because in supporting this Measure I am apparently supporting a measure which will be of more benefit to the land of my birth than to the land of my adoption and, secondly, that in supporting the Measure I am also supporting one of my fellow countrymen. It enables me to thank him sincerely for the work he has done, and is doing, to restore prosperity to the greatest branch of the agricultural industry. There is no need in my opinion to stress the condition of the industry which has brought about the necessity for the Bill. No industry which shows a decline in the index figure of the value of its products of some 30 points over a period of three years, and no industry which at the same time shows a decline in the quantity of the sales of its products of nearly 10 per cent. in two years, can ever claim to be in a sound condition. I need not, therefore, stress the condition of the industry. I want however to deal with some of the reasons which have brought about that condition.
It is rather alarming to find that this industry has been subjected to one of the most serious bombardments, as regards imports from other countries, to which any industry has ever been subjected. It has also been a bombardment of very rapid growth. As late as 1910 the imports of chilled meat into this country from South America amounted to about 9,000 tons, but the imports of the same product had risen in 1933 to 400,000 tons. It is indeed surprising that the industry exists at all, and it is a remarkable tribute to the amazing qualities of British beef and also to the ability of those employed in the industry. But apart from this increase, this class of import was never foreseen, and could not have been foreseen, during the last century when this country was being persuaded to maintain a system of free imports. Neither can the ordinary arguments which are so often used, that the cost of transporting agricultural products from other countries, would act as a natural protection be any longer valid. 1315 The increased figures of these imports speak for themselves. The cost, owing to the efficiency of the industry which carries these products, is so low, it is only a decimal point above ½d. per lb. to carry meat from the Argentine to this country, that it has never been able to act as any protection to the agricultural industry.
I do not pretend that we are suffering solely from excess of imports of beef. We are suffering from the change in taste and habits to which reference has been made, and also, I frankly admit it, from a lack of purchasing power, and, if I may so describe it, from a diversion of purchasing power by the means of taxation. If it be true, as has been stated, that it is the poorer sections of the community who purchase imported beef and that it is the so-called well-to-do sections who buy the home product, surely the lower demand for the home product can to a certain extent be accounted for by the lower purchasing power of the so-called well-to-do. Naturally, the question of a restoration of purchasing power is of prime importance if we are to increase the actual purchase of the home product, but, equally, I claim that the restoration of the purchasing power of this large section of the agricultural community is of equal importance with the restoration of any, other form of purchasing power; and as the methods adopted by the Government have proved, and are proving, successful in the gradual restoration of the purchasing power of the people in other directions, so I believe they will, by this Measure, be successful in restoring the purchasing power of this great section of the agricultural industry.
There is a grave obligation laid upon any industry which is in receipt of aid from the State, and that obligation is that the industry should be carried on in an efficient manner. I cannot enter into the argument as to whether reorganisation of the industry should precede or follow any State assistance, but I would say this, that when it is decided that an edifice of some value should be repaired or restored, or brought up to date, it is frequently essential, before any other work is done, 1316 that underpinning should be undertaken, and I look on this financial assistance as a very necessary underpinning in order that the whole structure should not collapse about our ears before or whilst the other work was being carried out. We are all agreed on this, that a reorganisation of production, marketing and distribution, throughout the industry must be tackled at once right up to the kitchen door of the consumer, even up to the point of considering the setting up of chilling establishments to act as a buffer between temporary over-production and an already glutted market.
I welcome these proposals from another angle. I believe that they contain help for another branch of the agricultural industry—namely, the producers of milk. It is impossible to prove statistically the numbers of those who left the beef industry owing to the difficulties of the market and went temporarily into the milk branch of agriculture in order to get the necessary money to meet their weekly wage bill. If we can induce some of those who went into the milk branch of agriculture to come back into beef we shall do a great deal to solve the problem of the surplus production of liquid milk, and thereby raise the prices which the producer can obtain without in any way raising prices to the consumer, indeed, with a great chance of being able to reduce prices to the consumer. There is also the consideration that some of those who went temporarily into the milk industry are working in buildings which are not really suitable for production purposes, and I urge that it is advisable to encourage these people to leave the rather overcrowded milk side of the industry and come back to the production of beef. I think there is a possibility of their being encouraged to do so by this Measure. The fact remains that the consumer has been subsidised by the producer for a number of years; the producer can no longer bear the burden in the beef industry and any financial assistance which is offered by this Measure can be construed as being some slight repayment for the deficiency which exists between the economic price and the uneconomic price at which home-produced beef has been sold to the consumer for a number of years.
Let me touch on one further point; it is a question of great difficulty in the 1317 beef branch of agriculture but it also applies to other branches. It is the problem as to how we are going to keep the best type of agricultural worker on the land. This is not entirely a wage problem. There are hundreds and thousands of highly skilled men, well versed in all the many and different duties which agriculture calls upon people to perform. These men are discouraging their sons from remaining in agriculture because they have seen the industry decline during the last few years and they fear for the future, and in this way they are deliberately cutting away from agriculture a very valuable and hereditary knowledge which the industry can ill afford to lose. It is a psychological problem; it has a parallel in the case of seamen in fact. The type of labourer to which I am referring can be aptly termed the seamen of the land. It is not a problem which applies so much to manufacturing industries as nature enters so little into the processes of manufacture. It may be necessary to encourage mechanised farming and the factory farm in about 30 per cent. of the agricultural area of this country, but for the remaining 70 per cent., owing to the geological structure of this country, it will always be upon the individual, who by a close personal study of the mediums with which he has to deal, the soil- and the beasts, by his individual effort and knowledge, even hereditary knowledge, that our agriculture will stand or fall. We cannot afford to omit any step which will encourage the best type of worker to remain in agriculture. It is true that we can train young men quickly to deal with the mechanical problems of agriculture, but can we so train them to deal with the natural problems which vary from farm to farm, from field to field, and even from cattle to cattle?
I welcome this Measure because within it I see some germ of hope that encouragement will be given to that type of worker to go into an industry which has a very great future indeed. I believe that as a result of this Bill many peripatetic liabilities will turn into stable assets. I regret the necessity of a subsidy, but I believe that if a case could ever be made out for a subsidy it has here been made out. Personally I make no extravagant claim for agriculture, because I believe that no greater dis-service than that can be done to agriculture. I believe that if we are 1318 really to help the agriculture of this country we have to develop a study of the world, and particularly of the Imperial agricultural problem and the commercial problem, and within that big picture a study of the problems of our own basic and manufacturing industries and our own agriculture, not singly but all together. I do not suppose that anyone here would suggest that the manufacturing districts have a monopoly of trouble and of distress. I feel sure that this Bill will be welcome as in some measure bringing happiness to many of the homes of those who are involved in this very great industry of agriculture.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I think that my hon. Friend who has just spoken had no reason for apologising in rising to address the House, either because of the speech he has delivered or because of the circumstance that he has risen so soon after his election. We all know that but for his self-sacrificing action at the time of the last election we might have had the advantage of his contributions to our Debates during the last two years. In any case I congratulate him most warmly on an extraordinarily interesting, thoughtful and well-reasoned speech, in the course of which he touched upon all the vital aspects that affect this great and complex problem of agriculture. There was one aspect on which he laid special stress, and that was the need for efficiency in agriculture to justify the special "underpinning" assistance that is being given to it. He rightly drew attention to the great efficiency of our most formidable competitor, the Argentine meat industry, and of the shipping industry connected with it. That, I gather, is part of the long-term policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister, and I have no doubt that as soon as he has disposed of this immediate and urgent step he will concentrate all his qualities of enthusiasm and energy upon getting a. policy of efficiency in the meat industry carried out in this country.
In the meantime, so far from being concerned with the theoretical problem of economics upon which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) laid such stress from the point of view of a Free Trader, or with the equally theoretical considerations brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol 1319 (Sir S. Cripps), I think the House as a whole will be grateful to the Minister for having dealt promptly, though none too soon, with the very urgent crisis in the meat industry. More than that, I think most of us welcome the particular method which he has chosen for giving it assistance—the method of flat subsidy, interfering in no way with freedom of trade or with competition in efficiency between individual producers. That method has been proved a great success in dealing with wheat. Some of us have for the last year or more been urging that it was applicable equally to the beef industry. We have done so in the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which has worked out a very full and interesting scheme, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) has also been giving us the benefit of his experience in working out a similar scheme for some months past.
This scheme, I believe, will succeed. The problem which has to be faced, however, is how the money for the subsidy is to be found. It is for the moment being found at the expense of the general taxpayer; whether that expense is ultimately to be refunded or not we do not know. Under the Wheat Act it was found at the immediate cost of the consumer, but my right hon. Friend contemplates—provision is made for that eventuality under Sub-section (2) of Clause 1—that he will eventually find the necessary funds by means of a levy on foreign imports, accompanied by a smaller preferential levy on imports from the Dominions. I suggest that, in the peculiar circumstances of British agriculture, that is probably the most useful way of helping those of our products in respect of which this country cannot produce the whole of its requirements, and where a purely tariff system or a purely quantitative restriction might unduly send up prices.
After all, this system of an earmarked duty or levy whose proceeds are given as a subsidy has this double advantage: in so far as the levy affords a measure of protection it diminishes the need for the subsidy; in so far as it fails to protect and the foreign produce comes in it increases the amount of subsidy available for distribution to your own producers; and under present world conditions the greater part of that subsidy would be 1320 found by the foreign producer. You get, in other words, an extraordinarily flexible system, giving you ease of regulation and control, with the possibility of studying most effectively both the needs of the producer and the needs of the consumer, which ought never to be left out of account. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend may be successful in putting such a scheme into operation. After all, if we had a free hand the obvious thing to do would be to impose a duty on foreign meat and to give the proceeds of that duty to our home producers, allowing Empire meat to come in free. If, on the other hand, experience proved that the entry of Empire meat competed too severely with our own producers, we could, perfectly consistently with the general policy of Empire preference, impose a smaller levy upon Empire production.
We had a free hand to do that at the Ottawa Conference. There was nothing at the Ottawa Conference which prevented our agreeing with the Dominions upon a levy on foreign produce with provisional free entry from the Dominions, but also—with the concurrence and the acceptance of the Dominions—if that were not enough, then, consistently with the maintenance of effective preference, a levy might also be imposed on Dominion produce. That policy of duties was urged upon the British delegates by every Dominion. It was also urged upon them by every unofficial representative of British agriculture at Ottawa. Unfortunately our delegates were still obsessed with the purely political complex against duties. There was a moment at the end of the Conference when for anyone even to suggest the possibility of duties to a British delegate created an atmosphere of almost hysterical indignation. Now two and a half years later, the Government are being forced to do that which some of us vainly urged upon them at the time of Ottawa.
At the time of Ottawa our hands were free. Since then our hands have been tied by the disastrous agreement which the President of the Board of Trade entered into with the Government of the Argentine. That agreement forbids either protection to our own farmer, or preference to the Dominions, by way of duty or levy. It also forbids any protection to our farmers by way or restriction, except on terms which pre 1321 clude any preference to the Dominions, outside of the very limited restrictions already fixed at Ottawa and of a 10 per cent. reduction of the Argentine figure for 1932. The question now is, how is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to get out of this sorry mess? I gather that he hopes to be able to secure the agreement of the Argentine Government and of the Dominions upon some form of preferential levy. I wonder why the Argentine should agree. They have found us pretty weak in dealing with them so far. At this moment the Argentine is breaking the terms of the Wheat Agreement to which we were a party, and we are doing nothing to pre vent the Argentine landing cargo after cargo of wheat on our shores.
It seems to me that they are in a very strong position. Suppose, however, they did agree, under pressure from us, to accept a levy, but stipulated that the same levy should be imposed on the Dominions. Is there the slightest chance of the Dominions agreeing Could we, indeed, have the face to violate the whole spirit of Ottawa to such an extent as to demand from the Dominions a levy on the same basis as the levy imposed on the Argentine? If not, what are we thrown back on? We are thrown back on restriction under the terms of the Argentine Treaty, which means restriction upon the Dominions without any preference to them. That is again a direct violation of the whole spirit of the Ottawa Agreement. What then becomes of all the talk of developing Empire resources? What becomes of the whole idea of developing the Empire in order to find homes for our own settlers? If we do that we are obviously going directly against all that we have declared to be our policy, all that some of us have worked for all our lives.
In the world as it is to-day our whole hope lies in the development of Empire trade. I am a strong protectionist, so far as this country is concerned, for all its industries, agriculture included. But no one can believe that this little island can live by itself alone. We must have a large external trade, and I know of no other part of the world except the British Empire where we can make sure of such a trade. Whatever else we do, do not let us break the spirit of the Ottawa Agreement and wreck the policy that has been entered upon so hopefully and, in 1322 which alone lies any prospect of success for this country. I hope the Argentine will agree. I would add, however, that agreement on their part will riot be much help to us if it involves a binding down of this country for a further period of years to the Argentine. At the end of 1936 we want to be free, free to develop a policy of Empire.
We must get the best terms we can consistent with the principles of Ottawa. If we cannot succeed, the only thing that remains for us, and the House must face the fact, is to go on paying, over the whole of the next two years, the money which, so far, this House has sanctioned only for the next six months. That is an awkward situation to face. It is a heavy price to pay for having at the Board of Trade a Minister who was capable of making such an agreement; a heavy price to pay for a Cabinet so busy with the pressure of its routine work as not to have realised what that Treaty obviously involved, the difficulties it was clearly bound to create.
I have the highest respect for the individual abilities of my right hon. Friends who compose the present Cabinet, but the collective incompetence of the present Cabinet system as a system fills me with ever-increasing alarm. I doubt whether anything short of a complete reconstruction of our system in favour of a policy Cabinet, with its members free from departmental responsibilities and able to co-ordinate all the aspects of policy—the same reconstruction as my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) adopted in the crisis of the War—is going to get us out of our difficulty. I hope I may be pardoned for speaking frankly, but nothing could have been more incompetent from start to finish than the handling of this meat business over the last 24 months. It was the inevitable result of the fact that there has never been a single, coherent, Government economic policy in which the various aspects of that policy, Imperial, domestic and foreign, have been co-ordinated. In this matter each Department has been pursuing its own policy and has followed its own ideas. With a Cabinet, inevitably pre-occupied with the overwhelming mass of work which confronts it from week to week, first one Minister and then another Minister has got his way. The result is that the public interest has suffered. 1323 [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are Ministers?"] If I might venture once again to quote Latin in the House, I would say, "Quidguid delirant reges plectuntur Achivi." In other words, "When Walter disagrees with Walter, the taxpayer has to foot the bill."
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN WILMOT
I do not claim any special knowledge of the agricultural industry, but the bill for this new subsidy will have to be met, first, by the general taxpayers, who in the main are the working people and, secondly, when the scheme develops it will be met entirely by the working people, because they have been singled out, as a class, to be the subject of special taxation upon an article of food which they alone consume. I think it is well when dealing with this, which is probably the last of the long series of subsidies to private enterprise which the House will be asked to vote before the Adjournment, that we should take a look to see where we are getting. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) so clearly showed, this practice of granting subsidies out of taxation to private enterprise is completely altering the basis which is the sole justification for the continuation of private enterprise at all. It has always been argued by those who think Socialism is wrong that private enterprise provides a more efficient service and provides a service in which the State does not have to bear the losses due to inefficiency, due to changing conditions due to the march of progress and the change of taste; and that the profits which private enterprise derived were proper compensations for its initiative and for the losses which it must inevitably suffer in changing conditions. But now those principles have been laid aside, and we have a new form of political economy which lays it down that so long as an industry can be carried on at a profit the profit shall be enjoyed by those whose capital is invested in it, but that as soon as that industry shows a loss the whole community must be taxed in order to meet that loss, though in no circumstances shall the community share in the profits made in good times. That is a doctrine which goes to the very root of the claims of those who uphold the virtues of private enterprise.
1324 Surely the time has come for us to re-examine this matter, and I believe that, if one could put aside the enormous number, and increasing number, of sectional vested interests who are now living on doles from the Exchequer of one kind and another, reasonable men, free from the prejudices which that state of affairs naturally creates, would come to see that if the State is to be called upon to bear the losses of private trade then the time has come when the State should take over that trade and enjoy the profits of superior, broadscale organisation. This type of legislation is the worst kind of class legislation, and it is no wonder that the electors, who put this Government in power in the belief that it would carry on the administration of the country free from party and class bias, are aghast at the use which is being made of the power then conferred. Not only is the Exchequer being raided to provide for the losses of private trade, but the taxation of the poor is being increased in order to provide doles for the rich, and here we have one of the worst cases of that kind. Hon. Members opposite are fond of alleging that the party to which I have the honour to belong, because they believe that it is to the interest of the community that no children shall be allowed to starve, and that no person who is unemployed through no fault of his own shall be allowed to fall below the subsistence level, stand for a policy of mass bribery, and allege that that policy is pursued for the purpose, indirectly, of buying votes.
What of this policy? Here we have industry after industry being subsidised at the expense of the Exchequer, and the result is that all those who are receiving these payments have now a vested interest in the continuation of Tory Government; and every tradesman, every industrialist, everybody who thinks he can make a case for a subsidy, is busily getting into the queue and asking that he may receive early consideration. What benefits are the community receiving in exchange for this? I hope that hon. Members saw the cartoon the other day by that most brilliant political cartoonist, Mr. Low. In case it escaped attention I may say that it represented the taxpayer, with his empty money-box, being led from the Subsidy Stores by Aunt Runciman and Aunt Elliot; and when the taxpayer asked what he was going 1325 to do with the large number of ships and the large number of beasts which he had bought with his money, they accused the boy of reading Bolshevik literature, and told him that he must understand that he had not bought them but had merely paid for them.
As the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol pointed out, another objection to this scheme is that there is no means test in it. When public money is provided for the purpose of avoiding the starvation of the poor, vast and complicated machinery is erected and applied to see that not one penny of that money is paid unless there is urgent and most desperate need. Here it does not matter how wealthy the person may be who has beasts which qualify under this Bill; he will share equally with the impecunious and struggling farmer. When this scheme develops and we come on to the next part of the programme, it seems inconceivable to me that even the present Government can go through with it. How are they going to face working class electors when those electors will have the knowledge that there has been added to the price of their meat a sum per pound for the sole purpose of reducing the price of the meat which they would like to eat but cannot afford? That will be the exact position which will arise when this levy is applied. It is one of our complaints against this extraordinary Measure that no attempt has been made to use this opportunity to institute an inquiry into the extraordinary difference between the price paid by the consumer of English beef and the price received by the producer of it. It is difficult for one who, like myself, is unversed in the phraseology of agriculture, to reduce the wholesale prices to retail terms, but I observed in the "Times" of 21st June a letter from a beef producer pointing out a phrase in the report of the Fat Stock Commission. The phrase was:It is also in the producer's interest that his products should be purchased freely and to an increasing extent by the population of the cities.The beef producer goes on to say that it is doubtful whether a large proportion of the population of the cities have ever tasted a piece of good English beef. That is literally true. In the constituency which I have the honour to represent I doubt whether a third or even a quarter 1326 of the population have ever had any English beef. In the whole of London, including the well-to-do parts, of the total beef consumed two-thirds is frozen and chilled beef. A great mass of people eat frozen beef, not because they enjoy it but because they cannot afford English beef. These poor people are to have a levy placed upon their food. They are to be asked to pay a. special tax which the rich will not be asked to pay in order to provide a direct dole for people who may be a hundred times as well off as they are.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Is the hon. Member's contention that the cure for all that is the extinction of the production of home beef altogether?
§ Mr. WILMOT
I am very glad that the Minister has asked that question. As he has done so, I may be allowed to indicate what I think ought to be done. It seems to me that the proper thing to do is what the Commission suggests, namely, to improve the consumption of home-grown English beef and to allow, in some way, those people who are now forced by poverty to buy foreign beef to join the small select number who are able to buy home-grown beef. The price of such beef as best English sirloin was, I am informed, on the average about 9d. or 10d. a lb. before the War. I am informed to-day that those cuts are being sold in the shops in my constituency at an average price of ls. 2d. to ls. 6d. per lb. or nearly twice the pre-War price. But the farmer who has written this interesting letter in the "Times" tells me that he, as a producer, is receiving a price which is no higher than and is sometimes less than the pre-War price. What accounts for that fact? Why is it that when the producer is only getting the pre-War price the consumer is paying double the pre-War price?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Is the hon. Member's remedy to break the wages of the assistants in the butchers' shops?
§ Mr. WILMOT
I am sorry that the Minister should be so anxious to interrupt me. If he gives me time I shall endeavour to submit something which is, at any rate, less objectionable than the scheme which he has put forward. In order that I may do so, however, it is 1327 necessary that I should first sketch in the background, in front of which these Measures are being indicated. I think it is important when public money is being poured out to the producers of beef to inquire why the producers are not getting the price which the consumer is forced to pay. The Minister may laugh but it seems to me that before we raid the Exchequer, before we take money from the unemployed and give it to the producers of beef, we should at any rate inquire into what is happening to the enormous price which the consumer is forced to pay. It may be that there is waste in distribution. There may be, and I think there probably is a vast monopoly vested interest in the distributive trade in meat, which has the markets and the whole distributive organisation in its grip and is able, between the farmer and the butcher's shop, to exact a toll which accounts for these astonishing differences. I suggest that the Minister instead of laughing about it might inquire into it. There must be some explanation of why my constituents, for example, are forced to pay double the pre-War price with tie knowledge that their farm-labourer friends in the country are only getting about one-third extra on their pre-War wages.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Would it not be well for the hon. Member to address that question as to the difference between wholesale and retail prices to the cooperative societies?
§ Mr. WILMOT
If the co-operative societies were introducing legislation for the attention of this House it would be proper to ask them to make that inquiry. As it is, the co-operative organisation is only one of the retail distributors and we have not alleged that it is the retail shop which is pocketing these profits or levying this toll. I do not know who is levying it and as far as I can see from the official documents available, the Minister does not know either. But the fact remains that the gap is there and that somebody is plundering this trade, somebody who takes no part either in serving at the counter or in producing the goods. I should have thought that it would have been better had the Minister directed his attention to the prevention of that plunder, rather than to the further plunder of the unfortunate consumer. Evidently the Minister thinks 1328 otherwise and we must leave the matter to the judgment of the Supreme Court in these matters—the electorate itself.
I feel that this beef subsidy raises in its most acute form the whole question of the policy of subsidy. Now perhaps the Minister will permit me to indicate what I regard as the better course though I should not have ventured to do so without his invitation. First it seems to me that he should inquire into the reason for the gap between the retail price and what is received by the producers. It is possible that by closing that gap we could do more to put the fat stock industry on its feet than by any other means, but generally it seems to me the Minister's policy is the wrong policy. We have a surplus of agricultural production. We have an admittedly serious under-consumption of that production and serious underfeeding in a vast area both of our child and our adult population. Two courses are open to the Government. One is to see what steps can be taken to raise the standard of living of the working-clas consumer, to double the consumption of home-grown beef and of milk. I merely use the word "double" in a very wide sense. I mean to increase the potential consumption by Government action calculated to raise wage levels, to reduce the unemployment figures and thus immediately create a demand which would solve this problem in the right way, which would exhaust the increased production by increasing the consumption.
The Minister is doing the exact opposite to that. That is why he is coming to be known as "the Minister for Scarcity." He sees a vast unconsumed production and instead of turning to the underfed consumer and enabling that consumer to consume more he solves the problem by reducing production. It is all very well to try to ignore it, but my constituents tell me that they can no longer afford to buy bacon, not because there is a shortage, but because there is a glut of bacon. They tell me that they are unable to buy as much meat as they used to buy. The margin between subsistence and lack of subsistence is so small in the overwhelming majority of working-class families that the increase of 2d. per lb. on meat means that on one or two days of the week in those households there will be no meat where there was meat before. There will be a reduction of consumption due to the rise in price 1329 and the Minister will have solved his problem, by getting a higher price over a more limited field. If he asks me what I think is wrong with his general policy I say that he is dealing with a situation of over-production by reducing that production and creating scarcity prices when he ought to attack the problem at the other end, and raise the consumption level by raising the standard of living of the working people.
§ Mr. WILMOT
I am glad to hear the Minister's approval. I hope his concurrence in that view will be followed by actions diametrically opposite to those which have already been taken.
§ Mr. WILMOT
The right hon. Gentleman is now falling back on the sort of thing which we hear from the Front Bench in every Debate nowadays. Hon. Gentlemen opposite point to the improvement in the unemployment figures. They know very well the cause of that improvement. It is not any success on the part of the Government. It is the Government's outstanding and splendid failure—their failure to keep this country on the Gold Standard. There we have the major explanation. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh but I am happy in knowing that those who study this problem free from political bias agree with me. If hon. Gentlemen will study, for instance, the last issue of the "Economist" they will find some evidence that I am not alone in my opinion. I hope between now and the production of the second part of this pernicious scheme, the Minister will reconsider the matter. How far are we going with this policy? How many more departments of the agricultural industry are to be subsidised in this way? To what extent are we going to raise the cost of living of the very Poor for the benefit of the well-to-do? One can only hope that, complicated as these matters are, the public who are asked to pay these subsidies and the working class families who are asked to go without in order that those who have plenty already may have more, will understand the true meaning of the 1330 Minister's policy and will take appropriate action at the right time.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. PATRICK
The subject matter of our discussion has already been very thoroughly dealt with in this Debate and in the Debate of Monday last on the Financial Resolution, and I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) except on one point. It seems to me that as a result of the discussions of this matter so far, three propositions have been advanced and have not been contradicted. The first is that agriculture is still one of our greatest, if not our greatest industry. The second is that the livestock branch of agriculture is an essential part of the industry the collapse of which would threaten to bring down the whole structure. The third is that such a collapse is in sight, things being as they are now. The last proposition was questioned by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) but by no one else. So far, we have practically got agreement but at this point, unfortunately, agreement stops.
This Bill has been attacked from the Opposition side of the House on two different grounds. Two lines of criticism, which are mutually contradictory, have been directed against it. The first is concerned with the word "subsidy." The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has used that word in his Amendment and I think it would be agreed by most hon. Members that a subsidy, as such, is an unsound policy. But surely it is not only legitimate but necessary when examining the Bill, also to examine the White Paper which preceded it and if we do so we see in fact that what is proposed here is not a subsidy but a short-term loan. A sum not exceeding £3,000,000 is to be advanced for a period not exceeding six months. If that is so, it is only common sense to realise that that fact changes the whole proportions of the affair and the whole basis of argument against the subsidy, and makes that argument inapplicable in the present ease. The other line of criticism, which has been expressed at some length by the hon. Member for East Fulham seems to be contradictory to the first line. His complaint was not that the Bill provides for 1331 nothing more than a subsidy—if it had only done that he would not have minded so much—but that it involves discriminatory taxation between the poorest classes and the rest of the community.
§ Mr. WILMOT
I cannot have made myself quite clear. I hold the view that the Bill involves both a subsidy and discriminatory taxation.
§ Mr. PATRICK
I do not think that the hon. Member can have both; this is either a loan or a subsidy.
§ Mr. PATRICK
It is a loan if we have to pay it back. But I will not argue about that. I want to take up the second point, which is that this penalises a large section of the community. That argument is not valid. It is, in fact, the old classic argument against Protection generally, and it has been used so many times although it has proved itself to be inapplicable. We have had pretty wide experiments in tariffs during the last three years, and the hon. Member himself would be the last to say that those tariffs had resulted in a widespread rise in prices. With reference to beef, there has been spasmodic but a fairly wide-scale application of quantitative restrictions, though no rise in price has resulted; exactly the contrary. The arguments used by the hon. Member and many others who preceded him look all right in theory, but they have nothing to do with practice, and they are not strictly relevant to the case.
If we can trust report and rumour, the Government in the arrangements which they will make in six months' time propose to rely not on a direct tariff or straight, quantitative restriction, but to apply what is known as the system of deficiency payments. That principle is a very simple one, and the consumer cannot possibly be affected adversely or favourably. Under that system, the producer sells and the consumer buys at the market price. The next stage is that the producer is willing, up to a point where his prices become uneconomical, to pay into a fund a levy. The hon. Member says that that is coming out of the pockets of the poorest class. If that were true in practice, it would be a very important factor. The fact is that the more pounds of beef that come in, the more pennies go to the fund, which, in turn, 1332 will go to the home producer. The obvious deduction from that is that when the scheme gets into working order—prices are not practicable at the present time—this country can have, without damaging its own producers, a very much more ample supply of imports than would be the case under a plain tariff or under a plain quantitative restriction.
§ Mr. PATRICK
I think it is precisely the intention, although I cannot speak for the Government. I understand it to be so. It seems to be a very elastic system which benefits the producer, with the minimum of harm to the consumer, and vice versa. It has worked that way with wheat. This experiment is very well worth trying. I believe that it will prove to be a success, and I should not be at all surprised to find the system applied, with changes, to other commodities.
Another criticism which has been not so much expressed as implied takes the form of gibes, some good-natured and some less so, at the Minister of Agriculture and at agriculturists generally on the ground that they open their mouths much too wide. It is suggested that the agricultural industry has received an improper share of attention from the Government. My answer to that is a very simple one. Once you accept in any form the principle of direct State intervention for an industry, agriculture has the best claim, both on economic and social grounds. That is a very sweeping statement, and I will give my reason for it. Take some of the other industries in this country. Take coal, cotton, shipping and 'shipbuilding. Those four are entirely different and not comparable, except in one respect, which is that they have all been suffering for a very long time under very grave depression. Would any hon. Member representing a mining district say that he thinks we could ever recover the proportion of the export trade in coal that we once had? It is obvious that the increasing use of oil and of water power and the increase in the production of coal in foreign countries have wiped out a considerable part of our trade.
Precisely the same consideration applies to cotton, because of the most remarkable and unexpected economic revival of China. No one will maintain that Lancashire will ever get back its 1333 share of the export trade, because the competition against it is too strong. In regard to shipping, no one will maintain that there is any immediate prospect of an increase in the total amount of sea-borne commerce in the world as a whole, and now that the world has only one idea in its head, that of self-sufficiency, a general increase of that sort is not possible. If an increase took place, no one can maintain that our shipping would ever again take the place which it once had. The future of those industries is almost entirely outside the control of any Government and neither the present Government with their policy of subsidies and rationalisation, or of hon. Gentlemen opposite with their policy of socialisation and export boards can do more than touch the fringe of the problem, and we all know it.
What a contrast we have in the industry of agriculture. There, alone, is a very large margin of great prosperity and expansion. I will not weary the House with statistics, but will confine myself to mentioning the one branch of industry which we are discussing, that of meat production, although in the other branches great extension is obviously possible. In the last 30 years, the home producer's share in the home consumption of meat has dropped by 10 per cent., and there is no reason why that percentage should not be restored without any dislocation or hardship to any section of the community. The same kind of consideration applies to many other branches of agriculture. Agriculture merits a special kind of consideration. We are faced with the terrific problem of 2,000,000 unemployed, and if we are to re-employ them it is not merely a matter of keeping our industries going, keeping our end up, or not losing ground; it is definitely a matter of expansion. Where can we find a practical proposition, except in the industry of agriculture? It is short-sighted in the extreme to oppose a loan of £3,000,000 to a branch of the industry of agriculture that is in desperate straits.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
Last week we were discussing the Financial Resolution, and, apart from representatives of the Government, only one Scottish Member took part in the Debate. To-day we are dealing with the Second Reading of the 1334 Bill, and Scottish Members are still conspicuous by their absence. I say that in no sense of reproach, but because there is an aspect of this Bill which has not received sufficient attention.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I am sorry to interrupt, the hon. Member, but I would point out that I had the honour of speaking earlier in this Debate.
§ Mr. MILNE
I offer the hon. Member my apologies. The aspect of the Bill which I have mentioned, and which has escaped attention, was referred to by the Minister last Monday when he alluded to the striking fact that out of the total agricultural produce in England little more than one-third consisted of meat. He contrasted the situation in Scotland, and he told us that more than half the total produce in Scotland takes the form of beef. I welcome the Bill because it is a good Bill. I welcome it on its merits. I do so also for another reason, which is of a psychological character. The Minister of Agriculture is the best liked, but also the best abused man in Scotland. That is the fate of all reformers. The reason is that there is an idea prevalent in many quarters in Scotland—I blush to say that at times I have shared it—that Scottish agricultural interests are neglected by the Government. The idea is that the Government frame their agricultural policy on lines designed to suit the requirements of the English farmers. Many a time I have told farmers of the benefits of the wheat quota, and many a time I have been told in reply, "Yes, but those benefits are reaped by the English farmer." I attach value to this Bill because it is designed to rescue the livestock industry, an industry which is of preponderating interest to Scotland, and I believe it will go a long way towards dissipating that myth.
There is another reason why I value the Bill. It is, quite frankly, because of the cash payment to our farmers. In our homely phrase, they will be able to "han'le the siller." I am well aware that this proposal must be anathema to my hon. Friends on the Liberal benches. It offends, I suppose, against the principle of Free Trade, or, perhaps, the Gold Standard. I know nothing about the contraventions of those alleged principles, and I care less. All that I know 1335 is that here we have a form of tangible assistance which is going to rescue the livestock industry and preserve it for the farmers and farm workers who depend for their livelihood upon it. It is not a loan; it is not, assuredly, a gift; in my view it is a species of token payment—it is a recognition by the Government of a debt due to the farming community, and an acknowledgment of an obligation to see the farmers through the present crisis. I suppose that discretion is an excellent quality, even in the most obscure Member of Parliament, but sometimes it is a great relief to tell the truth. What is in my mind, and I have no doubt that it has often been very present in the mind of the Minister of Agriculture, is that this grant is due to expire, under the terms of the Bill, on the 31st March. For my part, I have complete confidence in the energy of the Minister of Agriculture, and I feel sure that by then the long-term policy will have commenced to operate; butThe best-laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley.Suppose that the long-term policy is not ready by then. Again I say that I do not doubt that my right hon. Friend will have all the parts of the machinery assembled, and that it will be ready; but let us suppose that it is not ready by the 31st March. Then the position would be simply this—let us be quite frank about it—that, if the long-term policy is not ready by the 31st March, the Minister of Agriculture, having put his band to the plough, must see the thing through, and these payments must be renewed, or, at any rate, the assistance must be continued in some equivalent form. I do riot suppose that these reflections will very greatly disturb my right hon. Friend, and for my part. I have complete confidence in his energy and in his well known political activity. Indeed, the only doubt that crosses my mind is that I hope that, as the Ides of March approach, the result will not be an over-stimulation of that volcanic activity which we have sometimes experienced from him. The farming community will welcome this Bill, and I believe that it will be equally welcomed by that larger community to whom the prosperity of agriculture is of vital concern, the general public of Scotland.
§ 6.50 p.m.
Marquess of TITCHFI ELD
Whenever I listen to a speech by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), whom I am very glad to see in his place this afternoon, I am reminded of the ancient Paduans. History recounts that the ancient Paduans owned a very wonderful well. It was wonderful because, after anyone had bathed in it. they could make themselves believe anything; and it had a still more wonderful quality, because, not only could anybody, after bathing in the well, make themselves believe anything, but they could make other people believe it too. My hon. Friend's oratory certainly has the first virtue, but I think it is distinctly lacking in the second. I did not have the privilege of listening to the speech that he made on Monday, but I read it very carefully in the OFFICIAL REPORT on Tuesday morning, and, if my hon. Friend does not mind my saying so, I thought it was hardly worthy of him.
He started by sneering at what the Government had done for agriculture. As he has done that, I should like to ask him a question. He certainly knows much more about agriculture than anyone else in the Labour party, even more than the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who does not even know how or how not to doctor up a horse. I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman's knowledge of country life must be very small, and, therefore, in a competition between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley for the Ministry of Agriculture the hon. Member for Don Valley ought to win by a good many lengths. I want to ask him one specific question. If his party is returned to power, will he, as Minister of Agriculture, first of all scrap the Agricultural Marketing Act as it is at the present moment; and. secondly, will he by his policy take away the good things which the Government have already given to the farmers of this country? No hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench has made the position of the Socialist party clear in this respect. My hon. Friend reminded the House that there is a by-election in progress in the Rushcliffe Division, and I think the position ought to be made quite clear to the farmers in the Rushcliffe Division before polling 1337 day. As it has not been made clear by my hon. Friend in this House, I hope that, in fairness to the farmers of Rushcliffe, the Socialist candidate in this by-election will make his position quite clear.
My hon. Friend also said that the organisation proposals in connection with the meat subsidy were not enough. I rather agree with him in that, but do not let us forget that these proposals are merely the vanguard of other proposals which are coming along. I am perfectly certain that, if I may use a military term, when my right hon. Friend brings up the main body of his proposals they will be better organised and better disciplined than perhaps the vanguard is at the present moment. Reading further the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley, I find that he talked about the poor goose having to be plucked so that the rich peacock may live. That remark, of course, is completely untrue, and before I sit down I hope to prove to my hon. Friend that that is the case. He also made remarks about Noble Lords and juicy steaks. Remarks of that sort may be all very well when he is addressing his constituents in the Don Valley, but, if he does not mind my saying so, they are hardly worthy of an hon. Member who has the respect and admiration, and, if I may say so, the affection of every Member of this House. I dare-say a little spot of class hatred does not do you any harm when you are perched rather insecurely on the end of a soapbox; I do not know; but it does no honour to a man whom we all want to see, regardless of party, a respected and loved leader of the people in the future. Let me, therefore, if I can, get away from the sort of goose-and-peacock mentality into which my hon. Friend got, and try to argue the case for beef and for agriculture generally as dispassionately as I can.
I am glad to hear that this subsidy is not to be given to cow beef. I think that that is very wise. There is too much cow beef on the market in this country, and its elimination will allow the farmer to breed a better type of beef than he is breeding at present, with the result that better beef will be put on the market for the people of this country. I am one of those who believe that at the next election the Government will have to launch a big land settlement scheme, for 1338 the very simple reason that nine-tenths of our people live in the towns, and no country can be a great country under those conditions. But I think it is quite obvious that it is no use putting people on the land until the land is made remunerative. It will be a perfect waste of time to launch a big land settlement scheme unless agricultural prices can be made once more remunerative. I believe it would be possible for the Government, under a big land settlement scheme, to put many thousands of people on to the land, which, of course, would be of the greatest benefit to the towns.
Let us see how that benefit would accrue. First of all, many thousands of men would be given new jobs, and not only that, but other industries would be given a great fillip as well. Think of the many articles that would be demanded in connection with a great land settlement scheme. First of all, many houses would be built, and there would be a tremendous demand for bricks., More slates would be wanted, more timber would be wanted, more iron and more glass would be wanted, and therefore more coal would be wanted—and we must remember that the mere getting of coal gives great scope to other industries. There would be an increased demand for artificial manures, tractors and horses, and also—and I say this because I have the honour to be the President of the Notes Rural Community Council—a great land settlement scheme would help tremendously the saddlers, the carpenters, and all those trades which are going through a very difficult time indeed, and which ought to be employed in connection with the industry of agriculture. Unless agriculture is made to pay, none of these benefits can be produced. Unless the beef trade is made to pay, the whole of agriculture will fall to the ground.
Let me return to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. He who represents miners as I do, knows perfectly well that under the new conditions many thousands of his constituents will never get back to the mines again. Why riot, therefore, try to put some of these miners upon the land? I understand that there are a good many miners on the land at the moment, but unless prices can be made remunerative it will be no use having a scheme to put the mine workers of this country into agriculture. By re- 1339 munerative prices I do not mean that the prices necessarily go up. Even, however, if they do go up slightly, is it not better to put thousands of men ma the land in happy circumstances than to have them hanging about the towns as they are at present forced to do?
I wish to touch for a moment on the question of whether this subsidy will put up the price of food to the people. I am absolutely convinced that it will not. I do not mind the subsidy for two reasons. If it is to be paid by the taxpayer, on the whole the rich man will be helping in a very admirable cause; but if the money is to be collected in the future from the Dominions and from the Argentine, I am perfectly certain that the cost of living will not go up, because the £3,000,000 will be purely an addition paid by the Dominions over and above the ordinary price paid by the consumer.
To return once more to the hon. Member for Don Valley. The hon. Member coined the expression that my right hon. Friend ought to be called the Minister of Scarcity. I ask my hon. Friend to cast his mind back to the years 1929 to 1931. When the Tory Government left off, the unemployed numbered 1,250,000 men, women and children. When my hon. Friend's party left off, there were nearly 3,000,000 unemployed. He is a very fair person, and I am sure that if he casts his mind back to those years he will withdraw that rather amusing sneer which he made at my right hon. Friend's expense and own, as three-quarters of us own in this House, that my right hon. Friend is doing his honest, able and level best to bring prosperity once more back to an industry which is fully deserving of it.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. DUCKWORTH
I so rarely venture to address the House that I feel that it is almost necessary for me to pray the indulgence that is accorded to a maiden speaker. I wish in a very few words to give my support to the Bill which we are discussing this afternoon, and which is designed as an emergency Measure to meet an extremely critical situation. I represent a constituency which is a market town and so is vitally interested, both directly and indirectly, in the livestock industry. The case for taking some immediate action is so overwhelming and 1340 has already been stressed so far, that it is quite unnecessary for me to bring further evidence of the critical situation which is at present confronting not only the producers but many hundreds of persons in my constituency who depend upon the livestock industry for their livelihood. We have heard this afternoon a good deal on the subject of the reorganisation of the industry. I have no doubt that reorganisation is necessary, as was foreshadowed in the White Paper that has been issued by the Government. I must confess, however, that I remain profoundly sceptical as to how much can be accomplished through reorganisation towards lessening the margin between the price that the producer receives and the price that the consumer has to pay. I am certainly convinced that if, as hon. Members opposite would no doubt advocate, the whole distribution were centred in a State organisation, the margin that would exist would be even greater than it is at present.
Hon. Members opposite may talk of reorganisation and go into the Lobby against this Bill. Surely, however, nobody seriously believes that reorganisation by itself can go very far towards restoring a remunerative price level. I believe that no Government could possibly have remained inactive in face of the present situation, taking into account the fact that the livestock industry is one of the pivots of the whole agricultural situation. There has been some argument this afternoon as to whether these proposals comprise a subsidy or not. I accept the fact quite frankly that this money is a subsidy, and I believe that there are no practical alternatives to the proposals contained in this Bill. They are, in fact, made inevitable both by the Ottawa and by the Argentine Agreements. However much we may dislike a policy of accumulating subsidies to the agricultural industry, I believe that it is at present the only way out of a desperate situation. The House has been informed that this money will be repaid from the proceeds of a levy on imported meat which will be the subject of future legislation. Whatever form this levy may take, the fact remains that so far as this Debate is concerned we are proposing to apply a subsidy to meet the present situation. It is certainly a subsidy in the sense that this money will be found directly or indirectly by the whole community. This 1341 particular subsidy is fully justified as a temporary measure, though I must confess that I have some apprehension as to the administrative difficulties that may be encountered in administering this scheme.
There is one other aspect of these proposals on which I should like to say few words only. The Minister is faced with an immensely difficult problem, that of fostering and maintaining the agricultural industry of this country and ensuring that it shall continue to give employment to at least the number of persons who are at present engaged in it. He is faced with that problem in a world that has gone so mad that it appears to imagine that it is possible to carry on international trade in a market where there are only sellers. He is faced with two obvious difficulties. First, in any action he takes he runs some risk of inflicting damage on the vital exporting industries of this country. Secondly, at the present level of world prices there is scarcely an agricultural commodity which can be produced in this country without the protection of a subsidy, a tariff or a quota. In these circumstances it is essential that we should concentrate on those branches of agriculture to which this country is most suited.
I believe that the vast majority of the people of this country recognise those facts and acknowledge the supreme importance of maintaining the agricultural industry. I believe that they will only continue to support the present policy of the Government, and to pay the price that these subsidies make necessary, on two conditions. The first is that the industry should be properly organised, and the second is that, where the device of a subsidy is applied, the subsidies shall bear some reasonable relation to one another. We have applied the device of a subsidy to wheat and milk, and for the last 10 years we have voted annually large sums of money to maintain the sugar-beet industry. It would certainly be out of order for me to discuss this afternoon the merits or otherwise of that particular subsidy. I should merely like to say that in comparing the sugar-beet industry with the livestock industry there is surely no question whatever that the livestock industry is by far the more important of the two. Under normal conditions there are few countries that are 1342 better suited than this, through climate and other conditions, to the production of cattle. This is an industry that we cannot in any circumstances allow to languish. The sugar-beet industry, on the other hand, has been created purely by subsidy, and it is now quite clear that without a subsidy it can never survive.
It is time that we in this House showed some better sense of proportion in dealing with these questions. 'We are faced with some difficulty in considering agricultural questions, because although we consider from time to time various proposals that are brought forward to deal with various branches of the industry, the opportunities that occur for considering agricultural policy as a whole are extremely limited. I believe that nothing could be more fantastic than that we should go on voting, year after year, these large sums for an industry like the sugar-beet industry, and yet that the greatest reluctance should be shown when proposals are introduced on the lines of this Bill. If reluctance had not been shown, action would have been taken a long time ago on similar lines. I support these proposals, because I believe that they are essential if the industry is to be saved from collapse, and I shall not hesitate to go into the Lobby in support of the Bill.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. TREE
First of all, I should like, on behalf of my constituents and many others in the livestock industry, to congratulate the Government on the action they are proposing to take, and to say that bankruptcy has for two years been facing the livestock industry. At the same time, I should like to utter a word of warning. The sum of 5s. a cwt., aggregating £3,000,000, must seem to hon. Members who are not conversant with the livestock industry to be a very large sum of money. We must remember what a tremendous part livestock plays in agriculture. It represents nearly 40 per cent. of the total and is nearly twice as great again as the whole of the dairy industry. When you take such industries as wheat, which only constitutes 5 per cent. of our agriculture, or fruit and vegetables, which respectively only amount to about 4 per cent., one sees how important it is that the livestock industry should be supported and saved. It is important that the 1343 quantitative regulations which the Minister intends to put on should be so severe that there should be no drop in prices. The autumn glut comes into force in September, and it is very much feared in my part of the world that it will come earlier this year owing to the lack of food and also to the drought. If it does, animals will very soon be put on to the market, which may cause a drop in prices and take away all the effect that this subsidy is intended to have. Therefore, it seems to me of the utmost importance that my right hon. Friend should see that quantitative regulations are enforced at the earliest possible date.
I wonder if it would not be possible to do something on the lines of what is being already so admirably tried out in the bacon industry. A figure of probable consumption has been ascertained. It has then been ascertained how much can be produced at home, and the rest is being allotted out to the exporting countries. Could not that be done in the case of livestock? In regard to the long-term policy, I am very glad that the Minister hopes to introduce a levy scheme. That is a scheme which has been worked out in my part of the country by some very hard-headed producers themselves, and, consequently, I think it can be called a definite producers' scheme. I was a very early convert to it, and I spent a considerable time in trying to ascertain the views not only of producers but of all sections of the livestock industry. I was not able to find any serious criticism, but I found a great deal of approval among all sections of the industry, from the producers right through to the retailers.
The pity is that it cannot be put into effect immediately. I do not like mortgaging my own income in advance, and it seems to me that that is the sort of thing that is being done now. This subsidy is mortgaging the future income which is to come in from the levy. We are given to understand that the reason is that the Dominions refuse at present to understand and appreciate our difficulty. There is no one who is stronger on inter-Imperial trade than I am. I think trade relations within the Empire are going to play a great part in future. At the same time we cannot allow our own home industry to go bankrupt. We cannot allow the men employed in it to 1344 become unemployed. The principle was clearly enunciated at Ottawa that the home market should get the first chance, the Dominions should get the second, and the foreigner the third, but it seems to me that in the case of meat that has been entirely reversed. It is the foreigner who has had the first chance, and we have come out very much last.
There is going to be a need over the next two years to work out a long-range policy for agriculture. I consider that what we have been doing up to the present is merely internal reconstruction of the industry. In that long-term policy the Dominions must needs play a very great part. We have to get to understand their problems and their needs, and the same thing applies to them. They have to understand our problems and our needs. It is in my opinion a very great pity that at present they have failed to understand and to come to an agreement which means so very much to our agriculture. I hope that our extremely tactful and efficient Minister of Agriculture may be able to persuade them in the next six months to see our present needs, and that this subsidy will not have to continue for an indefinite period, because a levy scheme is obviously a better one than a subsidy. I should like to say how much I am in agreement with the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) about the need for land settlement in the future. It is going to play a very great part in the next few years. I do not think anyone will deny that, if only agriculture is put on its feet, it will be possible to get more people employed in it than any other industry in the land to-day.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I support and thank the right hon. Gentleman for this Measure. It embodies his short-time policy. It is an emergency Bill which gives the producer of meat some 5s. per live cwt. or 9s. per dead cwt. on certain types of cattle between next September and March of next year. We hope that during that period the Minister may be successful in carrying out negotiations with the Dominions and with the Argentine and that this Bill may he superseded by one putting forward the long-term policy. We all realise the parlous position of the meat-producing industry, and I am confident that Members on the 1345 Opposition benches realise it equally. I have never been one of those who accuse Members of the official Opposition of caring nothing or knowing nothing of agriculture. I have often listened to their speeches, and I feel that they have the interests of agriculture at heart. I realise that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) in particular desire to help to bring some prosperity to the industry. We are alike there. We may differ as to the methods by which we propose to bring about that prosperity, but I often wonder whether we differ as much as we appear to do. When the Minister has been bringing forward some of his measures beneficial to agriculture, I have watched the faces of hon. Members opposite, and I have observed that in their heart of hearts they would like to support them, but suddenly they realise that they are sitting on the Front Opposition Bench and that it is the duty of an opposition to oppose. They seek some loophole in the Minister's proposals, and I sympathise with them because I know how very few loopholes he leaves for them. My sympathy is not lessened because of my personal regard for those two hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. J. P. Thomas) and I have been insistent in our appeals to the Minister to do something to help the livestock industry. I have many times felt ashamed at the extent to which I have worried him, but it is only by importunity that one obtains anything, and at long last I have received a reward for my importunity. We have worried the Minister because we were trying to do our duty to our constituents. Herefordshire is almost entirely agricultural. Every man and woman—agricultural labourer, farmer, landlord, tradesman, professional man, whoever he is—depends almost entirely, directly or indirectly, upon agriculture for his livelihood. When I speak on agriculture, when I bore the House on agriculture, I want hon. Members to think that I am trying to do my bit for my constituency, and I want them to forgive me for boring them.
§ It being Half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set doom by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.