§ Postponed Proceeding resumed on Amendment to Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ 8.5 p. m.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
When I was interrupted by the Private Business I was endeavouring to point out that the constituency which I represent was very much concerned in the Bill before the House. Hereford is grassland rather than arable, and, owing to its distance from large consuming centres, it has been given up to stock raising and beef production in preference to the production of milk. Hereford is the home of the famous Hereford cattle, and I submit to the House that there is no county which has suffered more from the collapse of meat prices than that county. Month after month at the market of Hereford and other local markets there has been a fall of meat and cattle prices. It is not unnatural that my constituents should lose heart. I have to the best of my ability attempted to keep up their spirits. I have pointed out to them that it is the intention of the Minister and of the Government to bring back some prosperity to agriculture, but all in due order —arable first and then grassland, wheat and then meat. The wheat problem has received the attention of the Government 1355 and the wheat growers are gratified for the assistance that has been given to them.
Now the Government have given their attention to meat. In their wisdom, realising that this colossal fall in meat prices has been due to the world unloading its surplus meat into this country, the Government have adopted the policy of a quantitative limitation of imports of meat into this country; hence, the Ottawa Agreements and the agreements with the Argentine. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) referred to the two Walters in the Cabinet. I can imagine that in the discussions on these two agreements the Minister of Agriculture who is our Walter and the other Walter were not quite desiring the same thing, and that there were certain antagonisms between them, but I have always backed our Walter in agricultural matters. The House and the Minister know that I would have preferred the more simple and understandable import duties to the rather complicated phrase "quantitative limitation of imports." We are not very materially concerned, however, about what method is adopted so long as the method brings the results that are required, namely, an improvement in the price to the British producer. The application of quotas has been tried, but we have seen this fall in prices month after month, and our people have suffered keen disappointment, and I know that the Minister has too. Our people were losing confidence in the Minister, but I was not. I recognised that he was a man who translated his words into deeds; and you test a man by his acts. not by his words. My confidence in the Minister was maintained, and to-day, owing to this Bill, my confidence has been justified.
In his speech on the Financial Resolution, the Minister rightly said that he had to bear in mind three alternative solutions of this problem. One was a drastic limitation of imports, which he recognised would cause considerable trouble in the Dominions. Another objection which he did not mention was that if he applied such a drastic limitation of imports as would be necessary to raise the prices of the British produce, it might increase the cost of living. The second course was by agreement to place 1356 a levy on imported meat, the proceeds of the levy being used to assist the home producer. The third course was a moderate restriction of imports coupled with the levy, the latter to be used to supplement the price received by the home producer. The Minister has accepted the third course, and I want to express my gratitude to him for having done that. For 2½ years, ever since the National Government came into office, I have advocated a policy of a moderate duty upon meat. Two years ago I moved an Amendment to take meat out of the Free List in the Import Duties Act and to make it subject to a 10 per cent. duty. I received the reply from the President of the Board of Trade that, if my Amendment were carried, it would mean a tax upon meat and would raise the price of meat and would be harmful to the industrial part of the country.
Since that time a great deal of water has flowed under London Bridge. The Government have been able to gain knowledge by experience. Conditions have altered, and since that time there has been such a colossal fall in meat prices that the policy of the Government to-day is to raise the wholesale price of meat, in the interests not only of the British producer, but of the Empire producer. When a few months ago I again suggested that an import duty should be placed upon foreign meat, I had the reply that it would not do what I wanted, and would not raise the wholesale price of meat. Two years ago they could not accept an import duty on meat, because it would raise the price of meat. A few months ago they could not accept it because it would not raise the price of meat. What was I to think? I had to accept it, but I still kept on advocating my policy of an import duty, and to-day that has more or less been accepted.
I can realise what has happened in the conversation between the two Ministers, the Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade, our Walter and the other Walter. The other Walter said to our Walter: "I made a mistake when I told that fellow Shepperson that an import duty on foreign meat would raise the price. We have seen by our experience in Ireland that it does not raise the price." I can hear our Walter saying to the other Walter: "Under those conditions, will you not have a small import duty placed upon meat, 1357 which will create a fund from which I can help the distressed home producer of meat?" The other Walter replied: "Good, I will agree to it, but for the sake of old times, for the sake of past events, cannot we call that import duty by another name? Would it not be helpful if we could call it a levy?" Our Walter replied: "I do not mind by what name you call it so long as we can have the fruits of the levy." That course has been agreed upon, and the two Walters, who were at one time in opposition, are now shaking each other by the hand, and we of the agricultural community are shaking the hands of both of them in gratitude for what they have given to us.
The Minister has brought forward the policy of a levy but it cannot be applied until the Dominions and the Argentine have agreed to its application, and during the waiting period we are having this Bill as an emergency Measures What is going to happen if there is no successful termination of the conversations between the Dominions and this country? I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that in his policy of quantitative limitation of imports, restricting the imports from foreign countries, he raises the price not merely of the meat of the home producer but the price of the meat of the foreign importer, he gives a present by his policy to the foreign importer sending his meat into this country. That gift is made to the importer of meat into this country. If those importers refuse to submit to the levy which the right hon. Gentleman desires, I respectfully suggest that he should no longer make a present to the importers of meat into this country but that he should apply such a levy, which can be raised or lowered according to circumstances, as to make a present not to the foreign importer but to the home producer of meat.
In making this suggestion I am at a disadvantage. I am, unfortunately, possessed of simple rural intelligence. I am entirely untrained in high finance, but to my rural mind I have never been able to understand why we are better off by giving than by receiving. I have always understood that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but I thought that that was a moral idea and not a financial one. I have always failed to understand why if, for instance, by quantitative regulations we make a present of £500 to a Dutchman and the 1358 Dutchman then buys from us a motor car, we should thank that Dutchman for the service he has rendered to this country in buying a motor car from us with the £500 that we have given to him. It seems to me that the Dutchman has gat the best of the bargain. He gets a motor car that he has not possessed before and we have had the trouble of paying for it. If the acceptance of a gift of a motor car is to be regarded as a service rendered to our country, then I will serve my country as well as any Dutchman. I am prepared to receive a motor car every year from the Government, and I feel confident that many other hon. Members would be glad to serve their country in a similar way.
I suggest to the Minister that he should consider very seriously how best to work the levy system. The one outstanding successful Measure passed by the present Government has been the Wheat Act. The application of quantitative limitation of imports has not been successful. I would suggest that in regard to meat my right hon. Friend should adopt more and more the levy principle as applied in the Wheat Act and less and less the quantitative limitation of imports. If the Dominions and the Argentine cannot come to an agreement with us because it is contrary to their trade agreements to have a levy, I would ask the Minister to consider whether it is not possible to have an internal levy, exactly as under the Wheat Act, upon not only imported meat but meat produced in this country and from that fund to give the British producer of meat a guaranteed figure, which is done to wheat producers under the Wheat Act. As meat producers we are not concerned as to the quantities of meat imported or the price. What we are concerned about is that we should have such a return for the meat which we produce as is adequate for the work that we have put into it. If the placing of a levy on imported meat is a success I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should go further and apply it to manufactured milk products which are imported, and later on to eggs which come into the country. As an agriculturist I express my gratitude to the Minister for the energetic action that he has taken and for having converted into acts the words that he used when he promised to help the agricultural industry. I support 1359 the Bill as an emergency Measure, and trust that when the right hon. Gentleman introduces his long-term policy he will meet with a success which will earn the gratitude of the agricultural community.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Sir THOMAS ROSBOTHAM
I support the Second Reading of the Bill because I feel it is the duty of the Government to try and balance out every branch of the agricultural industry so that there will be one successful whole. The object of the policy of the Government is to bring success to the rural areas, and they are now making an honest attempt to retrieve the livestock industry and provide more employment. I come from an arable and a horticultural district, and I support the Bill because I believe every attempt should be made to bring prosperity to every branch of agriculture. The means test has been mentioned during the Debate. It has been said that if you are going to give a subsidy farmers should have a means test. I contend that the farmer has a. means test. He has the Income Tax; that is a means test. He has another means test, the weather; and still another, the diseases to which plants and animals are subject. All these are among the difficulties which the farmer and his worker have to contend with. He has still another means test. 1 know farmers and their families who have worked their holding for years and never made any money. We have been told that we have neglected the agricultural worker, but it is quite plain that if the agricultural worker's position is to be improved that prosperity must first come to the industry. The question of an increase in spending power has been mentioned. In 1931 there was a financial crisis, the spending power of the people was in jeopardy. The National Government have done their best to retrieve that spending power, to stabilise finance, and in so doing have averted a great disaster.
The subsidy, in my opinion, should be confined to animals not exceeding 2½ years of age. I say that because we want a quicker turnover in agriculture. The great fault of agriculture is that it is a slow turnover. The object of the Government is to get a quicker turnover. This is also important because in these days there is a demand for a smaller joint, it is not the large joint that is 1360 wanted. The Bill will help to create the smaller joint. I go further, I would limit the subsidy to cattle which are reared and fed at home. The Bill will bring another advantage, it will increase the number of cattle on the land and increase the consumption of more home-grown products. To-day it is impossible to find a market for hay; the Bill will find additional markets for it. It will also increase the supplies of farmyard manure, which is still the best fertiliser in spite of all the artificial manures which have been produced.
I agree that any State grant should be given on condition that the industry organises itself and becomes efficient. I maintain that the Bill provides in Clause 4 for organisation, because when the cattle committee is set up its duty is to organise and regulate. Surely that should be a sufficient guarantee that under the Bill we are going to have organisation and regulation. I do not agree with waiting; it is disastrous. Many of us are getting impatient about the poultry industry and are waiting for the report so that the poultry industry can organise and regulate the distribution of its products. In these days we hear much about the preservation of rural England and its beauties, and I am sure the House will agree with me that there is nothing more beautiful in our countryside than the herds of British cattle. What is there more beautiful than a herd of Herefords, or a herd of Friesians or Shorthorns, among the green pastures. These are the beauties which we should try to maintain in our rural districts. The Bill I say is worthy of support not only because it promotes the welfare of agriculture but also because it encourages the preservation of the beauties of our countryside.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. PALING
The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir T. Rosbotham), like many other speakers, has objected to the reference to the means test and suggests that it is not fair to say that farmers have no means test. The hon. Member says that they have the Income Tax. Suppose I accept that. If he will take the present means test applied to the unemployed who are receiving transitional benefit and substitute the means test of the Income Tax, I am sure that the unemployed would be pleased. They would not grumble like the farmers.
§ Sir T. ROSBOTHAM
I am in sympathy with the unemployed and I think that the policy of the present Government has tended to find work for more unemployed.
§ Mr. PALING
The fact that more people are now being employed is not due to the policy of the Government but to the fact that we went off the gold standard. When we were on the gold standard the number of unemployed went up, when we came off the gold standard the number came down. Many hon. Members during the Debate have talked about a, prosperous industry. I am wondering whether we are to have a new principle, that a prosperous industry is a subsidised industry; that if an industry like farming or cattle raising is half bankrupt and has to have a subsidy of £3,000,000, to be continued as a levy for ever, or at least for an indeterminate period, in order to bring prosperity to the industry, that you are to call it an economically prosperous industry Is that the new definition of a prosperous industry? One hon. Member a supporter of the Government took quite a different line. There are shipping, mining, steel and cotton and wool, all in a desperate economic plight, much worse than the cattle industry finds itself in at the present moment. But they have not got subsidies.
It is true that the steel industry has an import duty for which it asked, but the mining industry has not got one. We had a £25,000,000 subsidy in 1925, for which we did not ask. We had asked For very different treatment, and after the subsidy had been spent what then? We were told, "You must be put upon an economic basis; you must cut your losses." We got an eight hours day; our wages were put at a minimum, where they have remained ever since. Shipping has just got a subsidy, but wool and cotton and all the rest of the industries have got nothing. It was one of the Government supporters who prophesied that this subsidy instead of bringing prosperity to farming would in the long run bring ruination. I do not know whether it will or not. I carry my mind back to 1922, when I first came to the House. The persistent cry of our political opponents then was, "Keep your hands off industry. Let industry alone. We can manage our own business 1362 without you." What a tremendous change to-day. The most dominant feature of this House is the constant pressure, day after day and week after week, to compel the Government to give financial help of some description to industries which it is said are half bankrupt. The cry of our opponents now is, "Let industry belong to us. If we make a profit it is ours, but if we make a loss we ask the Government to make it up to us."
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) said just now, "After wheat we said meat." Every day there are one or two hon. Members, very insistent, who are putting pressure on the Government in connection with poultry and eggs. When the pressure reaches a certain point the Minister gives way and the Members get what they want. The hon. Member is very nice about the whole business. He does not now say, "The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture," but "Our Walter." That is understandable. Hon. Members can afford to be friendly with the Minister. But the Minister is a bit afraid. If the people on whom it is intended to put a levy do not agree, it is suggested that the Minister should do something else very drastic to them, that he should put a duty on and give it to the people in the livestock industry. So that if at the end of the seven months period of the subsidy the thing that is visualised by the Minister does not happen hon. Members advise him what to do in order that the subsidy may continue.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I am sure the hon. Member does not desire to misrepresent me. My point was that if the Dominions and the Argentine, under the various agreements made with them at Ottawa and elsewhere, do not consent to a levy on the importation of their goods, I suggested that we could get over that difficulty by an internal levy placed upon all meat produced, both British and imported, exactly similar to the levy that is put on under the Wheat Act, and that thus a fund could be built up to give assistance to the home producer of meat.
§ Mr. PALING
The hon. Member's policy is that if after the lapse of seven months the scheme of the Minister does not succeed, and we cannot get the money from the foreigner, we shall make the home consumer pay. In other words the 1363 hon. Member does not care where the money comes from so long as it comes and is continued.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I apologise for interrupting again. A friend of the hon. Member has stated that meat is being sold to-day at ls. 4d. a pound when the producer is getting only seven-pence. There is ample margin between the seven-pence and the ls. 4d. for that penny levy to be paid without raising in the least the price paid for meat by the consumer.
§ Mr. PALING
If there is an ample margin why does not the Minister follow the policy of the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) instead of the present policy? While hon. Members on the Government side may feel happy about the present state of things and the ease with which they are getting this money, I suggest to them that the public is getting a bit disturbed. Even newspapers which always subscribe to the policy of the Tory party are beginning to be disturbed as to whether this continuous subsidising is not likely to have a very bad reaction in a very short time on the public, and whether in the endeavour to get all they can out of the National Government the farmers may not smash the whole business. I have tried to prepare a list of the things that have been done for agriculture. The more there is given to agriculture the more agriculture asks for. Rates were wiped off agricultural land altogether. It was suggested at the time that that would make all the difference between a prosperous and an unprosperous industry. But it did not make much difference to the demands of the farmers who still kept asking for more. After rates there was the beet-sugar scheme, then schemes dealing with hops and bacon—which sent up the price of bacon—then £5,000,000 a year for wheat; then the question of the subsidy for milk, and now there is meat, and as an hon. Member opposite said, they are asking, "What next?"
Where is it all to stop? Does the Minister think that the urban consumer of all these things is going to sit quietly by and calmly pay all this money? There was an hon. Member who was most frank about it and who alarmed the Minister by his frankness. He said it was "the siller," the money, and he added, "This is only a token payment." He is expect- 1364 ing something very much bigger and better and more continuous in the future. We want to see a prosperous agriculture. We admit that it is one of the biggest of our industries. We admit that you cannot have a prosperous country without a prosperous agriculture. I would like to see the industry extended and more men employed in it but we suggest that the method proposed by the Government is the wrong method and that it will probably end in destroying all the hopes which hon. Members opposite have of getting a prosperous agriculture in the near future.
I wish to put one or two points to the Minister arising out of what has been said this evening. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said that if imports went down the meat industry would expand. Is it the policy of this subsidy and of what may follow, not only to make the industry prosperous at the present level of meat production, but also to expand that production in the future? My point is this: We are supposed to be suffering from over-production. If this policy results in an extension of the industry and in more people producing meat, will it not defeat itself The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) in an excellent maiden speech said that lots of people had gone out of stockraising into milk-producing, because milk-producing at the time was more prosperous and he suggested the possibility that the result of this subsidy would be to attract those people back into beef-producing from milk-producing. When those people turned from beef-producing to milk-producing the result was that they produce a surplus of milk. Now apparently they are to be attracted back to beef-producing and they will produce another surplus, this time a surplus of beef. I wish to ask the Minister whether he has visualised all these possibilities and whether he had them in mind when he proposed this subsidy.
My last point is this. Even if it is now too late to appeal to the Government to alter the proposals now before the House I hope that in their long-term policy they are not going to stick to the principle which the Minister is laying down in this Bill. To put upon imported meat, which is mainly eaten by the poorer people, an increase of at least one penny per lb. for the purpose of bringing in 1365 this money is the wrong method to pursue. It is not pair and I cannot help feeling that the arguments on this point which have been put forward from these benches, have had some effect on some hon. Members opposite. I am sure those hon. Members would not willingly impose a burden on the poorest section of the community in order to help themselves and I am sure that many of the harmers to-day do not stand in need of any such help. There may be others who need assistance but I suggest that the method proposed here is based on a vicious principle. If this matter is put to the electorate, if the people get to know that after all that has already been done for farming they are expected to pay more, out of the miserably low wages which they receive to-day, for meat which at present they can hardly afford; if they know that they are expected to do this in order to subsidise English meat, it will have a disastrous effect upon hon. Members themselves when they go to the country to seek the sufferage of the electors. If the Minister cannot see his way to withdraw the Bill, I hope he will at least give the House a promise that he does not propose to continue this principle in any future policy on which the Government may decide.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord WILLOUGHBY de ERESBY
I rise in company with other Members who represent constituencies where the livestock industry is carried on, to express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Minister, for the tireless manner in which he has worked to put this branch of farming on its feet again. It seems but a short time since I was standing here making my maiden speech in support of his effort to improve the then serious situation which was confronting the livestock farmers. The action which he took then and the action which he took at a later date, were unfortunately not attended by the results which we all desired. The dice have been loaded against my right hon. Friend. Unforeseen factors over which he had no control, such as the spell of exceptionally hot weather which has led to an enormous decline in meat consumption, have proved too strong for him, but my right hon. Friend is not yet beaten. He has shown a dogged resolution not to chuck up the sponge—a spirit of determination which, I am sure, must compel the admiration 1366 even of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who are his political opponents and which inspires the utmost confidence in a humble back-bencher like myself, who has been sent here to see that, at least in this Parliament., the agricultural community gets a square deal.
We know now that when a matter is said to be receiving the earnest and careful consideration of the Minister of Agriculture that does not mean that the matter in question will be pigeon-holed or sidetracked. We know that it means that action will be taken. On this occasion my right hon. Friend has taken the only course which was open to him. At this moment he is unable to put into operation any long term policy, nor do I altogether regret the fact. Here we have a branch of agriculture which is the keystone and foundation of the whole industry. One false step here, one move in the wrong direction might spell disaster. When the taxpayer realises this fact I am sure he will not "grouse" at having to pay up for two years and thus give time to my right hon. Friend—who, through his own keen desire to bring prosperity to all branches of agriculture, has been very hard worked of late—to think over and sleep upon any permanent policy which is contemplated for the ultimate salvation of the industry. What is more I ask my right hon. Friend in all seriousness to avail himself of this opportunity of quiet contemplation and any suggestions or criticisms or indications of possible dangers which I may make are made with a genuine desire to see that the very best and nothing but the best is done for all concerned in this industry.
I am as anxious as hon. Gentlemen opposite to see an improvement in the conditions of the agricultural labourer. In fact I am even more anxious than the majority of them in that respect, because I depend for my continuance here upon the support of agricultural labourers, unlike a great many of them. Where I differ from them is as to the means by which the agricultural labourer can best be assisted—under the system of agriculture practised in England to-clay. I have no doubt that many hon. Members opposite wish to alter the present system of farming practised in this country. They would like to see the State supplanting the farmer and the landowner. With those hon. Gentlemen I have at least this 1367 much in common. I realise like them that if you want to help farming the only way to do it is to put money into the industry at the top. Where we part company is that I maintain that the inefficiency and incompetence of the Whitehall farmers would be so great that the money going in at the top would have considerably less chance of filtering through to the pockets of the farm labourers than it has under the present system. To-day we have a system under which experienced farmers born and bred to the job run the show and under which the labourers are assured of a fair share of any benefits accruing to the industry through the working of the Wages Board which was set up to see after their interests.
Any one who is taking this Debate seriously and trying to be helpful knows that the only way to help this branch of farming, or any other branch, is to put money into the industry. This can be done in two ways, either from the taxpayers' pocket by means of a subsidy, or else, I will say, from the consumers' pocket; and I hope hon. Members opposite will credit me with courage for saying so. This can be done by either quotas, tariffs or import boards, as favoured by hon. Members opposite. If we genuinely desire to help livestock farming, it cannot be done without its costing somebody something. We cannot have the best of both worlds, and unless we are prepared to face up to this fact nothing of any great use is likely to be done. If the consuming public think, with me, that it is in the best interests of this country to maintain a virile population on the land, making a decent living out of the land, they must be prepared to make some small sacrifice towards this end. At least at the last election they showed their willingness to do so, and the sacrifices which they have made to date have been so well set off by the considerable improvement which has taken place in the agricultural position under the handling of my right hon. Friend, that I am sure he still has the country behind him. This being the case, I am only concerned at the moment to see that we put into operation the best long-term policy possible for the industry.
I heartily support my right hon. Friend's Measure for making a temporary 1368 grant or subsidy to the industry. He cannot at this stage do otherwise. No one would wish to see a subsidy used as a permanent long-term policy. It is unreliable, and the most extravagant form of assistance. Once started, it is hard to give up. This leaves us with three alternative forms of assistance, either quota, levy or tariff. My right hon. Friend at the moment seems to be wooing a combination of the two, a quota-cum-levy policy. I view this flirtation with some slight apprehension. I may be old fashioned, and I am afraid I am already accounted by a near relative of mine by marriage among those politicians in this House whom I once heard her refer to as "those juvenile Rip Van Winkles." But I do not consider that in the long run it will be for the benefit of the livestock industry to be subjected to the control, rationalisation and complicated administration which a levy system must inevitably involve. Livestock farming is the branch of agriculture which is least suited for marketing control. Meat is nowhere near being such a marketable commodity as wheat or potatoes. It cannot be stored without losing the all important advantage that it has over foreign meat, and that is its freshness; and the preservation of this advantage is, to my mind, worth more to British agriculture than any marketing board or any levy.
The difficulties of administering a deficiency payment, or payment of any kind, on a live weight basis, as was seen in the War, are enormous. We all know, as has already been stated in this House this afternoon, ways of doctoring live animals so as to improve their appearance, increase their weight and hide any other defects. The possibility of evasion and fraud might lead to the payment being made on a dead weight basis. Once we are on a dead weight basis I maintain that we shall lose this valuable quality of freshness. A payment on a dead weight basis, as already anticipated, necessitates the setting up of abattoirs and central slaughter-houses throughout the country. Once a farmer is driven to a central slaughter-house he is automatically placed in the hands of the butchers. I do not want to say anything against butchers, except that I should consider them extremely poor business men indeed if they did not take full advantage of the all-powerful position in 1369 which they would then find themselves. Once an animal is dead you cannot walk it round another market if you do not like the price offered. If the farmer will not accept the price the meat will go into cold storage, and the public will be given stored meat, which will be neither in the best interests of the public or the farmer.
I come to the other form of assistance, and that is a tariff. I realise that at the moment my right hon. Friend is not in a position to impose a tariff. He has, nevertheless, two years' grace before deciding upon a long-term policy, and I ask him in all seriousness not altogether to exclude from his mind this means of assistance. There is a very good case to be made out for a tariff. It is only fair that the livestock farming industry should have some measure of Protection in a protected world and in a country where every branch of industry to-day has some form of protection, and where there is a more or less protected wage market. It can be made effective in two years' time if the Cabinet and the Government intend it to be so. It has the advantage, to my mind, over quotas in that it is fair to importers into this country. I cannot help feeling that, in the long run, quotas are not likely to lead to better feelings throughout the Empire. Some friction must arise when the time comes for deciding the exact proportion of quota to be allotted among the countries forming the Empire. With a preferential tariff all parts of the Empire would be treated fairly, and could enter into healthy competition for our markets. Moreover, the public would have the certainty of a fresh meat supply, and we should be leaving the farmer the one last chance of having a little fun and a mild gamble in managing his own affairs at market.
The agricultural shows going on throughout the country show what a tremendous spirit and enterprise there is still left in the industry, in spite of the terrible time it has been through. If we give the livestock farming industry, when the time is opportune, a tariff sufficient to ensure a reasonable price, I am certain the industry will soon buck up. The Minister of Agriculture will then have done all that a great many farmers in this country ask him to do, and if the livestock farmer cannot carry on with a reasonable measure of Protection it 1370 will be better for himself and the country if he "chucks it up" and devotes his attention to some other form of activity. I make these suggestions in the friendliest spirit and, as I said before, with a real desire to see that, when the time comes, the best long-term policy is decided upon. I also make them because I think it is only right that one who is deeply concerned with the ultimate welfare of the livestock industry should fearlessly voice any dangers he may see ahead. In conclusion, I would like to emphasise once more ray gratitude to my right hon. Friend for the immediate relief which he has given, and the resolute way in which he is tackling the problem. Unlike his great national hero, Robert Bruce, he has nothing to learn from the spider, and I sincerely trust that his determination will meet with the success which it deserves.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
I have seen to-day the best exhibition of worshipping at the shrine of the golden calf that I have ever seen in my life. The worshippers have come from all quarters, and they have been very frank about it. An hon. Member from one of the Scottish constituencies admitted this afternoon that so far as he was concerned it did not matter where the money came from or how it came, so long as he got it in his hands, and plenty of it, and he was quite sure that the Minister of Agriculture was the man who could find it for him. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) is not here. I suppose he wanted a bit of something to eat. [An HON, MEMBER: "Beef!"] He will get some English beef, not like the foreign that I have had for some time. He stated that he was a simple, rural, intelligent person, who wanted to speak the truth. He wanted to say that they had had the subsidy for wheat. I looked up some figures while he was speaking, and I found that for 1932–33 the wheat subsidy was £4,510,000—not bad—and that the subsidy for milk will be £4,650,000; the subsidy for sugar since I have been in the House has been £3,500,000; and this afternoon's subsidy is to be £3,000,000 for beef. The hon. Member for Leominster said he was not bothered about the method, so long as he got the spoils.
1371 I remember in March of this year, that the "Yorkshire Post," when it was putting up a fight against the Labour party in the West Riding County Council election said that the Labour policy which we had put forward was "rank bribery," and that we were trying to bribe the unemployed people and those who were receiving out-relief. I wish the people of the West Riding could have seen the exhibition in this House during the last month or so. If the Labour policy were "rank bribery" I call this "double-dyed bribery," so far as the Government are concerned, in regard to their supporters. The Government are making an attempt to bribe landowners and farmers, and everybody so far as the landed interest is concerned. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir T. Rosbotham) seems to be very much hurt. I think he must have a very tender conscience. I do not know him yet, but he seems to feel, with a good many of his colleagues, that the farmers should be put on a means test. Why should the farmers not be put on the means test in the same way as the 2,000,000 unemployed workers who are on it and who are put upon a very severe grid?
I am speaking of something that I know, and not of something that I have read in a book. I have served upon public assistance committees since November, 1931. If the farmers were subjected to the scrutiny which the unemployed get when going on to transitional payments, not many farmers would get the subsidy. [Laughter.] Somebody laughs. Why should not the income of the farmers be taken into 'account, including their interest from investments other than in their land, and the income coming into their homes, including the income of some of the sons who may be living there, some of the grandchildren, or the wooden-legged relatives, such as have been taken into account in regard to aplying the means test to unemployed people 4 I would ask them, "Why should there be a means test for your brothers end sisters, and no means test for you?" I am satisfied that if a means test were put into operation by the Minister of Agriculture for the farming community, exceptionally few farmers would fall into the category of needing assistance.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lord Willoughby de Eresby), 1372 speaking of the subsidy, said that the money ought to come in at the top. That is not the policy of the Minister of Agriculture. The money is not coming in at the top, but at the bottom. The reason it has not come-in at the bottom in the past is that the wages of the industrial workers have been reduced by many millions of pounds in a year. Last Monday night I tried to put across the Floor of the House the fact that there is not a collier in the British Islands who eats foreign meat because he likes it. He would sooner have the good British beef steak any day than two foreign beef steaks. He relishes English beef if he can get it, but, if the present proposal be adopted, he will not have the chance. I know what I am talking about. When I got home last week-end I had an instance showing how badly industry is smitten. I had pay notes put into my hand. I have one in my pocket of a man who has nine children under school age, and who came home last week from the pit with 5s. 5d. That is not a laughing matter. Hon. Members here may laugh about it, but that chap did not laugh, nor did his wife when she had that money put into her hands. She had hardly received it five minutes before the rent man was knocking at the door. She had to say to him, "I cannot give you any this week." These are the folk who would like to have some British beef. They cannot have it because wages are down. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford says that we want to feed the money in from the top. It comes in, and when it arrives at Whitehall—
§ Lord WILLOUGHBY de ERESBY
The hon. Member must have misunderstood what I said. I was pointing out that the only way under the present system that the money could get to the bottom was from the top. The only man who pays wages in agriculture is the farmer, and until the farmer has made the money it is impossible for the wages to be paid.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I understand that, but the person who has to eat the beef is the consumer and not the farmer. The farmer wants to sell it to someone who has the wages wherewith to buy it. The workers have not the wages at the present time. If the money comes in at the top, it has to filter through to the bottom. The producer pays every time, or, as we 1373 say in the mining industry, "It all comes from the pit point." The consumer will be hit in this matter. The hon. Member from a Scottish constituency whom I mentioned, the hon. Member for Leominster and the hon. Member for Ormskirk all say that they want to sell the beef. We are trying to emphasise the fact that you cannot sell it if there is no money with which to buy it.
The other point of the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford is that people will have to have foreign meat if British meat goes into cold storage. Why is British meat going into cold storage? Because people cannot afford to buy it. The hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) said that some people in his constituency would have to go without beef twice a week. Some of my folk go without it six times a week, and they do not get much of it on Sunday. They go without, and they work hard. I am more than ever convinced that I am right, coming from an industrial constituency, in opposing this Bill, by the fact of the support that it is getting from all angles, and we shall go into the Lobby against it. Someone said something about votes. I make no bones about repeating the statement that, if a by-election occurred in an industrial urban centre and it was fought on nothing but this Beef Bill, we should win it hands down; and, if no by-election is fought upon it, when a general election comes, if this Bill is on the Statute Book, instead of hindering us it will give us 100 seats at the next election.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir MERVYN. MANNINGHAM-BULLER
I should like to say a few words about this Bill from the point of view of one who represents an industrial centre rather than from the point of view of agriculture. The last speaker and one or two others seem to take the view that those who represent industrial centres should be opposed to this Measure, but I cannot help thinking that they are profoundly mistaken. It seems to me that the one vital thing for British industry at the moment is a free market where the goods it produces can be sold. It becomes increasingly difficult week by week and month by month to sell our goods overseas. Only too often, when by skill and energy and enterprise our manufacturers have built up a line of goods for export to a certain country, 1374 they find that, as soon as they, have got it established, it is knocked out by some change in currency, some decrease in quotas, or some increase in duties. In the home market there are no troubles of that sort; there are no quotas or alterations of currency; and it has become increasingly clear during the last year to everyone engaged in industry that the home market is now of more vital importance to our industries than ever it has been before. If that be the case, surely it is in the interest of all those engaged in industry to do everything they can to strengthen the home market and build up its purchasing power. The industrial centres of this country now find themselves surrounded by a large agricultural community who are facing bankruptcy. Many farmers are entirely in the hands of the banks; they are unable to spend money or purchase goods; if nothing is done to help their industry, they will find themselves faced with bankruptcy. That means that a large proportion of our home market is useless as regards the sale of their goods by industrial concerns. If some measure of prosperity could be restored to this branch of agriculture, which has been hit so hardly, it would strengthen and build up a portion of our most valuable market, namely, the home market.
If money is provided for that purpose, where will it be spent? It will be spent in the local towns, in our own industries —in the purchase of boots from my own constituency, of woollens from Yorkshire, of cottons from Lancashire, goods which cannot now be bought by that portion of the community, because they are practically speaking down and out. Surely it is sound on the part of the big industrial centres to support a policy of that sort. I was interested to hear, in an excellent maiden speech earlier in the Debate, the statement that many of the sons of agricultural labourers on the grazing farms are looking for other jobs and going out of the industry in which they have been brought up, and for which they are well fitted. The position is even worse than that. This year, perhaps for the first time in the history of this island, the sons of farmers and graziers themselves, whose fathers and grandfathers have been bred and born in the grazing industry, have been giving up the one job for which they were pre-eminently fitted, and looking for other openings, probably flooding an already overstocked 1375 market in other directions. Where are you going to find people to take their place? The art of grazing beef or managing grassland is not learned in a short time. These men have been born and bred to the job, and it is a job that they like. I welcome this Bill because it will bring back some measure of prosperity to the industry and put it on its feet, but I welcome it even more because I think it will restore to the graziers a feeling of confidence that the Government mean to see that they get fair play, and I hope that it will have the effect of checking this tendency of the sons of graziers to look for other jobs. I am sure that that will be in the interest of the country.
I would ask those who represent industrial areas to take a broad and long view of the position, bearing in mind the fact that the problem which is always worrying the leaders of our industries is where to find markets for their goods. It is in the interest of all those engaged in industry to do everything they can to increase and strengthen the market where their goods can be sold, rather than allow a great portion of their most valuable market to be so wiped out that it will not be possible to re-establish its purchasing capacity for many years to come. When we are finding it increasingly difficult to sell our goods overseas, we should do everything we possibly can to strengthen and enlarge the one really valuable market in which we have the advantage over everyone else, namely, our own home market. I hope that representatives of industrial constituencies will support the Bill, and I think that those who oppose it are doing a disservice to the industries in those areas which they represent.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I was glad to hear the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Northampton (Sir M. Manningham-Buller), because it was rather depressing to me to hear Members representing the towns trying to counteract all the good that has been done in the last few years in bringing the country and the town closer together. I agree with every word that my hon. and gallant Friend has said. This is a matter which not only affects people who live in the country, but affects equally, and pos 1376 sibly even more, those who derive their livelihood from the towns. It is to the greatest industry of all, the industry employing the largest number of people in this country, that they must look to a large extent for a market for their manufactured goods. I think that the view expressed by hon. Members opposite is au extremely short-sighted view, and I cannot believe that it really represents the view of the ordinary people who reside in the cities. I am also rather surprised to see the official Opposition Amendment, because, if hon. Members opposite had any knowledge at all of the parlous position of the grazing industry all over the country at the present time, they would know that there is no possible question of a cure being found for it in reorganisation, but that it is almost a matter of days whether the industry can continue through the next year or not.
I was going to say to my right hon. Friend, to whom we are so much indebted for what he has done to bring this Bill forward, that I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mrs. Copeland) said on Monday, that if this Measure is not pressed forward, or, at any rate, if measures are not taken immediately to prevent imports from New Zealand and other Dominions to some extent, I fear very much that the good that we expect even from this Measure may come to nought. As is well known, this will be a very early season for marketing cattle. It may be that before this Bill can come into operation the market will be so glutted with cattle that the present arrangement of £3 per head will be of no use at all to the farmers in my neighbourhood. I can speak for my own district in the Midlands that the average losses sustained by the farmers in the production of cattle are well over £3 a head, and that it would not, be overstating the case to say that the loss is something over £5 or £6 a head. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members opposite will not run away with the idea that this Bill is largely going to make cattle-breeding a prosperous industry. It may allow it just temporarily to struggle through until my right hon. Friend the Minister is able to bring forward his other proposals to put it on a permanent basis.
In conclusion, I think that the Minister has a right, and I expect he will exercise 1377 it, to ask the agricultural community themselves to do what they can to assist in the improvement of the selling and slaughtering of cattle. I believe that very much can be done, not by doing away with the small markets, because they are a great asset to this country, but by a better method of marketing, and certainly by a better method of slaughtering. I believe that they themselves could, by a method of their own, quite probably do away with and keep off the market a great deal of the inferior quality of beef which has done so much in the past to run the price down to ruinous levels, and of which we see so much at the present time. It is eight years ago that the Linlithgow Committee reported on this question of marketing, and it is high time that some of the suggestions they put forward should again be considered.
There is a great deal in the views put forward on both sides of the House to-day, particularly by the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot), on the difference between the cost of production and the selling price not only of beef but also of a great many other agricultural products. I do not think that anybody necessarily profiteers in this market, but I believe that there is some better method of transport and of conducting other operations that would not only reduce the cost to the producer, but would enable him to get a better price for his goods than that which he is obtaining at the present time. We thank the Minister very sincerely, not only for bringing in this Bill but also for the untiring work, energy and sympathy which he has given to the whole agricultural community since he took office in this country. I may say also, without any wish to flatter him, that there has never been anybody in whom the people, at least in my district in England, have had greater confidence than the present Minister.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
Those of us who have kept in touch with agricultural conditions have seen during the last two years, with intense sympathy and apprehension, the market for livestock getting steadily worse and worse. We have heard over and over again that the Government, by negotiation and otherwise, were going to see that the tide turned. We have listened at auctions in 1378 our own constituencies and over the wireless to the steady fall in prices, month by month, all the time. We remember when the price per live cwt. used to be 60s., and how that price gave place to 50s., and 50s. to 40s. Now, with regard to a considerable variety of beef in a considerable number of markets, the prevailing prices are down in the neighbourhood of 30s. per live cwt. In spite of the prophecies, I believe that it is an undoubted fact that ever since the Ottawa Agreements, which were represented to our farmers as giving them the first claim in the markets, the Dominions the second and foreign countries the third, things have got steadily worse.
Quite clearly, any Minister finding the position as it is would feel that something must be done. I am sure that my hon. Friends above the Gangway would not deny that if they were in power. No one would seriously contemplate the disappearance of so essential a part of our agriculture as is represented by stock grazing and fattening. Nevertheless, it may disappear unless something is done this winter. To anybody who knows anything about the industry, as my hon. Friends above the Gangway no doubt do, obviously it cannot live any longer on its savings through another bad six months. There are no savings left except in very special conditions in rather special corners of the country there are none in the main stock districts. Farmers, generally speaking, in the districts which I have in mind are not solvent. They are being carried by their bankers, by people who are afraid to call in mortgages, by merchants and by many others. We in this part of the House- have never denied that it might be quite justifiable to take steps of the nature of one or other of the alternative courses that are now before us in circumstances similar to those in which the industry finds itself, namely, the verge of a big measure of reorganisation in certain circumstances.
I will quote, if I may, what my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said about that subject, so as to make clear a proposition which in this Debate has sometimes had doubt cast upon it. The point is that we are strongly in favour of measures to reorganise our agricultural industry, provided that they 1379 comply with certain conditions. We are not opposed to giving help during the time needed for reorganisation if those conditions are complied with. In parenthesis I may say that the measures which we favour and have carefully worked out go a great deal further than marketing reorganisation. Our policy would include taking steps to see that the benefits of improved marketing went to those who had the difficult task of readjusting their methods to the improved marketing, and did not, sooner or later, filter through to landowners in the form of rent as it is bound to do in present circumstances. If I may recall the words of my right hon. Friend on the Second Reading of the Agricultural Marketing Bill, in 1933, he said:If an industry were engaged in a complete reorganisation of its methods, reestablishing itself in accordance with present day requirements, modernising its plant and changing its methods, and if it could be shown that during the period that the scheme was being put into operation it needed some shelter from destruction by a flood of foreign importations designed to overthrow it meanwhile, we should recognise the justice of such a claim and would be prepared to admit it.Any such scheme, however, should observe four conditions.—which the right hon. Member gave. They were these:First, it should not be the purpose of the scheme permanently to raise the prices of the commodities above the prices prevailing in the world at large,and the object of reorganisation was to make the industries concerned effective, so that they could produce in competition with the rest of the world.—secondly, that they should not be given any permanent measure of protection which could only conduce to revive inefficiency, but that such a measure as this should be exceptional, temporary and provisional, and should come to an end after a specified period of years; thirdly, that the interests of the consumers should be most carefully safeguarded, and that they should have an important place in the machinery for establishing such a system; fourthly, that there should be specific Parliamentary sanction in each case."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1933; cols. 73–4, Vol. 276]That lays down the general line, to which we still adhere. I now come to the special circumstances of this case. I have tried to show how grievous is the position on the actual farms, but there are other things that come into consideration. I agree that the main consideration in all 1380 these big questions, if you take the long view, is that the customers of agriculture should return to prosperity, and that in the long run none of these artificial methods will have any effect unless that comes about. But, when I am thinking not of the unemployed or impoverished people who cannot afford the meat which undoubtedly they would otherwise be consuming, it is a fact that the habits of feeding are changing among people who can afford, within limits, what they want. Men and women nowadays eat less than they used, and eat a greater variety, and they find it suits them better. They are inclined to eat more fruit and vegetables, and wives are inclined to dislike cooking. When they come into the new council houses, they have only a gas oven which holds a, small joint, which is a factor in the situation, and, rightly or wrongly, families are smaller and the large joint is a very uneconomical proposition for a small family. All that has to be taken into account. Consequently one finds, from the remarkable figures that the Minister gave, that our share of our home market has been steadily going down. We find alongside that, most remarkable figures, which I have not previously had in mind, of the extraordinary increase of importation from some of the Dominions. The hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) gave figures which showed an increase of 77 per cent. between one year and the next. The figures for New Zealand were most amazing-377,000 cwts. of beef in the pre-Ottawa year and 700,000 in the following year and an anticipation of 1,000,000 cwts. in the present year.
It seems to me that the position at which we have arrived is the fault of the Ottawa policy. I do not want to describe that policy in the extraordinarily strong language of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery); at the same time, perhaps my feelings are much the same as his. At Ottawa undoubtedly the Dominions were allowed to think that we could absorb a steadily increasing amount bf their produce. With regard to beef that was not true, and it was not true with regard to other things. We might have been able to absorb the extra amount which they were encouraged to supply if the Government had made a better job of the World Economic Conference. It was, no doubt, their idea that, following on a successful Ottawa Conference, they would 1381 have a successful World Economic Conference and they laid enormous stress on the success of it. With that in their mind they, no doubt, gave the Dominions this idea that we should be able to take a steadily expanding amount from them, but from the moment the Government said at the World Economic Conference that they objected to quotas put on by foreign countries against us but that our quotas were different, and that they objected to duties which were unreasonable but, of course, our duties were most reasonable, the World Economic Conference was doomed to failure. From that moment also, of course, as has become increasingly evident in recent months, the Ottawa policy has been a millstone round the Government's neck and the ruin that is now threatening our farmers is directly the Government's fault for having encouraged the Dominions to go in for extra production without securing a restoration of prosperity at home, which alone would make possible our absorption of that extra production.
There has been a new factor that has come in which is rather important in the case of New Zealand and some of the other Dominions. They have, I believe of set policy, depreciated their currency below ours. That, of course, has helped this enormous growth of exports at low prices with which our farmers, on a higher currency level, cannot compete. I do not know how it is that New Zealand, knowing the number of their stocks, no doubt, from the census, and having made the proviso that they might send an extra 10 per cent. in each of the two years, have increased beyond all proportion— 120 per cent. in the first year and 140 per cent. in the second. Unless their cows have suddenly learned the way of dropping three-year old calves one cannot imagine how the miscalculation occurred, but this depreciation of currency has helped them to export at prices which are really ruin to us without being so hard on them. Also, of course, some of our Dominions, though not in regard to meat, are using subsidies to undercut our producers. We find, for instance, Australian butter being sold here at 9d. a lb. and the same butter being sold in Australia at ls. 6d. We have always asserted that it was justifiable to take steps to prevent an essential home industry being ruined by deliberate subsidy or currency depreciation.
1382 What is proposed in the Bill? It may be regarded in two ways. You may regard it legitimately either simply as a subsidy to be borne, like the sugar beet and shipping subsidies, by the taxpayer and never to be recovered, or One may follow the line that the right hon. Gentleman took a day or two ago when he explained that this is a temporary advance necessary because he cannot yet put a tax on beef, but that it is to be repaid to the Treasury as soon as we can arrange such a tax, either with the consent of the Dominions or compulsorily, after the expiry of the period during which we are debarred from putting taxes on meat from the Dominions and from the Argentine. I prefer to take the long view, though it is quite legitimate to take the shorter view, on the principle that the person who wills the means must be regarded as willing the end. I can foresee how, when the tax is proposed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will explain that we are partly committed to the policy of the tax by having passed this Bill and granted this subsidy to be repaid out of the tax. Following the admirable example of the President of the Board of Trade, I am pledged not to vote for taxes on meat, as are a considerable number of Members on that side of the House who sit for borough and city constituencies, as they will be well advised to remind themselves before they give definitive votes on this matter. I see no escape from the conclusion that the consequences of what we are asked to do to-day are meant by the Government to be a tax of a penny a pound on meat with a drawback, no doubt, for the Dominions.
Unfortunately, I missed the speech of the Minister this afternoon, but I asked one of my hon. Friends, who took notes for me, whether he told the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had consented even provisionally to regard this as a non-repayable subsidy. That has not been said, and I doubt whether it will be. The position might possibly be different for some of us if the Minister had told us that the tax would only stay on until it had yielded the amount of the subsidy, and that it would then be repealed. I fancy that he did not say that either. I feel certain that, once the Government get a tax put on, they will 1383 not be in the least inclined to take it off again. I feel equally certain that once any other Government come in they will take it off, and it is because of that uncertainty and inevitable unsettling of the industry, that I am so much opposed to these definite taxes upon essential articles of food. It seems, therefore, that what is inherent in this Bill is incompatible with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen laid down as the conditions upon which we would agree to help an industry in the process of transition by the reorganisation of its markets. To return to what he said, I believe that it is the intention of the Government, to quote his words, to raise prices permanently above the level of world prices and to give protection permanently, and not in a way which shall be—again to quote his words—exceptional, temporary and provisional, ending after a specified period. That, therefore, goes against the principles which I must, and do, loyally support.
The Minister, who is always inclined to ask us what our policy is when he is a bit in doubt about his own, may ask me what my alternative would be to meet the present emergency, which I admit ought to be met. I do not like subsidies because they encourage an industry, once it gets them, to go on leaning upon the State and expecting, whenever times are hard, to be helped out again in the same way as it was helped before. I do not want quantitative restrictions because, though the prices go up, the whole gain in prices goes to the exporting country and not to us. And I do not like duties. I think it was Dr. Johnson who, when asked his opinion about the respective demerits of three unpleasant persons, said, "I will not argue to the point of persistency between a louse, a flea and a bug." I feel the same about subsidies, duties and quotas, but, in the circumstances of this case, I think that if I were in the Minister's position, which I am glad I am not, I should try to visualise the matter in this way. He could do it very much better than I could, because he has all the essential figures.
Take the price of a certain quality of beef at 40s. per live cwt. Take the certainty of the farmers holding back stack through the summer, hoping that something will be done before long, and take 1384 the certainty of the shortage of keep for the autumn, and therefore the certainty that they will make every possible effort to dispose of a perfect flood of stock in the early autumn. You will find prices going down, if nothing is done, to 30s. or less. It means, of course, that a lot of cattle will have to be killed without being marketed for food at all. Take the supposition that the Minister intends to take measures to secure prices. I do not know what his price is, and it would have been better if he had told us what he wanted to secure. Suppose it is 45s. on an average during the next seven months of the subsidy period. There is no profit in that, but people can go on without increasing their losses. On this estimate, this may happen. The greater part of the rise in price which he hopes to secure, must be secured by quota restrictions and not by a subsidy. That is a perfectly good point, and one which hon. Members in other parts of the House who are in fairly close touch with the industry have made. The subsidy will be the minor point.
That being so, is it unfair to our Dominions which have produced such an enormous and wholly unanticipated supply of stock to ask them to make up for the very great gain which they have had in the last two years by a restriction now, which would, at any rate, neutralise the depreciated currency which they have gone in for in order to help the flood of exports to this country? It might mean for them a loss in supplies, but, as we have seen in the case Danish bacon, they would get higher prices, and it seems that they ought to be able for a few months to use the extra money, as the Danes have done with regard to bacon, to compensate for the decreased supply. If after that the Government bring before the House proposals for a duty upon meant, we shall know where we are and be able to do our best to meet it. I object to this duty being brought in, and to the fact that we are being more or less committed to it by a side wind. therefore, I should have avoided that at this time without committing myself, if I had been Minister, as to what I might think it necessary to do in future.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he is in favour at present of a severer quota restriction, and that if that were put be- 1385 fore the Dominions and they did not agree to it he would be willing to meet me on the point of putting on a duty.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
No, I am afraid I cannot have made myself clear. Surely, the Minister is free now, whether the Dominions agree or not, to put on quota restrictions, or at any rate, he is free to put on a duty. Therefore, I am afraid, whether they agreed or not, knowing that I had to put a very severe quota upon the Dominions anyway, I should do the whole thing by quota and not partly by quota and partly by subsidy. There is this further point about the subsidy. Farmers are intensely nervous about pending proposals for meat re-organisation. They know that it means the abolition of the small markets in which all their business is done and it may mean, if we are to get the Dominions to agree to any system of quotas, that we may have to have a quota here, too. After the engagements of the Ottawa period, it will be a great strain upon the Empire for us to make them mark time permanently while we again expand. A quota means a definite fixed quantity of stock being required from each farmer, which is really an impossible thing in agriculture. You cannot treat the farmer like a factory. Farmers are very much afraid. In these circumstances a subsidy may defeat its own object. Farmers will be inclined to concentrate upon every head of stock during the early portion of the subsidy period in order to be sure that the £3,000,000 will not be exhausted until they have obtained their share of it, and, if prices accordingly go down, the effect of the subsidy may be neutralised. For these reasons, we cannot support the means of meeting the situation which the Minister is proposing in this Bill.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I am sure that agricultural Members in this House will agree that they have had more than a fair share of the time of the House during the last fortnight in dealing with agricultural problems. On Monday of last week we had a full day on the Minister's Vote, and on Monday of this week we had a day on the Financial Resolution dealing with these proposals, to-day we are discussing the Bill, and I understand that on Monday and Tuesday of next week agriculture is again to be discussed in this House. Out of two or three 1386 Parliamentary weeks, five days are being set aside for agricultural questions. I am afraid that, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), I cannot speak as an agriculturist. In common with most of my hon. Friends who have spoken from these benches, I am one of the 93 per cent. of people who are consumers of the agricultural products produced and imported into this country, and I think it is necessary that the point of view of the consumer should be put with force to the agriculturist. Representatives of industrial districts should be as persistent in advocating the claims of those industries and constituencies as the agriculturists are in pressing the claims of agriculture, and as they have been, I can almost say, for the 12 years that I have had the honour to sit in this House.
It has been very interesting to hear some of the speeches delivered, not only this afternoon but also on Monday. Right hon. Members whom I have heard strongly opposing a subsidy have openly advocated a subsidy for the purpose of assisting the agricultural industry. I feel that, if such a strong claim can be made for the subsidy for agriculture, there are many other industries which would benefit to a very much greater extent by a subsidy of the same kind. The Minister of Agriculture this afternoon did not attempt to explain his proposals any further. He explained the Bill at great length and pointed out the difficulty and the length of time which reorganisation of this industry would require. He pointed out the various sections into which it has been or is being divided and which make it difficult to have a complete scheme of reorganisation.
It cannot be said that agriculture during the past, shall I say, generation, has not been discussed in this House. Proposals for dealing with various branches of it have been submitted and relief of one kind or another has been given for the purpose of assisting it. It cannot be said that the proposals in this Bill are the first proposals for dealing with the question of meat. The Ottawa Agreements have been discussed, imports of meat from foreign countries have been regulated, and we know that a White Paper was issued last December in which the Minister himself undertook to regulate the import of meat from foreign 1387 countries and also restrict the import of cattle from Ireland. That has been going on for some time, and it has been pointed out that this subsidy which is to be given to the meat industry is not the end. Indeed, it is only the beginning, and in the proposals of the Minister the only finality which I can see is the question of the levy. There are no proposals at all to deal with the reorganisation of this branch of the industry.
The Minister himself said in the White Paper which was issued before the discussion on Monday that the Government are of the opinion that a plan based on a levy on all imported meat, including livestock, and a regulated market as in the previous paragraph in this White Paper would be the best long-term solution of the problem and one which would hold best the balance between producer and consumer. It was not contemplated that the levy would exceed one penny per pound with a preference for the Dominions. That is the only long-term proposal which the Minister has had for dealing with this difficulty. I suppose he also contemplates in the negotiations which he intends to have with the Dominions and the Argentine that there shall be some further restrictions. The Minister and the Government appear to be fascinated by tariffs, quotas, embargoes and all other methods of instructing the flow of trade. It can be said of a subsidy, if it has any merit at all, that its only merit is that it is a crude admission that the vested interest that gets it is put on the dole and is subsidised by the man in the street who will know, through Parliament, how much is being paid.
It is doubtful if the hardships suffered by British agriculture are as great as those suffered by other industries, especially the heavy industries, and it is certain that the present troubles of the farmer are due more to the collapse of the purchasing power of the mass of the people than to the prices in the market. With millions of people below the subsistence level there can be no argument that we suffer from over production of agricultural products. It cannot be said that nothing has been done for the farmer and the landowner, and the country will soon have to decide whether 1388 all this assistance that has been given has brought more and cheaper food within the reach of the mass of the people of this country. So much has been said in the Debate to-day and in previous Debates about the assistance which has been given from time to time to agriculture that I think the agricultural Members in this House should be reminded that the 93 per cent. of the population of this country who are consumers pay all the rates on agricultural land in this country. The farmers have their land rate free. We have a tax on our bread to encourage the production of wheat, we pay more for our milk, we pay more for our bacon, fruit and vegetables, we contribute to a subsidy on sugar, and now we are asked to agree to this subsidy of £3,000,000, which, if the Minister gets his way, we shall have to repay by a penny levy on meat imported into this country.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
Is not the index figure for agricultural products lower than that of any other industry?
§ Mr. HALL
We are dealing with meat this evening. I have seen an estimate that the assistance given to agriculture since the War has been sufficient to have purchased about one-quarter of the agricultural land in England and Wales. Another estimate is that in the last five years agriculture has received in relief of taxation and in subsidies in one form and another an amount equal to the wages paid to all the workmen employed in the industry. I wonder what would have happened if other industries had had an equal amount, say the cotton industry, or the industry in which I am interested, that of coal. Whatever can be said about the changed habits of the people and the reduction in the consumption of beef as a result, can be said with regard to coal, for there are new factors of power production which have reduced the consumption of coal. If a claim can be made, as is being made by agriculturists, that for the reasons given by the 1389 Minister they are entitled to a subsidy, I say without hesitation that a similar claim can be made on behalf of every other industry which is suffering as a result of the changing habits of the people.
We have heard a good deal to-day, as we have on previous occasions, about the difficulties with which agriculture is confronted and about farmers being on the verge of bankruptcy. I have heard that argument put in every agricultural Debate that has taken place in the House during the last 12 years. I was interested to see the results of the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation in the last three years. This Corporation is responsible for financing the industry under the Agricultural Credits Act. The annual meetings of the Corporation indicate that something like £14,000,000 has been lent during the time that the Corporation has been in existence on some 600,000 acres of land, and that mortgages have been given on land in almost every county in the country. The statements made by the Chairman at the annual meetings of the Corporation do not in any way indicate that agriculture is in the condition which hon. Members who represent agricultural interests seem to indicate. In one of the last three years the Chairman stated that lie was pleased to report that 98 per cent. of the repayments and the interest falling due was received within a week of the date fixed for the payment, and that, in addition, £123,000 which was not due was repaid. Last year something like 92 per cent. of the interest and repayments due were made punctually, and in addition some £400,000 was repaid when it need not have been repaid and could have been carried over for the period for which the loan was granted. Such figures and statements from a representative person who is Chairman of this Corporation do not indicate that the agricultural industry is in the condition which hon. Members who represent agricultural districts have indicated in this Debate.
The £3,000,000 which is provided for in this Bill is just a temporary measure. The Minister hopes that it will be repaid. May I ask from whom it will be collected? A levy is to be charged upon meat imported into this country. As was pointed out by one of my hon. Friends, the poorest people have to eat frozen and chilled meat, and the levy will be charged 1390 upon the meat which is eaten by those people. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said, once this assistance is given to agriculture there will be some difficulty in removing it. This £3,000,000 is for seven months only. In a full year it must amount to something like £5,000,000. In addition to what will be required to meet the annual charge for the payment of this assistance to the producers of cattle, this £3,000,000 must also be charged. I say without hesitation that the working people who eat frozen and chilled meat cannot afford to pay this extra levy.
I wonder what the President of the Board of Trade has to say about this matter. He was closely questioned in February, 1933, as to the pledge which he gave in the last election which, to put it broadly, indicated that under no consideration would he vote for a tax upon food. He qualified that afterwards and said he did not mean food in the broad sense, but what and meat. The proposal Vontained in this Bill, following out what I think is the intention of the Minister of Agriculture, is that a levy shall be placed upon meat. I can understand why the President of the Board of Trade does not grace us with his presence during the discussions upon this matter. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, there are two Walters. One Walter is concerned about shipping and these restrictions of trade which have compelled the Government to give a subsidy to shipping; and there is the other Walter who is doing his utmost to restrict trade and so make the position of shipping much more difficult.
I am much concerned about these proposals and their effect upon the coal industry, and especially the coal industry in that part of the country from which I come. It is evident that the right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding the agreement with the Argentine, is going to adopt some further restrictive measures so far as that country is concerned. The Argentine is one of the best customers of coal we have in South Wales, and South Wales is the most distressed area in the country. The Argentine market is a most valuable market to us, and, if it is further interfered with, more miners will be unemployed, and less of the best agricultural produce which is produced in this country will be consumed, so that 1391 miners, instead of depending upon the best British beef, will have to depend upon imported beef. We might rightly ask who is responsible for the increased imports of frozen and chilled foreign meat. Take the question of cattle. The right hon. Gentleman has restricted the imports of store cattle from the Irish Free State by something like 110,000 for the first six months of this year compared with the first six months of 1933. There is this reduction of one-third. At the same time there is an increase of one-third in the importation of cattle from Canada. A reduction in one case and an increase in the other. There is a substantial increase in the amount of chilled meat from the Argentine and a substantial increase in the amount of frozen meat from the Dominions. From New Zealand the increase has been from 270,000 cwts. in the first six months of 1932 to 447,000 cwts. in the first six months of this year. The same can be said of almost all our Dominions in respect of frozen or chilled meat sent to this country.
What about the question of price? In the White Paper which was published before the discussion last Monday it was stated that British beef was sold at less than pre-war price. So far as the consumer is concerned he does not get that advantage. In 1932 the first quality British beef was sold at 10d. a lb., and at the present time the best British beef is sold at ls. 2d. a lb. I called at a butcher's shop this morning and asked whether he could tell me the price of prime steak, and he said that the best steak was 2s. a lb. He added that they had steak which was very much cheaper but the best steak was 2s. There is a margin between the wholesale price and the retail price, and in the Amendment which was moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) we say that that margin could be filled to the advantage of the producer if there was a scheme of reorganisation for the production and marketing of meat. Do not let it be a charge upon the consumer every time.
During the course of the Debate suggestions have been made to the right hon. Gentleman that he should treat meat as bacon has been treated and that there should be quota restrictions. It is very interesting to note what has been done 1392 with bacon. During the first six months of this year the imports of bacon into this country have been reduced as compared with 1932 by nearly 2,000,000 cwts. and the value of those reduced imports of bacon has increased by £500,000. In other words, for nearly 2,000,000 cwt. of bacon less the people of this country are paying 500,000 more than they paid for 2,000,000 cwt. more of bacon imported in the first six months of 1932. Who is finding the money? It is being found by the consumer. The price of bacon has increased. In January, 1933, the wholesale price of Irish bacon brought into this country was 67s. 6d., and in June of this year the price had increased to over 100s. per cwt. Danish bacon was sold in January, 1932, at 62s. 6d. a cwt. and it is now 97s. 6d. a cwt. Hon. Members who represent industrial areas know how important bacon was as part of the food of working people some two or three years ago. I remember bacon being sold at 3½d. to 4d. per lb., I mean the thin slices, but I doubt very much whether the same quality can now be bought at anything less than 7d. or 8d. or 9d. per lb., and if you want the best bacon it costs about ls. 8d. or ls. 10d. per lb. This inflicts considerable hardship on the working classes, and whatever proposals the right hon. Gentleman may introduce, whether they are restrictions or a levy, they will means that the financial difficulties will be felt entirely by the working classes.
It is surprising that the sale of fresh beef, as of fresh milk, should need to be assisted in this way. One would have thought that the freshness of the home products would have given them a monopoly. But there are other reasons for the falling off in the consumption of beef. Those engaged in the heavy industries were the biggest meat eaters, persons employed in the mining industry have always been large meat eaters, and the falling off in the consumption of meat is largely the result, in the first place, of fewer men being employed in these heavy industries and, in the second place, of the low wages which are paid to those employed. Any rise in price, therefore, will have the inevitable effect of reducing the demand, and thus will not solve the difficulty. The Minister of Agriculture, speaking on the Estimates of the Department last year, in dealing with the question of interfering with the imports of food, said: 1393We have to go cautiously in these matters. We are handling the food of the people. The country is in no condition to stand spectacular or unjustified rises, and no one wishes to see such rises take place. … If we prejudice the consumer lie will not merely be prejudiced against the importer but against the home producer also. The housewife will put it, down to the avarice of the home producer if she has been forced to pay an unreasonable proportion of her man's weekly wage to fill her shopping basket."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July,, 1933; col. 953, Vol. 280.]That is the position, and we say that the demand for cheap food is overwhelming and cannot be disregarded as long as we have the economic conditions which prevail at the moment. Home killed is not sold in working class areas. I wish it was, it is better than foreign. Home killed is a luxury in working class homes. Its price retail militates against bigger sales. If you go to any of the industrial centres you will see numbers of poor people waiting until late on Saturday evenings when there is generally an auction sale of meat, mostly imported, to see if they can get it cheaper than if they had purchased it earlier in the day. If the price of imported meat is increased then numbers of these people will have to go without their Sunday dinner, which is the principal meal of the week in the majority of working class homes.
This proposal is class legislation in the worst form. A levy will be imposed on the food of the poor to pay for the best meat produced below the cost of production, and wealthy people who can afford to pay will have the best beef in the world at their tables. This will be done at the expense of millions of the poorest of the poor. This legislation, in our opinion, is almost entirely for that purpose. Producers, with the Government's support, are to fix prices for this commodity, presumably at figures high enough to cover relative inefficiency in this industry, and they are to be able to enforce these prices by depriving the public of alternative supplies from abroad. A better way, as was stated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), is to organise the production and marketing side of this industry, and to put it on a basis such as to give an adequate reward to those who cultivate the soil and care for the livestock in this assential and important industry, which we all desire to see prosperous.
1394 We believe that these proposals are only tinkering with the problem. There is just one consolation, and that is that when the consuming public is once aroused it will with no uncertain voice make short work of these doles, and insist that agriculture shall play its part in the economic life of the nation. It can surely be said that the consuming public is being very patient and very generous to the farmers and the landowners, arid it is to be hoped that they and the Government will not continue to misunderstand this patience or to take advantage of it, as is proposed in this Bill. I readily associated myself with the Amendment which has been moved.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am sure that the Debate has not falsified the hopes which we all had at the beginning of this series of discussions, when I introduced the Financial Resolution and said that the House was entering upon a very great subject, and that I hoped we should find ourselves equal to it. The character of the Debate and the points which have been raised are worthy of the deep consideration which the British House of Commons must give to this subject, opened in this way. The Oppositions are of course in a slight dilemma. The Liberal party have had considerable difficulty in finding rural Members who can reasonably attack the proposals, or urban Members who fully understand their bearing. Right hon. and hon. Members of the Labour party are in a still more difficult dilemma. They have to find out of their scanty numbers Members who do not represent mining constituencies to attack any proposals for supply regulation. They are not quite capable of doing it; there are not quite enough Members.
We have had the hon. Member for the Hemsworth Division (Mr. G. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) putting up a very strong case against the Bill, arguing with great vehemence and putting a point in which they thoroughly believe, but all the time they are conscious of their share of responsibility for the coal quotas and measures for the supply and restriction of coal, and for a Bill which put a heavy burden on the homes of the poor, a Bill which meant higher prices for coal in the working-class home, with no allowance 1395 for the fact that the working-classes use very large quantities of coal, and they have succeeded in stabilising the price of coal at the 1931 figure. If we were asking on this occasion for any such thing hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would denounce us with unbridled denunciation.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
Is it not the case that the prices which will be paid for beef, including this subsidy, will range considerably higher than those of 1931?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
In 1931 the index figure for fat cattle was 122; in 1932 it was 115; in 1933, 101 and at the end of June, 1934, it was 94 land if I can get it up to 122—
Mr. G RENFELL
But does not the subsidy in fact raise it very much higher? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will translate the figure of the subsidy into percentages.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
All I can say is that I shall watch the course of prices with great care in the next two or three months, and, if I can get a. rise to 122, I shall consider that we have not done so badly. I am sure if we could offer the beef producer in this country for his autumn cattle a rise of nearly 40 per cent., then the ordinary beef producers would join. in saying, "Great as the praises are which have been heaped upon the head of the Minister, they are nothing to what he ought to get." Let me put it to my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite. Why should it be so wrong for the meat producer to seek to secure the same level of prices which the coal producers secured by the same method—the method of supply restriction?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We have discussed that before, and I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will admit, as we all admit, that if the full measure of quantitative restriction were applied, if we limited the production as rigidly as is being done in many cases in the coal area, if we threw the butchers out of action for two or three days a month or even longer, if we fined or imprisoned people for overproducing meat as my hon. Friends know their legislation would fine or imprison people who were over-producing coal—if we did that, of course we could get our effect without a subsidy. It is because we do not wish to impose upon the trade of this country and upon the producers 1396 the sudden supply restrictions which would be necessary to bring us back to the position of 1931, that we are adopting this method of bridging the gap between the amount of supply restriction which would be necessary and the present level of prices. I put these considerations before my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite and particularly those who have argued with great strength and fervour the case that we are using the poor man's joint in order to subsidise the rich man's beefsteak. I ask them to remember that, all the way through, the difficulty in our modern life is to deal with the lower-grade product—which is not all consumed by one section of the community.
It is a mistake to think that all the cheaper classes of meat are bought by working-class people. Very large quantities of it are bought by the lower middle-class. Those who know where the meat from the livestock marts actually goes realise that it is very often to the working-class end of the town that the finest beef and the best joints go. The man who is working hard with his hands will pay a heavy price—or his wife will —for good meat. The housewife will no more starve a man of good meat than a man who was racing for his life would starve his horse of good corn. It is not true that the whole of the benefit of the reduction in the price of British beef, or lather, the benefit of avoiding the inevitable rise in the price of British beef which would have to take place if the cost of British beef production were to be borne by the price of British beef alone—it is not true that the whole of that benefit goes to the rich man and that the whole of the burden is borne by the poor man. I admit there is a strong case; my hon. Friends opposite fee] they are on very strong ground when they take the familiar attitude that this is an attack by the rich on the poor. It is not an argument which can be logically defended, but it is a strong argument, as an emotional argument, in this House, and I think they were right in getting off the point of reorganisation, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) devoted a good deal of attention at the beginning of the Debate.
At the end of the day the reorganisation and rationalisation which would be 1397 necessary to make a very great improvement in the price of British beef would be reflected either in the dismissal of great numbers of men or in the lowering of their wages. It is easy to talk about rationalisation, but at the end of the day rationalisation means that some man who is earning his pay is turned out of his job, that some man who is obtaining a portion of the economic results of industry which is higher than that to which he is entitled is cut down and the money which he is receiving goes somewhere else. This idea of getting everything we want by a process of reorganisation and rationalisation is not as simple as our scientific friends are apt to make out. We must remember that we are dealing with a glut of labour. There is a glut of labour as of other things, and the forcing of extra supplies on the market does not always have the effect that it did under 19th century Manchester economics. Unless these supplies can be absorbed we may easily do a certain amount of harm to put against the certain amount of good that is achieved. I ask my hon. Friends when they talk of reorganisation to reflect what that means in terms of employment, and I would ask hon. Members like the hon. Member for Aberdare and the hon. Member for Hemsworth when they say that our action is simply an attack upon the poor man's joint, to reflect how fatally easy it would be to turn the argument against them and to say that the whole of the measures taken to preserve the price of coal at what it was in 1931 were simply an attack by a specialised section, the miners, upon the cooking fires of the millions of housewives throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare brought up the point about the bacon agreement. He said that bacon is at a high price, and that this was a very bad thing; that the foreigner had been given more money and it was a great scandal. Why is the foreigner given more money? To enable him to buy British coal. My hon. Friends cannot be both genial internationalists and narrow and Gradgrind nationalists. They cannot at the same time say, "Let us all be brothers, let us give every man a chance, let us trade freely and profitably with other nations," and at the same time say, "You have made the bacon trade more profitable to the foreigners. What a shame!" They 1398 get more money as a quill pro quo for buying more British coal.
§ Mr. G. HALL
May I point out that the coal trade, taking it as a whole—the export coal trade—has not benefited to any extent at all as a result?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I will leave my hon. Friend to debate that with my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines. I notice that he used the saving words "as a whole." I suppose he means that the North-East coast coalfield is one thing and the South Wales coalfield is another. He was saying just now, "Whatever you do about bacon, do not have any quota arrangement with the Argentine," though in another breath he said that was exactly the market to which he wishes to send coal from South Wales. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He cannot severely warn us in open Debate here that the effect of quota arrangements may be to give our foreign customers more money, and not expect that the foreigners who come to make trade 'agreements will not read with great care the wise and weighty words of my hon. Friend when he quotes those figures.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I may put that in this. way: Does the hon. Gentleman think that it is a good thing for the miners to pay so little for their meat and bacon that the Argentinians cannot afford to buy coal? How often have we heard that the bankruptcy of the primary producer is of no advantage to the secondary producer of this country. We are all willing to pay lip-service to these things, but when it comes down to actual argument and we see 6d. lying on the table, how great the temptation is to pounce upon it. The whole question of international trade is extremely complex and complicated. We are admittedly bringing forward in these proposals a compromise, and a compromise of a compromise. We are saying that the best arrangement will be a combination of levy and quota, and that, for the time being, we are willing to carry the levy ourselves, be- 1399 cause we believe that that will cause less interference with the course of international trade as a whole.
I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) say for the first time, speaking in the name of his party and winding up this Debate on Second Reading: "We commend the quota and only the quota to you. Do the whole of this by quota."
§ Sir F. ACLAND
I cannot quite admit that. I was referring quite specifically to the very special case of New Zealand who have entirely departed from the gentleman's agreement made at the time of Ottawa, and I think I was very specifically arguing that it is perfectly fair to ask them to restrict their supplies in consideration of the extraordinary way, by the help of a depreciated currency, in which they had increased them.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
That is to say, a nation which had accepted the terms of the agreement should be brought back rigidly to the terms of the quota. The nation that observed, and the nation which did not observe, the quota, should be brought back to the terms of the quota. If that is not my right hon. Friend's version, let us have it clearly. I will certainly now assume that that is not only his position but the position of the whole of his party, and that from now on it is on that assumption that we have to proceed. It is not fair to say that the levy is a proposal which merits immediate condemnation. Even so far as reorganisation is concerned,an incentivesays my right hon. Friend, the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair),is far better than safeguards.The Bill calls out all that is best in the farmer. There is the greatest possible incentive in the Bill to progressive farmers to use up-to-date methods to reform their systems of farming, and to get the greatest amount of profits possible out of the Bill. The same thing applies to marketing. If they could reform that system if they have a producers' marketing board … there again, they will have a still greater advantage out of this Measure, and the 'whole of that time they will be putting their industry on a secure foundation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1932; col. 1077, Vol. 262.]1400 It is fair to use in this connection, but with greater strength and with more confidence, what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland in discussing a proposal on a previous occasion. He also said:It is in the hope that this Bill will help to bridge the gulf and provide, at an imperceptible cost to the consumer, some encouragement and incentive to the farmers, that I commend it to the House to-night."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1932; col. 1078, Vol. 262.]Those are the words in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, in the name of his party, commended a levy proposal. That was the wheat quota. There was no differentiation between one farmer and another, no differentiation in favour of one household as against another—[An HON. MEMBER "And no means test"]—and we had no means test. In all these things that Bill was far better than Safeguarding; it called out all that was best in the farmer. I do not know that I would go so far as that myself. I would say that this Bill appeals to the ordinary, average, middle-weight farmer, the man like ourselves, subject to imperfections; but I would not go so far as my enthusiastic Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland. But he was speaking in the name of his party, winding up for the Government on a Bill in connection with which he had commended levy proposals to the House, and he represented a united, or an almost united party, or at any rate a party in which all the leaders were united. He led them triumphantly into the Lobby in this Parliament, which was returned to support a National Government with a doctor's mandate applied in this fashion. I do not see my right hon. Friend in his place at this moment, but no doubt we shall have the powerful support of his vote in the Lobby, at any rate, if not at this stage, at some other stage of the Bill. But I do not think it lies in the mouth of any of those who advanced or supported those arguments to condemn us for bringing forward the levy proposals which we are now introducing to the House.
Taking the case on its broadest basis, surely we come back to the argument put forward by my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite. They say that we are beginning at the wrong end, that if the 1401 purchasing power of the people were increased all these other things would come about. I admit that that is the main difficulty in which we are to-day. It is a problem which our system has not yet solved, but let it be remembered that the proposals of my hon4 and right hon. Friends opposite do not solve it any more than ours do, because their proposals for agriculture are based fundamentally upon import boards, and import boards on the lines of their proposals would in fact buy up foreign produce at a low price, and would use that money to bring up the price of British produce. That is exactly the same proposal, economically, which is put to them here, but in a different way, and I think it reflects great credit on my Noble Friend the Member for Rutland (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) that he detected that and put it to the House in a singularly cogent speech. We have not yet dealt with this question fully; we do not yet know how we can completely grapple with this question of increased purchasing power; but I think it is only fair to say that the Government can claim that they have not been unmindful of the problem. A greater number of men are now in employment than there were a year or two ago, and certain cuts have been restored. That must have the effect of increasing the purchasing power of the people. The hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) complained with some bitterness that we were always flinging at them the fact that there are now 800,000 more men in jobs; and all that I could say in reply was that they never flung it at us.
I do not say that we have solved the problem of increased purchasing power. We know that the purchasing power is low; we know, as has been brought out in speech after speech throughout the House this evening, that the home market is assuming a greater and greater importance both in our thoughts and in our trade. What troubles us all—or rather, what demands the concentration of mind of us all—is how we can hold, maintain and increase the purchasing power of that home market without at the same time cutting too deeply into the export trades of this country, by which the great proportion of that home market is maintained. That is the dilemma which afflicts us all. But my hon. and right hon. Friends, and hon. Members below 1402 the Gangway, have no reason to wrap themselves in their white mantles of righteousness, to make broad their phylacteries, and to claim that no one has ever thought about it except themselves. The fact that two and two make four is not an exclusive discovery of the Liberal party, and the fact that there is a certain desire to produce at home and a desire for trade overseas is one that must be brought home to the mind of a Minister of any Government and is not a fact confined merely to the adherents of one particular persuasion.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We all know, of course, the remedy of my hon. Friend: it is a return to the Gold Standard, and then all these things would immediately fade away. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is part of the remedy."] All I can say is that I did not notice that all these troubles disappeared when we were on the Gold Standard, which is apparently what the hon. Member requires. Secondly, we do not believe in these universal remedies which we can apply to any circumstance or situation however complicated. We must bear with our imperfections. My hon. Friend must therefore excuse me if I do not follow him all the way in his argument. But when he said, "Why not do something?" I was surprised, because I thought his complaint was that to-night in this Bill we were doing something. This is the well-known story of the mother who rang for the maid and said: "Mary, go upstairs and find out what baby is doing and tell him to stop." I am sure that my hon. Friend would not repeat that story on any occasion without adding, "And tell baby to return to the Gold Standard."
The problems that this House has to attack to-night are problems which it would be useless for us to think that we could solve in this Debate or even by this Bill. As I said when I warned the House, this is the beginning of a series of Debates, and I would go so far as to say that this is certainly not the last Bill that I expect to introduce on the subject. We have had more than one careful and thoughtful maiden speech. We had an excellent maiden speech from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing), who stressed the question of organisation, and we had a speech of 1403 great interest from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Duckworth), who very boldly pointed out that we should have to reconsider our attitude to the whole of the agricultural system and to consider the position of the carbohydrate group, such as sugar-beet, in relation to other groups such as wheat and milk when we were going to the assistance of a particular branch of British agriculture —that we should look to the underpinning of the whole structure.
The arguments which the House has brought forward to-night are the arguments of those who desire to examine and keep open the whole position. I am sure that even my hon. Friends opposite have not put down the sort of Amendment which was once described by Mr. Wheatley as the "child o' their wrath."
This is a very mild Amendment. It would, of course, have the effect of killing the Bill if it were carried, but I am sure they would not desire that. They merely wish to impress upon us the necessity for organisation if we are to proceed along this course. They wish to impress upon us the necessity of seeing that this assistance that we are giving does not run into the sand somewhere between the producer and the consumer. They quite rightly point to the great difference that still exists between what the producer receives and what the consumer pays, and I certainly think there is a great deal of slack that might reasonably be taken in without any hardship falling upon the consumer, and I think a rise in prices to the primary producer can well be looked for without any unreasonable rise in prices to the housewife.
I have every hope that we shall be able to produce that result in this case, but it will take time, and it will mean that in certain instances we may have to put through restrictions in supply more
|Division No. 340.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Castlereagh, Viscount|
|Albery, Irving James||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Chapman, Col.R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Brass, Captain Sir William||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric|
|Apsley, Lord||Broadbent, Colonel John||Clayton, Sir Christopher|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Cook. Thomas A.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Browne, Captain A. C.||Cooke, Douglas|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Courtauld, Major John Sewell|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Burnett. John George||Copeland, Ida|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Butler, Richard Austen||Craven-Ellis, William|
§ drastic than the restrictions in supply which we should apply if we were free to use the combined method of quota supply regulations and a levy to make up the difference. The report of the Committee on Agriculture of the Scottish National Development Council that was quoted suggested this as the method which they desired to follow, and it was backed up by Mr. Joseph Duncan, Secretary to the Farm Servants Union, and indeed was commended to the Labour movement of Scotland by a powerful article in "Forward," which no one could bring forward as a capitalist newspaper or a supporter of hon. Members on this side of the House. Opinion is in a fluid state upon this problem of agriculture, and in the Debates so far the House has approached the whole problem in a much more tentative manner than it has ever approached agricultural problems before.
§ We must expect the cogent and powerful arguments about raising the price of food which have been advanced by Members opposite and, unless we are prepared to face up to them and meet them, it would not be right for us to go forward with the policy that we are commending to the House. We must expect that arguments on purchasing power will be advanced by hon. Members below the Gangway, and, unless we are also able to meet that point, we shall not be able to proceed with our policy. But I say without hesitation that a case has been made out for action along the lines that we are commending, and it is as the result of these Debates, after listening most carefully to all the arguments advanced from the other side, that I move to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 216;1405
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Ker, J. Campbell||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Kimball, Lawrence||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Law, Sir Alfred||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Davies, Maj.Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil)||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Dixey, Arthur C. N.||Leckie, J. A.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Dixon, Rt. Hon. Herbert||Lees-Jones, John||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)|
|Duckworth. George A. V.||Levy, Thomas||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cuntiffe-||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Edmondson, Major Sir James||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Locker-Lampson,Rt. Hn. G. (Wd,Gr'n)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Loder, Captain J. de Vete||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Elilston, Captain George Sampson||Loftus, Pierce C.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Sheppereon, Sir Ernest W.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Mabane, William||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradoston)||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)|
|Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine,C.)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Macqulsten, Frederick Alexander||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Maitland, Adam||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Spens, William Patrick|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fyide)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Stevenson, James|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Storey, Samuel|
|Goldle, Noel B.||Milne, Charles||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd. N.)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Moore-Brabazon, Lteut.-Col. J. T. C.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hales, Harold K.||Munro, Patrick||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Nation, Brigadier General J. J. H.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||North. Edward T.||Tree, Ronald|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Nunn, William||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||O'Connor, Terence James||Tufnell, Lleut.-Commander R. L.|
|Heligers, Captain F. F. A.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Tartan, Robert Hugh|
|Herbert. Major. J. A. (Monmouth)||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Palmer, Francis Noel||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Patrick, Colin M.||Ward, LL-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hors-Belisha, Leslie||Pearson, William G.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewlek (Wallsend)|
|Hornby, Frank||Petherick, M.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Horobin. Ian M.||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n,Bilston)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Potter, John||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Procter, Major Henry Adam||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Radford, E. A.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Hunter-We...on, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Rallies, Henry V. A. M.||Windsor-Cilve, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ramsay, T. B W. (Western Isles)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Ramebotham, Herwald|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Ramsden, Sir Eugene||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-||Mr. Blindell and Commander Southby.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Maxton, James|
|Banfleld, John William||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||mllner, Major James|
|Batey, Joseph||Harris, Sir Percy||Paling, Wilfred|
|Berneys, Robert||Janner, Barnett||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Buchanan, George.||Jenkins, Sir William||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Grippe. Sir Stafford||John, William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Dagger, George||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Kirkwood, David||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Dobbie, William||Lawson, John James||Thorne, William James|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Leonard, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wilmot, John|
|Greaten, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middiesbro', W.||Mallalleu, Edward Lancelot||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W.Riding)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Mr. Groves and Mr. G. Macdonald.|
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Captain Margesson.]