HC Deb 06 March 1934 vol 286 cc1758-69

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed: That it is expedient— (a) to authorise payment by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, out of moneys provided by Parliament, in respect of sugar and molasses manufactured in Great Britain during the period of 11 months commencing on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, from beet grown in Great Britain of a subsidy at the rates and subject to the conditions hereinafter mentioned, that is to say: Sugar: subsidy to be payable in respect of each cwt. of sugar at the rate at which subsidy would have been payable under the British Sugar (Subsidy) Act, 1925, in respect of that sugar if it had been manufactured during the month of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-four; Molasses:

  1. (i) if the average market price per cwt. of raw sugar for the last quarter of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-four, as certified by the said Minister, is not less than six shillings—no subsidy to be payable;
  2. (ii) if the said price as so certified is less than six shillings but not less than five shillings and sixpence—subsidy to be payable in respect of each cwt. of molasses at a rate equivalent to one-sixtieth part of the subsidy which would have been payable under the said Act of 1925 in respect of that molasses if it had been manufactured in the month of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, multiplied by the number of one-tenth parts of a penny by which the said price as so certified falls short of six shillings;
  3. (iii) if the said price as so certified is less than five shillings and sixpence—subsidy to be payable in respect of each cwt. of molasses at the same rate as the subsidy which would have been payable under the said Act of 1925, in respect of that molasses if it had been manufactured in the month of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-four;
  4. (iv) it shall be a condition that the rate of the subsidy payable under the said Act of 1925 in respect of any molasses manufactured during the month of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, shall be calculated in the manner prescribed in the preceding paragraphs with respect to molasses manufactured during the eleven months commencing on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and thirty-four;
(b) to make such incidental provisions, including provisions for the making of advances in respect of the subsidy on molasses pending the certification of the average market price of raw sugar, as are necessary or expedient in relation to the matters aforesaid."—(King's Recommendation signified)—[Mr. Elliot].

8.59 p.m.


I am sure that the Committee will desire that I should say a word on the Motion, particularly in response to the points which were raised last night with great Parliamentary ingenuity by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). My right hon. Friend spoke particularly of the committee of inquiry which was proposed to be set up and asked how far it had proceeded and whether the House would have the advantage of the report of the Committee before being asked to vote further sums of money. The sum which we are now asked to vote for a year is in order to allow the committee of inquiry full time to report. The negotiations with which the Government were concerned, first, in connection with the Lausanne discussions and subsequently with the Ottawa Agreements, precluded the possibility of personal attention being given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers to the problem of the beet sugar subsidy, and, consequently, when we came to the period when the growers would say, "What are you going to do" and the House asking "What are you going to do," and there was a danger of some hasty or ill-considered decision being arrived at, the Government decided to carry on for another year and allow, first, the negotiations within the industry to take place, secondly, to allow the results of that inquiry to be appreciated and, thirdly, to give time for the committee of inquiry to be set up and examine the position as it was after the negotiations within the industry had been completed rather than before.


I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is now getting beyond the Supplementary Estimate. He is dealing with matters which will require legislation and in answer to an inquiry which the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) managed to make, but, while I do not think that I can object to what the right hon. Gentleman has said so far, the question must not be debated.


I was only saying that owing to the remarkable celerity of the Committee this evening it has passed the Report stage of that Vote and is now upon the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution, which is to authorise the new legislation which the Government will introduce if, as I hope, the Committee passes the Resolution.


I must apologise to the Committee. I am afraid that I have been troubled with one or two problems at the same time and forgot for the moment exactly where we were.


I am sure that if you told us that it was eight o'clock in the morning when it was eight o'clock in the evening we should hesitate very much before challenging your Ruling. In connection with the committee of inquiry the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: As to what is to happen when the present Subsidy Act expires in 1934 I am not at present in a position to express an opinion, but with a view to receiving guidance on this and other matters the Government have further decided to appoint a committee to inquire into the conditions of the United Kingdom sugar industry as a whole, including production, refining and distribution, and to ask this body to report to them before the present Subsidy Act expires."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1932; col. 1435, Vol. 264.] The reason why we are asking for the present temporary Act to go on for another year is to give an opportunity for the committee to be appointed and to deliver its report upon the subject. There has been no waste of time whatsoever. The sugar beet industry, the factories, and the refining interests, have taken full advantage of the time that has been at their disposal. They have come together and have fulfilled the undertaking for which I asked—namely, that they should co-operate in submitting, as soon as possible, a marketing scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act and would be prepared to co-operate in due course with the growers of sugar beet in the promotion of a scheme. That was the undertaking for which I asked when I announced the policy of this Measure to the House before it rose for the Summer Recess last year—and the industry has fulfilled that undertaking. It has put forward a scheme and that scheme is now going through the statutory procedure which is required under the Act.


Without any committee of inquiry?


Oh, no. The final responsibility for the acceptance or refusal of the scheme remains, of course, with the House, and the long-term policy of the Government will of course be affected by the results of the committee of inquiry. The industry is taking advantage of the statutory procedure open to it under an Act which has been on the Statute Book since 1931. That we are all, including the right hon. Member for Darwen, I hope, very glad to see them do. They are not wasting time, but are proceeding with the organisation of the industry by the industry, which is obviously more desirable than the organisation of the industry by the Government. The growers of sugar beet also, I understand, have reached an advanced stage in the preparation of a scheme to regulate the marke ting of their products. It is hoped that it may be possible for this scheme to be put into operation for the control of next year's crop. If these two schemes are in operation it will be possible to promote a development scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1933, and so the whole sugar industry will be organised as a unit. That, of course, does not affect in any way any assistance given by the Government to the industry or the terms under which that assistance may be given.

Having in view the circumstances of the case and the technical nature of the questions which must arise, the Government have decided to limit the personnel of the committee of inquiry to three, and I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government have been fortunate enough to secure the distinguished services of Mr. Wilfred Greene, K.C., as chairman. I hope to be able to announce the names of the other two members very shortly. This committee of inquiry will have a highly important duty. It will inquire into the conditions of the sugar industry of the United Kingdom, including both home-grown beet sugar and imported sugar, and its inquiry will cover production, refining and distribution. It will be asked, having in mind the changes in the structure of the industry which would follow reorganisation under the Agricultural Marketing Acts, to make recommendations as to the future conduct of the industry, and, in particular, as to the application of State aid in so far as this may be considered necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen will see, therefore, that before the Government comes to determine its future policy with regard to sugar, it will have the advantage of the report of an impartial committee which will cover all the aspects of the problem.

I do not wish to go into details on the general question of the sugar industry. No doubt a more fitting opportunity for that will be found on the Second Reading. But as to the point which the right hon. Member for Darwen particularly stressed, that it was desirable to have as early as possible a commission of inquiry, and to have the terms of the inquiry, I am in a position to say that a chairman has been appointed and that the names of the other two members may be expected very shortly, and that the terms of reference are wide and cover the undertaking that we have given the House. I do not think the House or the country will regret that for a year the question of the future of the sugar industry in this country is to be held over, in view of the historical importance of this industry, its practical importance to the agriculture of this country, its enormous importance to the agriculture of our sugar-growing Colonies, and its importance in world economy, to which the World Sugar Conference now sitting in London bears witness.

9.10 p.m.


I find myself in agreement with one or two things that the right hon. Gentleman said towards the end of his speech. He said that he did not intend to detain the Committee long because a more suitable opportunity would probably be found on the Second Reading of the Bill to go into most of the arguments. But on the Liberal benches we cannot let a Financial Resolution of this importance and magnitude to pass by without registering the strongest possible protest against the continuance of this subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman has told us what the Government are going to do in regard to the committee of inquiry and why it has not been done before. I do not want to put it too strongly. I have heard some lame arguments in this House from time to time, but, really, to ask the Committee to believe that because the Government were busily engaged at Lausanne and Ottawa it was impossible for them, for a period of about 18 or 20 months since April, 1932, to get even as far as they have got in nominating the chairman of the inquiry, is asking us to swallow quite a lot.

The Government do not seem to have any real appreciation of the enormous amount of money involved in this matter, and the very great interest which is being taken in it all over the country. This is not a small matter by any means. The money might amount to £30,000,000 or £40,000,000, and if we are to go on the assumption that it does not matter if we leave over the matter for another 12 months, I would like to know what the delay in appointing the committee is to cost the country by way of subsidy. If it carries us on only a year it will cost something like £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 for what might be described as culpable negligence on the part of Ministers. It really is coming to something if the country has to pay £3,000,000 because some Ministers cannot "get down to it" and fulfil the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in April, 1932.

If we follow the right hon. Gentleman's statement a little further, we find that we are to have a committee of three and that in the meantime the sugar industry is preparing schemes and reorganising itself so that it may become one unit, as he said. By that means, I assume, we are getting on very rapidly towards a monopoly of the sugar industry, which will enable all the beet growers to recoup, by exploiting the consumer, any losses they may suffer in future from the withdrawal of the subsidy. It is clear that someone has to pay for the continuance of a bounty to the sugar-beet industry, and that if the subsidy is to be stopped arrangements are to be made by which the price of sugar will put the matter right. I find it very difficult to understand how the Government can come along with a scheme like this in this casual way without the most extreme protest having been made, not once at odd times, but year after year, and we make a protest again to-night, not as a matter of form, but because we feel the importance of this thing as a matter of principle and because of the financial cost to the country.

Some of the strongest protests ever made against this subsidy have been made by the right hon. Gentlemen who are now members of the present Cabinet. Indeed it is only a short time since I was amazed to hear the strength of the language employed by some of them in the Debate on this particular Resolution in 1927. However strongly I felt that I could speak, I know I could not say anything stronger than what one of the Ministers, the present President of the Board of Trade, said on that occasion. He said that the figures were really staggering. At that time they were £10,000,000. He said it was no use our shutting our eyes to the fact that we could not afford to pay subsidies on this scale, and, what was more, we could not afford to pay them in this way. It is when we come to those last few words that our main grievance is reached. The Government of the day were told that in 1927 and we have been asking ever since that some committee should be appointed to let us know in what way this matter would be dealt with. We were told at that time that we could not afford to pay this amount at all and that we could not afford to pay it in this way; but Government after Government have gone on since then paying it in this way, and inquiry has been postponed and postponed again.

I hope, after what the Minister of Agriculture has said to-night, that the Government are going to "get a move on" in this matter. Perhaps when the opportunity arises, the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether there is to be any representative of the consumers on this committee of inquiry; also whether the committee will be able to hear evidence from interested parties apart from those actually engaged in the industry. He might also tell us whether the final report will be completed and in the hands of Members long before we hear any more about the renewal of this subsidy either by way of Supplementary Estimate or in the ordinary Estimates of a future year. The present President of the Board of Trade made another remark in 1927 which is as true to-day as it was then. He described this as the worst example of crazy finance he had ever seen. To-night we have heard from the Minister of Agriculture of the extraordinary way in which the Government has dealt with this matter in the last two years, and we are entitled to say, in view of the figures which were brought up last night, that most people if they were honest on the subject would admit that this is a crazy financial scheme, and that the sooner we get to the bottom of it the better.

9.20 p.m.


I am not sure that I agree with everything that has been said by my colleague on this subject. I look at the matter from an agricultural point of view. The part of the country from which I come has not had much advantage out of the beet-sugar subsidy. It is not particularly adapted to the growing of sugar-beet and it is a long way from the nearest factory and consequently my friends and I have been for some time trying to work out a similar scheme for the growing of another crop, which is not wanted but which would give a great deal of employment not only in the agricultural industry but in other ways. The delay which has taken place in connection with this matter encourages us to hope that we may be able to work out our scheme and place it before the nation long before Parliament is invited by the Government to come to a final conclusion on the beet-sugar subsidy. Judging by the pace at which the Government are proceeding in this matter I think we are justified in entertaining that hope.

It has taken the Government 22 months to select one member of a committee. One hopes, from our point of view, that they will take another 22 months to select the second member, and a further 22 months before they select the third member, and that possibly a still further period will elapse before they agree on the terms of reference. The scheme which we are working out is that of growing bananas. Banana growing has this advantage over sugar-beet growing that practically the whole of it has to be done artificially and therefore it employs a great deal of extra labour. Not only does it employ agricultural labour at one time of the year, as is the case in sugar-beet growing, but it will also provide employment in an industry on which we require to concentrate more than anything else, namely the coalmining industry. Our colliery districts are extraordinarily slack, and unemployment is extraordinarily prevalent in that industry. Bananas cannot be grown without coal—constant supplies of coal, coal every day—while as regards the iron and steel industries it is necessary to build large furnaces. In addition to coal and anthracite various other things would have to be brought from South Wales and other districts.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the bananas which he proposes to grow will produce sugar and molasses? I am afraid he is outside the terms of this Resolution.


I am referring to this as an alternative product. Bananas are grown from June to December in hothouses which means more consumption of coal and more employment of labour. It is all being worked out and, as I say, we hope in a few years to be able to put a scheme properly before Parliament and the country. The two crops could be grown, if we only got enough in the way of subsidy—bananas for half the year and sugar cane for the other half of the year.


I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can have read the

Resolution. If he does so he will find that it is confined to sugar made from beet.


Perhaps I may be able to return to the subject on another occasion as it is a matter of great interest. My only point is that with a subsidy of 19s. 10d. per banana we would be able to—



Question put.

The Committee divided: Ayes, 201; Noes, 30.

Division No. 144.] AYES. [9.24 p.m
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Everard, W. Lindsay Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Fleming, Edward Lascelles Morrison, William Shepherd
Albery, Irving James Ford, Sir Patrick J. Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd) Fox, Sir Gifford Nall, Sir Joseph
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Fremantle, Sir Francis Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Aske, Sir Robert William Fuller, Captain A. G. Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Nunn, William
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Gibson, Charles Granville Oman, Sir Charles William C
Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Gillett, Sir George Masterman Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Gluckstein, Louis Halle Palmer, Francis Noel
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell Goldie, Noel B. Pearson, William G.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.) Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Peat, Charles U.
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathanld Granville, Edgar Percy, Lord Eustace
Blindell, James Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Perkins, Walter R. D.
Boulton, W. W. Greene, William P. C. Peters, Dr. Sidney John
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Petherick, M
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Guy, J. C. Morrison Procter, Major Henry Adam
Broadbent, Colonel John Hammersley, Samuel S. Pybus, Sir Percy John
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Hanley, Dennis A. Radford, E. A.
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Raikes, Henry V. A. M.
Browne, Captain A. C. Harbord, Arthur Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Burghley, Lord Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Rankin, Robert
Burnett, John George Heligers, Captain F. F. A. Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd) Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm Hepworth, Joseph Reid, David D. (County Down)
Carver, Major William H. Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A. (Blrm., W) Hore-Belisha, Leslie Reid, William Allan (Derby)
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.) Horsbrugh, Florence Remer, John R.
Christle, James Archibald Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Clarry, Reginald George Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen, Sir Aylmer Rickards, George William
Clayton, Sir Christopher Hurd, Sir Percy Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Robinson, John Roland
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe) Ropner, Colonel L.
Conant, R. J. E. James, Wing.-Com. A. W. H. Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Cook, Thomas A. Jennings, Roland Ross, Ronald D.
Craven-Ellis, William Jesson, Major Thomas E. Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Crooke, J. Smedley Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle) Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Lambert, Rt. Hon. George Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Croons-Johnson, R. P. Law, Sir Alfred Salt, Edward W.
Crossley, A. C. Leckle, J. A. Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Leech, Dr. J. W. Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Lewis, Oswald Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Llewellin, Major John J. Simmonds, Oliver Edwin
Dickie, John P. Loftus, Pierce C. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Drewe, Cedric Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander Skelton, Archibald Noel
Duckworth, George A. V. MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Dunglass, Lord MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham) Somerset, Thomas
Eady, George H. McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Somervell, Sir Donald
Eden, Robert Anthony McLean, Major Sir Alan Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)
Edge, Sir William Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Soper, Richard
Edmondson, Major A. J. Magnay, Thomas Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Spens, William Patrick
Elmley, Viscount Milne, Charles Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Stones, James
Strauss, Edward A. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Strickland, Captain W. F. Turton, Robert Hugh Wise, Alfred R.
Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F. Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock) Womersley, Walter James
Summereby, Charles H. Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Tate, Mavis Constance Warrender, Sir Victor A. G. Worthington, Dr. John V.
Thompson, Sir Luke Whiteside, Borras Noel H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles Whyte, Jardine Bell Captain Austin Hudson and Commander Southby.
Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford) Wills, Wilfrid D.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) McEntee, Valentine L.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mainwaring, William Henry
Banfield, John William Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Parkinson, John Allen
Batey, Joseph Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)
Buchanan, George Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thness)
Dagger, George Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd) Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Holdsworth, Herbert Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Jenkins, Sir William Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)
Dobbie, William Lawson, John James TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Edwards, Charles Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Mr. Aled Roberts and Mr. Walter Rea.
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.