§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed:
That it is expedient—
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
This Resolution provides for the extension for a further period of the assistance afforded to cattle producers under the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1934, and the subsequent legislation. On 26th June approval was given to an extension by the appropriate Ministers under the Emergency Provisions Act, 1935, of the period during which subsidy payments will be made until 30th September, 1935. Hon. members on that occasion, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), showed a natural desire for information as to the situation that would arise on 1st October when, as a number of hon. Members pointed out, Parliament in all probability would not be sitting. This financial Resolution provides for a continuance of the payment for a period of 13 months from this date until 31st October, 1936. I am sure that will give great pleasure to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who at Question Time was pressing that we should have plans extending over a rather longer period. The legislation which, if the Committee approves this Resolution, will be introduced will provide for an extension in the first place for 9 months, that is, until 30th June, 1936. Provision will also be made for a further contingent extension of four months if this should prove to be necessary. This further extension, if required, will be subject to the specific authority of Parliament, 764 which we hope will also please hon. Members who desire that close control should be kept over this procedure.
The proposals before the Committee do not indicate, as I have seen suggested, that there has been a breakdown of the negotiations which have been taking place. These negotiations are still taking place with the Governments of the Dominions and Argentina on the long-term proposals outlined by the Government in their White Paper of March, 1935. These proposals do not indicate that the Government take a pessimistic view of the prospects of a satisfactory agreement. The negotiations are necessarily difficult, and indeed protracted. They concern a trade which as a whole comes to £166,000,000 per annum, that is, £64,000,000 for the beef trade, £40,000,000 for the mutton and lamb trade, and £62,000,000 for the pig meat trade. That is a very substantial sum in home production and in international trade and one of which we must have every care when we are negotiating, as we hope to negotiate, long-term proposals which concern the livelihood and purchasing power of scores of thousands of producers in this country and hundreds of thousands in the overseas Empire and in foreign countries with whom we trade. I think time spent in making sure that the foundations of a permanent plan are well and truly laid is time well worth while.
On the last occasion when this subject was debated hon. Members opposite complained that the House was being asked to approve of interim measures without having before them the Government's long-term policy. I did my best on that occasion to restate it, and I am going to anticipate criticism by restating it once more. It is found in two paragraphs of the White Paper of March, 1935, first, that it is the firm intention of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to safeguard the position of the United Kingdom livestock industry and, secondly, that the policy which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom desire to bring into operation as soon as they are in a position to do so is to assist the United Kingdom livestock industry, according to the needs of the market, from the proceeds of a levy on imports, with a preference to the Dominions, overseas producers being left free to regulate their 765 exports to this market themselves, that is to say, an earmarked tariff on meat imports the proceeds to go to the home industry and orderly marketing secured by general agreement. That provides a definition of a long-term policy which it would not be possible to surpass either in brevity or in clearness.
While negotiations are still in progress, I am not in a position to make anything more than a general statement, but I should like to state very clearly that in those negotiations we have found a strong, and general, appreciation of the fact that disorderly consigning to the United Kingdom meat market will bring nothing but ruin to overseas producers. And much of the negotiations in which we have been engaged revolves round the necessary conditions for a regulated market for the meat trade both in this country and overseas. As stated in the White Paper—and I should like to repeat it again—the Government could not regard as a satisfactory permanent arrangement, a system under which the responsibility for the regulation of the market would rest upon them alone, but if, as I think is not improbable, there is a general desire that the supplies consigned to this market, which is the greatest, and, indeed, practically the only import meat market of the world, should be adjusted in a reasonable manner to the capacity of the market, the United Kingdom Government would not be unwilling to co-operate in this as in other commodities. Practical means of achieving this result are being carefully examined. These also form part of the negotiations which are now in progress with the Dominions, and, indeed, with the foreign suppliers as well.
The Committee will wish to know how far we have gone towards realising these ideals in practice. Let me then, take one great section of the meat trade, the mutton and lamb section, covering £40,000,000 a year, and, by the way, 90 per cent. of it being derived from Empire sources, either home or overseas. Mutton and Iamb prices in this country have been reasonably steady since their recovery from the disastrous levels of 1932. The market has been fully supplied, but not over suppled. Consumers have received the supplies at reasonable prices. They have not complained, and producers have got a return for their products which enables them to keep in production. The766 producer has got prices which are reflected in the prices for mutton and lamb rising from 7¼d. in 1932, as the average for the year, to 10¾d. in May, 1934, and 10¼d. in May, 1935. These are prices for English mutton. That has gone with no recognisable rise in price to the consumers. The retail price in pence per pound for British legs of mutton has remained steady at 1s. 3½d. in 1932, in June, 1934, and in June, 1935. That seems to indicate that the consumer has received his supplies at a steady and reasonable rate, and it does show that what we desire, namely, a reasonable return to the producer without an undue rise of retail prices can be accomplished, however illogical it appears in theory, and there are the figures showing what has been done in practice. We have done that by the quota, and nobody wishes to disturb the quota for mutton and lamb. In fact, New Zealand has shown the greatest anxiety not to transfer to a tariff basis for mutton and lamb.
These arrangements hinge upon getting agreements among the producers, and it is essential that they should all agree. Within the last few days we have secured an additional agreement between the three parties mainly concerned, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, which will govern the supplies of mutton and lamb to this market not only to the end of this year, but until the end of next year, an 18 months period. It may be of interest to the Committee to have the figures. For the six months ended 31st December, 1935, New Zealand will send 1,578,000 cwt. and Australia 950,000 cwt. During 1936 New Zealand will send 3,900,000 cwt., and Australia, 1,750,000 cwt., provision being made for adjustment upwards or downwards in the light of later estimates of United Kingdom production and the capacity of the United Kingdom market. There is the solid proof of the negotiations which have been carried on, and it indicates most clearly that there is no question whatever of these negotiations breaking down. This is common sense, long-term planning. We can look ahead at any rate for 18 months with some sense of security.
I turn to the pig-meat trade covering a total of some £60,000,000. Arrangements have been made for the supplies of frozen pork, excluding baconers, from the Dominions during the six months July 767 to December, 1935. Baconers are, of course, already covered in the arrangements made for 1935 in connection with the bacon scheme. So that, together with the arrangements for beef and veal, on which also we have been able to secure an arrangement lasting until the end of this year, the whole field of meat supplies from the Dominions up to the end of this year has now been covered by the negotiations which have been going on. I said during the Debate on 26th June that the arrangements for the supplies of beef and veal for the second six months of this year were under discussion with Dominion Governments. Definite arrangements with Australia and New Zealand have now been made to cover this period. Australia had available 850,000 cwt. of beef and veal for arrival in this country in the third quarter. She has agreed so to arrange her supplies for the third and fourth quarters as a whole that the total quantity will not exceed 1,150,000 cwt., of which 160,000 cwt. will be chilled beef. We are beginning to tackle the difficult question of the entry of the Dominions into the chilled beef market, an entry made theoretically possible by a recent scientific development, although it is agreed on all hands that large stocks of beef suitable for consignment as chilled beef to this market are not available in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand has agreed that her supplies of beef and veal during the six months will not exceed 478,000 cwt., of which 66,000 cwt. will be chilled beef. There is also an agreed carry-over of 70,000 cwt. from the second quarter into the third. The net result of these arrangements is to ease the weight on the market of imported supplies during the fourth quarter, which is a serious quarter from our point of view when our own heavy supplies are coming off the grass. The supply of beef and veal from the two great southern Dominions will then be something like 100,000 cwt. less than those during the corresponding period of last year.
These interlocking arrangements are precisely those which we desire to see carried through by agreement, and which we have secured as a result of the financial provisions made by this House in the past, and it is to bring these to a triumphant conclusion that I ask for the 768 further provision from the Committee this afternoon. The course of events in the meat market during the last few weeks has clearly emphasised the need for an orderly arrangement of supplies in the interests of all suppliers. In the third quarter we have done our best to accommodate the rather heavy supplies coming forward, as a result of the drought, from Australia, which meant that they had to kill and despatch here larger quantities than they otherwise would have done. But the supplies of chilled beef from the Dominions and South America have been so heavy that the price of good quality chilled beef fell by something like 15 to 20 per cent. in a few days and brought the price of chilled beef below that of frozen. Matters became so serious that the drastic step had to be taken of freezing down this good quality meat so that it could be held over in cold store. An instance of that sort has done more to convince overseas shippers than any amount of argument by myself, by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade or by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions. Glut supplies like that ruin the producer and do not benefit the consumer.
I am very hopeful that we are beginning to see our way out of these difficulties, and I regard the arrangements to which I have referred as very definite steps in the right direction. These steps towards regulating the market will not by themselves solve the problem of the United Kingdom cattle industry. As I have said in the House and in negotiations, to solve the problems here by either a straight tariff or by quota cuts alone would involve tremendous interference with trade and with the consuming power of this market, which it is our great effort in every way to preserve, because the maintenance of the high consuming power of the British market is of paramount importance not merely to ourselves but to the whole world if these great supplies are to be disposed of. It is clear that if we are not to raise the general price level by a tariff going to the Exchequer and if we are not to apply these very drastic quota cuts, we must have a continuation of the present policy. Therefore, until we are in a position to feed the subsidy fund from the proceeds of a levy, the Government feel that we must ask the House to accept the responsibility of making these advances from the 769 Exchequer. If we can reach agreement with the Dominions and Argentina on a long-term plan on the lines of the White Paper of March last, it will be necessary to put before Parliament legislation of a comprehensive character. The Committee will be aware that there are domestic aspects of the problem, such as efficiency methods, improvement of marketing methods, improvement of slaughtering methods, to which the Government attach considerable importance.
Parliament will expect, and will be afforded, full opportunity of debating these problems as a whole. None of us would suggest that we can usefully enter upon a discussion of these problems now, and certainly we cannot solve them before the House rises for the Summer Recess. We are therefore asking the Committee to approve the Resolution which extends the cattle subsidy beyond the 30th September. If an agreement is reached it is the intention that the Exchequer subsidy arrangements should be replaced by a levy subsidy arrangement as soon as Parliament has approved the necessary legislation. It may, unfortunately, happen that we are unable to reach an agreement. In that event the Government propose that the subsidy should be continued until the 30th June, 1936, and if necessary till the 31st October, 1936. The Committee will have seen from the memorandum on the Financial Resolution the financial liability which is involved. If the payments continue until the 30th June, 1936, it is estimated that the sum which Parliament will be asked to provide will not exceed £3,000,000. If circumstances arise which make it necessary for Parliament to be asked to approve an extension for a further four months, until the 31st October, 1936, the further liability to the public is estimated not to exceed £1,333,000.
It is intended that sums advanced from the Exchequer to the Cattle Fund under the authority of this legislation, including the advances to cover the costs of administration, shall, together with the advances already made, or to be made, under existing legislation, be recoverable in full by the Exchequer, as circumstances may permit, from the proceeds of any levy which may hereafter be collected upon imported meat and livestock. These, therefore, are advances and not payments. They are advances contingent 770 upon the levies which it may be possible to collect. The price level of home beef determines the amount of assistance which may be necessary out of these levies. The proposals before the Committee lead towards and interlock with the arrangements which the Government will bring into operation as soon as agreement can be reached or, failing agreement, as soon as treaty obligations permit. Hon. Members opposite may say that this money is to be voted because the Government cannot make up their minds. Do they think that the Government ought to abrogate these treaty obligations? They are severe critics of the Government if they make unilateral agreements which are supposed to interfere with treaty obligations. I would ask them to consider whether they will ask us to make up our minds and then brush away any signed agreement into which we have entered.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am glad the hon. Member for the Don Valley indicates that that will not be so. This is not money being voted because the Government cannot make up their minds. It is money being voted because the Government have scrupulously regarded treaty obligations. I hope that this arrangement and the fact that it interlocks with our long-term policy will enable the livestock industry to make its plans well ahead. If you are going to benefit the United Kingdom livestock industry you must have a subsidy the effect of which will be felt right through the industry, down to the breeder. The store man has had a, very bad time, and especially in the outlying parts of the country he has not received benefit from some of the assistance which the House has given. It is therefore necessary that in any long-term policy the benefit should be felt by the store man as well.
There is no doubt that the emergency measures, apart from helping the beef feeder in a weak market, have contributed to some extent in maintaining the prices of store cattle. Some classes of store cattle this Spring have been realising as much as £1 per head more than a year ago. But since last Autumn it has been natural for feeders to take a short view of the situation and to concentrate their purchases on those forward animals which could be finished 771 before the date they feared the subsidy would expire. The measures now proposed will afford beef producers a degree of security for a further 15 months, and I think that confidence in the future will bring about better prices for younger store cattle. It is significant that in the last month or two yearlings have been making 5s. per head more than a year ago.
During this period we are also doing our utmost to keep up the quality of our beef cattle. While not disputing the opinion of some feeders that prime beasts should kill out at more than 54 per cent., there is no doubt that without the condition as to finish laid down by the Cattle Committee a larger number of unfinished cattle which would not kill out at 54 per cent. would be slaughtered. The Cattle Committee's figure has given a standard up to which the beef industry as a whole must work. Continued working to that minimum standard will benefit the public by making available to them a larger volume of well-finished beasts and will also stimulate a further improvement in quality in both store and finished beasts. The home producer must work for quality as his main criterion. He cannot go merely for mass production, like some consignors to the market, but must work to get trade for a quality article.
These are not ad hoc but transitional measures. We are passing through a transitional stage in the beef industry. We are slowly restoring into order the chaos in which the industry was in 1932, and particularly in the Autumn of that year. We can see clearly the point we are aiming at. Our policy has been clearly defined, but we cannot bring it into operation by a wave of a wand or even for some time by Act of Parliament, unless we can secure the agreement of the countries with whom we have treaty obligations.
One thing I ask the Committee to believe is that the Government will hold to their undertaking to safeguard the position of the United Kingdom livestock industry. We are of opinion that this undertaking can best be implemented in present circumstances by an assurance which will enable this industry to plan ahead for at least a year and a quarter. 772 That assurance is contained in the Financial Resolution which I now submit to the Committee for approval. I trust that the course of retail prices will show that we have done our utmost to combine these measures of assistance to the producers with the maintenance of a reasonable charge to the consumer which will not check consumption, which will not make an undue inroad upon the scanty household budget of those to whom we are looking to consume this article once it has been produced. Almost alone among the great countries of the world we have succeeded in maintaining prices and agricultural wages without an undue burden on the consumer and without checking the consumption in this land. It may be that some of these measures are unorthodox, but I say that the proof of experience has shown that the policy which we are following out is one which may be reasonably followed to-day by the Committee.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I am sure that every Member of the Committee will be interested in the statement we have just heard. The Minister has at long last informed us what the policy of the Government is, that is, what the Government planning really means, for long-dated subsidies or for long-dated levies. The right hon. Gentleman dignifies that as a policy. If that is the best that can be done by the Government, the result will be, as we on this side of the Committee, expect, at all events, not that stability or fixity to which agriculturists are looking forward and hoping for, but a glorious uncertainty where they are unable to develop, in spite of the fact, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, that they have 15 months in which to prepare their plans and to plan ahead. After all, the cattle side of the agricultural industry is one where they need to know something more than what is going to happen during the next 12 months or so. They ought to be able to visualise the possibilities of the market for many years ahead. Still, all these debates have been very useful, and we have had many of them. Since July, 1934, cattle industry emergency provisions have been before the House on no fewer than 12 occasions. The Financial Resolutions and Bills have produced about 10 debates.
I remember that in July, 1934, the right hon. Gentleman asked for seven 773 months breathing-space, and he thought that during that time they would be able to bring into existence their long-term policy. It is quite true to say that, so far as a long-term policy can be embodied in a small Financial Memorandum, the long-term policy of the Government was recorded in July, 1934, but by 18th February of this year the industry or the Minister was still gasping, and he had to have a further three months breathing-space. By 26th June more oxygen was required. He asked for a further breathing-space. But now we have a new Government with Ministers without portfolio, Ministers of the universe with all the brains of real statesmen, and now the right hon. Gentleman moves forward from his seven months breathing-space and his three months dose of oxygen to 13 months on this occasion. I wonder whether the new Minister or Ministers have produced the new policy, because it seems to require one or two explanations. The 30th June is probably taken as the date for the conclusion of the Argentine trade agreement, and that without breaking the treaty or the Government's obligations they could call for a levy or adopt other measures, but they are not even sure about the Dominions by June, 1936. Therefore, they take power further to extend for a period of four months the subsidy to the end of the autumn, making 13 months in all.
It may be that one, two, three or four explanations can be given for the nine months or 13 months extension. It may be that there is an election probability or possibility about it. One of my friends, when we saw the new Memorandum on the Financial Resolution, said it was rather curious that there should be seven months to start with, three months on 18th February this year, a further three months extension on 26th June, and now a nine months extension to June, 1936, to be followed by a provisional four months beyond June, 1936. It seems to me that someone examined the situation and ought by that means to give us the date of the general election. I am not conversant with the Einstein theory. I am not a mathematician up to the point that I can decide from these various quarterly, seven-monthly and nine-monthly periods when the general election is coming along. Still, I confess that these debates 774 have been very useful, and I think that every hon. Member and right hon. Member who has had the good fortune, or misfortune, either to listen willingly, or to hear the debates because he could not help it, must have learnt a good deal from them, and it is no exception to-day.
We were all interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's success with mutton, bacon and pork, not that I think that a quantitative restriction is the best means of solving the problem of superabundance. But I would like to ask one question on the wonderful achievement that has been obtained by quantitative regulations with regard to imports. He told us that in three periods, 1933, 1934, and 1935, wholesale prices had gone from one figure to another, showing an increase at the last date of 1¼d. per lb. while the remarkable admission was made that for all three periods the retail price remained the same—1s. 3½d. Has the right hon. Gentleman been able to ascertain who made the sacrifice of 1¼d. per lb.? Was it the producer, or was it someone between the wholesaler and the retailer? It would be interesting to know who actually sacrificed that 1¼d. per lb. It might be that if the problem were analysed closely enough, we should find, perhaps, that similar results could obtain in relation to beef, and if we could find that somebody between the producer and the retailer were taking 1¼d. per lb. more than they really needed, or were entitled to, for ordinary business purposes, that is really in excess of the subsidy which we are paying, and that, on the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's calculation, would solve the meat problem. I beg him to pursue that question a little further. If it can be done with mutton, why not with beef? If he can obviate the necessity of a direct subsidy or levy, I think it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to do more than take credit for having produced these results, where the wholesale price increases, while the retail price remains the same, because it seems to indicate that somebody previously had been taking more than they were entitled to take.
Coming back to the question at issue, I said a moment ago we have had approximately 10 debates, and all have been very useful. We have acquired a good deal of knowledge, and although the problem still persists, it shows how stubborn 775 agricultural problems really are. The right hon. Gentleman said he could not solve these problems by the mere waving of a magic wand. I remember somewhere about 1929 or 1930 the Minister of Labour in the Labour Government was chastised, I think by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and certainly by many of his colleagues, for saying that they could not expect him to fetch rabbits out of a hat like a conjuror. They made that the point of their ridicule for many months. We shall be more generous to the right hon. Gentleman. We know that he cannot solve any one of these problems by merely waving a magic wand. We are infinitely more sympathetic to him, because we appreciate the delicacy and complexity of the problem much more than they would understand our problem at that time. The right hon. Gentleman, in all the debates, has outlined from time to time his remedies. He has said that the problem is that prices are unremunerative and supplies superfluous, and therefore his first step is to apply quantitative restriction, and then give a temporary subsidy or breathing-space, so that a long-range policy, the application of a levy, can be applied, when agreed upon. Then the right hon. Gentleman tells the Committee and the House, and, through the House, the country, that the definite hopes of the Government are maximum home supplies at minimum prices consistent with reasonable remuneration for the producer. He sets out to achieve this by imposing a levy upon imports and a subsidy for the home producer, and he hopes that that is going to be a last and final solution of this highly complex problem; but I doubt it, as I shall explain in a few minutes.
Hon. Members on these benches have from time to time expressed their point of view as to the cause of the present prices and the present misfortunes of the producer in this country. The right hon. Gentleman's explanation is increased imports, decreased consumption, and changes in habit. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) gave four reasons for the misfortune of the agricultural industry, namely, 10 years of deflation, Ottawa, the Argentine and the conscience of the President of the Board of Trade. I do not know how far the blame can be apportioned, how much the 776 conscience of the President of the Board of Trade has affected the problem, or how much the Argentine or Ottawa have affected it, but I am sure that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, if in the House when the Ottawa Agreement was passed, supported it.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) has an extraordinary point of view which is well worth analysing by the right hon. Gentleman and the Government. He says that purchasing power has increased, the cost of living decreased and there are fewer unemployed. He, therefore, concludes that there must be more spending power, and he says that this increased spending power is expressed in this form; that people who are better off are only buying the best cuts of British beef, that the inferior cuts are left, they go to waste, and that when the butcher meets the farmer he declares that he has much more waste now than hitherto and that he can only afford to give him less for his cattle. By implication the hon. and gallant Member would prefer less spending power instead of more. It is a point of view which, of course, he is quite entitled to advance. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has a, very easy solution. He says that the Minister must keep prices up, and if I were an agricultural member probably that would be my agricultural policy too. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton), wanting to reprimand me because I made a reference to a levy, declared that we were all wrong. He said that it was not a subsidy, it was merely an advance to the industry which would ultimately be paid back.
All these points of view may be useful, but they are rather conflicting, and the only thing which emerges is that prices still persist in being low. This Government, or some other government, will have to find a solution for this very complex problem unless we are going to find fewer men working on the land than is the case to-day. Last week I asked for the figures of employment and the right hon. Gentleman in his answer told me that between 1930, when that wretched Labour Government was in office, and 1935, when the National Government of all the talents had had four years in which to solve this problem, there had been a reduction in England and Wales of 54,000 agricultural workers and a reduction 777 in Scotland of 2,250. It may be that machines are displacing men on the land as is the case in the coal pits, we expect that to happen here and there, and the other day I saw the announcement of a machine which will plant and water 12,000 cabbages in an hour. Of course, men are never employed if machines will do the work cheaper.
§ Earl WINTERTON
It may interest the hon. Member to know that in the United States of America there are 1,000,000 fewer people working on the land than 10 years ago. It is the same in every country.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
It is the responsibility of the Government of the United States, and also of His Majesty's Government to deal with the residue.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am not complaining that agriculture is losing these men because machines are taking their place, but I do complain that, despite the loss of 54,000 labourers in four years, agriculture has still to come to this House and ask for a, subsidy, a levy, or some artificial assistance in one form or another. That is the position with regard to labour; we have lost 54,000 labourers. The right hon. Gentleman has told us what the Government are doing. It is a little difficult to reconcile the statements that are made. In July, 1934, we were told that the long-term policy was a levy, while the Secretary of State for the Dominions a few days ago told us that they had come down on the side of a straight tariff. Now in the memorandum on the Financial Resolution we are told that a levy is to be the policy. It is rather difficult to know exactly where we are, but, apparently, the Minister has settled the matter definitely, and we will take his word that a levy is the final decision of the Government for a lasting solution of this problem. Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that the application of a levy will solve the problem? He knows that the disparity between the prices of imported meat and British meat is anywhere between 3d. and 5d. per lb. Assuming that a levy of 1d. per lb. is imposed, the margin will still remain between 2d. and 4d. Does he expect that the consumers of inferior quality meat will transfer their affection 778 to English meat? I should regard it as a very doubtful possibility. The people who buy inferior meat, whether it is Argentine chilled or Australian frozen, do so largely because they cannot afford to buy English meat. I take a totally different view from that of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon. If the mining industry were really prosperous and employing the usual number of men, 900,000 or 1,000,000, the agricultural industry in this country, and particularly the beef producer, would be infinitely better off than he is to-day. I cannot believe that the section of the community which buys frozen or chilled meat because of the size of their purse are going to be diverted by the application of a levy into consuming British beef. I wish they could be persuaded to buy British beef. Nothing would give me greater joy than to see the Minister of Agriculture without a problem.
This is a problem which does not start and finish in the British Isles; it extends to investments in Argentine and to investments in the Dominions, and all sorts of difficulties crop up. In any case I am doubtful whether the application of a levy will solve such a highly complex problem as that which confronts the right hon. Gentleman. It is true, of course, that if a levy were collected on imported beef, chilled or frozen, and distributed among the farmers that to that extent the farmers would benefit, and they would simply continue to sell their meat at uneconomic prices. There is no guarantee that the sales would increase, and I say that the position will remain the same after the application of a levy as it is now, uncertain, unsatisfactory and unreal. In the second place, a levy is the most inequitable thing that can be conceived. The means test was bad enough in all conscience and a levy is on a par with that.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The question of a levy is most interesting and I suppose, Mr. Chairman, that we shall be able to discuss it in all its bearings. At the same time I understand that a levy is not to be imposed, and I should like to know whether it will be in order to discuss it in all its bearings?
§ The CHAIRMAN
No, I think we must remember that the proposal we are debating is to continue an existing subsidy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am sure it will be within your recollection that the Minister in his speech read out the memorandum on the Financial Resolution, including the long paragraph referring to the levy, and I think that the debate will lose its importance if hon. Members are not able to make some reference to it. The £3,000,000 which we are invited to vote is promised back to the Treasury by means of a levy, which may or may not be collected in the years ahead. After the Minister's statement, I do not see how it will be possible to continue the debate without some reference to the ultimate source from which this £3,000,000 is to be paid.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member and I only intervened in order to safeguard the rights of subsequent speakers in the Debate. If a levy is to be discussed we are entitled to give reasons why we should prefer a straight duty.
§ The CHAIRMAN
What I meant to indicate was that the noble Lord would probably not be able to give as full an answer as he might wish. While the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was perhaps getting a little bit near the edge, I will not say any more than that. He is quite entitled to reply to the remarks of the Minister.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I can assure the Noble Lord that I do not complain of his intervention. I rather welcome it if there is any point in dispute. I do not regard a levy as a good policy and one which should be followed, because it will have no lasting effect, and it is doubtful whether it will ultimately be beneficial to the industry. It is inequitable because it merely transfers burdens now being carried by the Treasury on to the backs of the consumers of inferior quality meat, frozen and chilled, and it is also the worst form of taxation. The Wheat Act has been mentioned. There is a vast difference between the Wheat Act and this subsidy. We are importing to-day about 80 per cent. of our wheat as against 50 per cent. of our beef, and the wheat we import is of the highest quality and consumed by every section of the community. On the other hand, all the meat we import is of inferior quality to home-produced beef and to impose a levy on this inferior imported meat, consumed by the 780 poorer sections of the community, in order that the consumers of the higher quality home-produced meat can have it at an uneconomic price to me positively outrageous.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does not the hon. Member agree that this is rather a geographical matter, and that as home-produced meat is largely consumed in the North and chilled and frozen meat largely consumed in the South this is a levy on the most prosperous part of the island in favour of the less prosperous part to which both the hon. Member and I belong?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I do not accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. He knows that the levy on imported meat which is bought by the poorer sections of the people will go to subsidise the meat which is bought by the well-to-do people. I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman in equity can justify a levy which falls on the poorest of the people in order that the consumers of higher grade meat can have it at an uneconomic price. If it could be proved definitely and conclusively that we are all satisfied about efficiency in production, in feeding and breeding and marketing, and that kind of thing, if we were all satisfied that the last word in efficiency had been said and that still something must be done for the industry, I would ten thousand times rather have a direct subsidy from the Treasury than a levy on inferior imported beef such as is consumed by the poor. At all events the well-to-do persons who consume prime quality home-produced meat and pay for it a price less than it costs to produce it, ought to be made to bear the other proportion through the channels of Income Tax, and ought not to draw it from the poorer sections of the community. It certainly is inequitable and I do not see how any hon. Member can support it.
In one of his speeches in which he explained subsidies the right hon. Gentleman quoted a statement by one of his political friends, who had said that protection was disastrous and free trade was impossible. He ought to have added that a levy on meat was outrageous, since it merely shifted the burden on to the poor. On the question of efficiency the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were pressing forward with 781 new marketing and slaughtering and auctioning systems which they regarded as indispensable. I remember that in February, in reply to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason), he said that the Government were adopting an important marketing and slaughtering scheme with a view to improving efficiency. We have not seen that scheme yet. The subsidy has been in existence for 12 months and the Government have been in office for four years. We know that a very useful report was produced and recommendations were made, and the Committee are entitled to know now when the marketing and slaughtering scheme is to become possibility. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, in reviewing the meat side of the agricultural industry, referred to marketing and slaughtering and central auctioning, and suggested that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility for a most up-to-date auctioning system to be brought into operation, and he estimated that approximately a penny a pound could be saved to the producer, Lord Astor is an expert.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
He is entitled to express an opinion upon this agricultural problem. I did not know the Noble Lady was present, or I may not have made that remark, but having made it I put it forward for the Minister's examination. I do not know whether an up-to-date and central auction system and an improved slaughtering system could be made responsible for saving a penny a pound. If it could, that is the exact amount that the Minister is granting in a subsidy. The Committee on four different occasions within 12 months have been invited to pass £3,000,000, £1,300,000 and £4,300,000. The Committee have always been very generous to the Minister of Agriculture; they have granted almost everything he has asked for. It seems to me that it is now time that we demanded of the right hon. Gentleman a quid pro quo. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, instead of encouraging agriculturists, has discouraged them from doing anything to improve their efficiency. He wrote a foreword to a book by an ex-Member of this House; I think it was Mr. Blundell. Mr. Blundell had suggested that there ought to be improved marketing schemes before protection. 782 The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it ought to be put the opposite way. History has proved that if you protect before you insist on efficiency you simply do not get efficiency. The Prime Minister in one of his recent speeches said that there had been generations of neglect of agriculture. We are all agreed. The one right hon. Gentleman who knows that more than anyone else is the Minister of Agriculture, for he has been working at top speed and overtime every day since he occupied his present office, in trying to get order out of chaos. He has not been very successful. It is generations of neglect and the discouragement of the farmers by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that have brought us to the present pitch. It has been a hand-to-mouth system for generations.
I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman when he spoke of honouring our treaty obligations. If the Government had honoured all their treaty obligations Europe would not be in the state of turmoil in which it is to-day. There would have been a great chance of reducing many of the barriers to trade that are reflecting themselves in the agricultural industry. It is because the Government have not honoured all their treaty obligations that the state of turmoil through Europe and the world is what it is, and that economic stability has been made well-nigh impossible. The sooner Europe and the world can get back to some sense of economic co-operation by reducing trade barriers, the sooner will not only agriculture but all our industries begin to prosper. We sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in his multiplicity of agricultural problems, but because of the methods adopted by the Government from time to time and the Chancellor's discouragement of agricultural efficiency, whatever our sympathy with the Minister may be we are obliged to vote against the Government.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Never have I admired the charm and ingenuity of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture more than this afternoon. He made a most charming speech and tried to gloss over the fact that the Government have not a permanent agricultural policy. No one can describe as permanent a policy that is based on a subsidy until October, 1936. That cannot be 783 a permanent policy, and I cannot imagine any breeder of cattle laying down store stock because of a subsidy that may come to an end in October of next year. What I suggest as a necessary corollary to this Resolution is that there should be an extension of the life of this Parliament. Let us have another 13 months of this Parliament, and then we shall be certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister is here to conduct a permanent agricultural policy. Who can know who will come back at the General Election? I would like to know.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) takes a great interest in agricultural matters. He has quoted figures with regard to agricultural labour. I noted those figures when they were given on 11th July. The hon. Member is perfectly right. The number of labourers on the land is decreasing, and it has decreased very rapidly in the last year. Last year there was a decrease of 27,000 in the total of agricultural workers in England and Wales. Since 1921, when these returns were first issued, there has been a decrease of no less than 195,000 labourers on the land. I do not know what my right hon. Friend the Minister thinks about it, but I say there is room for a great deal more labour on the land. Reference has been made to machinery and its displacement of labour, but for agricultural production of the most intense kind intelligent labour and intelligent direction are wanted.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Yes, much more of it. I regret this terrible depletion of the agricultural industry. Healthy men are going from the country into the towns and the change is weakening the nation. My right hon. Friend told us of disorderly marketing and the domination of foreign meat importers. This is the only country in the world that would be so asinine as to permit a very large proportion of its meat imports to be controlled by foreign, American firms. To my mind it is amazing. Smithfield is very largely dominated by American firms and we have disorderly marketing. I do not understand why the British Government have so long tolerated this foreign domination. My right hon. Friend says 784 that it has dislocated the supplies. He said that they had been obliged to freeze chilled meat. There is something else to which I can make only a passing reference. I expect that their Income Tax returns are pretty skilfully framed. At any rate they do not pay the Super-tax that British firms have to pay. I ask the Minister when he is dealing with this matter to look into the control of our meat markets by foreign firms.
Personally, I welcome this temporary subsidy because without it the beef producers would inevitably face ruin. But we do not take it as a long-term policy. It is merely a, step. I would say to hon. Members on the Labour Benches that if they permit British agriculture to be destroyed, if they paralyse the whole agricultural industry and are dependent on the foreign firms to which I have referred, they will have to pay a very heavy price some time, when those firms get a bigger grip than they have to-day. We have had these matters before us many times and I am not going to make a long speech, but I would point out again to the Committee and to the country that the agricultural industry has been harassed beyond measure. There is no other industry in which wages are fixed but prices are not fixed. I do not complain that the wages as fixed are too high but the fact that they cannot be paid is shown by the number of men who are leaving the land. In agriculture costs have been fixed but unregulated and disorderly supplies have been allowed to come in and it is the duty of the Government to regulate those supplies.
My suggestion would be a straight tariff but I cannot enter into that question now. Not only have we to bear these fixed costs but we have to meet competition from countries which have depreciated currencies and that is another good reason indeed why the Government should come to the help of the agricultural industry. Personally, I have not the smallest doubt that, provided an adequate financial inducement were offered to them, people would rather live in the country than in the towns. I am sure that hon. Members opposite who represent miners will agree that it would be far better for their men to be working on the surface of the earth in the sunshine producing their own food than to be working in the bowels of the earth delving for coal to 785 export to Denmark in order to buy Danish bacon. I would infinitely rather see the miner on the land.
My right hon. Friend the Minister made some reference to a comprehensive long term policy. We cannot go into that question now but I would give my right hon. Friend the warning. Is he sure that he will be here to carry out such a policy? Who knows what is going to happen at the next Election? Some of us will come back, I hope, but who knows whether my right hon. Friend will be here to carry out the comprehensive policy to which he has referred. He also said that there must be improvement in slaughtering and improvement in marketing. They can be improved but do not let changes be forced on the industry by the Ministry of Agriculture. The marketing schemes of the Ministry up to now have been an absolute failure. I make no bones about saying it. I do not want to see any more of them. In fact I would like the Government to borrow Herr Hitler and have a purge of the agricultural department. There are too many of those theorists there.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Give plenty of money to whom? If the hon. Member is referring to the agricultural industry I would only say that we do not want "plenty of money." We only want fair play. If we were paid as well as the teachers we should be doing well. If hon. Members opposite think they are going to embarrass me by their interruptions they are making a mistake. I am warning my right hon. Friend that if the Government are to have a comprehensive policy they should let it come from practical men and not from unpractical theorists. I, of course, accept this subsidy. We have no alternative. I would have preferred, however, a permanent policy to encourage the agricultural industry to develop to a far greater extent than is being done at present, the production of our own food from our own soil.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir EDWARD RUGGLES-BRISE
I only intervene because the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) referred to a speech which I made on the cattle industry some two months ago. The hon. Member, I am sure, desires to be perfectly fair and I 786 may remind him that in that speech I merely gave a picture, showing one of the reasons why the whole of the beef produced did not go into consumption. I showed that one of the effects was to reduce the price which the butcher was prepared to pay to the feeder. I think the hon. Member will agree with me on that point. Where I differ from him is in the conclusion which he has drawn from that picture. I submit that his conclusion is quite wrong and he has put into my mouth words from which I must disassociate myself. He suggests that I presented the picture which I then drew, as an argument that the purchasing power of the people should be decreased.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
I think if the hon. Member refers to the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow he will find that he used words to that effect.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman realises that I would not misrepresent him willingly. I think I said that the implication was that at present we had too much spending power, but I did not suggest that the hon. and gallant Member was advocating that people should have less spending power.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation and I would like to add that on many platforms throughout the country and in this House I have said over and over again that the prosperity of the mass of the people and particularly of those engaged in the mining industry, had a direct re-action on the prosperity of agriculture in general and the beef trade in particular. I repeat that statement now. I was rather amazed that the hon. Member should venture on a statement pretending to show that the present National Government was responsible for the economic chaos in the world which had caused this general fall in wholesale prices and had embarrassed the British farmer to such a degree. Surely if any British Government ever made a real contribution to bringing about the world crisis it was that Government of which the hon. Member for Don Valley was such a distingushed ornament. I am sure the Committee realise that the only reasons why the Minister asks for this further advance are, first, that we have to honour our 787 treaty obligations And second that there has been a disappointing delay in carrying out negotiations which it was hoped would have been completed long ere this. We have to take the situation as we find it and the Government are taking the only course they can take, consistent with their declared intention and policy towards the British farmer. Over and over again it has been stated by Members of the Government and particularly by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that it is a definite part of the Government's policy to see that agriculture should not be allowed to fall into further decay, and that it should receive such assistance as may be necessary to tide it over until the world crisis finally passes and agricultural products can be sold at ordinary economic levels.
I think the Committee and certainly those Members who represent agricultural constituencies, ought to be grateful to the Government and to my right hon. Friend for performing what must be the ungrateful task of asking for this further advance. Do not let us forget that my right hon. Friend has stated definitely that the advance which he is now proposing is intended to be repayable when the Government have had the time and the opportunity to put their full policy into effect. I hope for that reason the Committee will grant this Vote and I am sure that the agricultural community will take the advance in the spirit in which it is offered.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
It is satisfactory that the Minister has got this agreement with the Dominions. The only thing in it about which I am anxious is the question of the carry-over which we were told of, with regard to the third quarter and whether, if it is very large, it will not prejudice the Christmas market considerably. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is not in his place as I wish to make some reference to what he has said. He spoke a great deal about employment. I would point out that beef does not provide much employment. A factor which has to be realised is that the beef industry is one of the smallest employers in agriculture. He also made a great point as to the 56,000 men who had left the land. I agree that it is very regrettable but one point which the hon. 788 Member omitted to make was that the fall in the number of agriculture workers was more rapid when the Labour Government were in office than it has been under this Government.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) that we want a straight tariff as regards beef, but I emphatically disagree with the other point which he made, namely that we do not want any marketing scheme. I wish he could have been in my district last Saturday when 8,000 of the agricultural population were gathered together and he would have found that the farmers were alarmed to the last degree about the milk pool and the possibility of the milk scheme being revoked. There is another point to which the Minister referred and which has not been mentioned since and that is to the question of the store men. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend made that reference. Nothing has been more discouraging to agriculture in many places where there are marshes and a good grazing land than the lack of demand for beef and the small price obtainable for it. That difficulty has been aggravated as far as the store man is concerned because at the present moment there is not the same opening in the milk trade for raising mulch heifers as there used to be. We must realise that this sum represents compensation in respect of cheap food for the towns. We must realise that the agriculturist is entitled to that compensation and I hope that in all the negotiations with the Dominion and the Argentine my right hon. Friend will never cease to impress upon them that although the very life of some of the Dominions may depend on their beef and mutton production, yet as regards agriculture in this country, we must put the home producer first, the Dominions second and the foreigner third.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Captain ARCHIBALD RAMSAY
I would like, while thanking my right hon. Friend for bringing this order forward, to mention one point which so far has escaped the attention of the Committee, but which only a couple of years ago caused considerable comment in the Agricultural Committee upstairs. I refer to the practice of the substitution of chilled and frozen meat in butchers' shops for the home-killed article. This 789 practice, which has again, and frequently, been brought to my notice, seems to be fairly general, and it is one that concerns, I think, most Members in this House if any of the reports which come to me are anywhere near true. I consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland not long ago on this subject, and he asked me if I would make certain fresh inquiries from people whom I thought would give reliable information. I did so, and the reports which I could show my right hon. Friend and which come from people whose statements are above suspicion go to prove that there is in fact a widespread practice in butchers' shops all over the country of keeping in the back of the shop large quantities of chilled and frozen meat which they palm off on the public while still observing the labelling and marking law as regards the front counters of the shop. The inquiries I have made relate to three counties in Scotland and also Edinburgh.
I am fully aware that as the law stands if it can be proved that a man is selling fraudulently in this way he can be pursued at law, but my point is that as the law stands it is practically impossible to bring it home to a man who is committing such an offence. It is impossible, unless you have a large army of inspectors to stand about and spy on their neighbours, to prove that at a given moment a man does not bring meat in the back of the shop and sell it as home-killed meat. If this practice is at all general, it is sufficient to affect the market for home-killed beef. It is very much cheaper to supply your customers even in part with meat that is not fresh killed, especially if also it is put into all kinds of pies and sausages. May I ask my right hon. Friend, first, if he has made any inquiries recently as to the extent to which this practice is going on, and, if he has not done so, whether he will do so, because I believe it is worth the effort; and, secondly, if the result of these inquiries should prove that the information which I am supplying is correct, that this practice is widespread and is having a definite and harmful effect on the home beef market, will he consider introducing some form of compulsion, either to compel a man to put a notice in his window to the effect that he sells home-killed meat only or a notice that he sells foreign meat, because 790 that would enable the offence to be detected when the meat enters the shop? I hope that my right hon. Friend will either make some statement or promise to look further into the matter.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
A short time ago I was of opinion that it was a pity to continue this subsidy and that it would have been much more advisable to introduce a permanent scheme; but since I have attended the conference of Parliamentary delegates from other Dominions which has taken place in this House and have realised the difficulties which the Minister of Agriculture has in coming to agreement with them as to the importation of foreign meat, at the same time coming to a voluntary agreement with Argentina to limit its supply, I am entirely of opinion that the course which he is pursuing of continuing the subsidy for a period is the only possible course. It is amazing to think that in this country and the Dominions it was not realised that Australia would presently compete in the chilled beef market. Surely future historians will consider that this is one of the most remarkable cases of lack of foresight by some machinery of Government. I am not blaming the British Government or our Parliamentary institutions, but I think it is time that there was some other means of communication than the present intercourse which takes place only on occasions like Ottawa or the celebrations this year. Surely somebody in the scientific world should be able to warn us that it would be possible to bring chilled beef through the Red Sea in a short space of time. Surely it was possible for those who produce beef in Australia to have warned us. I hope that the Government will be able to take this matter into consideration for future occasions.
Then there are the changes that have taken place in the habits of the people. Undoubtedly in a hot weather spell such as the present people do not eat so much beef. They are more likely to change over to poultry or mutton. I should like to give an experience which I had at a dinner held in Lincolnshire in support of the continuance of the beef subsidy. There were 150 men there, more or less in the prime of life, interested in the beef trade because they produce beef. But on an analysis of the number of 791 people who took mutton in that assembly it was found that 100 ate mutton and 50 beef. Twenty or thirty years ago it would certainly have been the other way round, and probably 80 per cent. of the people would have had beef. In the same way I do not think that it could have been altogether foreseen when the Ottawa Agreements were made what would be the development of hiking and the open air life in this country, which again militate against the consumption of beef. For these reasons, realising how the country is changing over, I am supporting the Minister in this matter. I would like to say, on behalf of the producers in my constituency, that the sooner they can get a permanent scheme the better for them, because, while the subsidy has been of great use in maintaining prices compared with last year, it has not that appearance of continuity which all agriculturists desire for the conduct of their business. I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture in having gone bravely forward in spite of all criticism.
§ 5.11 p.m.
I suppose that the underlying principle of this Debate, as indeed of many of our agricultural Debates for the last few months, has been as to whether British agriculture is worth preserving or not. I do not think that there is any hon. Member who would say that it would be other than a disaster if agriculture were left entirely to free competition from outside sources. We should have large areas of this country, not only the Eastern Counties but many other parts, which would go entirely out of cultivation. We should see villages emptied and schools and churches closed, and indeed that has happened in Lincolnshire already in certain districts where it has not been found possible to carry on cultivation. In these circumstances, I do not think that any agricultural Member need make any apology in asking for a subsidy. Those in Lincolnshire whom I represent, who are cultivating the land at this moment and whose forebears cultivated the land for generations before them, who have rescued from the sea large portions of valuable agricultural land, would not be able to understand anybody who put to them such a proposition as that their occupation was of no value to this country. 792 They know that the great European countries, as well as countries all over the world, value their agriculture. This subsidy is necessary because the beef industry has fallen into such low water that it must be preserved during this time of world economic crisis and low prices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) made a mistake when he said that the wholesale price of mutton had risen only by about 1½d. per lb. I took down the Minister's remarks, and it has risen from 1932, when it was somewhere about 7½d. or 7¼d. to 10½d. in 1935, a very sensible rise. I think the Minister is fully justified in claiming for his policy of restriction, worked in conjunction with Australia and New Zealand, credit for getting that additional price for the home producer. It is, of course, difficult to say from what source that particular rise has come and who has paid it. No doubt hon. Members opposite believe that if they had Socialism and crowds of officials it might effect a similar reduction. On the other hand, it might have an opposite effect. The Minister is fully justified in claiming credit, and I think the Committee will give him credit, for having achieved this result in the case of mutton and lamb. The hon. Member for Don Valley stated that he was against this levy, because it would fall on the consumers of the cheaper qualities of meat introduced into this country. It is a fact, however, that we have now had a tariff in this country for over three years, and it has been found again and again that the tariff has not been paid by the consumer but has been paid by the foreign producer. In the case of meat, where we know that such enormous quantities are being produced, I suggest that there is every prospect that a small levy could be paid entirely by the producer, or very nearly so. I welcome this levy, for I was one of those who, when the Import Duties Act was being discussed in 1932, moved an Amendment—
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Commander Cochrane)
I hope that the hon. Member will remember that this Resolution refers only to the cattle industry.
I hoped that I would be able to point out that, having supported the principle of a tariff on cattle, I was 793 pleased that the Government had come round to the principle of a levy, because, after all, there is not a great difference between a levy and a tariff. The results of a levy benefit the farmer, whereas the proceeds of a tariff go to the Exchequer. I thoroughly support a levy in the case under consideration because it assists the home producers. They have had an extremely difficult time. In Lincolnshire wages have been almost kept up to the 1930 level and the losses have fallen mainly on those engaged in farming, and very severe losses they have been. I support this proposal because if this country does not support an agricultural population on the land and allows the land to go derelict, it will be a very serious thing. I find it difficult to understand why, as hon. Members opposite say they prefer a subsidy to a levy, they should walk into the Lobby against the subsidy instead of supporting it.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Because no levy is being charged, and therefore no payments are being made on account of it.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It is a little unfortunate if we are to have a debate on a misapprehension. Let me repeat that there is no question whatever of any levy of any kind or description being charged under this Resolution.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. PALING
Since I have been back to the House I have never heard Members beg so unashamedly for public money as the agriculturists have done. When I first came to the House we Socialists used always to be met with the cry from our opponents, "Hands off industry." They said, "Let the Government leave industry alone, and we shall be all right; leave it to private enterprise, which can carry all these things out excellently and can manage better without the Government." That was the general trend of the argument, but it has changed entirely now. Agriculturists in particular, and others to some extent, do not now say "Hands off industry." They say, "How can you help industry?" and they beg for public money, because, I suppose, private enterprise has failed. In some cases when public money has been handed out, the Government have insisted on some kind of control, but we are getting past that stage now. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) indicated the line which agriculturists were going to take in future when he said that he hoped when the Government gave anything to agriculture in future they would not compel the industry to do anything. In other words, the Government should give money to the industry and let the industry do what it likes. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture seems to be of the same mind. I see in to-day's "Times" that he made a speech in which, referring to tariffs and subsidies he said:Why not use the fund, not only for handing out direct assistance for financing improvements in marketing technique"—
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member will appreciate that this fund, whatever it may be, is not the subject of the discussion.
§ Mr. PALING
I am not going to discuss it; I am only making a reference to it in order to point out that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with the right hon. Member for South Molton that there should be subsidies without control and that, if the industry is to be improved in technique, the farmer should not even have to pay for it, but that it 795 should come out of a subsidy or tariff. I am surprised that Members should come here time after time just begging for public money in the way that they have done within die last 18 months. It reminds me of a, statement a few weeks ago by the "Minister for Thought," which, I think, is what we now call the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). When we were discussing the question of getting some money for the unemployed and for those in the distressed areas, the noble Lord got up in his corner seat and said that this kind of thing was patronage of the worst kind and that we were getting votes by promising public money to the unemployed. I do not know whether that can be called patronage or not but if it is, the begging of hon. Members for assistance to industry is even worse patronage. Members representing agriculture do not beg public money for the unemployed, but beg it for themselves and use their power in this House—
§ Mr. PALING
Many Members who take part in agricultural Debates are agriculturists themselves, and they benefit by these subsidies. In that way they are getting money for themselves. It is not a thing of which to be very proud, and I have been ashamed of the development of this begging business since I came back to the House 18 months ago. If there is one lesson to be learned from all these subsidies, tariffs, quotas, prohibitions and the giving of public money, it is that private enterprise has demonstrated that it has failed and that it cannot carry on without public assistance. If the Government will not, when they give public assistance to industry, take control at the same time, I hope the public will insist at the next election that where public money is given there should be public control and ownership as well.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I think the Minister ought to say a word in reply to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling). I share the views of the hon. Member because I think the question of subsidies is becoming ghastly. The Minister's record on this subject has become almost shocking. After all, why is a subsidy granted? It is granted because the 796 people who are running an industry are so hard up that they cannot run it without State assistance. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has in his division people who are much harder up than the people whom he is subsidising. They have been steeped in poverty for years. We see public money being handed over to people in industry without any test at all, while the poorest people are put under all sorts of mean and contemptible tests. When it is a case of assisting the rich people and farmers, there are no tests, and an hon. Member even says: "We do not beg for ourselves." They come here and get money so that they can go back to their divisions and say: "We have succeeded in wringing millions of pounds for a subsidy from the Government. Vote for us, because, if you do not, these millions will not be given by another Government."
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It is patronage, nevertheless; and, contrary to the help given to the unemployed, it is help given without any kind of test. There are no conditions. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member who said that a lot of Government interference with the farmers would be simply waste. Once we have decided on the subsidy we might as well hand out the money to them and let them do what they like. I shall not refer to the other subsidies under which millions have been handed out. We are constantly told that the nation is not yet "out of the wood", that financially the country is still in a difficult position. On a previous occasion the Minister of Agriculture sneered at me by saying that I favoured some kind of help for engineering. I do not know where he got that information. As he knows, I was one of the few who opposed the Cunarder subsidy, practically standing alone on that occasion, although that vessel was being built on the Clyde. I have never asked for a subsidy, and I defy him to prove either from the OFFICIAL REPORT or from the Division Lists, that I have ever asked for a, subsidy for engineering, although I happen to follow the engineering trade. It is a disgraceful thing that money is being handed out in this way while other and more deserving people, some of 797 whom the right hon. Gentleman represents, are needing it much more.
I listened to an hon. Member describing the conditions of the farmers in Lincolnshire, how they find it hard to keep their heads up and their businesses afloat. In my division there are decent men, as good as the farmers maintaining their children on an allowance of 2s. a child. There is no farmer in Britain living on that standard. Not a farmer in this country has to keep his children on 2s. a week. No farmer is asked to keep himself, his wife, and a child on 28s. a week. But that is the standard in Kelvingrove, which the right hon. Gentleman represents. Instead of demanding money for them he is handing it over to other people who are far less deserving. I make no apology for saying that I put the Gorbals division before any Labour party or any other party. Here is a man of great ability and capacity, there are few abler men in this House, coming down to ask for this subsidy while his own division is steeped in poverty such as no farming community can equal. It is not a case of men being out of work for one year or two years, some of them have been out of work for 8, 9 or 10 years. There are men of 65 living on a miserable pension of 10s. a week, and we get the Chancellor telling them how little this country can afford it; yet we find millions for this subsidy. Millions for a millionaire's ship, millions for beef, millions for beet—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Yes, but the whole lot is wrong, basically wrong. I look upon this procedure with a great deal of feeling. If you come here representing vested interests you can beg unashamedly and get the money, but you must not come here and beg for those living in poverty. I think the children of the poor in the City of Glasgow are as good as the farmers, as much entitled to as good a standard of life, and some of these millions ought to be poured out in giving the decent poor a decent home to live in and decent conditions of life.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Of course, we all know what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is doing. He is delivering an attack which will come in very useful for him in the Kelvingrove Division of Glasgow at the next Election, and that is 798 all, and he knows it, because he said as much to me. I do not blame him. It is quite right for him to do his utmost to rouse prejudice, to rouse bitterness, to rouse passion, to misrepresent—well, I will not say to misrepresent, but to put his own case so very strongly that he does not need to mention anybody else's. He is a man of Parliamentary ability unsurpassed by anybody else in this House. He can put a case so vehemently that he convinces those who are listening. He can convince his own side and goes far to shake those of us who are on the other side. But let there be no mistake about what this proposal is. This is a proposal to maintain the wages of the poorest people in the land. I will tell him another thing. The sugar-beet subsidy is coming on this afternoon, and we shall have no hesitation in meeting him on that issue also. When the first Labour Government were in power it was not possible to get wages of 31s. for agriculturists as they are to-day, they were at 24s. or 25s. The Wages Board was brought into existence to deal with that situation. [Interruption.] The question I am discussing is whether this is a subsidy for the rich or for the poor. This is a subsidy for the poorest of the poor. Let there be no mistake about this being a subsidy for the wealthy farmer—for the farmers with motor cars of whom we have been told. The question is whether basic agricultural wages can be maintained even at the low levels they are at to-day or whether they should go back to the scandalously low levels which were formerly paid. Will the hon. Member stand up in either my constituency or any other—
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member has not yet heard the question I am putting to him. I am asking him whether he will stand up in a constituency and defend low wages paid in agricultural divisions?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Ah, he is not going to defend that. I will take him further. He that wills the end wills the means. 799 If he wants higher wages he has got to vote for Measures which will enable higher wages to be paid. He made the suggestion that this is a Measure of patronage, that patronage was being used here because we were making an effort to hold price levels, and therefore wages which depend on those price levels. He said that he challenged the Minister to suggest any occasion on which he, the Member for Gorbals, had ever supported anything which would support the price level and, therefore, support the wages level. Very well, let him go through the Divisions on the coal quota. Let him go through the Divisions by which he and his friends raised the price of coal above what it otherwise would have been to the poorest of the poor.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
What about the fireplaces in Glasgow? Did not he and his hon. Friends support Measures which would have the effect of holding the price levels of coal, even though it meant a higher price for coal for domestic fuel, which is as much a necessity as food? Let there be no nonsense on this matter. We are at this moment defending a Measure to sustain the price level by a subsidy and not by a levy, by a subsidy and not by a quota, by a subsidy and not by a tariff. Hon. and right hon. Mem-
§ bers opposite have said that at any rate they prefer this to any other method of assistance which could possibly be given. They are going to vote against it, because to do so will come in useful, but they prefer it to anything else, and really are voting against it because what they are after is the long-term policy which may be introduced 15 months or a year hence when negotiations come to an end. They have a policy but the hon. Member falls back on invective. He says, I do not blame him, "Here is a chance for a very effective Parliamentary speech. Here is a chance"—and I do not blame him—"for saying that money is being lavished on the rich and not on the poor. Here is a chance"—and I do not blame him—"for saying, 'We never did anything like that.'" Here is a chance to wrap himself in the white sheet of his blameless life. He cannot do that. It is all covered with coal dust. There have been a few questions asked in this Debate to which I shall reply on later stages of the Bill. There has been no real criticism of either the purpose of this proposal, which is to maintain the agricultural industry, or of the machinery, which is to do it by means of a subsidy, and I ask the Committee with the utmost confidence to give us this Resolution.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 242; Noes, 42.801
|Division No. 271.]||AYES.||[5.40 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut-Colonel||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Carver, Major William H.||Eastwood, John Francis|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Castlereagh, Viscount||Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony|
|Albery, Irving James||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Ellis, Sir R. Geottrey|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Elmley, Viscount|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Assheton, Ralph||Clarke, Frank||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Clarry, Reginald George||Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Clayton, Sir Christopher||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Balniel, Lord||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Conant, R. J. E.||Fleming, Edward Lascelles|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Cooper, A. Duff||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian|
|Bernays, Robert||Cooper, T. M. (Edinburgh, W.)||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace|
|Blindell, James||Copeland, Ida||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bossom, A. C.||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Glossop, C. W. H.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Glucksteln, Louis Halle|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Crooke, J. Smedley||Goff, Sir Park|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Goldie, Noel B.|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Cross, R. H.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Crossley, A. C.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cruddas, Lieut-Colonel Bernard||Guy, J. C. Morrison|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Dalkelth, Earl of||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. Ernest (Leith)||Dickie, John P.||Hales, Harold K.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Hammersley, Samuel S.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Donner, P. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Burnett, John George||Doran, Edward||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Drewe, Cedric||Hartland, George A.|
|Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Maltland, Adam||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Salt, Edward W.|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Martin, Thomas B.||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)||Savery, Servington|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Meller, Sir Richard James (Mitcham)||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Mitcheson, G. G.||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Smithers, Sir Waldron|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Moreing, Adrian C.||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Morgan, Robert H.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe)||Norle-Miller, Francis||Strauss, Edward A.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||North, Edward T.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Jamieson, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Nunn, William||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hn. William G. A.||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univ.)||Patrick, Colin M.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Peat, Charles U.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Penny, Sir George||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Percy, Lord Eustace||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Petherick, M.||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Levy, Thomas||Pike, Cecil F.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Lewis, Oswald||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Liddall, Walter S.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Lindsay, Noel Ker||Pybus, Sir John||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermilne)|
|Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Lloyd, Geoffrey||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Watt, Major George Steven H.|
|Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. Sir Charles||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|MacAndrew, Major J. O. (Ayr)||Remer, John R.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|McConnell, Sir Joseph||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir. Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Withers, Sir John James|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Ross, Ronald D.||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Bassetlaw)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward||Worthington, Sir John|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|McLean, Major Sir Alan||Runge, Norah Cecil||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Major George Davies and Lieut.-|
|Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Colonel Llewellin.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R.||Groves, Thomas E.||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Banfield, John William||Grundy, Thomas W.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rea, Sir Walter|
|Buchanan, George||Harris, Sir Percy||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jenkins, Sir William||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cove, William G.||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lawson, John James||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Curry, A. C.||Lunn, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Daggar, George||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wilmot, John|
|Edwards, Sir Charles||McGovern, John||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maxton, James||Mr. John and Mr. Paling.|
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.