§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
There is no need to apologise for raising the question of agriculture again. It is true that during the past four years it has been discussed ad nauseam, but in view of the size of the industry and its importance in our political economy I think we should review what has been done so that we may better judge the result of the various efforts which have been made by the Government during the past four years. In reply to a question the Minister of Agriculture informed me that during the last four years there have been 18 committees set up to consider various phases of agriculture and 52 reports have been provided. We may learn to-day some of the recommendations which have been made by the Marketing Supply Committee and by any one of the numerous committees which have been set up. I should imagine that during the last four years every known experiment has been tried. We have had quotas, restrictions, quantitative regulations, direct and indirect subsidies, and levies. We realise that there is no single specific for dealing with agriculture, and, therefore, trial and error by any Minister of Agriculture would be the method to be employed. We have had numerous marketing schemes set up as well as quantitative regulations, and while all these efforts have met with varying results the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman have indicated that if one scheme fails they are ready to try another.
The Prime Minister made a speech a few days ago to an audience of 10,000, in which he confessed that after generations of neglect agriculture was at last getting a show. The right hon. Gentleman was not paying a great compliment to Conservative Governments in the past when he talked about "generations of neglect" and I think in view of that statement it would 2690 be fair if those who sit on these benches were to charge past Governments with neglect and with responsibility for the lamentable condition into which agriculture has been allowed to pass. But the Prime Minister during that speech was not averse from a little self-adulation. He told his listeners that as one policy had failed they had tried another and that they had achieved miraculous results, by one phase or another of the Government's policy. In July last year the Minister of Agriculture declared to the House that the solutions of our agricultural difficulties defy logic. If one examines what has taken place during the last four years, one is bound to agree with the right hon. Gentleman. For the purposes of this Debate I propose to take a bird's-eye view of the various schemes which have been completed within that period, so that the right hon. Gentleman in reply may tell us what have been the net gains of the Government's policy or policies on this subject, in terms of efficiency, increased output, increased employment and improved conditions for the 700,000 men and women employed in the agricultural industry.
First, we had the Wheat Act, which provided for an indirect subsidy of about £6,000,000 per annum. With that sum, a good many things could be done. I do not think it would be difficult, for us, if £6,000,000 per annum were available, to find work for 50,000 or 60,000 mineworkers by subsidising export coal. I do not, however, wish to go into that question. The fact is that the Wheat Act provided for an annual contribution from the consumer of £6,000,000 to the growing of wheat in this country, and, so far, we have not heard from the right hon. Gentleman exactly what the results have been. I ask him, first, has this subsidy encouraged mechanisation in the wheat-growing areas? Secondly, if that is the case, to what extent does mechanisation cheapen production? Thirdly, if mechanisation has cheapened production, has the right hon. Gentleman considered it worth while to re-examine the question of whether or not 45s. a quarter is a fair price between producer and consumer? So far as my recollection serves me, no statement has been made in this House since the passing of the Act on that phase of the subject. We know that at the School of Agricultural Economics at Cambridge certain figures have been 2691 produced, to prove that wheat, with efficient management, can be produced at much less cost than the guarantee given through the Wheat Act of 1932. Fourthly, we want to know from the right hon. Gentleman what has been the effect of the Act on unemployment in the agricultural industry? When we provide £6,000,000 a year we are entitled to know how the money is being spent and with what results. What are the net gains, if any, to those employed in the industry and to the economy of the country as a whole?
The question of sugar has been discussed almost ad nauseam, and I do not want to go into it at any length to-day. We know that some £50,000,000 has been advanced directly and indirectly to this industry and many hon. Members regard it as a very bad speculation. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to issue a White Paper explaining, at long last, the Government's long-term policy, we can perhaps safely leave that matter for some future occasion when it will be possible to return to the subject. Some more extensive reply than we have yet had to the observations made from these benches and from the benches below the Gangway, on the subject of sugar, is called for, particularly with regard to the questions of efficiency and employment, and the remarks of the Commission which examined the question a short time ago. However, I prefer to leave the subject of sugar to a later date when, perhaps, a more comprehensive discussion can take place than would be possible to-day.
Apart from questions of fruit and vegetables, to which reference may be made later, the next thing of material consequence to be mentioned in this connection is the right hon. Gentleman's power of wielding the axe with regard to bacon. In the case of bacon, there is no question of a levy or a direct subsidy, but a policy of quantitative restriction has been applied. We know, to some extent, what the effect has been on the consumer. We know what the effect has been upon consumption. We know how generous the policy of the right hon. Gentleman has been towards foreign sellers. In 1932 we imported 11,390,000 cwts. of bacon for which we paid £30,189,000. As a result of the right 2692 hon. Gentleman's policy of restriction, in 1934 we imported 7,590,000 cwts., for which we paid £30,052,000. In other words, we paid almost the same sum for 7,500,000 cwts. as we had previously paid for 11,390,000 cwts. Briefly, what the right hon. Gentleman has done has been to lop off one out of every three rashers available for consumption in this country and the effect upon the lower orders has been very distinctly felt in all parts of the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lower orders?"] That is perhaps, one of those unfortunate and momentary lapses into an inferiority complex which are liable to occur when one is referring to that unfortunate section of the community who can only afford to buy the minimum quantity of any class of goods because of the miserably low wages which they receive. Here is a quotation from a responsible officer in a Scottish wholesale bacon establishment dealing with the rise in prices caused by the Bacon Import quota:The worse feature of the advance in price which has occurred however, is that the cheaper cuts such as streaks and fores have practically doubled in value, with the result that this type of cut, which was so exceptable to the Scottish trade and, particularly in areas where the purchasing power is at a low ebb, has gone out of the reach of the poorer consumer who has therefore ceased to be a buyer of bacon at all.We know that those words describe the situation all over the country and we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman what has been the quid pro quo in this case. We have sacrificed 3,500,000 cwts. of bacon, free of charge. What has been the gain to this country? How much more employment has been found in the production of pigs and bacon? What has been the effect on efficiency? We are entitled to know these things. Unless there has been a net gain in efficiency and in employment, it is doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman's policy can be termed even a minor success. Personally, I think it has been a hopeless failure from the first, and the more recent statement made by the Prime Minister at the big meeting to which I have referred, and by the right hon. Gentleman in this House, is that at long last they have decided that their policy of quantitative restriction has been faulty. It has failed to deliver the goods; it has not been nearly as efficient as they anticipated, and now 2693 they are waiting an opportunity to apply another policy, that of a levy upon imports, so that they may subsidise bacon producers in this country.
With regard to the efficiency of those producing bacon, I am half inclined to think that the Minister and his Department and the Market Supply Committee and all the multiplicity of Committees that are sitting, are paying little or no attention to the efficiency of producers of any one of these commodities that are subsidised directly or indirectly. Here is a note in a letter written by M. A. W. Menzies-Kitchin, of the School of Agriculture at Cambridge, referring to the methods employed here by bacon producers and the methods employed in Denmark. The writer concludes his letter:To sum up, it would appear that as a result of pig recording and pig testing and by the introduction of suitable equipment and by the use of efficiently balanced rations, the Danish farmer has reduced the cost of producing bacon pigs to at least one-quarter below the average cost on British farms.This correspondent of the Cambridge School of Agriculture does not talk without his book. He knows the subject from top to bottom, and if it is true that the simple word "efficiency" means a difference of one-quarter in the cost of production, I want to ask the Government whether they think that millions of people should be penalised while such inefficiency or lack of efficiency exists among producers in this country, or, to put it in another way, I ask what steps the right hon. Gentleman and his Department are taking, either through the agency of the Market Supply Committee, which apparently from time to time supplies him with information as to the potential requirements of the country and determines the import quota and the output in this country—what steps are being taken through that Committee to ascertain the improvements, if any, in the efficiency of producers in this country. Here is another letter to the "Times" of 22nd July, from a Mr. D. V. Norman, also from Cambridge:During the year March, 1934, to March, 1935, when I had 23 sows, I weaned 305 pigs from 42 litters. Unfortunately losses after weaning were heavy, and of these only 277 pigs were marketed. One sow died in March, 1934, without farrowing during the year, so from 22 sows an average of only 12.6 pigs per sow were sold. During the year receipts from pig sales, together 2694 with an increase in valuation of £8, amounted to £1,120. On the expenditure side meal represented £730, labour £85, rent £20, sundry expenses £11, while manure was exchanged for litter with a neighbouring farmer. Therefore a gross profit of £274 was attained on 22 sows, or an average of £12 per sow.The implication is current throughout that letter that if British producers were all utilising such knowledge as is available at Cambridge and elsewhere, we could compete favourably with the Danish importer, we could avoid restricting, and avoid denying millions of people of the pleasure of consuming any portion of bacon at all. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, first of all, what effect this sacrifice on the part of the consumer has had on the bacon industry. We know that from the point of view of marketing the bacon the Pig Marketing Board are doing their best to market the commodity efficiently, but we are entitled to know that producers are producing efficiently and that they are doing their best to more than justify all that the Minister has done on their behalf.
The question of mutton and lamb has been dealt with, as the Prime Minister boasted at his recent meeting, on the lines of quantitative restriction. All these restrictions have been of a voluntary nature. I do not think the Minister of Agriculture has power to impose restrictions upon imports of mutton and lamb. At any rate, if he has the power I am not aware of its origin. I am more particularly interested in a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman last Friday week in the discussion of the Cattle Bill. He made reference to such arrangements as have been made with the Dominions and foreign countries for imports during the next 12 months. He made a curious statement. He said that as a result of voluntary restrictions we had been able to increase the price of mutton from 7¼d. to 10¼d. a pound without materially affecting the retail price. That is a wonderful achievement on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. We are prepared to compliment him upon that partial success. But we want to know more from the right hon. Gentleman. If in 12 months' time or 18 months' or two years' time the wholesalers can afford to pay 3d. a pound more for mutton or lamb without passing on to the retailer or the consumer one single farthing per pound, we want to know what they have been raking off before the restrictions 2695 began. Who has been robbing the producer abroad and the producer at home?
We are entitled to know the result of the investigation that the right hon. Gentleman has set on foot. It is almost unbelievable that wholesalers can be persuaded to pay 3d. a pound more for all that they buy without getting some compensating factor. We ask, how has this miracle happened? Who is making the sacrifice now? If the right hon. Gentleman can discover who is making the sacrifice at the moment he will probably find who has been exploiting the producer here and abroad in the past. There is a call for eternal vigilance on all these schemes. We should insist upon more rather than less organisation. I know that it is possible to over-organise in certain ways, but as far as agriculture is concerned we are a long way from having reached that stage yet. The Central Landowners' Association sent a statement of their views to the "Times" on Monday, 22nd July, in this form:The view is held that there is every reason to be suspicious of the theory that the creation of national boards with large monopolies would necessarily result in reduction of the distributors' margin and lower prices to the consumer. The Central Landowners' Association also recommends that the working of the Marketing Board should be closely examined to ascertain whether the distributors' margin is not excessive; on what principle the accompanying restriction of imports is being worked; and whether the measures taken to enforce that principle are adequate.If the Central Landowners' Association demands those safeguards for the consumer, that is an addition to our efforts, and the Labour party has an unexpected ally. We are entitled to ask the Minister, therefore, whether he will re-examine the mutton and lamb situation and discover the previous leakage, for if he finds that leakage he may find the leakage in beef without further restrictions or direct subsidies, and he may solve the beef problem as apparently he has solved the mutton and lamb problem.
The question of beef has been dealt with during the past 12 months by direct subsidy, and it is to be dealt with during the next 13 months by direct subsidy. That is in the absence of the application of the long-term policy of a levy. No hon. Member will deny that the beef branch of the industry has been in a parlous plight. Hon. Members opposite 2696 have all been extremely generous to the Minister. Some hon. Members representing industrial areas may have been very doubtful about the wisdom first of a direct and then of an indirect subsidy, but they have always been generous to a degree when conceding what the Minister has asked for. We have had no marketing scheme for beef, no system of central auctions, and no slaughter-house system worthy of the name, and it really is high time that something was done on those lines if the taxpayer or the consumer is to be persistently called upon to assist the industry to its feet.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) was very anxious last year to know what the Egg and Poultry Reorganisation Commission was doing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) was not then in this House, and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, taking advantage of my right hon. Friend's absence, made a very unkindly observation. He suggested that a person who goes to the Zoo frequently acquires sooner or later the habits of the particular animal at which he looks, and he said that my right hon. Friend, who was Chairman of the Poultry and Egg Reorganisation Commission, had acquired the habits of the hen and had become almost a broody hen, and he added that there was a certain remedy for a broody hen. He concluded by saying, "I want to get a report at the earliest possible moment." He was dying to get hold of this report, so that some organisation could be imported into the marketing of eggs and all the rest of it. The Commission have reported many months since. The latest information comes from the Minister in his reply to a question to-day—they are still considering it.
Will the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton tell us who is the broody hen now, and will he say how one is to characterise the beef producers who have been directly subsidised for 13 months? What animal do they represent? There has been a scheme there, prepared many months since, but nothing has happened. When the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton makes a speech here and refers to some recent report which is not available to us, he is simply trying to cover up the tracks of the reports that have been made available. We are entitled 2697 to ask the Minister, when is the marketing scheme for beef, lamb and mutton to be made available? According to the Prime Minister he and the Government are satisfied that they have restored mutton and lamb to an economic position. They are not worried about marketing; they are not worried about efficiency; they are not worried about anything at all, so long as the price is just sufficient to satisfy the producer.
So much for mutton, lamb and beef. The same thing can be said with regard to poultry and eggs. We know that the increase in the output of poultry has been tremendous during the last 10 years or so, but that, as with so many other agricultural commodities, production is all right only up to a point. All that is asked for with eggs and poultry is more restriction and less organisation, despite the fact that the broody hen Commission has reported.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member was referring to a broody hen in July, 1934, and he has been discreetly silent about it since. I should like him to tell us to-day what he and his friends have done with the report they were bursting for 12 months ago. The question of milk has been dealt with by direct subsidies, plus quantitative restriction, plus duties on certain dairy produce, and so forth. The marketing scheme, which has only been a very partial success, did at least save the dairy industry of this country from disaster, but they took possession of the industry at a moment when they could do little more than stave off disaster. My sympathies, therefore, are to a large extent with the Board, which has been trying to do the impossible with a constantly increasing surplus for which there have been no buyers at the price at which liquid milk is sold in all parts of the country today. The scheme itself, apart from having staved off disaster, has cost the taxpayers £5,500,000. It has not been a lot of use to a lot of producers, and it certainly has not been beneficial to consumers, except those school children who have had subsidised milk in elementary schools, and I do not think there is an hon. Member here who could not bring forward case after case, particularly those of producer-retailers, who are securing less for their 2698 milk to-day than they did prior to the commencement of the Marketing Board's operations.
I am willing to wait a reasonable time to give the Marketing Board a chance to reorganise themselves and to make the best they can of present conditions, but those of us who sit on these Benches think that no marketing scheme that has power only to deal with production and with bargaining for a price can ever fully succeed. The Milk Marketing Board has no power to enter into the distributive side of the industry at all, and in so far as it has interfered with distribution it has committed errors for which it has been condemned by its own members. We think, however, that if the producer and the consumer are to get the benefit to which both of them are entitled, the producer by way of a better all-round price, and the consumer by way of cheaper milk and improved methods of distribution, the scheme will always be in the state in which it is at the moment, namely, one of glorious uncertainty. I had a letter from a milk producer this morning, who says he has cows, that he has to sell milk to six neighbours every day, and that he carts some 40 gallons of milk about 20 or 30 miles, where it is sold at less than 4½d. a gallon for manufacturing purposes. He must charge a fixed price for the liquid milk to the consumer, and he only gets the available manufacturing price for any milk taken for manufacturing purposes.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member's very interesting and well-informed speech, but I think he must be in error in suggesting that anyone does not get the pool price for his milk. Under the scheme the low price for manufacturing milk is now a thing of the past.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I know that that farmer, who conveys his milk 25 miles and sells it for manufacturing purposes, receives the pool price for what he sells, but the recipient of the milk, the manufacturer, only pays into the pool round about 4½d. per gallon. I do not think that that will be denied. I know the farmer himself secures the average pool price for any milk that goes for manufacturing purposes as well as the price for what he sells to his next door neighbours, but that is the anomaly of which many complain. I do not say that the 2699 solution is simple, and to the most bitter political opponent that I have in my own Parliamentary Division who was in doubt as to what he should do with the Milk Board, whether he should vote it out of existence or vote to keep it in existence, my advice would certainly be to vote to keep it in existence, not in its present form, but in a much improved form, for I am convinced that unless some power is given to the Board to deal with distribution more effectively, it never will be able to get that successful scheme that we are entitled to expect.
So far as the elementary school system of cheap milk is concerned, I think it has been greeted universally as an unqualified success. We know, of course, that the increase in dairy cows continues, and the surplus milk is the perpetual problem of the Board. May I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might, in association with the Board, extend the provision of that cheap milk to similar families to those of the elementary schools for children who are not yet of school age? Milk is of greater value perhaps to young children than it is to children from five to 14. Then there are expectant mothers who cannot afford to buy milk at the ordinary price and whose children are having subsidised milk at school. We want the right hon. Gentleman to examine whether what he now claims to be an unqualified success cannot be extended so as further to dispose of surplus milk and further to prove the usefulness of milk as a means of building up the child's physique, and incidentally to help the dairy farmer in this country.
We are entitled to ask for that, for after all, the right hon. Gentleman, or his predecessor, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or a combination of them, has already imposed a duty of 15s. per cwt. on imported butter from foreign countries, a 15 per cent. duty on imported cheese, and all sorts of duties on dried milk and various milk products. If the consumer in this country expresses his willingness to pay these duties, it is not too much to ask that the right hon. Gentleman shall utilise such funds as may be made available through such duties to subsidise free or cheap milk for those youngsters and those mothers who cannot afford to buy it. I think there may be an outlet in that 2700 direction for a great deal of surplus milk, and I may say that it would meet with approval from a large number of people outside this House.
The question of potatoes has been dealt with in two ways. There are duties at various periods during the year, varying from £2 10s. to £4 a ton, on imported potatoes. The right hon. Gentleman claims the power, and exercises it, to apply quantitative restriction on imports. He has already said that ordinarily we produce in this country 97 per cent. of the potatoes we consume. The margin of 3 per cent., therefore, is so small that it cannot have any material effect on the price of potatoes in this country. It is the marketing scheme and the producers themselves who must provide themselves with continuity of prices, and it is the Minister or some other agency acting on his behalf who should be the real safeguard for the consumer. We should prefer that there should be a price-fixing body acting on behalf of the consumers in this country. Agricultural Members in this House are not satisfied with the £2 10s to £4 a ton duty and quantitative restriction powers in the hands of the Minister—I have heard them demanding that he should apply restrictions more and more—but that is not going to help the industry unless the industry tries to help itself in these various directions.
The question of oats, largely affecting Scotland, has been dealt with by a direct duty of 60 per cent., a very formidable duty. Duties on vegetables and fruit are various, ranging from 2d. to 1s. a lb. or a peck, and so on. I think we have now travelled all round the farm, from the milk pail to the orchard, and back. What we have witnessed over the four years' period has been this: The wheat subsidy was indirect, the sugar subsidy was direct and indirect, mutton and lamb were dealt with by quantitative restriction, beef by direct subsidy and restriction, milk by subsidies, duties, and restrictions, bacon by quantitative restriction, potatoes by duties and quantitative restriction, oats by a 60 per cent. duty, hops by a £4 a ton duty, and fruit and vegetables by duties of various kinds. That is a very comprehensive list, and I am not at all sure whether, having sat here so many times and listened to Conservative Members throwing bouquets to the Minister, I 2701 ought not to take the lead to-day, for if ever a Minister served a body of people who are in business as much for their own profit as they are for service to the community, the right hon. Gentleman has been that Minister. I think I can compliment him at all events on having worked a little overtime in producing the schemes that have been brought before this House.
What has been the result of all this activity? First of all, I want to ask a question, and I will supply the answer. What effect have all these schemes, subsidies, duties, and restrictions had on employment? There are just 56,000 fewer agricultural labourers to-day than there were in 1930, so that if we study all these schemes from the standpoint of employment, the Government have been a colossal failure. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual facile method of conducting a debate, will tell us, "It is true that there are 56,000 fewer people working on the land than there were before, but if I had not been here, that reduction would have been even greater." Might I say in advance that I rather suspect that it would not have been difficult for my colleagues, above or below the Gangway, and myself, if we had had £20,000,000, £30,000,000, or £40,000,000 at our disposal annually, to have found employment for a few people, even if they had been digging holes and filling them up again? In any case, the net result is that there are 56,000 fewer labourers engaged to-day. We are entitled to judge these schemes all round, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, as the result of his schemes and subsidies, the industry is more stable than it was four years ago? Is the industry really prosperous? Perhaps some farmers' representatives will tell us when they speak. I have never yet heard farmers' representatives declare that agriculture is really prosperous, and I am waiting for the day. I wish that they would be more honest with themselves, and, instead of wasting words in congratulating the Minister, that they would tell the House frankly whether, as a result of the Minister's efforts, agriculture is now thoroughly stable, that everything is merry and bright, and that they need not worry for the next 25 years.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Member will support a proposal to concede a subsidy of £6,000,000 a year for miners—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. and learned Gentleman is in grave error. If he knew anything at all about it he would know that the Government of the time gave £23,000,000 to the mine owners to tide them over a period, and that during that period the wages of mine workers were reduced. If the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) is prepared to support a proposal to concede an annual subsidy of £6,000,000 to the mining industry, or £26,000,000, or £53,000,000, I would compliment the Minister who passed such a Measure, and I would tell him that as long as he continued to grant us that subsidy he would never hear from us again for the next 25 years.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Would the hon. Gentleman allow the price of coal to fall from 175 points above pre-war, where it is to-day, to 120, where agricultural prices are?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman always seems to forget when he hurls this price of coal across the Table that we do not own or run the mines. We are in the same position as the agricultural labourers. The miner does as he is told. He has no say in the production, or in the methods employed. He just goes to work to do as he is told, and, having produced the coal, he is not invited into the colliery office in consultation with the commercial side of the industry and asked, "How shall we sell this coal, and to whom shall we sell it?" He is never consulted. He just gets what the owner cares to give him after the owner has determined the methods of production and sale. The agricultural labourer is in that position, and we are not in any way responsible for his condition.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Am I correct in saying that it is under an Act passed by the hon. Gentleman's friends that this terrible state of affairs in regard to the mines was established?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Measure introduced by the Labour Government sought to establish marketing schemes without a subsidy, while every scheme that the right hon. Gentleman has produced has sought to give a subsidy without organisation. No subsidy was granted in 1930. All that Parliament did was to pass a Measure which conceded to the owners power to organise the marketing of their commodity, but in every scheme of the right hon. Gentleman there is a subsidy and no guarantee of a marketing scheme. There is a great difference between the two.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The difference is that the hon. Gentleman and his friends granted the producers the power to restrict output. If that power is handed over to the agricultural producers, they will not bother the House any more for a subsidy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman always very delicately misses the only point that matters. I repeat, that power was given to the industry so that, where a percentage of the owners expressed a will, they could enforce a recalcitrant minority into a scheme for marketing their commodity and for fixing output, but simultaneously consumers' committees were established. If a consumer of coal, industrial or domestic, cares to lodge a complaint it can be dealt with, but we have no such thing under the agricultural marketing scheme.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I know that a committee of investigation is supposed and a consumers' committee are supposed to be in existence, but we never hear anything about them. We have seen the price of bacon soaring sky-high, but nothing has happened as far as we can see. There may have been consultations behind closed doors. In any case, the vital difference is that we are giving subsidies all the time to various branches of agriculture, and we are entitled to insist upon the sort of organisation which is made permissive in regard to the mining industry without any subsidies at all. If you gave to the mining industry a subsidy of £6,000,000, there are a lot of things they could do that they are not doing now.
2704 We are testing the right hon. Gentleman's scheme by the results. The first result is unemployment. What about wages? If all the schemes and the subsidies had expressed themselves in the wages of agricultural workers there would be something to be said for them. The average wage of farm workers between 1925 and 1931 was 31s. 8d.; and for May, 1935, 31s. 7½d. Therefore, the agricultural worker is ½d. a week worse off that he was between 1925 and 1931, and, from the point of view of wages, all these schemes seem to have failed in their effect. I do not deny that in 1931–32–33 wages decreased and that in 1934–35 the decreases were restored, but the net result shows that wages are practically identical with what they were beween 1925 and 1931. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why, after he has provided so much money in so many different ways and has thus helped to restore a certain measure of prosperity to various branches of the industry, that money has not expressed itself in the wages of the workers? The Minister told us in July, 1934, that the increased output per cow in terms of milk was really amazing. The increased output per hen is also amazing, and he said, "What marvels organisation and research can do!" We delight in these marvels, but we want to see their result expressed in the pockets of the agricultural workers.
If it be a question of spending money on behalf of the farmer to see that he gets help in any one of 20 directions, the Government never hesitate to spend any sum of money, but if it be a question of insuring that the workers shall be paid their legitimate statutory wage, the Government have been hesitant in seeing that the law is carried out. In 1929, six new inspectors were appointed. They were sent on various drives through agricultural areas to see that the workers were paid the wages to which they were entitled, and they accomplished very good work. I will quote from the right hon. Gentleman's report. Incidentally, I should like to ask why there has been no report on agricultural wages and proceedings under the Agriculture Wages (Regulation) Act since 1933. The trade union representatives of the workers and hon. Members are entitled to see what has been happening in the meantime. When these inspectors were put on by 2705 the Labour Government, they made investigations in 8,000 cases. They found that 26.6 per cent. of the workers to whom they went were not being paid their statutory wage. They secured £7,770 in arrears of wages for 878 workers. The inspectors paid their way magnificently, for they helped the workers to secure the rates of wages to which they were entitled under the law.
Immediately the present Government came into office they dismissed these six inspectors, with the result that the number of inspections decreased. Whereas in 1932, with these six inspectors making drives, 790 farms were visited, in 1933, after they had been dismissed, only 443 farms were visited. As a result of the lax methods of carrying out the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, it is a good speculation, a good gamble, for a farmer not to pay the correct wage because, if he happens to be caught and is prosecuted, the fine is so small as to be no detriment to him. I will give one or two cases. I do not want to impute that all the farmers are dishonest. They are no more dishonest than the mineowners or any other section of the community, but if they see an opportunity and weakness on the part of the Government, they will, like other sections of the community, take advantage of it. A farmer in Hereford was discovered to have paid £25 short to his workers. He was prosecuted and fined £3 10s. He was running an eight to one risk that if he did not pay the proper wages he would only be made to pay the right wages and, in addition, £3 10s. A farmer near Sheffield withheld £51 from his labourers; he was prosecuted and fined £5. It was a ten to one chance for him. It is a good gamble on the part of the farmer not to pay the right wages. In another case at Widnes a farmer withheld £58 from his labourers. He was caught, and fined £2.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he really thinks that that sort of administration is fair where the labourer is concerned? The Milk Marketing Board, when a farmer in my division had sold a few more gallons of milk to a retailer than, apparently, he was expected to do, fined him £25. He had to sell part of his furniture to meet the fine, but he had to pay. The Milk Marketing Board do not hesitate to inflict fines anywhere 2706 from £10 to £100. In fairness to the agricultural labourer, who, everybody confesses, does not get too much, I ask the Minister to strengthen his inspectors. Give them a chance to do their job, and they will be as effective as possible. That is all I want to say on that point.
I should be out of order if I made any reference to unemployment insurance, but it is a scandal that agricultural workers have been left outside so long, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when considering the industry as a whole, will not forget the workers, and will make such representations to the proper Department as he thinks, in justice, ought to be made on behalf of the workers in that industry. I will not deal with tied cottages and housing legislation. I think the agricultural labourer is as much entitled as any urban citizen to a decent house. He is entitled to the benefits of housing legislation, such as they are, which means the abolition of the tied cottage. The agricultural labourer is a human being in a civilised country, who has been educated and does his work in a scientific manner. He knows right from wrong, and he is entitled to all the benefits of housing legislation down to the point of freeing his house, so that he can enjoy freedom of citizenship like any other member of the community.
From these points of view the worker has little or nothing for which to thank the Government. We admit certain improvements here and there, but even the Government have to confess that the cost has been very heavy, and that the results in many directions are extremely meagre. Two years ago the right hon. Gentleman stated in this House that it would be criminal to put another man back on the land until he had made agriculture pay. He has been making agriculture pay for the last four years. They have had a good opportunity, and the Government have not been fruitless where funds were concerned. After four years, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that now is the time, prosperity being restored to agriculture, to extend smallholdings, co-operative holdings, any sort of holding which will increase the number of workers on the land, or does he still think after four years that the industry is sufficiently unstable not to warrant his going forward with a smallholding policy?
I want to finish as I began. We all recognise that agriculture, being so big— 2707 20 industries involved in one—many of the solutions would defy logic and partial solutions may often be worse than useless. We think some of the partial solutions already applied have been worse than useless, and that some day, sooner or later, the issue of proper organisation and prices will have to be faced by some Minister. The present Government have gone in certain directions, but we are convinced that this is the last Government that will stand up to vested interests. We believe that vested interests must be disregarded, and that there must be safeguards for the consumer as well as for the producer. It is for these reasons that we cannot give full support to the Government policy.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
The Debate this afternoon has followed a fairly sealed pattern. We have had a very interesting hour from the hon. Gentleman, who took stock of the situation in an extremely well-informed speech. When he became, as usual and, as I think, quite fairly, a little critical of the Minister opposite, the Minister, as usual, tried to ride off in a coal wagon, which also is part of the sealed pattern on this occasion. The Minister must not mind criticism, because in the course of the Debate to-day he will get many bouquets from those sections of the industry benefiting from quotas and subsidies. I ventured to remind him when he took office how difficult it was for a Minister of Agriculture to maintain his popularity. I remember I quoted what happened in the case of one of his predecessors, whom we knew as Mr. Walter Guinness—how he, after starting off by being quite popular, as, indeed, he well deserved to be, became very unpopular with farmers; so much so, that many of them had a favourite saying, "He that is not with us is a Guinness." Those wonderful people in the Reporters' Gallery who so often make marvellous sense of our sentences, which were not delivered in the sensible form in which they are reported, when reporting that observation made "Guinness" not a proper noun but a combination of a preposition and a pronoun, "agin us "—so that the point of the observation was lost.
Let us remember that in that case—and here comes in the comparison—that Minister of Agriculture, in spite of his unpopularity 2708 with the farmers for several years, went out of office in a blaze of glory and popularity, because the Government suddenly, just before the election, took all the rates off agricultural land. My right hon. Friend is wiser. He keeps up his popularity and that of his Government all the time, by scattering bounties as he goes. I dare say there will be a final sweetener or two thrown in just before the election, to make things really sure. But he has been doing extraordinarily well, in all conscience, lately. A week ago £4,000,000 for livestock for a year; and yesterday he announced something like £6,000,000 for beet sugar, also for a year—£10,000,000 in the course of 10 days, an average of £1,000,000 a day, with no prospect, in either case, as I am sure he would admit in his heart of hearts, of any decrease in either subsidy. That is surely not at all bad. People are getting so accustomed to this that of course appetites are enlarging, and demands are continuing, and if he yields to all the suggestions that will be made to him to-day, he will have to go on keeping up that sort of record of distribution of the taxpayers' money.
What an extraordinary encouragement it will be to all these claims from all the different sections of the agricultural industry and other industries, too, that the action with regard to the beet sugar industry should have been announced. This is an industry which has no reasonable prospect of ever becoming self-supporting, as we learn with full justification from the Greene Report; an industry in regard to which the nation would, as we also know, be saved quite a lot of money if it pensioned off at £2 for the rest of their lives all those who have been employed. That industry is to be kept, as far as we can see, solidly and permanently on the dole at about £6,000,000 a year. How even the humblest of us, interested, it may be, in only the future prospects of cultivating pineapples or bananas, must be encouraged to hope for the best by that decision.
The fact is that a change is coming over the attitude of agriculturists towards the Government, compared with two years ago, when my right hon. Friend took office. Then there were among the harder, closer-thinking farmers many who were genuinely anxious to work out, and to co-operate in improving and developing, better marketing schemes. They 2709 realised that, although they had got what they had always been crying for and that no improvement in marketing conditions was to be required until they had been given something in the shape of a subsidy, restriction or duty, the two things, however uncomfortable it might be, would have to go hand in hand. They were willing to go about as pioneers among their fellows to get the industry better organised for the sake of the producer. Quite definitely that tendency has been fading into the background. It is rather interesting to look at the latest report, which came out yesterday or to-day, about the reorganisation of one of the industries, namely, the report by the Ministry of Agriculture about vegetable marketing. They are hardly allowed to talk at all about marketing boards. The phrase is different. The words used are only that there will have to be national organisation of producers involving almost necessarily the exercise of powers derived under the Agricultural Marketing Act, but the idea of a real marketing board to tackle reorganisation of the industry is rather kept in the background. As one reads agricultural papers and goes about to farmers' meetings, one can see that the feeling is becoming stronger every week, that it is much simpler not to bother about improved methods at all, but just to go strongly forward for more protection and more subsidy. The industry is, in fact, getting almost every month more and more deeply on the dole, and to get it there and keep it there is quite natural, and is getting more and more a popular and a successful cry. Why is that? Partly because protection has always been the Conservative party's substitute for statesmanship, and partly because the marketing sides of these schemes have not been very successful, and have not been going too well.
Take milk. I voted for that scheme when it originally came before the House, because I, and everybody else, knew that the producers had no chance of arranging prices with the distributors when farmers are not able to use their milk on their own farms, or have it sent off some of the farms, because they do not even own the milk churns in which it is carried away. Of course, they have no bargaining power, and, as everybody who had any knowledge of the trade knew, the price given to the producer was always fixed by United Dairies and a few other people 2710 weeks before negotiations began. Now and again they offered a penny a gallon less than they were willing to go to, but the prices were fixed by the distributors entirely, and the producers had no share in it at all. One hoped that that would have been got rid of under this Marketing Board, but if you analyse where the money is going you find that the complaint some of us who were in favour of the scheme pointed out when it began is justifiable, and the big money is still going to the big distributors, and the producer has not been put into an effectively better bargaining position than he was before. Another thing is happening which none of us foresaw, or knew or believed possible, when we voted for the scheme, namely, that in some districts retailers who were quite happy to sell their milk at 5d. a quart are being required to charge 6d. for it, although they know that there is an actual decrease in consumption in their districts. That is an outcome of this milk marketing scheme which will not, in the long run, be popular. That happened a fortnight ago in the district of Cornwall which I represent.
There is the pigs and bacon scheme. I voted for that too, because I knew there was absolute chaos in regard to the type of pig produced by the British farmer, and I thought, and still think and hope, that a better state of affairs might be brought about. I also voted for it because—and this was the thing to which I attached my greatest hope—that the Lane-Fox report, an extraordinarily able document, would be carried into effect. That report made the Development Board, as it was said, the corner-stone of the better organisation of the industry, and recommended that it should be set up even before the Pigs Board and the Bacon Board. That corner-stone was set up only last week, and, indeed, I have not yet seen the names of the board announced. Instead of the industry being planned from the beginning by a body appointed for the purpose, the Development Board, if it is appointed now, will be not the corner-stone but the fifth wheel of the coach, and it will be extraordinarily difficult to bring about that better order in the industry for which some of us had hoped.
Next, wheat. I am not afraid to speak about wheat. The wheat scheme is always dragged in by the Minister as 2711 being the pattern of what he wants his schemes to be in future, and we on these benches are reminded that we voted for it—I should probably have done the same if I had been in the House at the time. But there, again, I am not sure that we ought to be proud of the way in which things are working, I am not sure that all is really creditable. What happens in the local markets? Farmer A sells his wheat to a miller. Without being taken out of the sacks that wheat is sold to Farmer B, but by its passing through the hands of the miller, who gets his very small turn of profit, the farmer who sold it gets his documents which entitles him to the subsidy. The wheat goes to Farmer B, who uses it for poultry corn. Then B sells to the same miller a quantity of wheat which goes to A. It is illegal for A to have sold back to him the same wheat that he has sold, but it is not illegal that there should should be an exchange of wheat for poultry corn, and that the bounty should be paid as a result of that simple transaction. That was a procedure which was hardly foreseen at the time the wheat quota scheme was voted for, and one doubts whether it was the real intention of the promoters of the scheme.
How generally corrupting all these subsidies and tariffs are! I do not suggest personal corruption, of course, but we are all thinking more or less of the next general election, and are bound to realise what will happen then. I can foresee precisely the form in which the National Farmers' Union will ask its questions: "Will you pledge yourself to maintain permanently, and if possible to increase, the particular subsidies or duties which happen to be helping the particular branches of agriculture which are of interest to your constituency?" What chance is there for a man to be returned for an agricultural constituency if he even makes any proviso in answering that question in the form of a reference to safeguarding the National Exchequer, or raises the question of whether the industry still requires the help? The man who gives the full pledge will get the whole support of the farmers, and the man who qualifies it in any way will be opposed.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
Very likely. "Out will go the Liberals"—because they happen to be honest. That is the inevitable penalty of honesty, once Protection is part of the policy of the country. That is the point I want to make. If this great, strong Government cannot do the right thing about sugar beet it seems to me that no Government which wanted to give protection can resist the pressure which would be created in many quarters. The arts of log rolling will come in, and in the sacred name of fair play claims will be made that any part of the industry which is not helped in that way shall be helped; and if agriculture has to be helped other industries must be helped; and the last state of the country will, in my humble view, be worse than the first. I do not believe that anybody in this House believes that that course, which now seems inevitably laid out before us, is the real path to recovery and a return of national prosperity.
I believe that we all, in our heart of hearts, realise that two things have been true, are true and always will be true; first, that the prosperity of agriculture depends in the long run not upon these schemes, but upon the prosperity of the customers of agriculture; and, second, that we shall not get that prosperity as long as our national finances are clogged with subsidies, as long as our foreign trade is clogged with tariffs and as long as we have, and from now on will have. Members of Parliament returned clogged with pledges to maintain and increase subsidies. In those conditions we cannot get back to that national position in which alone agriculture can really become permanently prosperous.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
May I express my appreciation of the action of the Opposition in having devoted this day to the discussion of agriculture? Much as I admired the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), I shall have to say some things in mitigation of his charges; but, all the same, I do very much appreciate the fact that agriculture has been thought of sufficient importance to engage the attention of the House. To my mind the depopulation of the country districts is one of the most serious problems which this country has to face. The figures brought out a fortnight ago 2713 by the hon. Member show how the working population has been vanishing from the land, until to-day we have the alarming position that there are fewer workers on the land in Great Britain than have ever been recorded before. The number is 801,000. Since last year the number has gone down by 27,000. Any man who really values the stability of the country must be alarmed at that state of affairs. Since 1921, 195,000 agricultural workers have left the land, and that is draining not only the vitality of the country districts but the vitality of the country as a whole. Those men must go to the larger centres of population. I should like hon. Members representing mining constituencies to join with us agriculturists in helping to make agriculture more prosperous, because I see no outlet for the unemployed workers in those distressed area other than the land. I do not speak in any partisan spirit, and do not want to make any party taunts, but so long ago as 1924 the present Prime Minister pledged himself to increase the balance of country workers as against town workers. We have seen a contrary result.
What is the reason for this decay of the agricultural industry? Costs, compared with pre-war, have increased—no one can doubt that—and prices have not increased. I have here some figures which were given to me yesterday. I always take off my hat to the statistical department of the Ministry of Agriculture; they supply really admirable information. In June, 1913—that is, before the War—the price of fat cattle was 37s. 3d. per cwt. and the price of fat cattle this last June was 33s. 8d.—the subsidy brought it to 38s. 8d. That really means that without the subsidy the price of fat cattle was actually below pre-war, although costs are doubled. Can farmers go on producing with such prices prevailing? In the case of dairy cows the prices are much the same. Store cattle were £12 3s. per head in June, 1913, and are £11 3s. to-day, that is, actually lower than pre-war. Butter was 11s. 6d. for 12 lb. before the War, and was 10s. 3d. this last month. Cheese was 69s. 6d. per cwt. before the War, and it is 68s. to-day. Therefore the prices of many of the most important items of agricultural produce are actually less than pre-war.
2714 My hon. Friend opposite referred to wages. If the wages of agricultural workmen had been reduced by the same amount as prices have fallen since 1925—wages were first fixed in 1925 and fixed at about £80 a year—wages in 1934 would be £55 a year. That is £25 a year less, proportionate to the fall in the value of produce; and with 800,000 labourers that means £20,000,000 less a year would have been paid. I am not one of those who think that the agricultural labourer is too well paid. As the hon. Member opposite said, the agricultural labourer is a skilled man, and I should like to see him better paid. The hon. Member talked about inspectors. All the inspectors in the world can never compel an employer to employ a man unless the produce will justify it. As I have said many times the best inspector for agricultural wages would be two farmers soliciting the services of one man. If two masters want one man wages will go up; if two men are searching for one master wages will go down.
I wish to approach this question from the point of view of national safety. The first essential in such a country as this, as was proved during the war, is food. Many of our industries are now coming to London, and I am sorry for it. That is a danger from the national point of view, because all have to be fed through the Port of London. A country that is not provisioned must be vulnerable. I am bewildered and amazed at the talk of war. After the agony of the last war I am astounded that anybody should think or dream of war. But there are dictators in the world. I hear that this is what Signor Mussolini told the Chamber of Deputies last year:War is to man as maternity is to woman.… I do not believe in perpetual peace; not only that, I consider that it depresses and negatives the fundamental virtues of man, which only in bloody effort reveal themselves in the full light of the sun.Suppose one of those dictators took it into his head to attack England. We should want to be not only strong in arms but to be well provisioned. The hon. Gentleman talked about the Wheat Act. The Wheat Act has given us four and a-half more weeks of wheat for flour than there were three years ago. That is an advantage. What would the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) have given 2715 for four and a-half weeks' supply of wheat in 1917? No one can estimate meat value. The Government are going to put a check upon that supply, but I would say, "Go on. Let the agriculturists of this country produce as much as they can for 45s. a quarter." That is not an unreasonable price. No one can say that the price of bread in this country is at an unreasonable figure, especially if compared with the price in any foreign country. I regret very much the limitation which the Government has put on. We asked not only for a reasonable price, but for a stable price, and 45s. is a reasonable price, considering the cost of production. There is also some kind of stability.
In horticulture the Government began very well. They began with tariffs and duties on horticultural products, but I cannot see why agriculture as a whole should be treated differently from iron and steel. I heard the President of the Board of Trade yesterday say that the iron and steel industry had made a marvellous recovery. Why not treat the agricultural industry as you do the iron and steel industry? I observed in a publication the other day the Government say that we should put up prices. I would infinitely rather put up prices to the 1925 level, when there were only 1,000,000 unemployed, than see prices at their present level, with 2,000,000 unemployed. I agree that prices were higher in 1925, but we now have 1,000,000 more unemployed who cannot be costing the country less than £50,000,000 a year. If there were a rise in prices with a greater volume of employment, that would enormously benefit the country.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Don Valley will wish to complete his education on agricultural matters and I hope to be able now to give him a little more information. We are subjected in this country to inequitable competition. The coal miners would not stand it for a moment if they were met with competition from coal producers working under depreciated currencies. Our agricultural competitors have depreciated currencies. In Argentina, which is a great producer of beef, the currency is depreciated 40 per cent. in relation to sterling. Denmark has a 25 per cent. depreciated currency. I do not know what the currency figure is in 2716 Russia. Holland gives large subsidies. Those are difficulties with which agriculturists have to deal. My hon. Friend said, "You are not efficient." I ask him as a fair-minded man to consider that here are men who have endeavoured to keep their heads above water in these times. They produce a larger crop of wheat per acre than any farmers in the world. They produce the finest stock of any farmers in the world. Can it be suggested that such men are not efficient? Some are, of course, more efficient than others, as there are Members of Parliament who are more efficient than others. That is natural.
When my hon. Friend talked about the Danes I remembered reading a day or so ago that Danish farmers—in one paper they were said to number 30,000, and in another 50,000—went to see their King. They are more enterprising than our farmers. I dare say that if our farmers came up here and held an unemployed demonstration they might impress the minds of hon Members. The Dominions have a depreciated currency. I have said all I wish to say at present about Ottawa, but I would point out that Australia and New Zealand have depreciated their currency 25 per cent. below sterling. If hon. Members will read the very illuminating report on the subject from the "Times" correspondent published in to-day's paper, they will see that in Australia the Scullin policy of very high Protection invited reprisals from Continental countries, and consequently Australia was not able to send her primary products to those countries. Those products were, therefore, dumped on this country. That is undoubted. Australia subsidises her products. Australian butter is sold more cheaply in London than it is in Melbourne. That is inequitable competition, subsidised competition. In October, 1931, the Prime Minister sent a message to the nation. This was part of it:Farmers must be protected from dumping.They have not been protected from dumping. I have here the New Deal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and he says:We recommend that effective measures be taken to prevent dumping, whether from foreign countries or from the Dominions.One would hope that with both those eminent men, the Prime Minister and the 2717 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, endeavouring to protect us against dumping, something will be done. I regret very much that the Government have not taken more stringent steps to prevent the selling of produce in this country at a lower price than that at which it is sold in the country of origin. That is dumping.
My hon. Friend talked about marketing. I am not going to say much about marketing. The eloquence of the Minister of Agriculture, in the phrase of my old friend Lord Fisher, "would talk a bird out of a bush." My right hon. Friend has been most eloquent on these marketing schemes. I have always been very sceptical, because they were hatched by the party opposite. I never liked the marketing schemes and never thought they would succeed, although I will try to make them succeed. But there will be a very great difficulty. These Socialistic schemes have to be buttressed by subsidies from the Exchequer lest they fall, and then we are taunted from the benches opposite that the agriculturists are demanding doles. These schemes demand doles. I would very much prefer to see a straightforward tariff placed on products coming into the country. Agriculture has been sacrificed, despite all the fulminations of the hon. Member for Don Valley. We live to-day under a system whereby agricultural necessities are taxed. I have a list of them here, which I have given to the House before. Only the other day the oil from the soya bean was taxed in order to help Lancashire industry. We were told that Argentina cannot pay her debts. Agriculture has to carry the bondholders on its back. Hon. Friends who represent the coal mines are anxious to get a better market for coal, and the Danes and others are enabled to send their dairy and bacon products to compete with us.
I say, therefore, that those who work on the land deserve greater consideration and that it was infinitely better to work on the land than elsewhere. I never put coal in a fire without thinking that some miner has been down into the bowels of the earth to get it. They would be better employed digging the earth to produce food than digging coal for export to pay for 2718 foreign agricultural produce. Let us see how agriculture has been dealt with in regard finance. In 1921 the Conversion 3½ per cent. loan was issued at 65. Today it shows an appreciation of 66 per cent. If anyone had put money into agricultural land, there would not have been an appreciation but a decrease of anything from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. Whether or not this be the swan song of this Parliament, I would ask hon. Members here, as I shall ask in the country when the election comes, whether it is fair that men who work long hours, seven days a week, should be penalised, and whether those who do nothing but draw dividends should reap a rich reward. The financial interests, of course, may be against it, but the City of London and other large cities will be in a queer state if there is a decaying agricultural industry. I notice that there are schemes for putting more men on the land, but let us in the first place keep those men on the land who are there already. They have the experience; they are there; they know their work; and, while I welcome land settlement, the men must be skilled men, or they will fail. Let us strive to build up a rural population by keeping those men on the soil who know and understand its cultivation.
§ 5.31 p.m.
Colonel Sir EDWARD RUGGLESBRISE
I feel sure that there is no Member in any quarter of the House who will not echo the concluding sentences of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). One of the major problems which has been before the agricultural world for a long time has been, not how to take an increased number of wage-earners on to the land, but how to maintain on the land those who were already there. If the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) had been in his place, I should have liked to say a word or two to him on that subject, for it is clear that, if the industry had been allowed to go on unassisted during recent years, the number of agricultural workers would have fallen, not by tens of thousands, but by hundreds of thousands, until we should have had an almost derelict countryside. If the Government are to be commended in any respect as regards their agricultural policy, it is that at least they have done something to stay 2719 the fall in the number of people employed on the land.
Now that the hon. Member for Don Valley has returned, I would say to him, with regard to where the money has gone that has been awarded by way of subsidies, that the whole of the money which has gone in various ways through State channels to the farming community has gone out again in the form of wages to agricultural workers. I do not think that that statement will be challenged by anyone who has any first-hand knowledge of farming on a large or even a small scale, and who has to find the cash with which to pay the wages at the end of the week. From my own personal experience, after a fairly wide study of that part of the subject, I can say that the statement I have made is absolutely correct.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Does the hon. Baronet confirm the statement I made recently, that direct and indirect subsidies pay every penny of the wages of workers in agriculture?
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
I think it is absolutely true to say that every penny goes towards paying wages. It is quite easy to understand it, for the reason just given by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton when the hon. Gentleman did not happen to be here. The agricultural price index figure to-day is about 112, that is to say, 12 points over the pre-war level, while the index figure for wages is something like 100 points over the pre-war level, so that the truth of what I have just said is manifest, and I do not think it will be controverted.
Had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) been here, I should have liked to challenge his arithmetic. Not very long ago we had a Debate in this House on the question of the amount of the beet-sugar subsidy. Unfortunately, on that occasion, after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall had made his speech and given certain figures, he was not able to remain to hear the comments on them. To-day he has repeated what is such a mistake of fact in regard to figures that I feel obliged to correct him once more. He stated just now that the Government were proposing to give a subsidy of 2720 some £6,000,000 a year to the sugar-beet industry, but that, of course, is not at all an accurate statement. If the right hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to read the White Paper issued yesterday afternoon and do a very little simple arithmetic for himself, he will find that the amount of the subsidy which has to be found in respect of the sugar-beet industry is £2,900,000, from which amount must be deducted £2,300,000 repaid to the Exchequer in the form of excise. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) is here. I would ask him by what rule of arithmetic he can dispute the absolute accuracy of what I have said? I put it to him that the net amount which the taxpayer will have to find through the Exchequer to support the sugar-beet industry will be £600,000. Has the right hon. Gentleman anything to say in denial of that statement?
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
I am not in the least surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not deny my statement. No doubt he has taken the trouble to read the White Paper, which apparently the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall has not. I am very glad to find that the statement I have just made is incontrovertible, namely, that the actual amount which the taxpayer will be called upon to pay through the Exchequer to support the sugar-beet industry will not be £6,000,000, as was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall, but £600,000—a slight difference.
Having cleared up that point without challenge, I would like to mention one or two matters in relation to the action which has been taken by the Government during the last three or four years to come to the assistance of the agricultural industry. I will not go over the whole catalogue, because the hon. Member for Don Valley covered most of the ground, and, I think, covered it in several respects quite fairly, though I was not able to agree with many of the deductions which he drew. It is quite certain that, but for the action taken by the Government, several of the great branches which go to make up the complete industry of agriculture would have collapsed, and, if that collapse had taken place, it would 2721 not merely have been the farmers who would have suffered; the farm workers would have suffered just as greatly, if not to a greater extent.
The various methods adopted by the Government have all, I think, been alluded to in previous speeches, but I should like to make this comment with regard to one or two of them. The straight tariff has been used as regards horticulture, and it is interesting to note, from a reply given by the Minister within the last few days, that there has been a large increase in the area of land under vegetables. That is an instance where a straight tariff has been definitely beneficial. On the other hand, some industries have not had the benefit of a straight tariff—the cattle industry, for instance. We know that the Government decided that as regards meat there should be no application of the straight tariff. In that case they prefer to experiment with the instrument of the quota, or quantitative restriction.
I know that my right hon. Friend would be the first to admit that that experiment has not been wholly successful, and, in view of the fact that it has not been wholly successful, I think the Government are greatly to be commended for the promptitude with which they came to the assistance of the cattle industry when the bottom fell out of world prices for meat. Although it is true that the present level of meat prices is not by any means what would normally be expected or desired, the Government, having tried one experiment and found it to be not wholly successful, did not hesitate to do what they could in reason to fill up the gap. In passing I would like to say that I think the Cattle Committee, who have had the working of that particular scheme, deserve a word of praise. They have really worked extremely well, and I think it will be agreed in all quarters of the House that the payments out of the Cattle Fund have been made quite smoothly and efficiently.
The store man feels a little aggrieved that he has been left out in the cold, and it is true that nothing has been done for him directly, but I think he should be reminded that the real remedy of the man who produces the store animal lies in the hope that sooner or later we shall get a reasonable price level for the finished article, namely, meat. If the man who finishes the animals finds that 2722 he has a ready market at a reasonably remunerative price for the finished article, he will be a ready buyer of store cattle. Therefore, I hope that the keeper of store cattle will not feel that his prospects for the future are too black. I know that I may not discuss it, but the Government have now announced as a definite policy that they intend to apply the method of the tariff levy to beef in the future, and I feel sure that all those who are interested in the cattle industry will welcome that declaration very warmly. It is known that as regards mutton and lamb the use of the quota instrument has been reasonably successful. Happily the disasters of the year 1932, when price of mutton and lamb fell away to nothing, have passed, and for the last two years the prices of sheep and lambs have been on a fairly reasonable basis.
I have only a word to say about the pig and bacon schemes. Now that we have a marketing scheme and there is also to be a development scheme, I feel sure that that will be an interesting experiment which will receive encouragement from all quarters of the House. While on the subject of bacon, I should like to say a word about what was said by the hon. Member for Don Valley. He attempted to make a good deal of play with the fact that at one point there was a considerable rise in the price of bacon, when a smaller quantity of bacon was imported from Denmark. He will correct me if I am wrong in saying that the price of bacon to-day is no higher—in fact, a little lower—than the price of bacon at the time when his party held the reins of government in 1931. If he will compare the prices, he will see for himself that that is so. Therefore, if there has been any falling off in the consumption of bacon in this country, it is not due to any abnormal rise in price; the price to-day is virtually the same as it was when the Labour party were in office. What did happen, however, was that, at the time of the world crisis, with bacon as with so many other things, the bottom fell out of the market as regards price, and a whole lot of bacon was flooded into this country and offered to the public at prices which were completely and absolutely unremunerative. But that could not go on, so the Danes cut the throats of a million of their breeding sows in order to reduce the appalling glut of bacon on the world market. Having done that, the situation began to right itself until 2723 supplies eventually came more or less into relation with demand.
I do not think the hon. Member will attempt to challenge anything that I have said in relation to the history of the matter as regards bacon. [Interruption.] The reason why they cut the throats of the million breeding sows was simply that they saw that the supply was grossly exceeding the demand, and now we have got back to a more or less normal position. The reason I raised this point with the hon. Member was simply that he tried to make play with a matter which really cannot bear the interpretation which he put upon it.
Eggs and poultry have been dealt with by two methods. There has been the the tariff, and quantitative restriction has been applied. No one will claim that the measures taken have been adequately successful. I think the tariff has not been sufficiently high. It might have been a good deal higher on eggs, though it is fairly reasonable on poultry. In addition to that, I do not think the application of the quota as regards eggs has been stringent enough. Last autumn the price of eggs was completely shattered because Turkey sent us supplies which in the normal way would have gone to some other customer of hers, but that customer happened to fall out of the market at the pyschological moment and Turkey, like any other country having a surplus, sent it to England for what it would fetch, with the result that our poultry keepers had to take a most unremunerative price just at the time of year when they look to reap their little harvest. Within the last month the same thing has happened with regard to Holland. Holland has sent us a great excess of eggs. If we are going to have quantitative restriction at all, it must be properly and stringently supplied, and other countries should not be in a position to come at will, as both Turkey and Holland have done, and spoil the markets for our own producers.
In the case of milk, again there has been a great experiment. Marketing boards were a great experiment, not wholly successful. It has been found necessary, wherever a marketing board has been put in operation, to buttress it in some way, by quantitative restriction or by means of a subsidy. I hope milk producers, in their own best 2724 interests, will not neglect to keep the present milk marketing scheme in being. It is quite well accepted that the scheme is faulty, but I believe that on the whole the board has done extremely well within the limits within which it has been compelled to work by the limitations of the scheme. It is absolutely essential that the Milk Marketing Board should be kept in being, and it is equally essential that the details of the scheme should be drastically amended. I hope, therefore, that the milk producers will vote next month to maintain the existence of the scheme and of the board. It has certainly one great feather in its cap. It is a great achievement to have found a market for all the milk that has been thrown at its head. [Interruption.] At all events, it has been sold at some kind of a price whereas, if the producer had poured it down the drain, he would have got no price whatever.
I welcome the declaration of the Government that in regard to milk and milk products they intend to make use of the tariff. I think they have chosen a very wise course, and I hope that, just as in regard to meat, so in regard to milk, when the Government has its hands free from the shackles of the various Treaties that it has entered into, the experiment that it intends to put into operation both in regard to milk and meat will be as successful as the model scheme, the Wheat Act, and no one except the hon. Baronet the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) will deny that that part of the Government's policy at least has had a 100 per cent. success.
I hope that in the coming season, which is now close upon us and has already arrived in some districts, the malting barley crop will readily pass into consumption and be bought by the brewing industry. The brewing industry has shown indications, especially lately, that it has every intention of taking the malting crop off the hands of farmers and buying it at a reasonable price level. I sincerely trust and believe that the brewers have every intention of carrying out that promise, and, more than that, of carrying out the pledge that they gave to the Chancellor of the Exchequer a year or two ago. But I do not think the position is altogether satisfactory. It is left too fluid and too vague. I think it would be much more satisfactory that we should have a reasonable duty on barley of malting 2725 quality, and in that way the farmer should have some more definite sense of security than he has now in relying on the good will of the only buyers he has for his product, namely the brewers.
As regards oats, there has been a rather interesting example of the working of the tariff. In the case of oats the tariff is a very considerable one, and it might have been thought by some Members that, in consequence, the consumer might have had to pay a rather excessive price. In point of fact, I cannot find that he has any complaint to make whatever as regards the price that he has been asked to pay. On the other hand, I find that the grower who has oats to sell after satisfying his own requirements has been able to secure a somewhat higher price level than before. It is very satisfactory to know that the tariff secures a double object. It is of assistance to the producer without hurting the consumer.
Every encouragement should be given to the Potato Marketing Board. They are making a gallant effort to put that branch of the industry on its feet. It is not possible, however, for the industry to stand alone with only a Marketing Board. It has to be balanced both by a tariff and by quantitative regulations. Hops have a Marketing Board, but there again the Marketing Board per se is not found to be an adequate instrument to secure the complete position of the hop growers, and the Board has to be supported by a considerable tariff and also by a stringent agreement made with the brewers.
I should like now to speak as an agricultural producer myself. For 100 years the State in its wisdom, or unwisdom, has decided that agriculture was an industry which could and should be allowed to look after itself. At last, and in the face of great adversity, a Government came into being which decided to reverse that policy. It realised at long last that the agricultural industry was one of such vast importance to the general well-being of the country as a whole that on national grounds alone it was absolutely necessary to try to rescue it from complete collapse and decay. However much agriculturists may feel aggrieved with any of the details under any of the schemes now in operation, at least let the English farmer take heart. He can feel that there is a Government 2726 to-day which can show that its activities have covered almost every single branch of this great industry of agriculture.
I hope that from that point of view encouragement may be felt throughout the whole of the agricultural community I believe agricultural workers are beginning to realise the importance to them of the recognition of their industry by the Government, and it is to be hoped that there will be no setback to the new outlook which this Government has upon the industry. I should prefer to see the industry with all its ramifications completely removed from the realm of politics. I believe it is of such vital importance and magnitude and one of such wealth-producing proclivities in the national interest that I really think it would be to the advantage of the nation as a whole if it could be removed from the arena of party strife altogether. That may not be possible, but at least let us hope that, once the National Government has shown the nation that it considers the agricultural industry to be of such value that it is essential to sustain it and to keep it from falling into decay in a period of abnormally low prices, the example that has been set by the National Government will be followed by every successive Government of whatever political hue. I think that the farmer to-day will say that the present Government have been carving out a new path in relation to his industry, and it is one which I hope every successive Government will take for their guidance.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, and certainly not to cover the large range of subjects on which it has been addressed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). The Debate, indeed, was opened to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) in a remarkably comprehensive, thorough and thoughtful speech, for which the whole House, irrespective of our particular political views, ought to be grateful to him. For my part, I propose to refer only to the statement that was made yesterday by the Minister of Agriculture on the subject of the beet sugar subsidy, a matter in which, as some hon. Members know, I have taken an interest for some years. The Bill which 2727 we are now discussing is the Appropriation Bill, and there is a customary phrase in its Preamble to which, if it were in order, one would perhaps be inclined to move an Amendment. The Preamble says:We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom in Parliament assembled, towards making good the supply which we have cheerfully granted to Your Majesty in this Session of Parliament, have resolved to grant unto Your Majesty"—certain sums. It is the word "cheerfully" which has a certain ironic significance, and perhaps in particular in respect to the items embodied in the Schedule to this Bill devoted to the beet sugar subsidy. The epithet "cheerfulness," I think, hardly applies to that grant. In this Bill also is included a proportion of the salary of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, and although we recognise the great energy and zeal which he devotes to the duties of his office, still, when his salary is being voted, it is quite legitimate and proper that we should comment on his activities in any particular direction which we do not wholly approve, and that is the case of many of us in regard to the beet sugar subsidy. The matter is highly technical, and the statement which was published as a White Paper yesterday is very elaborate, but one simple point clearly emerges. The Committee appointed by the Government to examine the whole subject of British beet sugar reported by a majority of two members against one member that this subsidy was unjustifiable, that the advantages gained were inadequate, that the industry had no prospects of becoming self-supporting, that the crop at present prices really has no value at all and has to be paid for entirely by the subsidy, and that in general the subsidy ought to be discontinued, allowing a short period of three years in which it could be gradually reduced so as not to cause too sudden a shock to those who were engaged in it. That is the recommendation. It is perfectly plain from the White Paper that has been presented that that recommendation has been wholly rejected. The Government now have decided to continue the subsidy, and without any limit of time.
When the subsidy was originally established, it was to be for 10 years. It 2728 was asked at first for a period of only five years. Afterwards, when a Bill was introduced and passed through Parliament, it became a period of 10 years, and the expectation was that, if in that period the industry did not become self-supporting, the experiment should be brought to an end. The period of 10 years was concluded, and then, as the Government were not ready with their recommendations, Parliament was induced to pass an extension for one year more. Now we are to have a Bill which is to continue the subsidy indefinitely. We are told that this burden is to be continued for an unlimited period without conditions of that kind. The second point is that the cost of the subsidy, although no exact figures are obtainable and none have been presented, appears likely to be very much of the same order in the future as it has been in the past. If that is wrong, I shall be very grateful if the Minister of Agriculture will say so and will give—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
The right hon. Gentleman cannot go into the details of the White Paper issued yesterday which will also require legislation, and, if that is the case, the matter cannot be discussed now.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
In so far as it would require legislation, I fully understand that it would be out of order for me to go into details, but am I not in order in following the example of hon. Members who have preceded me in this Debate, certainly the hon. Member for Don Valley, the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon, and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland), all of whom dealt with the statement made yesterday and with the negotiations which have been proceeding between the Government and the industry? Should I not be in order, at all events, in commenting on the general policy?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I rather thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going beyond the terms of general policy, and was going into detail. He is quite entitled to comment that it is undesirable for the Government to proceed in this way.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I will certainly conform to your Ruling, and will omit the 2729 few observations I was about to make with regard to this particular proposal, but I think I shall be in order in giving some reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon with regard to the cost, and to invite the Minister of Agriculture to give same estimate of what the cost is likely to be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon has repeated the obvious fallacy that the amount of the assistance as a whole is only in the neighbourhood of £600,000 a year instead of, as we declare, £6,000,000 a year. The fact of the matter, as the hon. and gallant Member well knows, is that if this sugar were imported from abroad—and I have made this point before—and there were no beet sugar industry in this country, the revenue would receive about £5,250,000 in duty instead of the £2,300,000 which it now receives in excise. Consequently, owing to the beet sugar industry, the revenue of the Exchequer is £3,000,000 the poorer. It receives £2,000,000 in excise, and loses £5,000,000 in duty. That is the inevitable effect and the simple arithmetical statement which the hon. and gallant Member entirely ignores.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
The statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) was to the effect that the taxpayer was to be asked to contribute £6,000,000 a year to subsidise the beet sugar industry. I pointed out that, if the excise is deducted from the amount of subsidy, the amount is not £6,000,000 but £600,000, and the figures are in my hands before me here, as they are before the right hon. Gentleman. It is no good saying that if there had been a duty, and if so many tons of goods had come in, then there would have been accruing to the Revenue so much, and that that is foregone and therefore the taxpayer is giving that to the industry. It is not an argument that could possibly be made.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
This matter was fully debated on the last occasion it came before the House, and it was conclusively proved to the satisfaction of everyone who has regard to the whole of the facts that the cost to the State is the £6,000,000 which my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall has declared. We cannot exclude the loss of duty. Sugar has been a source of revenue in this country for many years. The Exchequer relies 2730 on a sugar tax to provide the needs of the Budget, and I repeat that if there were no beet sugar subsidy, the revenue would be the richer by £5,000,000 duty, and the poorer by £2,000,000 excise. Consequently it loses £3,000,000. That is an incontrovertible fact. We have discussed this so often that it is now perfectly clear. If you say that you are going to ignore the duty, then your case is made out, but you must not ignore the duty. The same position would arise if it were alcohol, tobacco or any other commodity. If we grew tobacco in England to an enormous extent and allowed an immense rebate of duty, that would be a loss to the State, and an assistance to that tobacco growing industry which would be somewhat similar to the present one now given to sugar.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
If the right hon. Gentleman carried his argument to its logical conclusion, it would mean that if we had no agriculture in this country, the Treasury would be so much better off.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
That was dealt with before in the last Debate, and I do not wish to weary the House and myself by repeating again and again what must be perfectly obvious, that if—as was said quite rightly, and appears in every official report and every ministerial answer from that bench—the assistance given to the beet sugar industry is of two kinds—one is a direct subsidy and the other is a remission of half taxation, and the two together amount to £6,000,000 a year, and that if the sugar beet industry were no longer helped, the Treasury would be the richer by £6,000,000 a year as a consequence. That is certain and obvious, and the fact that some excise is paid, about half the amount that would be paid in duty, does not alter that fact, and is, indeed, taken into consideration. Therefore, the industry has been costing, and still costs, about £1 for every day for every man who is employed in its service.
There is one point upon which I would like to congratulate the Government in this connection—it is a rare occasion that I am able to do so—and that is, that they have not yielded to the temptation of dealing with this matter in a simple though somewhat surreptitious manner by saying that they will no longer trouble Parliament again and again to vote direct 2731 subsidies, but will simply sweep away the remaining excise, and the beet sugar industry will receive over £2,000,000 in that way, and consequently nearly as much money as they received before, and the matter will be concealed from the public. That was urged upon us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and several representatives of the agricultural industry, who said, "Why not simply repeal the whole of the taxes and then we shall hear nothing about the matter?" That would be an equal burden on the Exchequer, and I am glad that the Government did not yield to the temptation. I thought that they might be weak enough to do so, but they have rather said, "We will frankly come to the House for the money we require and use the money as an opportunity for securing a certain measure of re-organisation in the industry." The Government recognise the strength of public feeling against this ruinous expenditure of public money, because they say in their statement that there is to be a limit on the amount of sugar to be produced and the amount of acreage cultivated. The White Paper says:It is not desired to encourage production in excess of this amount.Why not? If this is such a great boon to agriculture, if this crop is such a valuable one to the farmer, and if employment is encouraged to such a large degree, why not encourage it in every direction? But the White Paper says, "No, there is to be a limit set, and nothing is to be done beyond what is now being done." Why? It is a confession and an admission that the cost of this industry is enormously heavy on the public at large, and the Government dare not venture to go on allowing it to expand more and more at this immense expense of £1 per day for every man employed without some definite limit. That is a most important admission to which I respectfully desire to call the attention of the House. Every argument advanced by the defenders of this subsidy is an argument against that particular paragraph in the White Paper which has been presented to us.
With regard to the reorganisation of the industry, there has been no time for a 2732 technical examination of the matter, but there is another point in the White Paper to which attention should be drawn. In paragraph 6 it is pointed out that the experience of the industry shows that the profits are very different in different localities. In spite of these lavish subsidies, while a great number of the factories, especially in the Eastern Counties, the Anglo-Dutch companies have been making enormous profits and paying dividends of 10, 15 and 20 per cent. free of tax year after year, with enormous capital bonuses distributed to shareholders, at our expense, other factories, especially in Scotland, have not proved profitable at all. The White Paper gives the reason. It says:Experience has shown that the costs of the several factories vary widely, owing, among other reasons, to their situation having been chosen with the special object of enabling the benefits of State assistance to be spread over as wide an agricultural area as possible. If therefore the factories were to be left independent, the rate of assistance must either be such as would keep all the factories in existence, in which case it would be unfair to the Exchequer and unjustifiably generous to the lower-cost units, or, if it is to be fair to the Exchequer, it must be on such a scale as would make it impossible for the higher-cost factories—not merely one or two exceptional units, but a large proportion of the whole—to carry on, thus defeating the purpose for which the industry is primarily maintained.In other words, these factories have been put not in districts which are economic and most suited for their successful operation, but they have been dotted over the country in all kinds of places unsuitable for the industry, in order to give a further artificial stimulus to beet-growing in those areas. A more uneconomic proposal could not possibly be made. The result has been that certain factories have been making enormous profits while others have been working at a loss, and if they are all to be kept in existence independently you must either give unduly large subsidies to the uneconomic factories or else give unduly large profits to the economic ones. That is the dilemma with which the Government have been faced. The one, they say, is unfair to the Treasury, and the other would lead to the disappearance of the factories in the unsuitable districts.
What are the Government going to do? They are going to combine the factories. 2733 They are not going to say: "These factories which are in the wrong districts and are run at a loss are to stop, and we are going to assist only those factories in the suitable districts." On the contrary, they say that all the factories ought to be amalgamated, their funds pooled and the losses of the one set off against the profits of the other, and the taxpayer is to maintain the whole. That is the proposal. The Government say that that must be done because the factories that have been put in the wrong districts must be maintained there on account of the agricultural needs of those districts. Again, a confession of an utterly uneconomic policy. It has been proved by 10 years' experience that certain factories ought never to have been built from the point of view of the industry, but, instead of dropping them, they are to be continued and the rest of the industry is to be made to carry them. That is not the only reason why these particular factories have been unprofitable. The question of management and skill has entered into the matter very largely.
The refining industry is to be brought into the scheme in a manner which it has not yet been possible to examine. The White Paper was published only recently and no expert investigation has yet been possible. Therefore, I must reserve my remarks on that subject until a later date. I would, however, draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one point in the White Paper, and perhaps he will answer it. It was stated in the report of the Greene Committee with regard to the arrangements made for the refining industry that they had been given an undue advantage. Again, that industry is enormously profitable. The £1 shares of Tate and Lyle, which has almost a monopoly in refining in Great Britain, have gone up to £5. We know that immense capital bonuses have been distributed, besides large dividends. I think that the dividend this year was 22½ per cent. The Greene Committee, in referring to this matter, say:We have come to the conclusion that the arrangements made in 1928 were unduly favourable to the refining industry.That is to say, the arrangements made under Government auspices have been responsible for the refiners being able to make these colossal profits. I should like 2734 to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the arrangements now made are, in effect, different from those made in 1928? I cannot find from the White Paper any suggestion that they are to be altered. I may, perhaps, have overlooked some point. I put it merely by way of a query. Has that paragraph in the Report of the Greene Committee who, after close investigation, condemned the arrangements as being unduly profitable to the refining companies, been taken into consideration and will that arrangement be revised?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
In the statement of policy which I made at Question Time yesterday there is a paragraph dealing with that point. It will be found in the third paragraph from the end of my statement, in the OFFICIAL REPORT:For the purpose of their immediate sugar policy, the Government do not propose to make any change in the details of the Customs, Excise or subsidy scales. They have, however, aimed at securing the financial effects, as regards all the interests concerned, which it is reasonable to expect would have followed from the adoption of the Greene Committee's recommendations with regard to the regulation of refined sugar production as between the beet sugar factories and the refiners.So that although we have not adopted the precise machinery of the Greene Committee's Report, we have made arrangements which, in our opinion, will give the same financial effect.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I am not quite sure that that covers the point to which I am referring. The White Paper says:On general grounds they would wish to avoid any arrangement which would entrust the power to control sugar prices to a body appointed by the Government. They have received"—This is the important sentence—from the refiners an assurance in a satisfactory form that it is not their intention to raise the refining margin above the parity of the present level.When I read that sentence I was not quite sure what it meant, but it seemed to imply that the present level—which is what I understood the Greene Committee condemned—is to be maintained, and the refiners have merely undertaken that they will not use their monopolistic powers to make the situation still worse and still more favourable to their own advantage.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I can give the right hon. Gentleman the reference to the paragraph in the White Paper which deals with that point. It is in the preceding paragraph 21, where we indicate the machinery by which the Government will secure the same financial results that would have followed from the adoption of the Greene Committee's recommendation. It is a fairly long, detailed and extremely intricate paragraph, into which it would be wrong for me to enter now, but that is the paragraph where the arrangements are set out, and they will, in the Government's opinion, have the same effect as the adoption of the paragraph in the Greene Report.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
That is so far satisfactory, and I hope that it will work out that way in practice. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do his utmost to secure that it will.
There is only one other matter to which I would refer, and that is with regard to the system of licensing which is contemplated in respect of sugar refining. Licensing is an admirable word, but licensing may mean a monopoly. If there is to be a monopoly it is important that the sugar consumers should be properly and adequately safeguarded, not only the general public, who are the retail purchasers of sugar for domestic consumption, but the very important trades, the confectionery and allied sugar-consuming trades which employ many times as many people as the whole of the beet sugar industry employs, either in the factories or on the farms. I hope that in any arrangements that are made in the future this question, especially of a monopoly under the name of licensing, and the protection of the interests of the consumer will be fully considered. It is not possible to estimate under such a scheme what the exact cost is likely to turn out in its operation, but it is clear that this wholly uneconomic industry is still to be maintained at the public expense, and this weight is still to be tied round the neck of the country.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has chosen this opportunity to launch another of his broadsides upon this unhappy sugar-beet industry, the victim of his oratory, I would almost say, of his friendly spleen. 2736 The right hon. Gentleman hates this industry, and it is something of an occasion for the House of Commons to hear so distinguished a man expressing his views in these circumstances.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I do not hate the industry. If the industry were self-supporting, I should bless it. What I hate is the charge upon the public exchequer.
§ Mr. STEWART
I will put it this way that the right hon. Gentleman hates the industry in its present form. When I hear him speaking about this industry it always reminds me of a rhyme that I read a long time ago about Dr. Lettsom the Quaker. He is supposed to have said:If anybody comes to I,I physicks, bleeds and sweats 'em;If after that they like to die,Why, what care I? I lets 'em.The right hon. Gentleman is prepared to let this industry die, although at the smallest estimate—I think he mentioned it himself—it employs 20,000 people, while according to the estimate of the Minority Report it gives employment, directly and indirectly, to 80,000 people. He says that he is prepared to allow that industry to stop. I would ask him this plain question: Were he in the position of the Minister of Agriculture now would he be prepared to carry that policy into action? Were he the Prime Minister or a Member of the Government would he support the proposal he now makes to stop this industry altogether? Of course, he would do nothing of the kind. He would have to listen, as every Government must listen, to the claims of the growers, the farm workers and the Members of Parliament in the divisions concerned. It is an interesting fact, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), that the Farm Workers' Unions throughout the country are nearly all for the continuance of this subsidy.
§ Mr. STEWART
The Farm Workers' Union are not a very strong body, in the East of Scotland, but I would remind the hon. Member that at a recent meeting in Cupar the Labour candidate for the division was on the platform and spoke in favour of the subsidy. I was in the chair and I invited him to speak, and he was glad to do so. Moreover, Mr. George 2737 Dallas, a former Member of this House and a prominent Member of the Farm Labourers' Union, was there and was the principal speaker. Let us, therefore, be rid of this humbug from the Labour party.
§ Mr. LEONARD
My reference was to the Scottish Farm Workers' Union, and if the hon. Member will read the observations of the general secretary I do not think he will find that he is in favour of a continuance of the subsidy.
§ Mr. STEWART
I know the general secretary of the Scottish Farm, Workers' Union—we meet occasionally—and he will be quite ready to admit that in many parts of Scotland, particularly in those parts most intimately concerned with sugar beet, his union does not exist. In the East Fife district there is no branch of the Farm Workers' Union. The right hon. Member for Darwen to-day was not quite so effective in his attack as usual. He used a series of arguments which are not only unsound, but demonstrably unsound. He reverted to his usual argument regarding the loss which the Exchequer suffers because of the amount of sugar which is not imported. That is quite true. On a former occasion I put a question to him which he did not answer. The question was: Why apply this particular argument to sugar? The right hon. Gentleman does not apply it to motor cars or to any other imported article. He took some part in imposing tariffs when he was a member of the Government, and I never heard him say at that time that the Exchequer was losing revenue on every motor car or ton of steel manufactured in this country. If you apply the argument logically it means that the right hon. Gentleman, if he had his way, would bolster up the Exchequer by importing every agricultural product we consume. He says that is absurd, of course, it is. But if the conclusion is absurd, so is the argument. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that the revenue from all tariff and duty impositions goes to the Exchequer, and while there is a difference on paper between a duty on sugar and a duty on motor cars, the money goes into the same pool and is used for the same purpose. I repeat, therefore, that it is a fantastic argument.
The right hon. Gentleman then passed to a criticism of the Government's new 2738 policy. He said that if it be right to maintain this industry, why put any restrictions upon it? It sounds a very destructive criticism, but if the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the report he will find that there is no limit put on the industry. There is a limit put on Government financial aid, but no limit on the expansion of the sugar beet industry itself in this country. I shall support the new policy of the Government at the proper time on the definite understanding that in as short a time as possibly Government aid will not be required. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the inefficiency of some of the factories. On the last occasion he included Cupar in that category but he has informed himself better since, and now he says that it is placed in the wrong position.
§ Mr. STEWART
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find, if he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT, that he referred to Cupar, but I am glad that he does not include it as an inefficient factory. I shall support the new policy of the Government on the definite understanding that there will be a tapering off of Government assistance, and that plans are made to enable the industry to become independent. I agree that the handing out of subsidies to agriculture or any other industry is not a welcome thing, it is not a measure which anyone willingly accepts, but I support the beet sugar subsidy because I am convinced—knowing something about its inner working—that in time it can become self-supporting. The right hon. Gentleman examined the location of the factories and complained that they had been distributed over the country not with regard to economic considerations but rather in order that as large a part of the country as possible should benefit. Why does he criticise that? Why is it wrong? If the State has a certain amount of money to give to agriculture, why must it be concentrated in East Anglia? If the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) were Scottish Secretary he would not agree to the closing down of the Cupar factory. Why should not Scotland have a share of any assistance that is going?
2739 But let me deal with the economics of the situation. I take the Cupar factory because it was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Darwen in the last Debate, who said that I had ranged myself as one of the defenders of the inefficient beet sugar factories. The Cupar factory is not inefficient. It is probably the most efficient factory in the whole country. The reason why it is not paying is that Scottish farmers were slow to respond to the invitation to grow beet because other crops were paying them better—corn, barley and so on—and it is only in the last two years, when the prices of these crops have fallen, that they have turned to this alternative crop. They would willingly expand. The Cupar factory is only working at half-capacity. If farmers in Scotland were able to double their production the beet sugar factory in Cupar would pay as well as any. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the benefit of believing that we are efficient.
The new policy proposes amalgamation, and I am glad that it does. I have condemned in my constituency and elsewhere the making of these immense profits by certain factories. I have been perfectly plain with my constituents and with the farmers who grow sugar beet. I find that in Scotland denunciation of these excess profits receives as much acclamation as the demand for continuance of the industry. I have condemned the system which permits this misuse of public funds. The proposal for amalgamation will prevent it. It will not be a case of hiding inefficiency and spreading the subsidy over good and bad factories. When all these factories are amalgamated, it may be possible to arrange a central transport system. An hon. Member the other day gave us the instance of Woolworths; I give the instance of the Bacon Board, where arrangements have been made by which pigs can be transported to any factory at the same rate no matter where they are. If similar arrangements can be made in regard to sugar beet, the Cupar factory could get a full supply, work to full capacity and would be a paying proposition. Some factories have more to handle than they can cope with, they are overstocked with supplies, while others have not sufficient 2740 supplies. With a central transport management you would overcome that difficulty and create more efficiency all round.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to face up to this fact. I had the honour and pleasure of serving under him for some years, and I joined with him in condemning this subsidy. But conditions have changed since then. In the last three years there has been almost a revolution in agricultural conditions throughout the world, and even if one dislikes subsidies, as most of us do if we are honest, nevertheless, in present conditions, I cannot support any plan which seeks by one inch to weaken the present position of agriculture in Great Britain. I must take whatever steps, steps which I should resist in any other circumstances, are available to keep the industry going. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to-day, and on the last occasion, adopted the attitude that all this form of assistance, subsidies, quotas and tariffs, is wrong, and suggested he would stop it if he were in power. I have in my hand a leaflet issued by the Labour party in my division, and I notice that in regard to the countryside it says of the Labour policy:It will find work for tens of thousands of those who to-day are leaving it in despair and a chance of cultivation for many who now ask for land in vain.The Labour party voted against the subsidy for beet sugar on the last occasion. They would deliberately withdraw it. That is to say, instead of putting tens of thousands of people to work on the land, they would literally put tens of thousands of people out of work. I am not going to forget that action of theirs of a few days ago when a Labour candidate stands in my division. The Minister of Agriculture in the last three years has had to perform sometimes a thankless and at all times a difficult job. He found conditions deteriorating in almost every section of agriculture. He found in the case of meat that prices had almost collapsed. I do not think that any farmer wants State assistance; all he asks is that he shall get a fair price for his produce. I do not know that that is so much a National Government policy or a Conservative policy. I have always thought that it was a sound Liberal policy, and in the latest version I find that it is put down as one 2741 of the cardinal principles of Liberal policy that the farmer shall receive a fair profit on his work and a fair price for his produce. That is what the Minister is trying to obtain. Meat producers cannot get a fair price for their produce unaided. You may say that you object to subsidies, but anyone who takes a responsible view is bound to agree that some steps must be taken to improve prices.
I support the Government because I believe that, in very special and difficult circumstances, they have taken the only possible means of dealing with the position. I may be old-fashioned in this view but I have a very strong conviction that this country is no different from any other in that it can only remain great so long as its agriculture is sound and prosperous. So soon as agriculture is allowed to decline, so soon will the greatness of this nation decline. That statement, I feel sure, expresses the views of all hon. Members. Certainly that was the view of the Liberal party in days gone by. It was the basis of all their land policies in the past and I understand it is the basis of their land policy to-day. If that be true and if they rid their minds of humbug, they must support the Measures which the Government are now taking to keep this industry alive.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I do not propose to follow the last two speakers in their remarks upon the sugar beet industry further than to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) indulged in one of his usual diatribes against the subsidy, and indeed against anything being done for this industry. He did not seem to take account of the fact that practically every agriculturist in the country whether living in a beet-producing area or not, would regard the loss of the beet production as a disaster to the whole agricultural industry. I think I am right in saying that the case of sugar beet is the only case—it is certainly the only case I know of—in regard to which the landowner, the farmer and the land-worker join in pointing out to the Government how essential it is that the industry should be preserved. My chief and indeed my only objection to the scheme of the Government is one to which the right hon. Gentleman referred namely the limit which is being placed on the amount of beet to be grown. I think our 2742 object ought to be to encourage agricultural production in every branch as far as we can.
The fact that this subject has been selected by the Opposition for discussion on the present occasion shows that the whole country as well as this House realise the great importance of the agricultural industry. Although the importance of the industry is generally recognised I do not think it is generally recognised that the agricultural industry has as much right to protection as any other industry in the country. It is true that the Government have given some protection to agriculture and we are grateful for such protection as we have received. But that protection has only been sufficient to stop the decay in the industry. It has not been sufficient to enable the industry to prosper as it ought to prosper and to make that contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem which it ought to be capable of making. The protection given to agriculture, so far, has just kept the industry alive and that is about all. That protection in some cases has been inadequate and it has been partial in its incidence. It has not been balanced and it has been given in such a way that the farmer has been tempted to give up producing one article and to take to the production of another article, regardless of whether there is a market for that other article or not.
This protection has been afforded to the industry by a variety of devices, such as tariffs, levies, subsidies, and quantitative control of imports. Tariffs when applied sufficiently drastically have proved successful but we must remember that there are a good many articles of agricultural production which cannot be properly protected by tariffs without making them too expensive to the consumer, and raising the price to a high level. We must therefore bear in mind that the tariff cannot be used in the case of every article of agricultural production. The method of subsidy is I think the most objectionable form of help which can be given to an industry, and quantitative control, which is the child of the Marketing Acts, has not proved wholly successful. In the case of wheat the method of a levy has been tried, and that undoubtedly has proved the most successful method in regard to agriculture 2743 which the Government have applied. I am very glad that there is a proposal to extend this system to other articles of agricultural production. I believe it is a sound system and one which is likely to prove successful. I hope the Government realise the fact that it is not sufficient for us merely to keep the industry alive. The protection given to the industry must be such as will enable the efficient farmer to make a fair profit and to pay fair wages.
All the arrangements which are made in this connection should be framed with a view to encouraging the industry to expand and to produce a much larger proportion of the foodstuffs which we require. The only real fault in the Wheat Act is the limit which it places on production. The industry as I say ought to be encouraged to expand and that expansion could be made at the expense of foreign countries and not at the expense of our Dominions, by means of substantial preferences to the Dominions. It will be necessary, I believe, when using the system of the levy, to make use also of quotas to prevent the market being flooded at certain seasons. The Government will have to decide in that connection to what extent our production should expand. My own view is that it should be expanded as much as possible, and that we should do all we can to extend our agricultural production and come as near as possible to being self-supporting. It is obvious that this country cannot be completely self-supporting, but we ought to go as far as we can in that direction.
There is undoubtedly great room for expansion in the meat trade including the bacon trade. There is another side of the agricultural industry in which I believe we could become self-supporting and that is in poultry and eggs. Poultry farming is peculiarly suited to this country. It can be taken up by small men, it only requires small areas of ground and it is suitable for a small country like ours. I am afraid that the Minister has not been very successful with regard to the question of eggs and I cannot understand why he does not use the power which he has under the Marketing Acts to restrict their importation. Attempts to make friendly arrangements with foreign countries have failed. 2744 Certainly the Netherlands have not paid any respect to our wishes and have flooded our markets with eggs during this year. There appears to be no doubt that a considerable quantity of the eggs from the Netherlands have been placed in cold storage and that those eggs will be produced in the autumn and sold as fresh foreign eggs. That is exceedingly unfair to producers in this country. If the home producers put their eggs into cold storage, the eggs, when taken out, have to be marked as "chilled," whereas the foreign eggs which have been in cold storage need not be marked in that way. I hope the Minister will take steps to ensure that any foreign eggs which are put into cold storage in this country are not sold without some mark showing that they have been so stored. There is also the question of the importation of Chinese liquid eggs. We know that these are produced under filthy conditions. If liquid eggs are necessary for use by confectioners in this country why should we not do something to have them produced in our Dominions or at home or at any rate under reasonably clean conditions?
I referred earlier to quantitative control as being the child of the Marketing Acts. I have never been very fond of the Marketing Acts. I am old-fashioned enough to wish to see people being allowed to run their own businesses in their own way, but I have supported these Acts because I considered them a necessary evil in present circumstances. I think there is no doubt that they have saved the milk and bacon sections of the industry from chaos. They have not been a complete success largely because they have not been properly supported by means of quantitative control. We had a right to think that they would be so supported and, as it is, our plans have received a set-back as a result of the foreign produce coming into this country. It is natural, however, when a huge scheme of this sort is started, that considerable difficulties should be encountered and that mistakes should be made. We were led to believe that these measures would result in better prices for the producers and lower prices to the consumer. Judged by that standard they undoubtedly have failed. They certainly have not had that result. It is necessary that they should be carefully examined in 2745 order to see whether the distributors are not getting away with an unfair margin of profit and I hope that the Minister will examine that point. I also referred earlier to the question of subsidies in general. The beef subsidy has, undoubtedly, saved the beef industry from collapse. I would much sooner not have a subsidy and have the levy, which we understand we are to have in the future, but the Government have been unable to take that action, on account of certain trade agreements with other countries. There seems no doubt that agriculture has been sacrificed, if not in all these trade agreements, in a great many of them. It is urgently necessary that these trade agreements should be revised at the earliest possible moment.
To sum up what I think ought to be done in the future, I submit that it is of the first importance that agriculture should be given the same measure of protection as other industries and that the Government should inform the country that such is their intention. I also submit that the basis of that protection should be the maintenance of the standard of living, the encouragement of employment and the power to resist dumped surpluses and subsidised imports. The home producer should have the first place in the home market, the Dominions producer coming second and the foreigner taking third place. The trade agreements should be revised so as to ensure that this protection will be balanced and that farmers will not be driven into unbalanced production. The failure of the beef market for instance arose largely from overproduction of milk. Then we should aim at the development of our agriculture up to the limit of our requirements. Agriculture should be encouraged and not checked. I freely admit that help has been given to the industry and I am grateful to the Government for all that has been done. They have given more thought and more work to the agricultural industry than any other Government that any of us can remember. By the work which they have done up to the present they have succeeded in preventing the industry from collapsing. They have stopped decay. But we must remember that at the present time there are two subjects of paramount importance before the country, namely, the reduction of unemployment and the provision of home defence. If agriculture is given 2746 adequate protection and properly encouraged, it can make a great contribution towards the solution of both those problems and I hope therefore that the Minister of Agriculture will see his way to do for this industry more than has been done up to the present.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
The two speakers who immediately preceded me have claimed to be old-fashioned and the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte) gave us a definition of what it is to be old-fashioned in industry which appears to be that you run industry as you like. It is perhaps just because old-fashioned people have been running industry as they like, without regard to more sensible and reasonable methods of co-operation, that they have run into the difficulties which we see at the present time. I think it is regrettable that we have a Minister of Agriculture who is so popular, because his popularity has engendered the habit of grumbling. Because they hope to receive some further advantage, certain interests in this country have continued to grumble and ask for more. The last speech was of that nature. The Minister of Agriculture shares with the Minister of Labour the opportunity of dispensing millions of money. The Minister of Labour, however, must have some regard to the need of the individual, whereas from the Minister of Agriculture the individual gets the money whether he is in need or not. When I sit here week after week and hear proposal after porposal for putting fresh burdens on the State or the consumer I frequently wonder where the thing is going to stop. Reference has been made to what, I think, was described as need for more generosity on the part of the State in helping this admittedly important industry. Through relief from central and local taxation and by direct assistance over £45,000,000 a year is being given to this industry, or something like 10s. per week for every person gainfully employed in that industry. That has to be provided in the main by the 93 per cent. of the population who are not employed in agriculture.
We are told that the objective aimed at is an increase in agricultural prices. That may be desirable and necessary, but we have to weigh against it the social 2747 effects of such a policy, because there is a social cost to be taken into consideration. Any further decline in the standard of living, or anything which might retard an advance in that standard has to be taken into consideration and balanced against the advantages of giving increased prices to certain interests. I am prompted to that observation because I recently read a League of Nations publication dealing with nutrition and public health in which I saw with astonishment this statement:In Great Britain between 10 and 25 per cent. of the population cannot afford a diet of the type and quality now known to be essential as a safeguard against malnutrition and disease.If that be the case, I think we should view with serious concern any proposal which is put forward to increase prices; when approximately one quarter of the population is unable to afford food which contains the necessary minerals and vitamins. This is particularly important with regard to vegetables and fruit, because we have a tariff applied at present to vegetables and fresh fruit. I think I am right in saying that there is not a medical officer of health in Great Britain who has not made observations on these two very important foodstuffs. One and all would agree that in an industrialised country such as this it is absolutely essential that there shall be available as cheaply as possible plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Much has been written about that, and it is an argument which no one can contest. We have to consider very carefully where the balance should be struck if we aim at self-sufficiency. We also have to consider what is to be our relationship with those countries which in the past have sent foodstuffs here. If we succeed in the desire which has been expressed by certain hon. Members opposite, it seems to me that we shall have to decant a considerable proportion of our industrial workers into agricultural pursuits, which are paid at less than half the wages paid to them at the present time. That will entail fresh difficulties every year. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) touched upon the question of sugar, as also did the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and I will only say that one of the most striking things which the report 2748 of the Committee contains is the passage in which it is said:We are unable to find positive justification for the expenditure of the sum of several millions per annum on an industry which has no prospect of ever becoming self-supporting and on the production of a crop which, without that assistance, would at present sugar prices be practically valueless.I think that is one of the most remarkable things in the report, and I fail to understand why the Minister, apparently, has bent to the pressure of vested interests, and has made the proposals of which we know.
Last Friday there was a Debate on the bacon industry and I do not want to deal with that subject in detail now. But in spite of what has been said, I claim that the restriction of imports has created a rise in prices, and that that rise has had a detrimental effect. It has been measured by the organisation of which I am a member and which I have occasion to represent here—the Co-operative movement. From my personal observation I can say that in the last two years there has been a considerable change in the breakfast tables of many people I know; and the change has been marked by the departure of bacon and eggs, and the substitution of other and cheaper foodstuffs. I think that is not a desirable thing, because even that entails some unemployment. We have to remember the people in this country who have in the past found employment in the curing industry. If there is any diminution in the consumption of bacon because of high prices, it will definitely have the effect of creating unemployment.
The same observation might be made with regard to potatoes. The frost in the late spring admittedly had its effect, and I agree that the Minister did relieve to some extent the restriction upon imports—but that was not done speedily enough to prevent consumers having to pay considerably more for their potatoes. The advantage always seems to go to the producers or the middle-men, and never to the consumer. I suggest that in future there should be a larger measure of cover in anticipation of such events than there has been in the past, so that there will not be a repetition of this increase of prices. The last speaker made reference to the Wheat Act. I can well appreciate how much he is pleased with the Wheat 2749 Act and the method by which it works. That is the outstanding example of public assistance without publicity, and it is not difficult to see why some hon. Members think it desirable that this should be extended to other commodities. Here the burden is definitely placed upon the consumers, and it amounts to between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 a year. We are not prepared to agree to any extension of this principle, because the farmer collects his payment from the Wheat Commission, there are not many questions about it in Parliament to the Minister of Agriculture, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer need not even provide for it in his Budget. This may be most desirable from the farmer's point of view and an excellent expedient to adopt, but I do not think the method should be countenanced by this House.
I would refer also to the question of milk prices, and I would ask the Minister seriously to consider whether he cannot use his influence with the powers-that-be in the milk industry to see that prices are reduced. The scheme for the supply of milk to school children has been an undoubted success. It is altogether a commendable thing, and the Minister deserves due credit for the part he has taken in bringing it about. It is because of that scheme's success that I believe a reduction in the price of milk would ensure a similar result, if directed to those who are at present excluded from the benefits of cheaper milk. The real problem to be faced is that any bigger sale of liquid milk can only be achieved by a decrease in the price. I think that if that is achieved there will be an increase in the consumption.
That is all I want to say about points already touched upon. But in the Appropriation Bill I notice that the question of land settlement is mentioned, and land settlement is perhaps linked with the old-fashioned idea already referred to, that every man should be a law unto himself. I would like the Minister seriously to consider the possibility of securing greater co-operation among the beneficiaries of land settlement schemes. Agricultural co-operative societies throughout the world are showing quite clearly the benefits of co-operation among them, and I think everybody will admit that in Scotland similar advantages have accrued. These benefits can be extended, and I plead 2750 with the Minister that he will do what he can to foster the spirit of co-operation among those who go on the land. Even among farmers co-operation might be encouraged to a greater extent than at present. That would perhaps obviate some of the State machinery that is being introduced at the present time. Voluntary co-operation among farmers might produce equally good results.
There is also the question of land drainage. At the present time land drainage is the responsibility of the tenant, and I am informed that tenants are not acting up to their responsibilities in that direction. Would it not be possible for the Minister to do something whereby the drainage of the country should be supervised and attended to by somebody other than the individual tenant? This matter is one of importance to people other than the tenants of land, and we should not allow private control of land for the time being to result in land getting into a bad state. There is also the question of electricity. Could we not possibly see an extension of the electricity grid scheme to make electricity more readily available for the farmer, so that he could make use of it to a greater extent than at present? I believe that there is a great scope for cheap electricity on farms and that this would be a tremendous help to farmers in their work, in addition to making for greater cleanliness. If farmers could get more closely into touch with the electricity grid scheme now functioning in Scotland, with special rates applying it would be a good thing for an industry which has not been able to rationalise itself up to the present.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am afraid I cannot concur in what has been said by the last speaker. Since 1923 we as a party have had protection held out before us, and we were promised protection before the last election—but we have never got it, except in the one industry of market gardening. The vegetable producers of Cornwall and the South got protection. If they had not they would have been smothered by the vegetables of North Africa, which is a huge market garden. Our market gardeners could not have carried on but for protection. The President of the Board of Trade could speak for that industry because 2751 he represents one of the constituencies that greatly benefited by it. I wish he could have used his influence to see that the agricultural industry had got protection as the market gardening industry got it. I believe that if it had, there would not have been these subsidies and boards. Why should there be these expensive boards unloaded on the necks of the poor producers? Take poultry, which is a growing industry. We heard from the Minister of Agriculture the other day that the Poles could import as many eggs as they liked in this country until we had a marketing board. Why should it be the price of getting protection that this costly machinery should be put round the neck of the industry, with all the officials, and that if the producers will not accept the Board they will be smothered out with Polish eggs and, I suppose, Chinese liquid eggs? Why not give them reasonable protection? No one wants Polish eggs. The grocer often tries to palm you off with Polish eggs when you ask for fresh eggs, and they are nothing like as good as our eggs. Why should there not be a proper system of Protection instead of quotas and subsidies and all these roundabout ways of helping the producer? The Prime Minister has said that he has come to the conclusion that Protection is best, but he is late in carrying it out. Will the people believe in this Government this time when they can say that at the last election your supporters promised protection but that they have never had it.
I come to the Milk Marketing Board. It is one of the most extraordinary schemes I have ever seen and it is working great hardship in innumerable cases of small producers with a few cows who have from time immemorial carried their own milk from door to door. I used to see such men in my own native village—farmers who sold direct to the customers. I have always maintained that the man who can bring the consumer and the producer face to face will solve the problem of civilisation. There is no distribution cost at all in such cases, but the little producer, instead of being encouraged, is being exterminated. Fivepence per gallon was and is levied on him. I could not believe it when I first heard about it. To take the earnings of one man and give them to another 2752 man is theft in common law, but if you do it by Act of Parliament it is Communism. I say that the Milk Marketing Board is founded on a basis of Communism. I did not realise that it was being done at the time when the Marketing Bill was being passed because one does not expect Communism to be introduced by a Government which is largely supported by the Conservative party. We have heard a great deal about keeping the Socialists out, but no Socialist Government would ever have dared to pass such a Measure. The first I heard of marketing boards was from the lips of the late Mr. Wise, who used to speak strongly in the former Parliament in favour of Soviet Russia.
I can give innumerable instances of the earnings of these small direct milk sellers being taken, even as much as £9 per cow per annum. It is almost the value of the cow. The money is going to support the Milk Board and also to pay huge sums for advertisements that are being put in the Press. I have never seen anything more ridiculous, but it has had its effect, for the Milk Board has had a good Press. Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on this advertising, and it is coming out of the pockets of these poor farmers. Who in his sane moments ever wanted to advertise milk? We have all lived on it the first year of our life. It is not like some other liquids that require a taste to be acquired. This was all evidently cunningly arranged by the crafty men who put the scheme across the Government, because the Minister of Agriculture, in reply to a question I put to him, said that it was all in the Act of Parliament. So they were from the beginning making preparations to spend this money wrung out of the poor producers to get a good Press.
I object to these marketing boards very much, but the disease seems to be spreading. The same thing is now being proposed for cotton. The insolvent mills are to unload their debts on to the backs of the survivors. It is a most dangerous method of procedure. I shall be told that the milk producers voted for the scheme. Of course they did. They did not know any better, and they did not realise that the Government were going to let them down. The voting was on the basis of one cow one vote to some 2753 extent. The man who had a large number of cows was the man who wanted the small producer to be levied on and driven out of business. What will be the result when they are all driven out of business? Where will the levy come from? Many small producers are going out of existence and their cows are being bought by the big producers.
Of course the large farmers are enthusiastically in favour of the scheme, because they are profiting very much by it. They are getting far more than they expected, but it is at the expense of the others. It is easy to make one section of an industry in a profitable condition if you draw the blood out of the other section of the industry. There are 1,000 decent Scottish people owning cows who have been made criminals and fined enormous fines by this precious Milk Board, who are the judges in their own courts, impose fines, and collect the money for their own purposes. The Star Chamber is a back number compared with it. I have some photographs here of one of the most decent families which ever inhabited Scotland consisting of a father, mother and 10 children—thrifty, healthy, hearty people. They had 20 cows, and they made £4 a week. They could not, however, pay a levy amounting to more than the rent to the Milk Marketing Board, and so they were fined and fined. Their cattle were seized and put up for sale, but nobody in the neighbourhood would dream of buying them, for they were too ashamed. What did the Board do? They came in the dark hours of the morning after the attempt to sell, took the cattle out of their byres, and sent them to the other side of Scotland and sold them. One of the officials told this fine man and his family that they could go on public assistance.
What right has any Government or board economically to assassinate even one individual? The answer, they say, is that if they did not do it there would be chaos and the whole scheme would be ruined. It is no answer, if you kill a man, to say that everybody must die, and that you were only anticipating the event. I had a letter to-day about a man who, after 12 years' experience saved £900, which four years ago was sunk in a small dairy farm near a town with a rental of £450 and accommodation for 50 cows. He has continued to supply three retail shops and has given them an excellent service. 2754 For the first 13 months the levy exceeded his rent. He has had no direct service of any kind from the Board. He now finds the burden greater than he can bear and he sees nothing for it but to be forced out of business. The attitude of the man is now one of amazement and blank despair. The letter continues:The later milk supply of the shops would naturally fall to be obtained from some area which, according to Mr. Elliot, through cleanliness and the motor lorry is now better adapted to furnish the milk supply of the East. Neither the shopkeepers nor the customers, the writer is informed, desire milk which has travelled a long way, being then bulked, and thereafter pasteurised.The whole milk business is being concentrated into a few hands. I have the case of six smallholders who are giving up their cows because after paying their levies they were not drawing half the money they used to do. Yet we are talking about setting people on the land. All this is being done for the benefit of the big creameries and the combines. The United Dairies and the co-operative societies, I suppose, are to be allowed to corner the food supplies of the people. It is a shocking state of affairs. It is infinitely better that the customer should be as near to the cow as possible. I know a lot of small egg farmers on the Cowal side of the Clyde who go from door to door selling their eggs. Men like retired police pensioners, retired teachers, civil servants and others take one of the big houses that are now going cheaply, and sell their eggs in the town, getting the retail price for them. All that is to stop for they are now to pack up their eggs in boxes and send them across the Firth of Clyde and then anybody's eggs are to be sent back to the grocers to sell to their customers. They too will be levied on heavily. What a preposterous proposal.
A great many people are going to make their living out of these organisations. We hear about nothing but organisations. There are a lot of people who want to organise other people and make a comfortable subsistence out of it. We used to hear about rationalisation, but the new word which is taking its place is "planning." When I first became a member of Glasgow Corporation men used to come to me and ask whether I could get them a situation. With a well simulated interest, I used to ask them what job they would like, and they usually said 2755 they would like the job of a "watchman." They always wanted to be watchmen so that they could watch the rest working That is what these boards are—just watchmen. The thing is wholly unsound. If people suffer, let them suffer from natural economic laws and not from laws imposed by the Government. In my own constituency I have a large number of farmers who are doing extraordinarily well and geting 9d. for what they used to get 3½d. for, and they say they are better off, but I warn them that it cannot last. A thing that is based on fundamental injustice cannot last. You cannot debate with a man as to his profits. I know they would have little sympathy for the small men who are suffering on their behalf under this scheme. Here is a poor woman who writes to me:I have 10 to 12 cows milking and I retail the milk myself, my husband not being able to do so.… I have to work very hard retailing milk twice daily seven days a week.… Now the Milk Board comes in and says what I have to do with my hard earnings. When the Milk Board started I never signed any papers, nor did I register.… They fined me 10s. for not being registered. Now they have fined me £5 and now another fine comes in—£50. Surely we are living in terrible times when people can just come and take away one's livelihood; that's all we depend upon. If they deprive me of my own and my living I can do no other than go on the parish which I would feel very much.What a tragedy! It condemns the whole system. I had another man in the Kyles of Bute who, with his father and grandfather, had supplied the village for over 100 years. He told me that they were levying 5d. a gallon on him. I could not believe him, and I wondered what was wrong with the world. I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture about it, and he replied, that motor lorries and clean milk could be brought from Wigtownshire to undersell him. It is monstrous that this sort of thing should happen. I found that the same thing was going on all over the country, that smallholders were being absolutely wiped out under this system; and it will go on more and more, and when there is nothing to levy on, I suppose the Minister will come down to the House of Commons and ask for a sum of money compared with which the beet sugar subsidy will be a mere fleabite. I can quite understand our saying to foreign countries, "You have a lower standard; you are not our people, and 2756 we will keep the work among our own people," but I cannot understand allowing one section of our own people to prosper in this way at the expense of another section.
It is no use saying that the vote was democratic. That was a trick, to vote about pooling earnings in the industry. Why, even the Cabinet could not pool their salaries for very long. Fancy, for instance, the members of the Bar being called together and deciding that all earnings were to be pooled. It would have been very hard lines on the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, and others who drew when in practice enormous incomes, but no doubt you would get a majority vote for the proposal, because all the unsuccessful members of the profession would naturally support it. My man from the Kyles of Bute told me that he understood it would only cost a halfpenny a gallon. That was the general view that was put about, and he never thought he was going to be asked 5d. a gallon. The woman whom I have mentioned did not vote at all. These small people are not very quick on the uptake, and when a troublesome problem comes before them, they hide their heads, like an ostrich. When the voting papers came to them, they said that they would have "nothing to do with them," and they threw them away. A man did that the other day with a writ. When they took the vote, they got a majority, of course, of those who were going to benefit under the scheme, and that was the 96 per cent. who voted in favour of it. Those who knew they were going to milk the other milk producers gave them a majority vote.
The rumour was allowed to go about, that it would only cost a halfpenny a gallon. I know sufficient about company law to know that if a man had read a company prospectus and sent in an application form under the belief that he was only going to have to pay a halfpenny, and then found he was asked for 5d., he would be released from his subscription and get out of it, and if it could be traced to those responsible for spreading the rumour, they would have found themselves in trouble.
§ Mr. ORR-EWING
Is the hon. and learned Member suggesting that official papers were circulated before the scheme came into force, and before the vote was 2757 asked for, which were deliberately misleading?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
No. They were much too clever for that. On this point the Secretary of State for Scotland said:I am aware of the allegations that some of the producers did not fully understand the provisions of the scheme and were misled by statements and estimates made about the time of the poll. I am satisfied, however, that it was never concealed that the effect of a general pooling scheme of this kind would be to establish a relative uniformity of prices amongst all the registered producers; and, in view of the number of unknown factors to be taken into account it was clearly impracticable to say definitely what the amount of the producers' contribution to the cost of operating the scheme would be. It is possible that some producers may have been under the impression that the levy would be required solely to meet administrative costs whereas the greater part of it is required for the purpose of equalisation of the returns from the liquid and manufacturing markets.If he had said that the greater part was required for the Communistic purpose of distributing the earnings of those who were making money among those who were not, it would have been nearer the mark and they would not have got the vote. They were much too astute to state anything that could be caught hold of, but they got the benefit of the misunderstanding that was in these people's minds when they did not vote against the scheme. It is true that there is an investigation committee, but such a committee cannot do anything to mitigate the fundamental principle, the Communistic principle, on which all these schemes are based, which is that they are going to take one man's earnings and hand them over to another man. The whole scheme is an outrage. It is a dreadful thing that it should be passed by a Conservative Government. No Socialist Government could ever have passed such a Measure, because the whole of the Conservative party would have defended us against it.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
My hon. and learned Friend must not be under any misapprehension. A poll can be taken on the scheme at any time, and a poll is being taken on the scheme now. If it is true, as he says, that all these dreadful evils have resulted, the people at any rate will know about the scheme now, and the poll will disclose it.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
But the first poll did not say that it was for a certain section of the industry to be entitled to put their hands into the pockets of another section in the industry.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am sure my hon. and learned Friend does not wish to misrepresent the state of affairs. The poll is being taken as to whether the scheme should continue or not, and on that poll surely everyone who is suffering, as he most dramatically explained, will vote against the scheme, and then we shall know.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
But suppose the sufferers are in a hopeless minority. Take the instance I gave. The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor would have been in a hopeless minority among the members of the Bar as to how their incomes were to be divided. The only difference there would be that the members of the Bar would be dividing up the big incomes, whereas under this scheme we are taking a poll as to whether the small men are to be exterminated by the big men. It is wrong to have a poll. The initial poll was wrong, and another poll is no better, because it is taking a poll as to whether a man by a vote can be deprived of his livelihood by a majority of his fellows. That is wrong and unconstitutional, and I do not think you will find it done in any country in Europe, not even under a dictator. They would not allow their people to vote away one another's livelihood in this way. Cyrus the Great, the Persian, tried to do what the Milk Board is trying to do. He knew that justice was the foundation of the State, and he tried to give everybody what he thought fitted them, but he soon found that justice could only be done by giving each man, not what fitted him, but what belonged to him. The Milk Board is trying to take away from a man what belongs to him and to give it to somebody else. These cows are a man's own cows, and what right has anybody else to go and milk them and seize and sell them.
It is a shocking business, and I do not think the House of Commons ever realised what was being done when they agreed to the scheme. I do not think Members knew that they were being made Communists, because that is what they have been made. This is undoubtedly 2759 a Communist scheme, and it does not make it more respectable to take a poll. Of course, this vote that is being taken has been very quickly brought up, before the thing gets too hot, and I should not be at all surprised if the vote continued the scheme, because all the men who are thriving under it will vote for it. Some of them must, on balance, be getting more for their milk than they otherwise would have got. I say that this is attempting to pull down the pillars of the temple of civilisation. It is a most dangerous doctrine to introduce into our commercial life, and it will not stop at this. It will be used everywhere to found wrongs upon, and it will be attempted to be justified by saying, "Let us have a poll." I have an article here by Lord Dorchester:The Milk Board was created with the avowed object of obtaining for milk producers a fair return for their labour, risk and invested capital. After two years' working we have arrived at the following results (I speak for myself and I believe for all the farmers in this neighbourhood). The former small profit of one section of farmers has now disappeared entirely owing to the ruinous levies imposed by the Board. These levies are being used to increase the ruinous prices which milk producers in less favoured areas were receiving before the advent of the Board. So we have class A, those who formerly made a small profit, placed on a losing basis in order to postpone (for nothing can prevent) the ruin of class B—those who were being exploited by the purchases of cheap liquid milk before the advent of the Board.Why cannot the Government turn their backs on this ruinous, wrongful and dishonest policy—poll or no poll—and give us good, sound Protection? I saw that the Minister of Agriculture spoke about 100 per cent. being not enough. What is wrong with putting 200 per cent. on all the by-products of milk—cheese and all the other manufactured products? In that way he would enable our dairies and creameries to become profitable. Many of them were bought at high prices by the Milk Board, after arbitration it is true, but anyone who knows anything about arbitration knows what happens when there is the boundless pocket of the Government to be searched. Let us make this industry prosperous by the legitimate means which are part of our marketing policy, but let us get rid of this horrible Communistic doctrine which has crept into the policy and practice of what, 2760 in other respects, I consider the best Government that I have seen in all my long experience.
§ 7.48 p.m.
I do not wish to detain the House for many moments in view of the limited time at our disposal, nor do I intend to follow the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) in his remarks about the Milk Board. This will probably be one of the last Debates on agriculture in the lifetime of this Parliament, and therefore it is becoming in us to pay our just tribute to the activities of the Government on behalf of this great industry. I am certain that agriculture feels that it has had a sympathetic and a generous Government, and that the right hon. Gentleman has been a capable and energetic Minister of Agriculture, working to equip the industry with some of the machinery which is vitally necessary for its future stability. Unlike the last speaker I do not feel that the milk scheme is an absolute swindle and a disgrace, because I think that eventually it will turn out to be one of the finest pieces of legislation the Government have passed. There are many defects in it, but they can be remedied. The matter is entirely in the hands of the farmers, and if they cannot make use of the machinery provided they have no right to be in business, and other people should furnish the necessary business acumen to put their industry on a proper basis.
The Minister has laid the foundations, and it is for the farmers to build up a satisfactory scheme. With a consumption of liquid milk amounting to 48,000,000 gallons a month, and with farmers producing 90,000,000 gallons a month, it would be quite a practical proposition—if there were no milk scheme—for that milk to be put out in the country at 3d. a gallon; so that if farmers are getting somewhere about 10d. a gallon, which is the average for the scheme, although they are paying a levy of 4d., on the average, they are in pocket under the milk scheme. There are other ways of dealing with this large supply of milk, and I am glad to see that the Minister is tackling the question of the large quantities of butter and cheese which come into this country from abroad. It 2761 is vitally necessary to agriculture that more of this butter and cheese should be made at home and less bought from abroad.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) referred to malting barley. The other day I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he was satisfied that the brewers had carried out satisfactorily their gentlemen's agreement with him when he reduced the Beer Duty. He said that he was satisfied as regards the quantity, but that he had made no arrangements with respect to price. It is no good the brewers buying twice as much barley if they pay only half the price they are supposed to pay. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon asked the Chancellor to give the prices paid by the brewers for malting barley, but he replied that he was not in a position to do so. I ask the Minister of Agriculture whether it is not possible for him to have a register kept of the sales of barley to the malting and brewing trades. Such a register would be of immense help in assessing the value of the brewing industry to arable farmers.
There is only one way in which this matter can be dealt with effectively. I do not know whether I am at liberty, under the rules of Order, to refer to it in this Debate, but I should like to see a proper duty put on malting barley coming into the country, and the brewers given a drawback from that duty if they had paid the adequate and proper price for a certain quantity of home-grown malting barley—a scheme somewhat similar to the wheat scheme, which would give our farmers a satisfactory price. In my own division malting barley is a very important crop in the arable rotation, and unless an adequate price can be obtained for good barleys it is impossible for farmers there to make a reasonable profit. I hope the Minister will do all he can to help farmers in that direction.
Then I should like to know what has been the outcome of all the suggestions which have been put forward for supplying His Majesty's Forces with home-produced meat. That idea seems to have dropped out of the mind of this House, and out of the programme of agriculture. We give large subsidies to meat producers, but are not prepared to see that our own Forces are supplied with meat produced at home. We were told some 2762 18 months ago that it would be too expensive to give the troops home-produced meat, but when we are dealing with subsidies amounting to millions a minor consideration of a few hundred thousand pounds could surely be waived. The other day I visited five schools to see how the scheme for supplying milk to school children was working, and I was shocked to find that in spite of the fact that there is a glut of liquid milk the teachers were insisting on the pupils having tinned milk. I do not know what control the Minister of Agriculture has in this matter, perhaps it is one for the Board of Education—
§ Mr. ELLIOT
If my memory serves me right, I think the grant which is given to the scheme is available only for the supply of liquid milk, and therefore I think there must have been some difficulty or some mistake in the case to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, because I am almost sure that the grant provides for liquid milk.
That was my impression, and that was why I was so surprised to find the teachers giving tinned milk. I asked one of them, "Why do you do this when you know perfectly well that this scheme, besides being intended to benefit the children, is designed to help farmers?" The reply was, "Oh, it is so handy to warm it up in the tins." Who wants the milk warmed up in the summer-time? It is a monstrous suggestion. I hope the Minister of Agriculture will ask the Board of Education to take steps to see that this state of affairs is put right. I would like the Minister to appreciate that the farmers are behind him. They value him as a trusted adviser who has given them valuable help and valuable legislation, and he will go down to history as the best Minister of Agriculture and one who has tried to put farming on a sound and business-like basis. Although one or two of his schemes have not materialised in the way he would wish, in the main agriculture is definitely better off than when this Government took office. I can only say that in my constituency the Wheat Act alone saves hundreds of agricultural labourers from prolonged periods of unemployment, and I am certain that when the other schemes get working there will be more employment.
2763 I have one final point to put about meat. I know that the Minister has been experiencing difficulty in coming to an arrangement with the Argentine about imports of meat, and that that has proved a stumbling-block to some of his other arrangements. Is it not possible to allow a certain number of store cattle to come from the Argentine in the place of meat, now that we are not taking from Canada the number of store cattle we used to take? That might be at the same time a real help to our farmers and assist to bring the Argentine into line in connection with the other schemes.
I thank the Minister for dealing with that point so promptly. I only put it forward as a suggestion in the hope that it might assist us to get the long-term policy a little earlier. Again I thank the Government, and the Minister in particular. From the point of view of my constituency there has been real and definite progress in agriculture, and in the next Parliament, where this National Government will have an even greater majority, we shall, I hope, carry on with the beneficial legislation which we have already begun to put into operation.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
I have listened to nearly all the speeches in this Debate so far, and have found them very interesting, and I am certain that the Minister of Agriculture will not have very much reason for complaint about them. Nearly all the agricultural Members have thanked him for what he has done, but all of them have been asking for more. It is generally assumed that we on these benches, who in the main represent industrial constituencies, are not very much interested in agriculture, but that is an entirely wrong assumption. There are quite a number of us who are very much interested in the agricultural problem. We know that every community must have had its basis in agricultural economy, and that if the industrial civilisation of these islands does not rest on an agricultural economy at home it rests on an agricultural economy somewhere else, either on the cattle ranches of 2764 the Argentine or the sheep farms of Australia, or the prairies of Canada. Recognising that fact, all on these benches realise that the agricultural problem is one of very great importance.
We have all been very much interested in the policy of the present Minister of Agriculture as it has developed stage by stage. Some four years ago, when he took up his present office, he told us over and over again that there was a threatened breakdown in the agricultural economy of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) gave the House what he described as a bird's-eye survey of the various measures which the right hon. Gentleman has employed to deal with this threatened breakdown of the agricultural economy of this country. We were reminded, to begin with, that the cereal growers were in difficulties, later on the dairy farmers, and that then the fat stock raisers were in difficulties, to say nothing of the pig raisers, the poultry farmers and other sections of the agricultural industry.
In view of those facts and that situation, the Minister and the Government embarked on a series of experiments. As I understand the policy, in the initial stages the Minister has very largely used the method of subsidies to deal with the immediate problem, while what he calls the long-term policy is being formulated, fashioned and applied. He has worked on certain well-recognised principles, about which he himself has made quite a number of speeches, elucidating and explaining them and calling our attention to the necessity for them to be applied. He told us that we had passed into a phase in regard to the agricultural industry—and I suppose it would to some degree apply to industry generally—where he had to deal with what he called the economics of glut, and therefore his policy has been based on means of restriction or limiting output.
I gather from hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies that there has been no marked success in the Minister's deliberate attempt to raise prices. That, of course, still leads to innumerable complaints being made and suggestions for other methods to be employed. I think that it is only perhaps twice that I have ventured to intervene In these agricultural debates but once before I made the remark—and I intend to make it 2765 again to-night—that it seems to me a most tragic thing that in the present condition of civilisation as we know it at the moment, it should be necessary—even agreeing for the moment that it is under existing circumstances necessary—for a Government to embark on policies such as those with which the right hon. Gentleman's name is associated, because when one thinks of the long history of agriculture and of the development of the arts of agriculture over long periods of time, one cannot help but recall what a tremendous effort man has had to make before he could gain complete control of his food supplies. Food supplies for long periods of human history were insecure and very difficult to obtain, and only as the result of many centuries of effort and the development of an elaborate agricultural technique has it been possible for mankind to gain almost complete control over its food supplies.
I must not weary the House, and perhaps it would not be interested if I attempted to describe in detail the development of the art of agriculture from the hoe to the plough and then on to the spade. We have seen in recent years commerce cultivation, and that, taking place in certain parts of the world, has had a considerable effect on the agricultural industry in this country. Supplementing all that process of development there has been in recent times the development of plant breeding and of animal breeding. And now we have reached the stage where I shall not be exaggerating if I say that mankind has achieved more or less complete control of its food supplies. Yet now that this stage has been reached, we actually have to deal with the situation resulting out of that long effort through centuries of time by elaborating forms of restriction for food production at a time when there are still plenty of people without sufficient food of the kind that agriculture is primarily responsible for producing.
I have listened this afternoon to speeches which have lamented the fact that the price-raising policy of the Minister has not succeeded and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), who was sitting behind me earlier in the day, called my attention to a recent publication in which it was clearly pointed out that in this country when wages—that is to say, the wages of the masses of the people—are relatively high, the price of 2766 fat stock rises. There is a relationship between the price which the farmer gets for his fat stock and the general wage rates prevailing in the country at a given moment, and there is a table in that publication in which there is given the annual meat consumption of various sections of the population. The figures are as follows: For labourers 85 lbs. per annum, for artisans 107, for the lower middle class 122, and for the upper class 300 lbs.
§ Mr. BROWN
That is the classification given in the book I am quoting. The absolute correctness of the figures will not alter my argument. The book is a recent one by Lord Astor and someone else dealing with the planning of agriculture. Whether the facts are correct or not does not alter my argument, which is that if you want to raise the price of particular commodities you have only to increase the demand for them. I want to suggest to hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies, and indeed constituencies of other kinds, that if you want really to raise the prices of agricultural products—I do not say that this would apply to all of them: I can see the difficulties in regard to milk, for instance—if we could have a general campaign for the raising of wages all round, with an increased demand for some of these agricultural products, we should get that rise in price which the Minister has failed to obtain by any of the methods which he has hitherto employed. I just make that suggestion to those who have been complaining this afternoon in regard to that side of the Minister's policy being something of a failure, and I suggest that we might solicit their support when we suggest that better wages should be paid to the great masses of the working classes. It would help in some degree towards a, solution of this agricultural problem.
But the great indictment of the Minister's policy is that, after all, nothing that he is doing is likely to bring back plenty, which is available within the reach of the poverty that needs it. It does not matter very much how much further he goes on the present lines; I do not think that he will achieve that object. He will not do it because the methods which he is pursuing are fundamentally wrong. The more I listen to these Debates on agricultural problems the 2767 more and more I am confirmed in the Socialist faith which those of us on these benches hold. It may be that just because we do not look at these problems from a narrow national point of view or even an Empire point of view, we see the futility of many of the policies which are being pursued by the right hon. Gentleman. We watch the Minister's experiments with interest and we become more and more certain, with all the experiments that he carries out, that something far more drastic than anything he has yet suggested or hon. Members have yet contemplated will have to be done before agriculture in this country is placed on a sure and certain foundation.
We recognise the importance of the agriculture of this country. We recognise that all social systems rest upon an agricultural economy. You must feed your people. We recognise the supreme importance of agriculture in Britain, but we do not think that the method which the Minister is employing, of propping and shoring it up with subsidies, can solve the problem that needs to be solved. I think I am speaking for the rest of my colleagues as well as for myself.
In order to carry on his policy, the Minister has had to elaborate machinery like the machinery of the Marketing Board. I came in at the conclusion of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), and I gathered that he was saying something critical of the Milk Marketing Board. I do not know whether hon. Members for agricultural constituencies receive very much criticism about the Milk Marketing Board. Although my constituency is mainly industrial, I see from time to time many farmers who complain bitterly about actions of the Board which are irritating and penalising in all kinds of ways. Some people might say they complain unjustly because they voluntarily entered into the scheme, but I am certain that in many sections of the farming community there is a great deal of criticism about those irritating activities, and particularly about the penalties to which the smaller producer-retailers are subjected. Some of the fines seem very unreasonable.
Some supporters of the Government, especially those who have made speeches to-day hoping that nothing untoward will happen to the Milk Marketing Board, are likely to have a rude awakening to judge 2768 from the irritating effects which are being produced in large sections of the agricultural community. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that he and the party did not wish to see the Milk Marketing Board go, because the situation without it would be worse than the situation at this moment. He wanted to see it reformed, and functioning more effectively and efficiently. I echo what he said, and I do not want to be understood as suggesting that the Minister of Agriculture, facing the situation as he did, was wrong in making experiments. I have watched those experiments with great interest. He will be aware from to-day's Debate that many Members from agricultural constituencies are asking for further developments of the Minister's policy on the various lines to which reference has been made.
We have repeatedly been accused of bribing the electors in our political propaganda. It has been suggested more than once by Members of the Conservative party that when electioneering we have suggested that if we were returned to office we would give better pensions, pensions at an earlier age or higher rates of unemployment benefit, and that has over and over again been described as a sort of political bribery to obtain the votes of the electors. No Member for an agricultural constituency ought ever again to bring such a charge against Members of the Labour party, because no Government in the history of the country have done more political bribery—I use the word in the political sense—of their political friends than the Government who now occupy that Bench, and the leading spirit in that direction has been the Minister of Agriculture. He may resent my describing it as political bribery, but I am making an analogy with the criticism which is so often brought against us, in our propaganda to improve the social services of the country. It does not lie in the mouth of any supporter of the National Government who supports the policy of subsidy and the general policy of the Minister of Agriculture, ever again to accuse us of political bribery.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
I would join with hon. Members who made an appeal to the Minister on behalf of barley growers. There are many areas of light land in Norfolk and Suffolk where barley is the 2769 only cereal crop, and the advantages of the Wheat Act have passed these areas by. In 1922 the then Minister of Agriculture promised the growers a tax on malting barley. That was 13 years ago. He appointed a committee to go into the question of how best the duty could be levied. The committee was under the then Member for East Norfolk, and the committee produced a plan, but the unfortunate farmer has had to wait during all this period. The only advance that has been made up to the present time is that some such scheme is being considered by the Import Duties Advisory Committee. I know it is difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to interfere when a matter like that is sub judice, but I am sure that he will realise as well as I do that in a week or two the barley will be cut and threshed and be coming on the market. If anything could be done to speed up that Committee to give some decision before the barley is marketed, such action would be very much appreciated by the barley growers in the Eastern Counties.
May I reinforce what hon. Members have said about eggs? I feel very strongly about that question. Hen and egg production is typically the metier of the farmer and the smallholder, and the Minister knows the pitiable position in which those unfortunate producers are, and how many of them have lost all their money. I feel the position particularly, because in Norfolk we were asked some time ago to try to assist the cottage holders and the forest holders to make the best use of the land which had been allotted to them by the Forestry Commission. We investigated the soil, and found that poultry was probably the best product that they could go in for. These men have followed our advice, and we have therefore the position that the forest holders, who are presumably servants of the Government, are advised by the country agricultural authorities to go in for a certain crop, but the Government make no effort—or rather, I will not say they make no effort, but their efforts are not successful—to allow these people who have followed the advice of their own instructors to make a decent living by doing so. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember that these poor people are having a very bad time, and 2770 that something ought to be done to stop this terrific importation of foreign eggs.
The Minister has been criticised by many people for different things that he has done, but I think the really important thing is that now, for one reason or another, practically every form of foodstuff which we produce in this country can be landed on our shores at a price lower than the cost of production at home. That applies whether one takes cereals, or meat, or dairy produce, soft or hard fruit, or eggs. If the public generally have realised that tremendous fact, which is something quite new in our history, and if the Government have got the public used to the different forms of protection which they have applied to foodstuffs—in some cases tariffs, in others levies, in others licences, and so on—that is a tremendous step towards dealing successfully with our problems. People having now realised what the problem is, and having had experience of the different methods of coping with it, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to go ahead with his permanent policy for the industry, and will eventually succeed in making England the one place where horticulture and agriculture are completely successful.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We have had a long and interesting Debate, one of the main features of which, as I think we shall all agree, has been the growing interest which the Labour party shows in agriculture and in agricultural problems—a growing and well-informed interest, because I think all of us throughout this Parliament have watched with increasing interest the development of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), both as a Parliamentarian and as an agriculturist. The way in which he has been able to grasp what must to him have been an unfamiliar subject has been an example of practical democracy which could scarcely be bettered.
The fact that the Labour party take such a keen interest in these matters has, of course, led to the Debate having a very wide range. When I look at the Consolidated Fund Bill, and realise that technically I ought not to discuss anything which could not be brought about without legislation, I fear I should be out of order in replying to a great part of what has been said to-day. With 2771 regard, for instance, to the remarks of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) as to the great necessity for an entire reform of the system of distribution in this country, I do not think the House has given me sufficient powers to enable me to bring that about without approaching the House again, and, therefore, much as I should like to go into that matter with the hon. Member, I am afraid I cannot do so to-day.
The hon. Member for Don Valley confined himself as closely as one could to the actual problems which are properly under review this evening. He said that a number of committees had been appointed and a number of reports had been made, and he asked me whether I could indicate what action had been taken upon them. I do not think anyone will deny that action upon those reports and recommendations has been so thorough and so vigorous as to draw down upon my head from many parts of the House, including the hon. Member's own side, the criticism that this action has been too fast and too furious, and that a little time should be allowed for rest and refreshment. When he asks, with regard to the Wheat Act, whether the subsidy has encouraged mechanisation, whether I have made any examination to see if the price of 45s. is a fair price, and so on, I would draw his attention to Command Paper 4932, published in June of this year, which contains a report, signed by, among others, a respected former Member of this House, Mr. Walter Smith, on that very point. There, after a full review, it is recommended that the standard price of 45s. should be maintained, and I may say that the Government accept that position, and, furthermore, take note of the valuable suggestion, made in the report of that Committee, that further reviews should take place at stated intervals, instead of merely this review once and for all. I think it is clear that these reviews at intervals will be a feature of the policy which this Government, and, indeed, future Governments, will need to adopt with regard to agriculture.
The hon. Member requested me to speak, if I could, on the question of efficiency—as to whether it could be truly said that efficiency was a feature of the developments in agriculture to-day. I think it can be truly said that efficiency 2772 is a feature, and an increasing feature, in British production. I cannot go into details, because the time at my disposal is short and there are on the Paper other Orders of great interest to the House with which it is desired to proceed, but I would ask the hon. Member to consider the fact that the British producer has held his own, with, as I shall show, a relatively limited amount of assistance throughout the gravest and longest depression in agricultural prices that we have ever known; and he has not only done that, but has been able at the same time to maintain a rate of wages even equal to that paid in 1927 and 1928—a standard from which all other agricultures in the world have fallen away to the most calamitous extent. It seems to me that that one sentence in itself is enough to show that efficient production is going on in agriculture in this country.
To give another example, let me take the vexed question of sugar beet, to which we shall have to devote a great deal of our attention in future months. After all, at the inception of the scheme the cash assistance offered was 21s. 9d. per cwt. By 1934–5 we had brought it down to 7s. 3d. For the present campaign we put the figure at one not exceeding 6s. 6d. and I presented yesterday a White Paper which indicated that we expect to be able to get down to a total figure of 5s. 3d. per cwt. in the 1936–7 campaign.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I will return to the right hon. Gentleman's argument in a moment. The average yield per acre has risen from 7.7 tons in the first five seasons to over 10 tons in 1934–35. That is above the yield per acre in France, United States and Czechoslovakia, all great sugar producing countries which have been at the matter for many years. It is below the figure for Belgium and Holland. I do not pretend that in a short period we can surpass all records, but there is evidence of increasing efficiency. As for the Dutch figures, I was at the luncheon of the Beet Sugar Society on 2nd May and prizes were awarded for a yield of 22½ tons per acre and 17½ per cent. of sugar, resulting in an output of sugar per acre of no less than 8,767 lbs. People who can produce over 8,000 lbs. of sugar out of an 2773 acre of English soil are not inefficient producers. Of wheat, which is another assisted crop, our output per acre is already double that of most of the great wheat exporting countries which are our competitors. In milk we have, after all, found buyers for every gallon of milk that we have produced and, leaving for the moment the discussion so ably conducted by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) whether there should be or should not be a milk scheme at all, I think he will not deny that production is increasing to an embarrassing extent. Organisation is having the effect that, whereas in Scotland in 1928 skimmed milk amounting to 1,350,000 gallons was run to waste, it was last year brought down to 340,000 gallons and next year it will be brought down to nil. [Interruption.] We cannot clear up everything in an afternoon, but this skimmed milk was being wasted in hundreds of thousands of gallons and only last week I opened a factory at Kirkcudbright where that product is being dried and used as a wholesome food, and that is an advantage of which, I am sure, the whole country will reap the benefit.
The mere fact that our livestock producers have been able to stand up against the fall in prices since 1932 is an indication that livestock breeding and feeding are carried out in an efficient manner. There are such things as central slaughtering, auction marts and processing factories. Central auction marts exist in Scotland but they have not succeeded by themselves in averting the crisis there. The difficulty is that we have no working example here by which we can test out certain theoretical claims that are made, but I am happy to say that the Corporation of the City of Leicester has in mind a very interesting development. They are going to test out the efficiency of a central slaughtering plant operating on factory lines. I understand the Development Commissioners are prepared in certain conditions to give favourable consideration to a grant from the Development Fund in aid of the capital costs of certain features of that enterprise. This is a practical example of what we all have in mind—testing out in proper experimental conditions the value or otherwise of a reform 2774 which has been talked about for many years, but which only experiment will enable us to put to the test.
We have, of course, had the argument from the hon. Member for Don Valley and others that not only was bacon production not efficient, but that bacon was actually scarce and dear and had disappeared from the tables of the working classes. Indeed the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) indicated that in some way or other bacon was ceasing to be a feature of the breakfast table. All that one can say is that bacon is 12½ per cent. cheaper than it was in the last year of Free Trade, in 1930. I cannot say fairer than that. When he was supporting the Labour Government the hon. Member did not indicate that bacon was scarce and dear, that it was not a feature on the table of the working classes and that the price was excessive, although it was 12½ per cent. higher than it is to-day. The quantities now are as they were then, because the level which was used for quota purposes was based upon the average of five years. There is as much bacon in the country now as when the Labour Government were in power and the bacon is cheaper.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in 1931 the greatest consumption of bacon occurred merely because the price was lower than it had ever been before? Quantities were large, but there was a ready market for all the extra bacon at the lower price. I am not arguing that it was an economic price, but in that year, when the maximum quantities were available, the price was the lowest. Since restriction, the price has increased.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am not denying that bacon has been lower in price or that quantities have been greater. I only say that it is an over-statement to pretend that quantities now have been reduced below what the working classes were receiving in years when, admittedly, they were not unprosperous, or that prices are above what they were in years when, admittedly, bacon was not out of the reach of the ordinary working man. I do not wish to press the argument unduly. I would only say that the hon. Member for Don Valley has himself admitted that that very sudden drop in the price of 2775 bacon was indeed a drop which was pushing it to an uneconomic level and that the natural consequence was a steep rise in the price of bacon far above the level at which the price of bacon is to-day. That is not a matter of theory but of practice. We have seen time and time again the pig cycle bring the price of bacon up after a temporary slump far above what it is to-day, and we say that the levelling up of these sudden rises and sudden slumps is to the advantage of the consumer as well as to the producer. It is no advantage to the consumer to drive the producer out of business by unremunerative prices. He obtains a temporary advantage, but in the end he has to pay dearly for the temporary advantage which he enjoys.
The complaint against the quota arrangements, and on which there has been criticism from various parts of the House, is that they are too generous for producers either here or abroad, but it is not good business for this country to drive out of business producers either here or abroad. A reasonable price is good for all in trade. Trade is for mutual advantage, and it is no argument to say, "You should have been unfair to the foreigner, and not given him so good a price" even if such a price was necessary to keep him in production in order to send foodstuffs here. A study of the great demonstrations by Danish farmers against the extraordinary low payments which they are receiving for their products is a fairly sound argument against those who say that an unnecessarily generous attitude has been shown in the arrangements we have made with foreign countries.
It may well be that further adjustments can be made, and that what we seek to secure can properly be secured for the advantage of our own people and of the consumers in this country, but I do not think it can truly be said, surveying the world as a whole, that the people of this country are paying, either at home or abroad, unreasonably high prices for the foodstuffs which they are enjoying. The prices of foodstuffs in this country are lower than they are almost anywhere in the world, and the policy of the Government, of any Government in this country, must be, as I have said repeatedly, to allow the maximum quantity 2776 of foodstuffs, at the lowest prices consistent with reasonable remuneration for our own people. We must encourage our own producers of food, but, subject to that, we ought to allow large quantities of supplies to reach this country. There is no other policy which any Government could follow. Any Minister of Agriculture or President of the Board of Trade standing in my place would be bound to take the line that we had to help our own people and also had to allow good and cheap food supplies to reach the consuming millions of our town dwellers.
The special difficulty of the Minister of Agriculture or the President of the Board of Trade in this country is that he must always keep in mind the shopping masses of the town, and that it is bad agricultural policy to push food prices to a point where consumption would be checked. That is the maxim of all of us, and that is why the levy subsidy principle, by taking a small proportion of the extraordinary world prices and using that to weight the price in favour of our own people, is a policy which any Government whatever in this country might reasonably adopt. The latest recruit to this policy is the hon. Member for Don Valley. I have it on record. I specially put it down. Only to-night he came out wholeheartedly in favour of a levy subsidy on dairy produce. I thought it was a most interesting admission, and I specially wrote it down. He said: "Use the revenues from the dairy duties to enable the milk prices to be reduced. Take the money from the levy on imported dairy produce and use it for the benefit of the dairy producers in this country."
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
That is done already. There is, of course, in existence at the moment a customs duty upon various products. I said for the purpose of helping the milk producer, and if you want to extend cheap milk to children under five years of age, use the money you are now collecting on dairy products and duties for that purpose.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am glad to be assured that it was not a mere slip of the tongue, but that it was in fact advocated by the hon. Member. The arguments which have been brought forward as to the other developments of agriculture, I am 2777 afraid it is not possible for me to go into to-night. The subject of agriculture is so wide that there is a danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees, and I have been so closely associated with agriculture now for a period which seems short in months but long in work, that I cannot help feeling that at times I may bore the House with the addresses which I give on agricultural subjects.
Before I come to more general matters, I wish to say a word upon the further question which was brought up by the hon. Member for Don Valley—Has Labour received a reasonable share of the advantages from the effort which this House has made in the past few years? Again I say, we can prove in a single sentence that between 1929 and to-day agricultural wages have, after a short drop, recovered all that they lost and stand at the highest point they have ever done since the organised wages machinery came into existence. During that time wages in the United States have gone down 46 per cent. That one sentence shows the effect of the great depression on a great, rich and determined country, and of the crash which has been averted in this country.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Agricultural wages for 2,700,000 agricultural labourers in the United States whose receipts have now not merely fallen far below what they were in 1929, but are far below the levels of agricultural wages in this country. Every one of our agricultural labourers on an average is receiving more than the agricultural labourer in the United States, with all the advantages of a new country with high industrial activity and mechanised power. We have by our efforts in this House and by the efforts of the agricultural industry averted that position, and our wages are as high as ever they were in that country.
I was requested by the hon. Member for Don Valley to deal with the subject of the staff of inspectors. We have, after putting on a temporary squad, gone back to the policy of a larger permanent inspectoral staff as a whole. We have now some 18 agricultural inspectors who are at work, and in addition we have whole-time secretaries of all the agricultural committees. The whole-time secretary is 2778 undoubtedly an advantage in these matters. I do not wish to say that we do not receive good and faithful service from part-time secretaries, but there is an advantage in having whole-time secretaries of these committees. We have the machinery of wages boards, which cover the country, we have whole-time secretaries for the committees, and, in addition, we have an inspectorate which has been reinforced by two or three new members in the last year. Our permanent inspectors have been increased from 15 to 18, and the test inspections which are now being undertaken are intended to ensure that the efficiency of the wages machinery is being thoroughly tested out.
I must deal very briefly with the other points raised in the Debate. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) advanced what seemed to me two rather contradictory lines of argument. He said that the present organisations were experiencing difficulty; that the machinery of the Pigs Board and the Milk Board was far from running smoothly, but that it was still creaking and groaning. Inevitably it is. You cannot start a scheme of the size of the Milk Scheme and the Pigs Scheme and expect it to run forthwith with the smoothness of some business that has been going on for many years. Then the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have discovered a slackening for organisation in the countryside. It is only natural until the countryside have been able to appreciate and digest the machinery we have put into existence that they should show a certain reluctance about embarking on more machinery. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire said that there was a great deal too much machinery, and that it ought to be swept away.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I should like to know of the process in any industry in which a machine can digest a man, although it is said that to-day machines are eating men. Surely, this is the moment to pause, to consider and to take stock of the situation and not to impose organised machinery unduly upon the agriculturists of this country until they have had time to size up that which is already in existence, and until we can appreciate whether or not the schemes require to be amended. The right hon. Member for North Cornwall 2779 was followed at some interval by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) who advanced a novel argument, which I was surprised to hear from one who so recently and so enthusiastically acclaimed the plans of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), as set forth in the volume, "Organising Prosperity." The right hon. Gentleman attacked very vigorously the suggestion that the beet-sugar factories should be in different parts of the country more suitable perhaps for the agricultural industry than for the best economic efficiency which might possibly be obtained from them. I remember an eloquent passage in the plans of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in which he says:The fertility of modern invention and the commercial application of new scientific discoveries are constantly leading to the rise of fresh industries which contribute much to the wellbeing and amenity of the world. It will be the task of the Board to see that when such industries arise, they are encouraged to establish themselves in districts where they will best contribute to reducing our unemployment problem, and it should be prepared to further this process by assisting them on approved lines to obtain the capital they will require for setting up their works. It should be the part of sane national policy to secure that new industrial developments are directed to the neighbourhoods where they will best serve our social economy.Many of the suggestions in this plan of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs have, I understand, been derived from various views held and brought forward by himself and the right hon. Gentleman opposite and others at various periods in our political history, and commended to us with great vigour, and I am astonished to find that the right hon. Member for Darwen has thrown them over and is prepared to use the edge of circumstance in so far as it can be applied to the beet-sugar industry. It is impossible to get the right hon. Gentleman to give any very close consideration to the questions of merit as affecting the beet-sugar industry. He is ready to ride roughshod over the plans of his political friends and to ignore the rules of arithmetic in order to prove that the beet-sugar industry is wrong.
The hon. Member for St. Rollox indicated that he had doubts about the industry, but I am afraid that he represents a party split, because he will have great difficulty in getting hon. and right hon. 2780 Gentlemen below him on the benches opposite to go with him in the Division Lobby in his opposition. The Labour party has accepted the position that the beet-sugar industry in default of an alternative crop should reasonably be maintained in this country. The verdict on that matter is not the verdict of one section but the verdict of all parties, wherever they sit in this House.
Then there was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire. He delivered a frontal attack on the whole of the 1931 Act, but I am sure that he will admit that we could not abolish that Act by my ipse dixit. It would require legislation to do that, and therefore it would not be in order for me to deal with his remarks on that point. His theory was that all the suffering brought about by the laws of nature were right, but if suffering was brought about in any way by Government intervention it was all wrong. That does not square with my experience of the human race. What the human race objects to is suffering, and whether it is brought about by men or by nature they will take vigorous steps to avert it.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I said that you are making one set of farmers devour another set of farmers, like the way Sawney Bean, the celebrated Ayrshire cannibal, used to do with people in the fifteenth century. You are setting the dairymen, the big men, to eat up the small dairymen, taking their cows and destroying them. That is wrong.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I cannot go into that question to-night. The milk scheme, by my hon. and learned Friend's own admission, has been of great advantage to many dairymen in his own constituency, and it is of great help to the industry itself. I have dealt with the main points, except for the desire of the House to be reassured as to malting barley. I will do my utmost to make it clear that the gentleman's agreement between the brewers and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is still taken as binding by the Brewers' Society. In the season which is now opening they will do their utmost to take supplies of British barley. I know from personal discussions with them that they are most reluctant to find themselves at variance with the farmers, and anything that would ease the relations 2781 between themselves and the barley producers they would welcome. Whether by agreement or duty or in some other way, I hope that this difficult matter will be satisfactorily adjusted.
We must remember that the fall in prices which has brought great benefit to the people of this country in lower food prices has depressed agriculture in this country. Without the assistance that has been given to the agricultural industry it would certainly have sunk. Without State assistance in some form or another agriculture as we know it could not have been continued. I say that with a full sense of responsibility. The full equivalent of the weight of the interest and service of the National Debt has inured to the benefit of the workpeople of this country through the fall in prices, and it is not unreasonable to set off as a discount the subsidies which this House has voted from time to time to the agricultural industry, some of which are to be found in this Consolidated Fund Bill. The people of this country are well fed and more prosperous than those of almost any other country, and we have been able to save agriculture from the ruin which was coming upon it, and put it upon lines on which it may go forward to a prosperous and useful future.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow."