§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I beg to move,That the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) (Extension of Period) Order, 1935, dated the thirteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, made under section one of the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1935, by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretaries of State concerned with agriculture in Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively, a copy of which was presented to this House on the nineteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, be approved.This Motion seeks the approval of the House for an Order made by the appropriate Ministers on the 13th June, 1935, under the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1935. The effect of the Order is to extend the period of the subsidy paid to cattle producers in the United Kingdom by a further three months, that is to say, from the 30th June, 1935, to the 30th September, 1935. The House will remember the serious situation which faced the cattle producers of the United Kingdom in the summer of 1934, and, in order that time and opportunity might be afforded for considering the very difficult problems involved in a long-term policy, and for discussion with the other Governments concerned, Parliament approved, in the Act of 1934, of provisions for the payment out of the Exchequer of a subsidy not exceeding 5s. per live hundredweight to producers of fat cattle in the United Kingdom. The period of that subsidy expired on the 31st March, 1935.
We had discussions with the Governments concerned in the autumn of 1934, and the Government decided in January, 1935, that an extension of the period was desirable. That led to the passing of the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1935, which provided for an extension of the subsidy period, in the first place, for three months, from April to June, 1935, and for the possibility of a further extension, not exceeding three months, subject to the specific authority of Parliament. It was felt that it was desirable that this provision should be kept very closely under review, and, instead of a longer period being chosen in the first instance, these short periods of three months were chosen, with the 1124 object of requiring a close and continuous review of the situation by Parliament. There will also, of course, be an opportunity for debate on the Supplementary Estimate which will be necessary, and which will go through the ordinary stages in this House. Consequently, as I have said, there will be full opportunities for discussion and review in the House, and therefore I desire to confine myself as far as possible, in view of the heavy programme before the House to-day, to a non-controversial statement of the position as it is at the present time. I wish to do this also on account of the fact that, as the House knows, the discussions on the problem are actively proceeding.
The House remembers the statement of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs on Thursday last in his speech on the Dominions Office Vote. The Dominion Governments attach such importance to this question that they have sent special delegations to take part in the discussions. We are also in active negotiation with representatives of the Argentine Government. I think it is true to say that we have certainly now got down to the realities of the situation, and I can re-echo the opinion expressed by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs last Thursday that we are not without hope that a satisfactory agreement will ultimately be arrived at. But clearly it would be quite impossible, even if such an agreement were arrived at, that it could be put into force by the end of this month, and consequently the appropriate Ministers—that is, myself, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Home Department representing Northern Ireland—have made the Order which the House is now asked to approve.
The Government feel that fat cattle prices are still running at levels so low that, having regard to their undertaking, with which I think the House as a whole agrees, to safeguard the position of the United Kingdom livestock industry, they are fully justified in asking the House to approve the extension of the subsidy arrangements for which contingent provision had already been made by Parliament in the Act of 1935. But it may be desirable to say that we have done our utmost during the period of the negotiations while this Act has been in force to regulate the market and to ensure 1125 that reasonable remuneration is secured by the home producers. Foreign supplies have been subjected to the maximum reductions possible under current agreements. Considerable reductions have also been in force as regards the Irish Free State, although, of course, there has been a relaxation of these regulations, with regard to which of these have a word to say before I conclude. Steps have been taken by voluntary arrangements to regulate imports from other Empire countries in order to hold the market here. We have agreed programmes for the regulation of Empire supplies with the Dominion Governments for the periods covering the last half of 1934 and the first two quarters of 1935. Arrangements for supplies during the second six months of this year are now under discussion, and it is hoped that an agreement may be arrived at upon them.
The net effect of these measures on these imports since the cattle subsidy was first paid are, in brief, that there has been a very slight reduction in the total quantities of imported beef coming on to this market between October, 1934 and May, 1935, as compared with the corresponding period in 1933–4. There has been a slightly larger amount of chilled and frozen beef, taken together, which has been balanced by a slightly smaller amount of fat cattle coming from the Irish Free State. I can read the figures if the House desires, but statistics are perhaps difficult to appreciate, and I think that the statement just given covers accurately the situation. We have deliberately refrained from enforcing drastic limitation of overseas supplies, because, as a great trading country, we have no desire to raise difficulties in overseas trade if there is a method in sight by which these difficulties can eventually be overcome. There is such a method, the method of the earmarked tariff, the levy-subsidy, which is now under discussion, but which I cannot of course discuss upon this occasion. But I would ask the House to agree that in matters affecting the great meat trade, covering £166,000,000 per annum, of which beef alone accounts for £64,000,000, time spent and money spent while negotiations proceed are justified many times over in the interests of the country as a whole.
The weight of supplies coming on the market from overseas has, as I have said, 1126 been balanced by means of a reduction in the quantity of fat cattle from the Irish Free State, but that has been modified as a result of the coal-cattle agreement. That agreement, as the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs said on Thursday, was the first indication of an advance in the relationships between the two countries. The Secretary of State added that he welcomed that agreement, and did all that he could to facilitate it. I say quite frankly that, with a full sense of my responsibility as Minister of Agriculture, I also welcome that agreement. It is necessary for the Minister of Agriculture and for the agricultural industry generally to show that they are as fully convinced as anyone of the necessity for promoting the general prosperity of the country if their industry is to flourish, and not only to show that, but to be willing to act on their convictions. Agriculture, I am confident, is willing to take this long view. The producers, though naturally uneasy of the immediate possibility of the effects of this particular agreement on their own industry, accepted an arrangement because they thought it would be of service to the country as a whole.
There has certainly been an increase in home supplies. For the eight months October, 1934, to May, 1935, fat cattle marketings in England and Wales were 22 per cent. heavier than in the corresponding months of 1933–34. Part of this increase is probably due to the diversion of sale through markets in order to secure certification, because only through markets can animals be certified. But even when allowance has been made for this factor, it is fairly clear that there has been some increase in home supplies of beef brought forward during the past nine months, and I think the relative steadiness of the home market under these very heavy home supplies is a hopeful factor in considering the ultimate future of the industry as a whole. I am by no means convinced that the decrease in the consumption of beef, which has been a feature for several years past, will be a continuing feature of the market. From time to time fluctuations in popular taste take place, but I cannot help feeling that the taste of the Britisher, and more particularly of the Englishman, for roast beef is a fundamental factor in his dietary which, sooner or later, will begin again.
1127 As for the price situation, hon. Members will recall that prices in the earlier part of the year failed to recover to the extent which is normal during that period, and even declined against the usual upward tendency. There were complaints that the whole benefit of the assistance the House was giving was being lost by the producer, and being absorbed into other hands. Despite the heavier supplies of home bred fat cattle to which I have referred, there has been a steady hardening of the market within the last two months. Last week average prices were 36s. 7d. per live cwt. as compared with 37s. 1d. per live cwt. in the corresponding week of last year. The assistance voted by this House comes on top of that, so that particularly the whole of it was inuring to the benefit of the actual producer as compared with the corresponding week of last year. Moreover, despite a slight increase in the importation of store cattle, there is evidence that the benefit of the subsidy arrangements is working through to the store breeder as well. The index figure for store cattle in May, 1934, was 88, and the figure this year is 90, which is quite a large increase, and, at any rate, an indication that the benefit given to the fattener will also work through to the store breeder, and that is fortunate because the store men on whom you rely to keep up the supply of cattle are often men in hard circumstances in outlying parts of the country, and suffering very severely indeed under the very low prices to which store stock has fallen.
There is a danger that if these very low levels were to continue, the breeding of store stock would cease, and then we should be faced with a really difficult position in this country—a position from which it might be difficult to recover. In all these circumstances to which I have referred the Ministers decided to make the Extension Order which the House is now asked to approve. It will be recalled that in the memorandum on the Financial Resolution introducing the 1935 Act, it was stated that, if circumstances should arise which would make it necessary to ask Parliament to approve the extension of three months, the total liability on public funds for the period of six months—the original three, and the three months for which we are now asking—is estimated not to exceed £2,100,000. 1128 There is no reason to suppose that that figure will be exceeded. As I say, a Supplementary Estimate will be presented to the House in the near future for the purpose of repaying advances made since April from the Consolidated Fund and to provide funds sufficient to cover the extended period covered by the Order which is before the House to-day.
I do not wish to detain the House on this occasion with an account of the activities of the Cattle Committee, which I am sure is generally recognised, is carrying out its work with admirable smoothness and efficiency. The machinery, which was set up in a remarkably short space of time, I think all practical men will agree, has stood the test of experience and I am confident that I am expressing the views of most, if not indeed all, of the Members of this House if I take this opportunity of paying a further tribute to Sir John Chancellor and his colleagues and the staff of the Cattle Committee for the efficient way in which they are carrying out a difficult piece of administrative work.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman has not to-day, at all events, covered all the ground that has been covered in previous debates on this question. I think this is the sixth debate on this subject within the last five months, so that every hon. Member really ought to know everything about it by now. This new Order invites the House to extend the beef subsidy for a period of three months, that is, to the end of September this year. As the House is not likely to be sitting in September, I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind subsequent to September. Are we to assume that the subsidy will automatically cease at the end of September; or, alternatively, are we to assume that there is to be a general election in August to prepare the way, so that the right hon. Gentleman can continue with his three-monthly subsidy period after that date? I think, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman might tell us what he has in mind, since he limits this subsidy to the end of September.
This is the third time the House has been invited to grant a subsidy to the beef branch of the agricultural industry, and it almost seems as if the Minister started off a year or two ago running round in circles and that the farther he 1129 goes the faster he runs, but he never seems to get anywhere. Always at the end it is the same policy or the lack of policy as it was at the commencement, and it does not seem to get the right hon. Gentleman anywhere. Although from the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman a few moments ago with regard to the slightly fluctuating prices, he seems to assume that prices are better at the moment than they were a week or two ago, th fact of the situation is that the price of beef to-day, as compared with the price in June of 1934, is a farthing per pound less. So the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, with his quarterly edition, has certainly had no permanent results, and, in fact, as far as the House is concerned, we have no indication of a permanent policy, apart from the negotiations which are continuing between the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, who told us last week that, after having negotiated for a long period—very painful negotiations they were, with friction and unfriendliness everywhere—they finally came down on the side of a straight tariff. But that straight tariff, we understand, cannot be applied for many months as a result of a trade agreement; it is merely a prophesy of what may occur at some time in the future.
To-day nothing has been enunciated by the Minister of Agriculture or any other Minister of State as to what the long-term policy of the Government is with regard to the beef branch of the agricultural industry. This quarterly review and extension of subsidy may be good electioneering tactics, but it really does not solve this great problem, which is the most important part of agriculture. We need no persuasion from the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure that no hon. Member in any part of the House does—as to the importance of the beef section of the agricultural industry, representing, so the right hon. Gentleman told us, and we accept his figures, no less than £64,000,000 out of a total production perhaps of £230,000,000. No hon. Member can stand or sit idly by and allow that part of agriculture to go by the board. Therefore, something must be done. But all that the Government have done for the past four years has been to deal with certain branches of the industry, until July of last year, when they decided that a direct straight subsidy to the industry as 1130 a temporary expedient would be the best thing to do.
Now it is June, 1935. The right hon. Gentleman told us in February of this year that this price decrease continued and persisted, in 1932, 1933, and in 1934, and now we know from the reply to a Parliamentary question yesterday that the price still persists in decreasing. We would be just as well justified in blaming the Minister and the Government for these persistent reductions in the price of English beef as the right hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues were in blaming the Labour Government for an all-round reduction in price which created a crisis in 1931, except perhaps that we are a bit more decent as politicians and do not attempt to blame either an individual Minister or ordinary Members for an effect over which they have no control. In any case, for four years they have had an opportunity of examining the problem. They have fiddled with subsidies, guarantees, loans, voluntary restrictions, enforced restrictions and that kind of thing, but it has all been of no avail, and now in 1935, four years after they assumed office, taking the right hon. Gentleman at his own words, the beef side of the industry is as bad as, or worse than, it was in 1931.
It is not the duty of the Opposition to find a remedy. The Government have at their disposal those highly efficient civil servants and helpers to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred a few moments ago, but apparently, after four years of study, the outcome has been negotiations which have been futile and subsidies to the beef side of the industry. We know that there has been a change of habit among the great mass of consumers in this country, but the habits of the multitude, taken as a whole, change very largely according to the size of their purse. If bacon is reduced in price by a few coppers per pound and beef prices are maintained, the poorer sections of the community obviously change from one to the other. It is always a fluctuating movement strictly in accordance with the amount of money the ordinary working-class housewife has to spend. We know, however, that there has been decreased consumption of meat and a decrease in price. There has been some stagnation and almost bankruptcy in certain sections of the industry. We want to know from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, 1131 after having given a subsidy for five months, having extended it for a further three months, and having asked for a further extension of three months, what is the ultimate policy of the Government with regard to this vitally important corner stone of the agricultural industry? Are we to understand that, after four years of painful research, careful examination and analysis of the facts, this strong Government of all the talents has no policy. Really, after all, we are entitled to interrogate the Minister, because, despite all that may have been said to his credit—and a good deal can be said to his credit—he is the super-Minister who is responsible for providing a permanent and lasting policy for the beef section of the industry.
We want to know one or two things in regard to what we think might have been done. Although it is not our obligation to find a policy and get the right hon. Gentleman out of his serious trouble, we are always willing to help him if we can. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what his Department has done during the process of negotiation, examination and analysis to encourage and assist the beef side of the agricultural industry to market the product efficiently? We know that certain reports have been issued which are all to the credit of the commissioners who have examined the problem and issued their reports. They make definite recommendations where economies can be effected here and there, but we have not observed that anything has been done. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there are rings operating all over this country. They consist of four or five persons who enter and rig the market to the disadvantage of the farmer and always with the maximum advantage to themselves. What has the right hon. Gentleman in mind with regard to that matter? So far nothing has been done. We are beginning to wonder whether the Minister, with all his recognised strength, or the Government, with their alleged strength, have the courage to face vested interests, even though to do so means that they may confer a lasting benefit upon our oldest basic industry.
We are entitled to know what the right hon. Gentleman has done or intends to do with regard to the report of the Economic Advisory Committee who sat 1132 to examine the slaughtering of livestock. A report was issued many months ago. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture was the Chairman. They suggested that many economies could be effected with a really up-to-date and efficient slaughtering system, and that if their recommendations were carried through a modern, up-to-date slaughtering system would have an instantaneous benefit upon the marketing methods employed by stock raisers in this country. Nothing has been done. Here again it may be that vested interests bar the way. How long will the taxpayer sit down watching subsidy after subsidy being granted to this or that industry without a quid pro quo in the shape of real efficiency and modern, up-to-date organisation being given. This commission tells us that we have about 36,000 proprietor or manager butchers in this country, and 16,000 private slaughter-houses, something like one slaughter-house for every two butchers.
I am not suggesting that any one specific would solve this highly complex and exceedingly difficult problem, but we ought to know precisely what the Government had in mind when they set up a Committee to examine the problem with the object of finding ways and means of helping that branch of the industry. We are entitled to know from the right hon. Gentleman what has been discovered as a result of his examination with regard to the effect of spending or purchasing power on the beef trade. We know that to-day instead of a million mine workers, the really good consumers of English meat when they have the money, working six days a week, we have about 700,000 working four days a week. Their purchasing power, therefore, is not favourable for English beef steak. They have to take some of the cheaper qualities of beef. We have 2,300,000 people unemployed. Their income will scarcely permit them to buy the choicest cuts and the best quality. We also know, for instance, that this Government took £45,000,000 from those who are unemployed and their families through the agency of the means test. Therefore, the Government not only have some responsibility for the decreased purchasing power which expresses itself in the sales and purchases of English 1133 meat, but they have some responsibility for finding a solution for the problem that they themselves have helped to create. We are entitled to know what the Government have in mind with regard to purchasing power and its effect upon this vital part of the agricultural industry.
The right hon. Gentleman is the one person who ought to tell the House and, through the House, the country not only that consumption is decreasing and that prices are being reduced, but why. What are the causes of these low prices? He also ought to try and tell the House on some occasion—I do not recollect that in any of the last five speeches he has made on this subject he has tried to tell the House—what is a fair price. We are entitled to know that. He ought to tell the House what are the best means, individual or collective, to achieve a fair price for the producer. We know that there are all sorts of extraordinary incidents that have an effect on prices. The right hon. Gentleman, or his predecessor, or somebody responsible, established a committee for the examination of cattle diseases. That may seem very remote from the question of the livestock industry, but it is not nearly so remote as might be imagined. For instance, the Cattle Diseases Committee, dealing chiefly with the diseases of cattle, told us that because of the fear of certain diseases attacking dairy cows, dairy cows were sold off at an average age of 4½ years, although their milking life ought to be 11 years. They proceeded to tell us that as a result of the killing off of these milking cows much earlier then they ought to be disposed of, there were planted on the beef market 600,000 milk cows annually, whereas under an efficient system, where tuberculosis and other diseases were partially if not wholly dispensed with, if the milk cow could live its normal life, giving its full quota of milk, without any restrictions, there would be planted only 250,000 to 300,000 cows on the beef market each year. That would have a very salutary effect upon the beef section of the industry and upon the livestock section. Nothing has been done. Cow beef is still in very determined competition with the person who produces a higher grade of meat. We are entitled to know what the right 1134 hon. Gentleman has in mind in regard to that question.
Is it the intention of the Minister, if he happens to be in office long enough—one hopes that he will never have the chance—to try to clean up the herds of this country, so that the dairying industry will be able to look after the production of milk and leave the livestock section of the industry to look after the production of beef? That is only one of many inter-related problems which affect the question under review to-day. We are entitled to ask what is to be the ultimate result of all these subsidies, whether they be for three months, five months or 12 months, on the rents that farmers have to pay. We have been told that there are many landowners who for many years have scarcely been able to draw any rent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members applaud that statement. It may be true. It may also be true that without the subsidies that this Parliament has granted there would have been many more landowners who would not have been able to obtain their rents. I am glad that hon. Members opposite applaud the sentiment. It means that really what we are doing is to subsidise the landowner. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Surely, if there are landowners who are collecting rents which otherwise would not have been obtainable from the farmers, then indirectly we are subsidising the landowner. The present Government abolished the Land Tax; they will not have it.
The Minister has suggested that wages are the biggest burden upon agriculture. That may or may not be true. The right hon. Gentleman will remember writing an article, "Que Vadimus?" which was replied to by a tenant farmer whose letter appeared in "The Countryman," a very orthodox periodical. I do not know that tenant farmer from Adam and I do not vouch for the accuracy of his statements, but the right hon. Gentleman, with all the facts at his disposal, will be able to tell the House some time, if not now, how much truth there is in the statements of this tenant farmer. He said, speaking of the right hon. Gentleman:He ignores the fact that farmers pay rent for permission to farm or pay a price for their farms, if they buy, and that these land values steadily absorb all benefits and leave farmer and worker as before. … Mr. Elliot says and implies that the real 1135 costs are wages. But wages are not the burdensome part of the farmer's costs.He proceeds to quote one or two instances, and I give them for what they are worth. I would not have done it but for the fact that this reply appeared in "The Countryman," which is obviously the countryman's organ:Here is a typical case. On a large mixed arable and grazing farm, for the years 1901 to 1914, that is during a period of 13 years before the War, the total figures were: Rent paid to one man for permission to use land, £11,726; wages paid to approximately 17 people for a 10-hour day and a six days week, £8,385.Therefore, the landowner took in rent more than 17 workpeople received in wages. Wages in that case were not the biggest burden upon the farmer. The writer goes on to give another case of a large mixed arable sheep farm for the year ending Whit-Sunday, 1933:Wages for 14 men equalled 41 per cent. of gross receipts; rent for permission to farm, 31 per cent.Therefore, although wages in that case exceeded slightly the amount paid for rent there is a direct connection between the two.
If we can get the desired information from the Minister we shall be in a position to deal with the farmer direct, and with all those persons who may be taking advantage of the Minister's generosity, and those who may be taking advantage of the Minister's efforts to produce stability and prosperity in agriculture. It is no use any hon. Member telling the House that certain landowners have not already taken advantage of some of the marketing schemes in existence. The hops marketing scheme, for instance, had scarcely been in existence 10 minutes when there was an advertisement of a farm in Kent which specifically pointed out that they had a hop crop of so many acres. It was not so much the land that they were anxious to sell but the qualification to grow a quota of hops.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman cannot draw a parallel there. I am suggesting that as a result of action taken by this House, obviously designed to help producers of some commodity, somewhere, in some part of the country, the very person who was not expected to take advantage of the efforts of the 1136 Government, tried to take advantage by offering to sell an asset which was created by a marketing scheme.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Does the hon. Member not know of coal quotas being sold under the coal marketing schemes?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I know of coal quotas having been bought, too, but there are all sorts of committees representative of consumers, so that wherever the price of coal for domestic or any other purpose reaches a point where the consumer, industrial or domestic, is seriously affected he has power to complain to the Board of Trade and to have his case heard.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Except that there is no comparison between the two. The hop industry represents a close combination in a very limited area, but the coal industry spreads out from Lanark to Cardiff. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are an infinite number of units in each county area and that, despite the Act of 1930, he cannot draw any parallel between the case of hops, where a landowner can take advantage of the action of the Government, and the coal industry. I think the right hon. Gentleman had better sit down and study the matter very carefully, and he will find that there is no parallel between the two propositions.
There is a multiplicity of factors operating against beef production, and we want the right hon. Gentleman to look at all of them. Anyone who can make any contribution towards the success and prosperity of the industry will be helping not only the farmer but the country as a whole. We want the Minister's policy instead of being a failure as it is now to be a real success. He tells us that the farmer has received all the subsidy that has been given and that things might have been worse than they are. We know that the price of beef from June, 1934, to June, 1935, has varied only one farthing per lb. The right hon. Gentleman has given a subsidy of 1d. per lb. Therefore, the beef producer will be receiving ¾d. per lb. more than he received previously or more than he would have received were it not for the subsidy, and had there been no further reduction in the price.
1137 That is not the end of the story. It does not solve the problem. It leaves us where we were, and at the end of September unless some miracle happens we on these benches say that the position will be approximately what it is to-day. If the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs had power to impose a levy on imported foods and if home prices increased in sympathy, then, seeing that consumption is decreasing at the moment, with uneconomic low prices, perhaps the Home Secretary would enlighten us as to what is going to happen. I should like to hear the Home Secretary dealing with this question of increase of price, and speaking from this side of the House. I have heard him make speeches on such a subject and I know that the poor Minister of Agriculture would be in a very difficult position under criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. We are anxious that the Minister of Agriculture should cease running round in circles and that he should try to get on to the straight path, with a straight policy and a plain policy. It has been said from the benches opposite that it is easy to spend other people's money. We have heard that story time and time again, particularly in 1931. It is easy to spend anybody else's money, and this Government can spend it with as much facility as anybody I ever knew, but that does not solve the problem.
We are thinking at the moment that the time will come when these problems will have to be solved. We shall have to determine what proportion of the beef consumed in this country is to be home produced. We shall have to have more efficient methods. We shall have to decide what are the best and most up-to-date marketing methods, so that neither meat rings nor other individuals will stand in the way. We shall have to determine, and only Downing Street can make the decision, what is to be the future position in regard to the payment of foreign debts by countries which have nothing to sell but food. That will have a distinct relation to imports from foreign countries and to imports from the Dominions. These quarterly subsidies certainly help the farmers to tide over a difficult period, but they are not a policy, and it is not good enough, after four years, for the National Government to come along three times in 11 months and ask for another 1138 subsidy for a branch of the agricultural industry without telling the House and the country what their long-term policy is. I repeat, it may be good political tactics, especially just in front of a general election, but it is a bad substitute for statesmanship.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
We have just listened to an interesting speech dealing with the whole problem of agriculture. I agree with the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that you cannot divorce a system of subsidies and the condition of the cattle industry from the whole question of land tenure, but this is not, I think, the occasion to discuss that larger problem. At the same time, many of these problems have become acute because of the immense development in cultivation in new countries which are not handicapped by tradition or old methods, or by a system of land tenure suitable to the eighteen century. It is significant that English farmers in other parts of the world are nowhere more efficient and more successful than when they are divorced from traditions and old methods and work under more modern conditions in new countries. I shall not attempt to discuss that larger question at the moment.
We are discussing this subsidy for the sixth time. The usual case put forward is that it is only a little one for a short time to tide over a difficult period until larger and more permanent remedies have been thought out. That is always the way. It was the way with sugar. I have a vivid recollection of the introduction of the sugar subsidy. We were told that it was a temporary affair to put the sugar industry on a sound, working basis, and that it would disappear. To-morrow we are to discuss a continuation of the sugar subsidy. I was never under any delusions 12 months ago, when we were discussing a subsidy to the cattle industry, that within the period named the subsidy would disappear. That is not the way with subsidies. Once you start giving a subsidy it is quite easy to continue it. There is an apparently bottomless purse. The Chancellor of the Exchequer never intervenes and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury never bothers. All that is required is to say that a certain section of the industry is in distress, the money is given and the 1139 principle of a subsidy accepted. I am going to make the bold suggestion that if the right hon. Gentleman is in the same place 12 months hence he will come again and ask for a subsidy, perhaps in a different form hut, nevertheless, it will be a subsidy for beef. If he told the whole story to the House, he would say that it was the policy of the Government to give a subsidy for some years to come to the beef industry.
It is true that when he originally introduced the subsidy he said that it was really an advance to the industry, a gift of money, which would be collected at some future date by a levy on imported meat. I assume that many weeks of discussion have been going on between the right hon. Gentleman and the representatives of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada as to the form and character of that levy. Is it to apply to imported meat from the Dominions as well as to imported meat from foreign countries? I do not know what is going on behind the curtain, but I think it would be fair to the House to indicate the character and form of these discussions. We do not want to be tied to a particular method of assisting the industry and then find that it is too late because an undertaking has been given to the Dominions. I agree that this is a difficult problem. There has been a change of taste on the part of the people, and because of this, and also on account of the great depression among the industrial population, this great industry has been going through a lean time.
It may be that temporary remedies are essential to keep the industry from bankruptcy, but I am most concerned about the interest of the consumers. Last year, as a London Member, I took the trouble to visit the central market of Smithfield, and I obtained very remarkable and interesting reports from the Guildhall authorities, the market authority for London. The great bulk of the meat supplies of London, whether they are home produced or imported, come through the Smithfield Market. I obtained some interesting information. They point out that so far as the Smithfield Market is concerned—it is one of the largest food centres in the world—Of the total quantity of beef marketed 68 per cent. came from South America—mostly from Argentine.1140The supplies of meat produced in Britain and Ireland available for London are only sufficient to provide Londoners with a weekly ration of 3.2 ounces of beef. … The Dominions provide 3.3 ounces of beef weekly … and foreign countries 14.5 ounces of beef weekly. The foregoing shows how dependent the 8,000,000 people of London are upon overseas countries for their supplies of meat.This is largely the reason for my intervening in the Debate. I hope that in the negotiations which the right hon. Gentleman is carrying on in the interests of the great industry of agriculture in this country and the Dominions he will not overlook the great consuming population of over 8,000,000 in Greater London and do anything to add to the cost of meat or make it more difficult to obtain. The same report refers to the new policy of the Government and points out that:Quantities of very ordinary fresh beef followed the subsidy to cattle producers last July, and this, together with heavier shipments of cheap frozen beef from the Dominions, depressed values of superior quality beef.Therefore, the result of the subsidy was not so much to attract the best quality of English beef, which demands special prices in the market, but to draw into the market large quantities of ordinary fresh beef. The document goes on:The exceptional and prolonged spell of summer weather did the rest—nobody seemingly wanted beef, or much else, excepting fresh air on somebody's farm.That is where I have no doubt many hon. Members would prefer to be this afternoon.The fact, however, that there is a steady and increasing demand for cheap frozen beef, in particular, indicates that numbers of Londoners have to be content with the cheapest—due to their limited spending power, and they must get out and about.In other words, to feed London you want a regular and constant stream of supplies of good quality, and that owing to the low standard of wages which prevail in certain parts cheapness is an essential factor. I doubt whether all the ingenuity and skill of Government Departments can for some years to come bring to the London market supplies of home-produced beef at a price which the public can pay unless there is a heavy subsidy. As I have said, there is a constant change in the habits of the people. It is old-fashioned now to talk about the food of the people, but it is a dangerous thing to gamble with the food of the people. 1141 If there is any idea that the Government even by the smallest tax are going artificially to increase the price it will cause irritation, annoyance and discontent. The levy is to be on imported meat, probably frozen as well as chilled. It is going inevitably to add to the price of the commodity, and the money is to be earmarked in order to give a subsidy to producers in this country.
Quite apart from the fact that the great mass of working-class consumers properly resent being mulcted in an extra price for their commodity in order to give help to a favoured industry and keep prices comparatively low for the well-to-do buyer of the home-produced article—because it is a fact that the people who buy British meat are the well-to-do consumers—it is quite wrong to earmark a particular tax for a particular purpose. I know that something of that kind was done with regard to wheat. Flour was taxed in order to help the wheat grower to meet an emergency, but it is a policy of which Parliament, as the guardian of the public purse, should be very suspicious. It is a new form of levying taxation. We are raising money now by tariffs, not merely for revenue purposes, but in order to protect certain favoured industries.
It is seriously proposed that we should levy a tax on imported meat, in other words, on the consumer of a cheap commodity, in order to help one particular form of industry, the cattle-producing industry. It is wrong in principle, and it ought to be very closely scrutinised by the House irrespective of party, because I can see this policy being seriously abused in the future by a less high-minded Minister, the tax being levied without the proper control of Parliament in a way that caused great trouble in the seventeenth century. The right hon. Gentleman must not think that in his negotiations with the Dominion Premiers he has a free hand. Before he finally commits the House to any principle involving the taxation of the meat supplies of the masses, he ought to make it clear that it is subject to the approval of the House of Commons.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The figures given by the Minister as to the price of beef are eloquent testimony to the necessity for action. He told us that the price was 37s. per cwt. I defy any beef producer 1142 in this country under present conditions to produce at the price, and to maintain an even financial keel. Then he said the price of store stock was 90. I presume that is taking the index number of 100 before the War. Therefore, store stock is actually 10 per cent. less than before the War. That, again, with increased costs and increased wages, is quite an impossible position. I congratulate the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) on the amount of information that he has acquired about agriculture. He mentioned the land taxes. They were abolished, but they did not affect agricultural land. He quoted from some periodical that these subsidies really were subsidies for the landlord, and he said a considerable sum of money was charged for permission to use the land. Land in this country today is at prairie value, and even if you take the money spent on buildings, drainage and improvements, the yield is very low.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) quoted some very interesting figures. He said that 60 per cent. of our beef supplies come from abroad. I ask him, in the interest of the Bethnal Green consumer, what would happen if the beef industry in this country were paralysed and we were dependent entirely upon overseas producers. They would have no mercy on our consumers. Even the Dominions would charge market prices. As a banker said to me some years ago in Canada, there is no sentiment in dollars and cents. Therefore, when we as agriculturists ask that the agricultural industry may be made reasonably prosperous so that we may produce a certain amount of beef, which can be consumed in this country, I assure the hon. Member that we are an insurance against his constituents being bled by the overseas producer.
I associate myself with the hon. Member for Don Valley in hoping that this will be the last of these subsidies. I hope the Government really will finish sowing these wild oats. These subsidies are irritating, and they expose agriculturists to gibes and taunts of the dole. I want to see them finished. The coal industry has its supplies regulated. I do not object. I wish the coal industry was very much more prosperous. There were no better consumers of beef than the 1143 coal miner. I know full well that, when the South Wales miners were in full work, earning good wages, there were no better customers for our Devon beef. But let them have a little sympathy for us too. We are suffering. The iron and steel industry has had measures to regulate external supplies. I ask that the Government shall, as soon as they can, tell us what they are going to do. The Dominions Secretary, though he may not be a very polished politician, still has a great deal of horse sense. The other day he came down clearly on the side of the tariff. He is now, with the Minister of Agriculture, negotiating with the Dominions and, if he makes as good a bargain for the British farmer as he did for the railwaymen, he deserves a statue to be put up in Bedford Square. I suggest that it should be by Epstein, because he alone could do justice to the right hon. Gentleman.
We want to know what is going to happen. Cattle raising takes years. You have to prepare. Therefore, the cattle raisers, as we are coming to the end of the Session, require to know what is to happen. The markets on the Continent have been closed, and we have been inundated with meat. That has brought the price down to an absolutely ruinous level. The Minister of Agriculture and the Dominions Secretary say that they have been buying time. I am getting a little tired of paying for this buying time. The Government should have a policy of their own. If we cannot do as we like for our agricultural producers without consulting the Dominions and the Argentine, it does not seem right to me as an Englishman. I want the Government to resume their fiscal liberty. If you have to buy time, why should the British taxpayer pay? Why not ask the Argentine, the Dominions or the Danish taxpayer to pay? My hon. Friend opposite talked about the poorer classes not being able to buy the best joint. They have to be content with frozen joints. I am sorry, because I do not believe they get value for their money. I believe that fresh food diet whether meat or vegetable is infinitely important for a human being. In fact, when the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) told us the other day that the Ministry of Agriculture was being fed on Argentine beef—I know 1144 some of the twisted contraptions that have emanated from that Department—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I simply quoted it. Of course, if it is not true, the right hon. Gentleman can deny it. I should like to feed the Cabinet for a month or two. I should first give them a little diet of Chinese eggs, but certainly after that I would feed them with good British produce so that we might have a British policy without having to refer to the Dominions and the Argentine. I ask again that we should know where we are, because we producers of beef are being taxed on our feeding stuffs. I have here a reply that was given on Monday. The taxes that have been levied on one class of feeding stuffs were in 1932, £287,000; 1933, £325,000; and 1934, £413,000. Now in this Budget you are adding another tax on soya beans. Is it right that you should go on taxing the raw materials with which we must feed our cattle, and then leave us to the mercy of these temporary subsidies? I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Minister wants to do right and to restore prosperity to the agricultural industry. He has lost a good deal of ground in the last 12 months. I wish he were as popular to-day as he was 12 months ago. But unless we can have some permanent policy otherwise than in these marketing schemes, I do not like to think what will happen to the agricultural industry.
The hon. Member for Don Valley asked a very pertinent question. This subsidy is to last until 30th September. What is going to happen then? We must ask that question and we must press for an answer. I wish there were more agricultural Members present. Of course, I know nothing, but there are rumours of a general election. I hope that the Government will not go to a general election until they have given us a permanent policy to bring prosperity to agriculture. You can lay the foundation in a very short time. If you lay the foundation we will build up on it. It is amazing that the British farmer is able to go on at all to-day with the present low prices. I am genuinely interested in this question, and I want to know more because I am cer- 1145 tain that agriculture will be asking about this in the country. They are bound to do so. The Chief Whip, who is one of the most courteous of men, said that we shall have to prepare for an election at any rate within nine months. That will take us to the end of March. Shall we have an election before then? I do not know. But I am anxious indeed that the agriculturists of the country shall know where they stand. Assuming that there is an election and the Government are beaten, what is to happen then? I do not think the Government will be defeated. I would not like to trust myself to the tender mercies of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I like them personally, every one of them, but politically they are a menace.
I am asking, and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us, what is to happen on 30th September? Is the subsidy to stop or is it to go on? Are we to have a permanent policy or are we to be thrown upon the waters of a general election? I do not know, and my right hon. Friend has not given us any indication this afternoon. I ask these questions not in any spirit of criticism. I really want this Government to restore prosperity to the agricultural industry. There is a better feeling abroad than there was when the Government came into office. They have done a very great work for the wheat producer. I want them to carry on that work for the cattle producer. I ask my right hon. Friend to give us some indication of what will happen when this subsidy comes to an end on 30th September next.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I rise with the one object of commending the Minister for having brought forward this Motion to continue the subsidy to the beef producer. It is unnecessary for me to refer to the need for this assistance to the beef producer. I particularly commend the proposal because it is of a temporary nature. It is to continue from now until the end of September, and because it is temporary I am led to hope that a long-term policy will then be enforced. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that the Minister and the Government had no long-term policy. It has been evident to me, and possibly evident to other Members 1146 of the House, that many times that long-term policy has been announced—a levy on imported meat, creating a fund to give a definite payment to the meat producer. This subsidy is a temporary measure.
During the past fortnight I have listened many times to the cheers of the House when a Minister has got up to deal with a matter that concerned his Department. The reason for the cheers was obvious. They were congratulations to the Minister on having received some promotion in the Cabinet reshuffle. I endorse those congratulations to the Ministers, but none the less I think it is up to us to give cheers and congratulations to the Minister of Agriculture, who has stuck to his job. He entered on his job, but he recognises to-day that he has not fulfilled what he set out to fulfil, and his presence here shows his determination to remain until his desires are attained. He is a Scotsman, and like a Scots terrier, having got his teeth in, he does not mean to let go until he has fulfilled his desire to put British agriculture in a better position that it is in to-day. Only a little while ago an agricultural friend of mine said, in discussing the Cabinet reshuffle, "Well, all I trouble about is whether we shall lose our friend Walter." My right hon. Friend has undertaken to see agriculture out of its depression, and he is going to stick to it until he is successful. I think that we who represent agricultural constituencies should congratulate the Minister for sticking to his job at the present time.
This proposal is only of a temporary nature until the long-term policy comes into operation. I have confidence that a long-term policy is to come into operation. Did we not have that very excellent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions last Thursday, when he said very definitely that at long last he had been converted to tariffs? After that speech I recognised that we have very good reason for hoping that in future the method of tariffs will be applied to the industry of agriculture. I am bound to admit that I received that information with some satisfaction, and the satisfaction was increased because of a question personal to myself. I have been for 13 years a Member of this House. I have given the whole of my life to the theoretical study and to the 1147 practice of British agriculture, and for 13 years I have represented the purely agricultural constituency of North Hereford. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to do my bit to help this great, old, British industry of agriculture. As a rural member, unintelligent it may be, I have felt, seeing that I looked upon the occupants of the Front Bench as supermen, that I was greatly daring in making a suggestion to them. Four years ago I moved an Amendment which provided that meat should be subject to a tariff. I received a reply from the Board of Trade that the Amendment could not be accepted because it would raise the price of meat and would be prejudicial to the urban and industrial areas. In all humility I had to accept that answer. But I did not alter my opinion that a tariff was the best way of dealing with the question.
About a year or so ago, sticking to my view, I again moved that a tariff should be applied as a better means than a quota of dealing with the problem, and I received an answer from the Minister that it could not be accepted, because although what the Government wanted and what I wanted were the same thing, namely an increase in the price of meat, it had been proved that tariffs would not bring about that result. Four years ago the Government could not accept a tariff because it would increase the price, and last year they could not accept it because it would not increase the price of meat. The financial experts differed. When I read Professor Keynes on finance and Professor Clay on finance, and saw their difference in outlook, I began to realise that when supermen could not agree there was a possibility of the ordinary man coming into his own. Therefore, the House will appreciate with what personal satisfaction I heard last Thursday that the Dominions Secretary had at long last been converted from quotas to tariffs.
Should I be regarded as unduly conceited if I dared to think for a moment that my eloquence had influenced the right hon. Gentleman? If I thought so, I should be a proud man indeed, but I am not sure that I can take so much credit to myself. I know that the Dominions Secretary has, as his Parliamentary Private Secretary my colleague in the representation of Herefordshire, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. 1148 J. P. L. Thomas) who has fought as strongly as I have for a tariff on meat. Is it not posible that in that comfortable room at the back of your Chair, Mr. Speaker, some evening after a strenuous day, the Dominions Secretary and his Parliamentary Private Secretary—the two "Jims" have discussed this matter over a cigar and a glass of whisky and soda? Possibly I ought to apologise for the suggestion as to the whisky and soda. It may have been a glass of milk. I see no reason why the Secretary of State for the Dominions should not set an example in pushing forward the "Drink More Milk" campaign. But, as I say, it may have been the influence of the right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Private Secretary which brought about the statement made last Thursday.
It is, however, immaterial to us how this long-term policy has come to be accepted or by whose influence the Dominions Secretary has been converted. We on behalf of British agriculture accept the statement that that policy is coming and we thank the Government for the announcement. There are difficulties in the way of the application of that policy such as the agreements with the Argentine and the Dominions. May I dare to suggest to the Minister that, had he accepted my Amendment four years ago and placed a tariff on meat, none of these difficulties would be in his way to-day. May I further dare to suggest to him that if these agreements are standing in the way of a levy upon imported meat it would be possible to have an internal levy in this country of say one penny per lb. on all meat. Neither the Dominions nor the Argentine nor any country could object to such a levy. Why should we not follow the Wheat Act more closely in this matter and have a meat fund similar to the wheat fund, provided by an internal levy, from which deficiency payments could be made to the home producers in the case of meat, eactly as is done in the case of wheat? I realise that there may be many objections to that method and it is with some diffidence that I suggest that the Minister should adopt that course, if he cannot secure agreement with the Dominions and the Argentine in a very short time. I commend the Minister for bringing forward this Measure and I hope he will proceed as rapidly as possible 1149 with that long-term policy to which agriculture is looking with considerable hope.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
We have thoroughly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson). The House is always happy when it sees one of its Members happy, and it would appear that after 13 years' experience the hon. Member for Leominster is now in the happy position of having obtained satisfaction at last. We are delighted to hear that he thinks he has found, in the Minister of Agriculture, a person who can solve the problems of agriculture. I personally am doubtful as to whether the present Minister can solve those problems. The last thing I would try to assume is a knowledge of agriculture, but I feel bound to refer to some of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert).
Before doing so I would like to say that I find it difficult to imagine how any solution of the agricultural problem can be found by treating agriculture separately, as a departmental matter, apart from industry in general. The agricultural problem is part of the national problem. It is part of the general industrial problem of this country, and regarded internationally, it is part of the world economic problem. It has been said that two-thirds of the people of the world live by growing things and one-third by making things. Possibly the converse of that statement applies in this country and two-thirds of our people are engaged in making things while one-third are growing things. But it is impossible for the one-third of the world's people who depend upon manufacture, to purchase the products grown by the two-thirds, if they have not the necessary purchasing capacity. That, briefly, is the international problem to-day. I should probably not be in order if I developed that argument further but it could be related to the currency problem and the problem of world exchanges. The policy propounded by bankers in this country and all over the world—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I think we had better keep in mind the fact that we are now discussing 1150 solely the question of meat and not agricultural development generally.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I expected that I should be out of order if I attempted to develop that argument on those lines. I come back to the position in this country, though I would like to use the same examples as those which I was trying to apply in relation to the international problem. Take the case of the mining industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton rightly said that the miners were very good customers of the producers of Devonshire beef. But the miners to-day are not employed for more than four days a week and the average wage in the industry is less than 9s. 2d. per shift. How can hon. Members hope to solve the agricultural problem while the purchasing capacity of people engaged in a staple industry like mining is on that starvation level? Does the Minister think he can solve the agricultural problem by pumping subsidies into the agricultural industry while leaving the other staple industries in that depressed state. I am sure that as an economist the right hon. Gentleman knows better. He is endeavouring to do the best he can with his job but he must be conscious of the fact that he can never solve his problem unless the general industrial problem is tackled.
Obviously, this question is related to the question of unemployment. We have 2,000,000 persons in this country who are totally idle. I think if we included the number in receipt of Poor Law relief that figure would be higher. To use the term "permanent" in regard to this unemployment would be incorrect because the same people are not idle all the time but if we add the half million who are in receipt of Poor Law relief I think it can be said that there are upwards of 2,500,000 people in this country who are idle at one period or another and whose purchasing capacity is not more than 50 per cent. of the wage level of the country. If the Government wanted to spend money wisely they would increase unemployment benefit—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is now getting very wide of the subject under discussion. He must relate his argument to the question of meat and not engage in a discussion on general economic policy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I am trying to deal with the meat problem. I am endeavouring to show that we could solve that problem if the unemployed and the workers engaged in the staple industries were given adequate means with which to purchase the meat. It cannot be denied that miners, employed or unemployed, have as good a taste for prime beef as persons in receipt of high salaries. It seems to me that the Government policy is entirely wrong and that instead of, as I say, pumping subsidies into this or any other industry they ought to devote themselves to increasing the purchasing capacity of the people engaged in industry generally. They would then know with certainty that the money which was being spent was being used ultimately for the purchase of meat and other primary commodities. I hope the Minister will face that problem. I am certain that ultimately he and his colleagues will be obliged to face it. I do not want to discuss the terrible aspects of the mining problem or the fact that persons are expected to do such work for such miserable wages, but it is amazing to me that men who are fed upon inferior products—
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I shall do so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was only about to remark that it is amazing that men who are fed on such inferior products as the miners, are able to carry on in such an arduous occupation. If the Minister is the kind of person conceived by the last speaker, the kind of person who can solve this problem, I am certain that he will only do so after industry in general has been planned and agriculture has been dealt with as a part of the general industrial problem. I hope the Government will change their policy on purchasing power, in relation to wages and salaries and will take to heart the substance of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). The Government's policy has to a large extent been one of subsiding landlordism in this country. I do not think there can be any doubt about that at all. The amount of money which has been handed out in this way has led to the inflation of rent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I 1152 have to accept what farmers tell me. I have to believe what they say, that they find that they are no more prosperous to-day than they were before the subsidies commenced. One has to infer that if they are not receiving the benefit of the subsidy, someone else is. If it is not the consumer and not the farmer, only one conclusion can be drawn, namely, that it must be the landlord. This is said by farmers to me in my constituency, which is to the extent of about one-third an agricultural constituency, and I must accept what they say.
However, they do not believe that subsidies in the ultimate will save them, because they are convinced that what was said by the right hon. Member for South Molton is true, that when miners and other persons are paid good wages and provided with regular work, the agricultural problem will be to a large extent solved. I hope therefore the Minister will take to heart the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley and see whether it would not be possible to devise a long-term policy, not on the lines of subsidising the industry in this country, but on the lines of trying to give to those who labour, whether by hand or brain, something equivalent to the energy which they have to spend in their employment.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
I am afraid I cannot regard this subsidy which we are asked to grant till the 30th September with quite the same complacency as my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), who said he was satisfied that the Government should be commended for proposing this subsidy, because he was positive now that their long-term policy was definitely settled and had been accepted by the Dominions Secretary, and he thought the subsidy was to come to an end at the end of September. It is clear that the new policy to follow it, whatever it may be, cannot come into operation at, that particular moment, first, because there are many things, in the way of treaties and the like, that stand in the way of putting it into execution at the present moment, and secondly, and what is more important, the House will not be sitting at the end of September. I would rather support what my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) said, that the farmers want to know, and 1153 must know if they are to carry on their business intelligently, what security they are to have as to the price of fat cattle. To know that, they want to know what is to happen after the 30th September.
Whenever I have been down to my constituency recently and have met farmers, they have put to me the same question, namely, "Tell us what is going to happen after June." I have always replied, "Oh, you may trust the Government to see you through. They will probably not be able to arrive at a definite conclusion in their negotiations with the Dominions, but they will probably go in for a further extension of the subsidy." That prophecy has come true, but I want to know now what, during the next two or three months, I am to say to my constituents when they ask what is to happen in September. I cannot say what will happen in September, because nothing has been disclosed. We have had no indication from the Government, and Parliament will not be sitting. Therefore I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and by the right hon. Member for South Molton and declare that we must have some statement for the good of agriculture.
I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture recognises, quite apart from the fact that we appreciate the difficulties of these negotiations, that the one thing that is absolutely impossible from the agricultural point of view is this constant doubt as to what is to happen in two or three months' time, when we get these little subsidies—this is the third one—carrying us on for only a few months. The farmers cannot operate properly in such conditions. The Minister made one statement, on which I hope he is not really relying, when he said that he thought there would be an increase in the consumption of beef, due to the fact that Britons like roast beef. It seems to me to be perfectly clear, not only that we are the only market for beef now, but that we are a diminishing market, and whatever else the Government can or cannot be responsible for, they cannot be responsible for the people's taste, nor have they the power to make people alter their taste, and to insist upon a larger consumption of beef. We are the only market, and we are a constantly smaller market, and the 1154 Dominions admit that we have the first right to that market.
That being so, it comes to this, that I think, speaking now as a taxpayer, representing a body of taxpayers, as we all do, it is a little hard that the taxpayers of this country, now for the third period, should be required to find the whole of the money which is necessary to keep our home industry of cattle raising and fattening alive, because in the negotiations that have been going on now for nine months with the Dominions, the Dominions have been so stiff—I will not use any harder word—that it has been impossible to arrive at any conclusion on the matter. The Minister said he was sure that the proposal now before the House was for the benefit of the country as a whole. I believe it is. I believe it would be disastrous to the country as a whole to allow the cattle business of this country, stock raising and stock fattening, to go under; but it is also in the interest of the Empire as a whole, and it is rather hard that the taxpayers of this country should alone have to foot the bill in order to find a solution of this problem.
The hon. Member for Don Valley said the subsidy was bad in essence because a very large part of it went into the pockets of the landlords, and he quoted certain figures to show that it is not the wage-earner who has the major pull on the land, but the landowner. He quoted figures for the 13 years up to 1914, but he never quoted figures as to what was happening on the same farm, which was a stock-raising farm, a mixed farm, for the later period. What has happened since is that wages have doubled and rents have probably halved. Therefore his figures, showing that wages were a smaller proportion than rent in the 13 years period before the War really prove exactly the opposite if you take them at the present time, because wages, instead of being less than rent, are probably at least twice or three times the factor that rent is.
§ Mr. E. WILLIAMS
If that were so, surely the farmer whom my hon. Friend quoted would be satisfied with the present policy of the Government.
§ Sir B. PETO
The farmer whom the hon. Member quoted obviously was not in favour of the agricultural policy of the Government. The hon. Member quoted a set of figures for the 13 years before the War, but he did not quote the 1155 figures for the same farm for any post-war period. The figures he did quote related to a wholly different farm that had nothing to do with cattle at all. I think he said it was an arable, sheep farm. The two things have no relation the one to the other. As to the question where this subsidy goes, it clearly goes most to those who have most to get from the farm, and the people who are most essentially interested in it are the men who work on the farm and get their wages from it. Next to them comes the farmer, and last of all comes the landlord. I frankly admit that you can do nothing for the benefit of any industry carrying on under the existing system unless it benefits to some extent all the people who are engaged in it, both employers and employed.
There was one other argument put forward by the last speaker, and that was the question of the spending capacity of the people, which was so reduced, owing to there being, as the hon. Member for Don Valley said, still 2,000,000 unemployed. We are entitled to point to what the Minister has been doing for the support of beef prices in the last three or four years, and to say that during those three or four years the number of the unemployed has been largely diminished. If there are 2,000,000 now, there are at any rate getting on for 1,000,000 fewer than there were three or four years ago, and wages in industry generally, in relation to the price of ordinary commodities, have certainly increased and not decreased in that period on the average. Therefore, you must look somewhere else to settle the question whether this subsidy is or is not necessary.
The hon. Member for Don Valley said that much of the trouble in the cattle business of the country was due to the fact that dairy farmers are slaughtering cows of 4½ years old instead of 11 years old. As far as I can see, the hon. Member is really following an altogether hopelessly false trail there, because I do not think it makes the least difference whether a cow is killed at 4½ or at 11 years old. The question is, How many cows are in milk, and how many calves are you going to have born? If you are breeding a great number of calves and only getting your cows in milk for a short period, you will have exactly the same effect on the meat market whether 1156 you keep them in milk for a long period or not. If you keep them in milk for a long period, a larger number of female calves will have to be fattened and killed as maiden heifers.
I would, in conclusion, say, on behalf of my constituents, that they are grateful to the Minister for proposing this subsidy, but they would be more grateful if he would indicate clearly that by one means or another he was going to secure their position after this short period till the 30th September next. I want to put some heart into the people who are breeding and fattening our cattle, and that they shall know that their industry is to be allowed to carry on in this country continuously. They want to know that, not for the next three months, but for a period of years. At any rate, they want to know clearly what is going to happen in the next year or two. Then they will know what to do and how to carry on their farms. If they are not given that information they are farming under extraordinary disadvantages and the Government are making a serious position for them.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HOLDSWORTH
I think the House is entitled to further information from the Minister. Every speech this afternoon presupposes that the policy of the Government for agriculture has failed to secure an adequate price for the agricultural producers, and that the Government have failed to tell us exactly when the long-term policy for agriculture is to come into force, and when the industrialists and those interested in the finance of the country are to know when we are to finish with these subsidies. The need for this Motion is a sign that the right hon. Gentleman has failed to produce a satisfactory policy for agriculture. I hope that he will not take this as personal criticism, for I am sure that no one has worked harder with the intention of producing a policy to meet the needs of agriculture and to keep down the level of prices to the consumer. I would be the last man to make any charge against the right hon. Gentleman that he had any desire to raise prices to any extreme height. I remember in February, 1932, when the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was at that Box making a statement of what the Government thought the long-term policy for agriculture was, the right hon. Gentleman him- 1157 self said he was certain that quantitative regulation was the policy for agriculture. I am sure that those who are on the Agricultural Marketing Committee will bear me out. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) has been perfectly consistent. I remember on that particular committee him telling the Minister time after time that his policy was wrong and that there should be a tariff to meet this problem, but the Minister did not accept the hon. Gentleman's view. He has consistently up to a few weeks ago taken an opposite view.
I want to ask one or two questions with regard to the Government's long-term policy. I read a report of a speech by the right hon. Gentleman this week, and I want to ask him what he means when he says that the long-term policy is to be carried out in a similar way to that in which the wheat quota was carried out; whether there is to be some regulation with regard to the places where beasts have to be killed in order that they can get a certificate that they are entitled to a subsidy; what period of time must elapse before the long-term policy can come in; and whether we have got any nearer to agreement, not only with the Argentine, but also with the Dominions. The taxpayer is entitled to know why he should extend this subsidy unless there is a real opportunity of getting some agreement as to a long-term policy. Those of us who occupy these benches were vilified for refusing to subscribe to the Ottawa Agreements. We contended that if you signed those agreements you would have the difficulties with which you have in fact been faced. A passage in the speech of the Dominions Secretary last Thursday was a striking commentary. He said:When we were at Ottawa neither the Australians nor ourselves could have anticipated the tremendous development in their chilled meat industry. The Committee will remember that we sanctioned a large sum of money for experimental purposes, and the result has been that the Australians have not only developed the system to which they attach tremendous importance, but they look upon the change from frozen to chilled meat as vital."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1935; cols. 590–1, Vol. 303.]Is the Minister quite certain that he has now got the correct policy with which to solve this beef problem? Can he give us a guarantee that he is not going still further to change his mind about the policy? Two years ago there was brought 1158 into force an Order for the quantitative regulation of Irish cattle. I think that it was brought under the Marketing Act, and the Minister will remember the long discussions we had in Committee on that question. Wherever an order was given force by the President of the Board of Trade in conjunction with the Minister of Agriculture, it was on condition that there was a marketing scheme either in being or suggested. I would like to know whether that marketing scheme has been suggested and whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us anything about it; or is it true that there has been a restriction of the importation of Irish cattle without the fulfilment of the other obligations of the marketing scheme? Can the Minister guarantee that the Government have reached some final decision on what their policy is to be? When may we expect it to be put into force? Shall we be faced at the end of September with a demand for a further subsidy? Can we have some assurance that if this money is granted we can reasonably expect some policy which will not run for three months to three months, but will last for some time to come?
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) has called attention to a feature of this Debate which is very obvious to me. He has pointed out that the speeches have been mainly critical of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and that some of them have indicated a fear that the Government's policy is a failure. I have felt a great air of unreality about this Debate for that reason. I except the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). His speeches always delight me, but to-day he tried to involve the Government's policy in a shroud of inspissated gloom. There is usually in his speeches a cheerfulness that will keep breaking through, and I am not sure that in the long run the hon. Gentleman will not prove to be one of the best friends of agriculture in the House. I believe that he will. I have seen a great development in his speeches, and, if there be one Member who takes care to understand the question and who appreciates all the bearings of the arguments which he uses, it is the hon. Member for Don Valley.
I cannot say the same for my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton 1159 (Mr. Lambert). I always listen as a humble follower of this great agriculturist with great respect to his speeches, but to-day he seemed to make two points that were totally unreal. First, he girded at the Minister for keeping on the subsidy. Did he really mean that? Could he contemplate the possibility of the subsidy being dropped? He hates subsidies, however, and he wants to see the end of them. Until we have the long-term policy and until the present depression has been relieved, is it not obvious to every Member, even to the hon. Member for South Bradford, that some such method as the subsidy is essential? What is the good of saying that it ought to be taken off, and taken off just now when things are not very bright in the livestock industry? The second point he made that gave an air of unreality to the debate, was the question he put to the Minister asking for a declaration of his long-term policy. The question was also addressed to my right hon. Friend by the hon. Member for Don Valley, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). They all know as well as I do the reason why the Minister cannot announce that long-term policy. It is not the fault of the Minister, and it is no good blaming him because he cannot come down to the House and produce this scheme. We all know what is happening. We know that negotiations are going on with the Dominions and foreign countries, and that no decision has been arrived at yet.
I would plead with my hon. Friends, especially those who support agriculture, to do justice to my right hon. Friend the Minister. I do not think that the speeches to-day, execpt that of my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), have done justice to him. My right hon. Friend is, I am certain, upholding the interests of agriculturists, but we all know the difficulties inherent in those negotiations, the difficulties of the Argentine position and the difficulties that are created by the large demands made by the Dominions. I would respectfully beg my hon. Friends to have patience and to trust the Minister to produce the best scheme that is possible. It is a very difficult question, and one that affects our foreign trade and our exports of manufactured goods. It affects the employment that is given by the making of those goods. All these are difficult 1160 and deep questions and have to be carefully considered.
I believe that the scheme evolved will be in the form of a levy—or call it a tariff, if you like—on imported beef, the amount thus collected to be used as a subsidy for the home producer. I believe that that subsidy could be fixed at such a figure as would bring into consumption the amount of home-produced beef which it was thought should be brought into consumption, and that it could perhaps be used as a means of increasing the home production. I believe that will be the best way for the farmer. I am sure that it will be the best way for the consumer. I believe a scheme of that sort could be carried through with no increase in retail prices. I did not come into the House intending to speak, because I have spoken so often on this question, but I could not let the whole case go by default, allow it to be thought that all Members were so critical of my right hon. Friend and so distrustful of his policy as some of the speeches might indicate.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT SMITH
I think that I am the only Scottish Member who has, so far, been called in this Debate, and yet the subject is one of almost more importance to agriculture in Scotland than in any other part of the country, and it is of vital importance to the cattle industry in the part of Scotland which I have the honour to represent. I do not propose to criticise the Minister for bringing forward this Motion. I am only too glad to see a continuation of the subsidy, with agriculture in the position in which it is to-day. I do not intend to discuss what the long-term policy may be; we are only too thankful to have this subsidy to help us over the present difficult times. I want especially to make a plea, such as was made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), that the Minister should give our farmers some indication of what is to happen at the end of September. The House will not be sitting then. It is that feeling of insecurity that is really killing our farming industry in Scotland.
There is one criticism I want to make, and I am sorry to have to make it. There may be reasons why we have no Minister representing Scotland on the Treasury Bench at the moment, but it is somewhat strange that we should not have anyone 1161 to deal with this important matter from the Scottish point of view. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Under-Secretary is here, and I presume the reply is to come from the Minister of Agriculture. In his opening remarks he gave us a précis of the position of the livestock industry at the present time referring also to chilled and frozen beef, and, while stating that he was not giving statistics, mentioned that in England and Wales the production of beef had gone up this year as compared with last year. But this is a United Kingdom question and not an English question. This subsidy applies to Scotland and England and Wales together, and, therefore, if the position is to be explained to the House, the Minister ought to give the facts for the United Kingdom, and not for England and Wales only. I ask him to say in his reply whether there has been an increase in the case of Scotland. It is not asking too much, in a matter of this importance, to ask that we should have someone here representing Scotland. I do not for a minute suggest that the present Minister of Agriculture does not understand the Scottish situation; he understands it far better than I do, but there is always the danger of his having been contaminated through being Minister of Agriculture in England and forgetting about Scotland.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I would like, in a few sentences, to deal with a subject which has been raised in more than one part of the House, and that is the question of rents and wages as related to these subsidies. The position, which does not vary very much from district to district, is really very simple. Thank goodness wages are up compared with pre-War times. I think the round figure of the increase is something like 70 per cent.—it varies, but that is something like the average figure—and all who knew the wages paid before the War must be glad to see that increase. After the War rents went up, sometimes 10 and sometimes 20 per cent., but have been steadily going down as the short period of prosperity has passed away, and they are now, in many cases, lower than before the War. It is undeniably true that but for the action of the Government in recent years in taking rates off agricultural land and giving these subsidies to the agricultural industry, rents would have had to come down even more than they have. I know 1162 of no instance in which anybody has been able to get any of his rents up again as a result of the very slow improvement in some parts since the depression, but it is undoubtedly the case that, so far as it does affect the landowner at all, the action taken has prevented a drop in rents to an even lower point. It is, of course, quite true that with the far higher wages paid—and I hope paid willingly—and the high cost of repairs, there is an extraordinarily small margin, if any, nowadays between the total incomings and the total outgoings on the ordinary agricultural estate, and one is very lucky if the balance is not on the wrong side.
I am sure that it is by no wish of the Minister that he has had to bring forward this proposal to extend the subsidy for yet a third quarter of the year. He would have been only too glad if he could have put some new proposal before us combined with, one hopes, a scheme for the better marketing of livestock. What is happening is really the worst possible example to our farmers. There are subsidies and subsidies, and surely a subsidy brought into operation before there is a marketing scheme is of all possible subsidies the worst. We think there is sometimes very little defence for a subsidy introduced with a marketing scheme in order to prop it up or help it in some way, as by developing the consumption of liquid milk, but that is presumably an organic part of the scheme, and is to help it round a difficult corner or support it in a certain direction in which it is hoped it will afterwards be able to run itself. Here it has been known that a marketing scheme was due, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) told us, nearly two years ago we limited the import of Irish cattle because the marketing scheme had been certified by the Board of Trade to be in preparation, and in these circumstances to continue a subsidy from quarter to quarter is the worst possible example to set, because it encourages all farmers, who are inclined enough to it without any encouragement at all, to say, "Why not give us a subsidy? Why bother about improvements in our marketing? All that we want is a subsidy or protection. Leave our marketing alone." It is of the highest importance to the success of the general scheme of the Government for improving the methods of marketing that 1163 the period of the subsidy should be brought to an end as soon as possible, and the scheme, whether supported by a subsidy or in any other way, substituted for it. That is the only point I wanted to make. I am afraid I have made it before, but when one is arguing in favour of better marketing, and many parties are in favour of that, though we may disagree about subsidies, it is heartbreaking, as I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) will agree, to have the answer made, "Why on earth bother about improvements in marketing? Why not give us a subsidy and leave things alone?"
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) drew attention a few minutes ago to the inspissated gloom of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I must say that speech was in striking contrast to the scintillating cheerfulness of the speeches of the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert), the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon and the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. Smith), all loyal supporters of the Government. The note of cheerfulness running through those speeches was remarkable. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen, having no other complaint to make, suggested that the interests of Scotland would be inadequately represented by the Minister of Agriculture, and that he ought to have been supported on the Treasury Bench by some other Scotsman. I did not see what particular relation that had to the Motion before the House, but it was in keeping with the cheerfulness of the remainder of his speech.
I think the Minister really deserves our condolences. He has acquitted himself with singular ease of what must have been a most distasteful task. This is the third time he has had to ask the House for a subsidy while the Government are making up their mind. I remember that when he came last, in February or March, we were requested to give time and to vote £1,050,000 until Mr. Lyons landed here. It was said that conversations would then take place and all would be well, that the long-term policy would be 1164 produced well before the end of June when the £1,050,000 would have been absorbed. Mr. Lyons has been and sat with us and gone, and for anything I know he may say, "I came, I saw, I conquered." We shall see how the proposals fit in with the Dominions' view of what ought to be our import policy. Whatever happened as the result of the visit of himself and his colleagues from the other Dominions, the Government are still unable to say what they propose to do.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in order to deal with the legitimate uneasiness of the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen, will tell us why he chose September. I could have understood if it had been December. That would have given us time to turn round, even if there be the catastrophe of a general election, and even if many of the right hon. Gentleman's present lugubrious supporters are not here to join in further congratulations to him. If there is to be an election it will be over by December, and if there is not to be an election the House of Commons will have met in the Autumn and will have had time to consider the matter. We are entitled to know what is to happen in September. Are we to be left in the clouds? What is to be done before the end of this Session? Are we to have a further dose of subsidy, or some other indication of long-term policy so that the anxieties of the farmers, so graphically portrayed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton, may be allayed? Objectionable as may be the method of pottering about, I could have understood it better if the right hon. Gentleman had said, "I will potter along until December, after Parliament has met and been able to deal with the matter." Simply to say, "I will potter along until the end of September," when there will be no Parliament to repeat the subsidy close, is incomprehensible.
My hon. Friend who introduced the inspissated gloom would have been greatly comforted by the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon. I can see that our Socialist virus is infecting the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who now has visions of something like an import board and of regulating distribution, keeping retail prices down, managing the levy so that it can form a central fund 1165 payable to the producer, and—I think I am not misrepresenting him—managing retail prices at the same time so that the consumer has not to pay appreciably more. His mind has got as far as that, and the sooner he comes across and joins us on these benches the better. I can see we are going to have a most noteworthy recruit. It has been the practice of the Conservative party generally that they pick the brains of other people and then adopt their ideas, perhaps in a different form of words. It looks as though we are heading for that before very long. We are to have Socialism masquerading as good Toryism.
This further dose of subsidy means that the methods hitherto pursued have been unsuccessful. They have been tried for rather a long time—nearly four years. Painful recollections are brought to my mind of the time when I sat where the right hon. Gentleman is sitting and was occupied with my marketing scheme. I was harried amongst others I think by the Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) as to when I was going to declare the long-term policy. Now we have changed seats, and we are reenacting that entertainment from day to day. Think what I suffered, and yet the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor had, not four weeks but four years, to think out their policy. At the end of that time, all they can do is to say, "Give us another three years' grace"—at a cost of £1,050,000. It is not a tribute to the success of the policy they have hitherto pursued, whatever else it may be.
The truth is that the method of restriction has failed. The particular nostrum advocated by the hon. Member for Leominster, to put on a duty, would also lead to an increase of price in the qualities of beef to which the restrictions were applied, chilled beef and so on. The result has been, and would be under the restrictions suggested by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), of one penny, or twopence, or whatever you put on Argentine meat, that when the housewife went into the shop to buy her weekly joint, and having no more money to spend and finding that the price of chilled beef had gone up a little, she did one of the only two things she could do. She hunted about for a cheaper joint, or she bought a smaller 1166 quantity of beef. That is what happened, and will continue to happen, in similar circumstances.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
My suggestion was that the housewife would not have to pay such an increased price for her joint under the low levy as she would under the rising price caused by the quantitative restriction method.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I was discussing the hon. Member's joy over the repentance of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter of tariffs. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to adopt the tariff method, and I was pointing out why it must fail, as the quantitative restriction method has failed. We are gradually drifting to the semi-Socialistic principles of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon. The farmer is getting more of the subsidy than he was getting in February, I grant, but he is not getting the subsidy added on to the price of beef. I think one of my hon. Friends was a little unjust to the landlord. The main part of this subsidy is disappearing into the marketing system, because it is being snaffled up by butchers, dealers and various other people who take bits out of what the producer has to sell, and that will continue until the right hon. Gentleman introduces order into the system.
I am fortified in that contention by the two reports for the preparation of which we are grateful to the Minister. They are excellent. If hon. Members want to find the justification for our contentions they will find it in those reports. The reports discuss two methods. After all their examination, they contemplate only one or two methods as practicable. If you are to pay to the producer a stable and fair price, one suggestion is that you must have a central slaughtering system, an organised system, so that the producer will be paid without deduction the full value according to the price and weight of the animal that he sends, without it being subject to the ridiculous waste that goes on now, whereby the product changes hands two or three times between the farmer and the slaughterhouse, and losing weight and value in the process.
There is the suggestion here of a, national slaughterhouse commission with control over processes, and the gradual elimination of redundant slaughterhouses. It is set out in great detail. It is to be a 1167 statutory non-profit-making body. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) may congratulate himself and the Socialist party that we are really getting on, when this kind of thing is brought forward and recommended by a Tory Government. I can see a good many lions in the path of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the non-profit-making board, and I assure him that he will need all the fortification which his agricultural supporters can give him. The interests in the way of the establishment of these recommendations, which would make possible the payment of a secure and fair price, are very numerous and powerful. The right hon. Gentleman will need all his courage and a lot of support if he is to give effect to his own reports. The one other method suggested whereby the producer can be assured of a stable price system is that he should be paid on a dead-weight system such as is now being operated to some small extent. The scheme will cut out auctioneering, commission agents and dealers.
Only by one of those two methods can the producer be assured that he will get what the Government want him to have. The methods are examined in great detail and are recommended for gradual adoption. The House would like to know what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do about this, in connection with his long-term policy. As far as I understand, his long-term policy—which has had a very long incubation—will propose something, when it is produced, in the nature of a levy, the proceeds of which will be payable to the producers. If that be so, there will have to be an organisation for paying it to the producer. If there is to be a levy on imports, there must be a body in existence which will deal with imports, and which will collect and distribute the levy. That same body must be also associated with some body or other that will be in touch with what the producer sends to market—either to the abattoir or to be sold on the basis there recommended. That means a large-scale control of the processes of marketing and distribution. I am delighted to hear it; it is the only way in which it can be done: but we are entitled to know, before we go either to the long sleep or the long vacation, what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do about some of these things. He is going to 1168 cast the matter into uncertainty, to throw the whole thing into a cloud, to stretch it to the 30th September, and we are entitled to know what he has in mind, or how or in what manner or when this subject is going to be dealt with by Parliament when Parliament is here. I suggest that it is only fair to us that that information should be forthcoming before this matter is disposed of to-day.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has lots of difficulties, and it is those difficulties, no doubt, that account for the postponements. We can wish him well in trying to overcome them. Nevertheless, that is not any reason why we should vote £1,050,000 of public money under conditions which past experience assures us will mean that it will not be devoted to the purposes for which we intend it, or that the producer will not get the full benefit of it. In the absence of that assurance, and objecting, as we do, to the sloppy method of handing out public money in millions without its being accompanied by any organised system of control, we must continue to register our protest against these proposals.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The Debate, I am afraid, has been of a somewhat discursive character, and I think I shall only be in order in dealing with the extension of the Act in the terms sanctioned by the House. Whether it would or would not be possible to discuss the exact proportion of the rent which could fairly be described as being in respect of permission to use land, or even the entrancing question opened up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison), as to whether Socialism could be said to have conquered the Tory Members if they agreed to organised production, or the Tories could be said to have conquered the Socialists if they agreed, as I understand they do, to a levy, that is to say, a tariff on foodstuffs, I must beg leave not to follow these very recondite matters too far. Two or three main questions, however, stood out against a number of special questions which I was asked.
I was asked several questions by my hon. Friend, if I may so call him, the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who said that he was very anxious to know what the permanent policy was. I am a little in difficulty on 1169 this point. We have put out White Papers on the matter; we have made speeches on the matter; we have displayed it with the utmost clearness up and down the country, and I think it is common knowledge to everyone on this side of the House; but the inspissated gloom seems to be so dense that it even shuts off from the normally acute eyes of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon the ordinary Parliamentary Papers which are published and distributed to Members of this House. We have said time and again that we intend to operate a scheme on the lines of the Wheat Act, with a levy on imports earmarked for the purposes of the producers in this country, but correlated with measures for the efficiency of the industry; but all that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon seems to have derived from that is that there is a sort of suspicion in his mind that the drift of the Government's policy is in that direction.
I can go no further. I say again that, if the right hon. Gentleman will refer to Command Paper 4828 and Command Paper 4651, the one published in March, 1935, and the other in July, 1934, and to numerous speeches and declarations of policy by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House and elsewhere, he will find that that suspicion is justified. I cannot say fairer than that. I say the same to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley. The permanent policy is the policy of the White Papers—a levy on imports along the lines of the Wheat Act. When I am asked by him and other hon. Members as to what the position of the Dominions is, I say that the proposals put forward in those White Papers were for a levy with a preference to the Dominions. Naturally, I cannot make a definite announcement on these matters, because that would amount to saying that the negotiations have been completed. As they have not been completed, I cannot say what the final form will be, but, as to the policy of the Government, that has been stated in no uncertain terms.
I was asked what the position would be after next September. Clearly, I can make no statement as to what the position will be after next September, for that hangs very closely upon the negotiations which are now in progress, and 1170 neither my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) nor anyone else will expect me to make here and now a statement about negotiations which are in progress. I rather sympathise with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), who said clearly what is known to every Member of the House, and particularly must be known to an ex-Minister of the Crown, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert)—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Will my right hon. Friend, before the Session closes, tell us what is going to happen on the 30th September?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Certainly. I shall be in a position before the end of the Session to make a perfectly clear statement as to the Government's position with regard to the negotiations. I cannot do so now while the negotiations are actively going on. As for the other points that have been raised, the hon. Member for Don Valley asked what had been done during all this time to encourage efficient marketing. As he knows, we have had the report of the Bingley Commission. That report set out a marketing scheme, which, since that time, has received the very closest attention, and is still receiving the very close attention of producers. I do not think, however, that it would be fair to ask producers hastily to adopt a system with regard to the production of meat without very close attention. The scheme is before agriculturists, and they are examining it, but, clearly, before they know where they stand as to that scheme, they will need where they stand with regard to the negotiations which are going on, and it would be unreasonable to ask them to come to a conclusion beforehand.
With regard, however, to questions of slaughtering, abbatoir design, and the taking into account of recent advances, we set up a Committee under Sir Francis Boys, and the technical report of that Committee on these matters is available for local authorities and others who may desire to study it. I understand that the Corporation of Leicester, with praise-worthy enterprise, have decided to erect an abattoir on up-to-date lines, and have actually based their proposals on the recommendations of this technical Committee. It is also interesting to note that they are asking whether, regarding 1171 this as an experimental effort, they may receive assistance from the Development Fund towards the arrangements for such an abattoir. Naturally, I am not in a position to say what the verdict of the Development Commission will be, but the fact that the Committee has been set up, that progressive local authorities are taking its recommendations into account, and that one local authority in particular is actually proceeding to consider the erection of an abattoir on these lines, indicates that the suggestions of the Commission have certainly not been neglected.
The hon. Member for Don Valley also raised the question of rings operating in auction marts, and that point was also raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon, who said that nothing would be of any use unless there was complete control of the whole process of handling, and finally of retail distribution. Or perhaps he would not go quite so far as that, but at any rate he suggested that control would have to be extended a great deal further than it has been extended up to the present time. But the difficulties of agriculturists and the difficulties of those selling fat cattle are, I think, quite as great in Scotland, where these rings and other factors operating against the primary producer are not in existence, as they may be in the South of England. If the market price is unremunerative, it is not possible for the primary producer to be remunerated, and the fact is that for long periods in the past market prices have been unremunerative. Unless we can make the price itself remunerative, mere juggling with the people who handle the product will not bring about success for the industry of agriculture. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon that, unless we take some further action, there can be no improvement in the position of the producer, is not borne out by the facts. There was a wide divergence between the price that the producer was getting and what it would have been if it had been the same as last year plus the subsidy which this House voted several months ago. That divergence is narrowing. The figures that I was able to give only last week show that practically the whole of the assistance which this House has voted is going direct to the primary producers them- 1172 selves, and therefore the facts do not bear out the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Don Valley pointed, of course, to the fact that, if purchasing power decreased, people would not be able to buy so much meat, or, indeed, so much of anything else. All we can say is that there are 900,000 more men in work in this, the fourth year of Protection, than there were before. There are more men employed in England than ever were employed in the 50 years that preceded this period. There have never been so many people employed in England as there are to-day. There is an attempt on the part of the Government to improve purchasing power, and we have to stand upon that. A point was raised as to whether we desired to improve milking herds. I think, however, that that is a little outside the scope of the Resolution, and I cannot go into it now, but I would point out that we voted £750,000 for that very purpose, and I do not think it can, be said that we are neglecting that aspect of the situation. I will pass over the article by Captain McDougall, published in the "Countryman," except to say that he has on several occasions tried to commend these views of his to the electors as a Parliamentary candidate, but has signally failed on any occasion to commend them to any portion of the agriculturists of the country. When he has done so and has come to this House, I shall be willing to discuss these views, but I think he might pass the grand jury before he comes along and presents his case to the court.
As for my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), I would only say that, according to one of the figures that he himself gave some 68 per cent. of the meat supplied to London came from across the water, and nearly all of that quantity came from Argentina. Surely, that is a reason and excuse for determining that the remaining portion of the British beef industry shall not disappear, and that if possible the supplies of meat on which the 8,000,000 people of London live shall be rather more within their own control than is the case at present. It seems to me that anyone wishing for security for the food supplies of the 8,000,000 people of Greater London would earnestly desire that 68 per cent. of the meat consumed should 1173 not continue permanently to come from the other side of the Equator, over a great range of water which may not always be as open to us as it is to-day.
The only other points were those raised by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), and I should not like to pass on without saying a word upon his speech, because he has always taken a deep interest in these matters. The policy of regulation does find a place in the two White Papers published as the Government policy, only we say that the responsibility for regulation must be shared by the other consignors to the market. It is not fair or reasonable to expect the whole of the responsibility of regulation, in which all the consignors to the market share advantage, to be borne by this country alone. It is common knowledge in the discussions that have been taking place that the policy of regulation has been strongly pressed upon us by the very Dominion producers whose views have been quoted in evidence against us. The policy of a regulated market is one to which they attach the greatest importance, and one of the reasons for the long argument is as to what extent that regulation of the market is to go on. I think I have answered the hon. Member's other questions in remarks I have already made.
I say definitely that I will give no guarantee that this is the last modification of the policy that will be brought forward by the Minister of Agriculture either here or hereafter. The policy has had to be modified before, and may have to be modified again. We are in the middle of transition from the era of the 19th century to the era of the 20th century and I am able to give no assurance that the evolution of time has stopped, and that in 1935 no further modification of policy will be necessary.
§ Except for the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland)—who said he had hoped we should be able to cease the subsidy and start the scheme as early as possible—I have done. I agree it is desirable we should do that. I think we may have a succession of marketing schemes, but it is desirable that existing schemes should be tested before starting on others. I am the more enboldened to say that because the subsidy which he was good enough to support in connection with the Wheat Act had no suggestion of a marketing scheme.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon—which his party supported, and in favour of which his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) wound up on the Second Reading. In that there was no mention of any kind of marketing scheme and it is a bad example for agriculturists. If people say that they have had enough organisation and want a tariff, it is the simple policy of the Wheat Act to which they always refer, and the staggering peroration of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland that the subsidy draws out all that is best in the farmer. I hope that the House will be able to let us have the Motion now, and that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in view of the fact that there will be other opportunities of discussing this question, especially on the Supplementary Estimate, will not find it necessary to divide the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 181; Noes, 52.1175
|Division No. 248.]||AYES.||[7.5 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Brown, Rt. Hon. Ernest (Leith)||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Albery, Irving James||Burnett, John George||Crooks, J. Smedley|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Cross, R. H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Crossley, A. C.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Denville, Alfred|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Doran, Edward|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Duckworth, George A. V.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Cooke, Douglas||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cooper, A. Duff||Eales, John Frederick|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Levy, Thomas||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Emrys-Evant, P. V.||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunllffe-||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Llewellin, Major John J.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Loder, Captain J. da Vere||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Bassetlaw)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halls||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Goff, Sir Park||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Grimston, R. V.||McKie, John Hamilton||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne, C.)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Samerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Hales, Harold K.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Spens, William Patrick|
|Hanbury, Sir Cecil||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Martin, Thomas B.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Harbord, Arthur||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Meller, Sir Richard James (Mitcham)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'ti'd & Chlsw'k)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Sir Cuthbert||Mitcheson, G. G.||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Morgan, Robert H.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Thomson, Sir James D. W.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Morrison, William Shepherd||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Moss, Captain H. J.||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Hornby, Frank||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Pearson, William G.||Watt, Major George Steven H.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Penny, Sir George||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Petherick, M.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Jamleson, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Withers, Sir John James|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Radford, E. A.||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Worthington, Sir John|
|Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Remer, John R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Ropner, Colonel L.||Mr. Blindell and Major Davies.|
|Leckle, J. A.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Groves, Thomas E.||Milner, Major James|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvll)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R.||Harris, Sir Percy||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Banfield, John William||Holdsworth, Herbert||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Buchanan, George||Janner, Barnett||Rea, Sir Walter|
|Cape, Thomas||Jenkins, Sir William||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cleary, J. J.||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Daggar, George||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Lawson, John James||West, F. R.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Leonard, William||White, Henry Graham|
|Dobbie, William||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Edwards, Sir Charles||Lunn, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||Wilmot, John|
|Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Maxton, James.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Paling and Mr. Groves.|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
That the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) (Extension of Period) Order, 1935, dated the thirteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, made under section one of the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1935, by the
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretaries of State concerned with agriculture in Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively, a copy of which was presented to this House on the nineteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, be approved.