§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.3 a.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Elliot)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will not expect me to speak at great length describing the purposes of the Bill and the machinery by which it is proposed to effect its purpose. The primary purpose of the Bill is the maintenance of the British livestock industry, which represents so great and so traditional a proportion of our home agriculture. There is nothing novel in this purpose, which has been set forth on many occasions by Government speakers and which is approved, I believe, not merely by the Government but by all parts of the House. The immediate steps proposed are, briefly, to continue the interim assistance to the British home producer during the waiver of our treaty rights in order to regulate the weight of supplies at present being brought on the British market. I wish to repeat that it is not denied anywhere that we have not, here and now, an absolute right to regulate by limitation the weight at present being brought upon the British market from overseas, and that we are voluntarily waiving those rights and voluntarily continuing this assistance to the home producer with the object, and only with the object, of securing time for adequate discussion of the great issues involved with consignors to our market. Our own immediate interests would be served if we forthwith put into effect our treaty rights, which have been held in abeyance since last July, but we have voluntarily decided for the time being to waive those rights.
The simple issue before the House is whether we should allow the present Act to expire on the 31st of March without snaking any further provision for the maintenance of the cattle industry in this country. There can be only one answer to that question. There is no doubt whatever that but for the assistance provided in the Measure which is due to expire on the 31st March, the cattle producers 2274 in this country would be facing disaster. Alternatively, would it be possible to bring into operation other means of improving the producers' returns in the United Kingdom on the 1st April? The answer to that question is given in the White Paper which has just been issued. A question of such vast importance to the Dominions and foreign countries must be exhaustively examined before any drastic action is taken, therefore, a short extension of the existing arrangement must be sanctioned. It is I think the best method of dealing with the situation for the benefit of all concerned. The benefit of all concerned is one of our main objects. The benefit of the overseas suppliers is being meticulously considered by this country at the present time.
The Bill is admittedly an interim Measure. It prolongs for three months the arrangement which the House sanctioned last July, with the possibility of a further extension for three months if both Houses of Parliament so resolve. The arrangements sanctioned by the House last July have worked from the administrative point of view so smoothly that there is no demand in any part of the country that they should be altered, and we do not propose to alter them in any way. I do not need to speak at length upon the general position of His Majesty's Government, because it is set out in the White Paper, Command Paper 4828, which has been in the hands of hon. Members since Wednesday. The actual working of the Bill, which is an extension of the previous Measure, has been covered fairly fully by the Debate which took place on the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution for this Bill, on the 18th February, and by the Debate on the Supplementary Estimates for the Act which runs out on the 31st March. I have been reproached by hon. Members below the gangway over these repeated visits to the House with these interim Measures. That is an unjust reproach. These repeated Debates at close intervals are evidence of the fact that the Government are more than willing that the present interim policy should be kept under close review, and the White Paper is evidence of the fact that during the period of review the long-term policy has been closely studied, and I believe the White Paper is also proof that it is now clearly enunciated.
2275 The necessity for full consideration and for the avoidance of any hasty action is evidenced by the fact that even after long discussion with the representatives of the Dominions a misunderstanding arose in one case. That misunderstanding has not led to any serious consequences and has now been cleared up, but meanwhile the Premier of the Dominion concerned has left his country en route for London, and this in turn means that until he reaches our shores it will be practically impossible to continue in detail the discussion of the long-term policy upon which we have embarked. The special responsibility which attaches to Great Britain in this matter arises from the fact that Great Britain always the principal market for nearly all agricultural products has now become practically the sole market in many cases.
Of the beef imported by all the principal beef importing countries, 82 per cent. is sold and consumed here. That proportion has increased in recent years. The principal importing countries of Europe took 475,000 tons of beef in 1925 and only 103,000 tons in 1933, a fall from 475,000 tons of beef to 103,000 tons. The United Kingdom took in 1933, 608,000 tons of beef as against 103,000 tons taken by the principal importing countries of the world. We recognise our responsibility to the world market. These figures show that there is no country in the world which even attempts to approach Great Britain in the consumption of overseas supplies. It does not lie in the mouth of anyone to accuse Great Britain of a narrow economic nationalism, and certainly it does not lie in the mouths of many distinguished professors and experts who come from those same countries which have cut down since 1925 their consumption of beef from 475,000 tons to just over 100,000 tons.
The livestock industry in this country, the importance of which has been indicated in the White Paper, is a great home industry and a great market for British goods. It is also an important customer of British shipping. Hon. Members opposite who contend that when we give assistance to agriculture we are doing an injustice to other industries seem to forget that the British livestock industry is a great processing industry, which is bringing in raw materials from 2276 abroad in order to work them up here. It is a great customer for feeding stuffs and store animals. The enormous trade in store cattle between this country and Ireland depends on the market for feeding stock here at home. It is useless for hon. Members opposite to demand with one breath that we should import a greater quantity of raw material from Southern Ireland, in the shape of store cattle, and in the same breath refuse to take any steps with the marketing of the finished article in English beef. The suggestion of hon. Members opposite that the production of meat at home means a weakening of our shipping position omits to recognise such a simple fact as for instance, that to produce one pound of pig meat means that one pig eats something like four times its weight in imported foodstuffs, much of which has to come in British ships.
The suggestion that it is desirable that this country should import the finished product and surrender altogether the traditional and profitable business of working up the raw material into the finished product in this country is totally contrary to the trade policy advocated in many other fields of British industry. To suggest that we should merely import the finished product, the fully manufactured meat, and give up altogether the importation of store animals and of feeding stuffs, is an economic doctrine totally without foundation, and can only be justified by absolutely ignoring the position of the livestock industry as one of the great customers for the importing industries of this country. The Government holds firmly to the policy in the White Paper and have no intention of permitting the extinction of the livestock industry of. Great Britain. At the same time our primary duty, as we recognise, is to the home producer. It is his position which is in jeopardy; and it is his position which these long series of negotiations is designed finally to secure.
§ 11.24 a.m.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I beg to move to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add upon this day six months."
The Bill follows the terms of the financial Resolution which was fully debated, and therefore I do not propose to repeat now what I said at some length on that occasion. It is fitting, however, in view of the publication of the White Paper, that we should recapitulate the real 2277 causes of this Bill. It is to give the Government a little more time to make up their minds what they are going to do. That is an expensive process. A couple of million pounds was voted last year, and will be more or less exhausted, I understand, by the end of the current financial year. The right hon. Gentleman in order to allow time for these discussions with our Dominions asks for another three months' grace, at the cost of another million pounds. It is an expensive business. The Government have been three and a half years in office trying to make up their mind what they want to do. What the right hon. Gentleman is doing is clearly revealed in paragraph XI of the White Paper. He is struggling against the adverse influence of his own colleagues. The White Paper says:In the case of beef it now appears that these various measures were merely palliatives.Those are the measures which the National Government have been trying out during the three and a-half years of its existence, and, after that long period of time, they now discover that they are merely palliatives. Some of us ventured to say that they were only palliatives a long time ago, and it is a rather costly oversight on the part of the Government that they have only now discovered that these various expedients are merely palliatives. It is true, however, and I congratulate the Government on their frankness in the White Paper. They have been trying to get round the entanglements set in their way by the President of the Board of Trade and have not succeeded. I did not expect that they would succeed. It was an impossible task. While the President of the Board of Trade is placing every imaginable difficulty in the way of the recovery of world trade, without any increase in the purchasing power of the people, it is impossible to expect the Minister of Agriculture to succeed in what he sets out to do.
There are two considerations which are important: first, that the people should be able to buy good British beef, and, secondly, that producers should receive the benefit intended for them. Unless they can, nothing is of any use. There the right hon. Gentleman is up against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who keeps a 2278 tight hand on money. The purchasing power of the people is kept steady and just as near the bone as the Government can safely keep it. As long as the purchasing power of the people does not increase or is not improved by Government policy, however much they would like to buy beef, and I am sure they do, they simply cannot afford to buy the better-quality joints. That is the real difficulty, and that is why we suggest that the right hon. Gentleman will not succeed in this policy until he takes powers to deal with the costs of distribution. Whatever may be the fraction, and I am not proposing to repeat the interchange of question and answer which went on between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) as to where the money went, it did seem to emerge, without a doubt, that the 5s. on the cwt. which has been granted, not all of it went to improve the price received by the producer. There was considerable dubiety as to how much was diverted into the pockets of butchers and dealers, but there is no doubt that a considerable portion slipped through the fingers of somebody and did not get to, the producer, for whom it was intended. We suggest that he will not succeed now in giving to the producer the security of a fair price, which he wants to give, until he adopts, in whatever form of words he may adopt, the Socialist proposal. We have got to control and manage this market if we are going to see that the producer gets the money we want him to have. As far as I can see there is nothing in the Bill that is going to give us any confidence that the producer will in fact get the money. There is nothing in the Bill which will exalt the purchasing power of the consumer. There is nothing in the nature of the proposals of the Government which, is designed to pass on the benefits to the agricultural labourer.
I hope that by the time this expensive three months has elapsed the Minister, after the discussions he is to undertake, will be able to come to the House and make some proposals that will give some surety for three things: first, that the people will be able to buy more meat; secondly, that the producer will really get the benefit of this money; and, thirdly, that he will control the price of distribution, and, as part of the benefit which, 2279 it is proposed to confer on the industry, that the man who does the work and looks after the cattle will get his share. In one part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman noted that the party to which I belong recognises as sincerely as he does the importance of the maintenance of British agriculture. But our methods to secure that end are entirely different; they are poles asunder. It is a fact that all over the world buyers come to get our stock, and it is a discreditable reflection on the series of Governments we have had that no effective steps, beyond the quackeries of tariffs and attempts at quantitative regulation and all the rest, had even been adopted to put the industry on a sound basis.
The House cannot fail to be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman's department for providing us with the confession in paragraph 11 to which I have referred. Here are the remaining words of that paragraph:The forces depressing prices are again in the ascendant.I do not know of whom the right hon. Gentleman was thinking when that sentence was penned, but I immediately thought of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade. They are the forces.Demand shows no definite signs of increasing.It will not increase and it cannot increase until we increase the power of the people to buy goods. We shall formally still continue to register our objections to this expedient and to what is involved, but apart from that we have no desire unduly to detain the House.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture need not apologise for being the cause of so many discussions on this interesting problem of beef supplies and prices. I am bold enough to say that though this House may be far more interested in pepper and shellac and gambling in tin, the country as a whole, the great mass of the nation, is far more concerned and interested in this great problem that is so intimately connected with their daily lives. The Minister is fortunate that he can get so much publicity for his activities. The man in the street, 2280 and the farmer in particular, are vitally concerned. I do not know whether it was a slip or what it was that inspired him, but the right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill was approved by all sides of the House.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I said that the policy of maintaining the British livestock industry was approved by all sides of the House. On the general principle of maintaining agriculture I am sure the whole House is agreed.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
The right hon. Gentleman has unanimous support in his wish for the well-being of agriculture and the livestock industry in particular, but where we on the Liberal benches differ vitally from the policy of the Government is in the whole structure of Government policy. Once you accept the whole economic policy of the Government, the livestock industry, to use an appropriate phrase, has a right to claim a cut off the joint. If the Government policy of economic nationalism, of subsidies, quotas and tariffs, is accepted, this industry has as big a claim as any other to the Government's favours. Once you start on this policy it is inevitable that you cannot stop. You cannot say, "So far and no further." The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade did make a valiant attempt to eliminate beef when he swallowed his own principles and forgot his old economic theories. He drew the line at that one particular item, beef. But inevitably he had to throw that idea overboard. Naturally be has an elastic point of view and it has taken three years for him to recant. I think he is wise. If I were to swallow the whole policy of the Government and decide to go in for restrictions and tariffs and subsidies, I would not draw the line. I would not say, "You should have a duty for all industries except the industries of Bethnal Green," nor would I say "Protection for wheat, butter, milk and everything else, and nothing for meat." Inevitably the Government is forced to include beef in the ambit of its economic policy.
I had an opportunity recently of meeting a number of farmers who were specially interested in the livestock trade. I had a couple of hours discussion with two friends of mine this last Summer under a warm sun, and we had a heart-to-heart talk. They said quite rightly 2281 to me that they were not interested in Liberals or Conservatives or Socialists, but were interested in their own job and wanted to get on with it. They were quite content to carry on under whatever policy was adopted by the country but they did not see why, if sugar was to get a subsidy and wheat to be singled out for favour, and if many of the articles they had to buy were taxed, they should not have a share of the favours. I think the case is unanswerable. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman is right in following the policy contained in the Bill but I do say that be is inevitably forced to do so. We anticipated when the first Measure was introduced that that would not be the end of it and that in a. few months time the right hon. Gentleman would have to come to the House again and say "Please, I want a little more." Now he has shown common sense and, possibly under the influence of the Chief Whip, he is taking powers so that we shall be saved the trouble of going through the process of introducing further Bills at a later stage. But it has been the experience in all countries that once you start this kind of policy you cannot stop. That has always been my fundamental objection to it. You create interest and once you open the public purse it is very difficult to close it again. This White Paper resembles one of those revues or musical comedies written by three or four people. It bears signs of being the work of several hands. I cannot believe that it has all been written by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether hon. Members have studied paragraph 6. It is a little lecture and a very good lecture on the real nature of this country's economic position and it contains this passage:It is to be observed that while agriculture is the biggest single industry in the United Kingdom, it is a predominating economic interest of the United Kingdom to maintain and if possible to expand her exports of coal and manufactured goods. It has been and is still recognised that the development of inter-Imperial trade is of primary importance for this purpose.A further passage is as follows:Inasmuch as the rest of the Empire is not in a position to absorb the whole or even the major part of the exports (and still less of the potential exports) of the United Kingdom"—That looks like the hand of the President of the Board of Trade— 2282it is an essential interest of the United Kingdom to maintain a substantial export of coal and manufactured goods to foreign countries.The interpolation of that paragraph in brackets is illuminating. It indicates what is, of course, the whole trouble. Here we have a small island with a population of over 40,000,000—how they live has always been a mystery to the rest of the world—mainly engaged in supplying the worlds needs. Unfortunately the tendency of world economic policy has been against the expansion of world trade but—and this is really why we have to review this new policy so frequently—this country above all others with its immense population, its great variety of industries and its small territory cannot maintain its present standards without world trade. So we should view with great suspicion and examine most closely any policy which leads to contraction of trade or to the detriment of potential customers of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to make up his mind on what is to be the real policy of the Government about our supplies of meat. Over an average of years our own stock industry has produced about half our requirements. I think a couple of years ago they supplied 57 per cent. That is a very remarkable figure and it is much to the credit of the farmers of the country that in spite of the competition of the world they have been able to supply half the needs of the great population of these islands. But it is necessary to realise when we come to consider the actual needs of the industrial population that for years, for more than a generation, they have had to look for their requirements to oversea markets. I have here a remarkable document published by the Central Markets Committee of the City of London. It is their last report published just a year ago—no doubt another report will be available in a few days time—and it is so illuminating that it is worth while quoting from it. It is written by a committee obviously not interested in politics who approach the problem as the authority responsible for supplying meat to the population of greater London representing some 7,000,000 people—the greatest market in the world. The report states:When the general run of English beef becomes superior to or even equal in quality to the imported chilled beef, London may be induced to pay a slightly higher price for 2283 the home produced article. It must be remembered that for more than a quarter of a century chilled beef has held an almost impregnable position in the beef trade in London gained by an intensive study of trade requirements and the supply with regularity of beef of a high standard of quality at a price which defies competition. Mass production may in years to come give English beef a bigger slice of Londons trade, but it must be at a price to suit the pockets of the working class. Meantime chilled beef is selling wholesale at about 2d. per lb. below the price of good English beef and at about 3d. per lb. below Scotch and will remain in demand as long as that difference in favour of the imported article continues, which of necessity by reason of the absence of cheap stock in this country will be for a long time to come.There is another paragraph which is very illuminating and while it applies to the summer of 1933 I think we may take it that it also applies to the summer of 1934:The experience of last summer indicates how difficult it is to stabilise prices of meat varying in quality. High prices reduce consumption. People buy sparingly or turn their attention to something else or go without. Even low prices fail to be attractive with King Sol in his element doing his best to stifle demand, while finished English beef has been short owing to the drought and lack of feed.I wish to emphasise the importance of the price factor. I understand from the White Paper that it is proposed to raise the money for this subsidy by a levy which will amount to ld. per lb. One penny per lb. will not enable the producer of British beef to compete with the long established industry of imported chilled beef. I have interesting tables of prices. The wholesale price per lb. works out at Smithfield at about 4⅝d. for chilled Argentine beef. I think I am right in saying—and I hope that if I am wrong I shall be corrected—that the National Farmers' Union have contended that their industry cannot be on a sound economic basis and self-supporting except at a wholesale price at Smithfield of something like 8d. per 1b. That may be an over-statement, but even supposing they would be satisfied with 7d., look at the difference in the margin. Can you, by pursuing this policy, as long as economic conditions are what they are and wages are at their present low level, persuade, even by a levy, the ordinary working-man to transfer his custom from chilled beef to the home-killed beef to any large extent, so long as the present cost of production remains where it is?
2284 These are facts that you have to face. In the meantime you are in danger of alienating the sympathy and good will of the town population by collecting this tax in this particular way. It was argued by the Noble Lord, Lord Astor, in a letter to the Press, that if you were to have a duty or a levy, it would be far better to have an ordinary tariff, and I think there is a very strong case for that point of view of the interests of the English farmer. If the working-man is to be told that his chilled beef is up a ½d. or 1d. per lb. because there has been a levy imposed on it in order to hand the money over to the producer of home-killed beef, you will alienate the sympathy and interest of your potential customer, the industrial population. You will put its back up and alienate it at a time of great economic distress, when it is feeling the pinch and finding it very difficult to make both ends meet. Therefore, I very much doubt the wisdom of this policy. We often talk about taking a long view. I believe the long-view policy is to restore prosperity to your consumers. If the great population of the country has money in its pocket, it must redound to the interest of agriculture—make the consumer a larger buyer and more able to buy the best quality food, which is obviously the food produced at his own door, fresh and of the best quality. So I doubt very much the wisdom of the whole of this policy.
There is one thing I would ask of the Minister. How is it that mutton and lamb are left out of this new policy? Is this only a beginning? After all, New Zealand and Australian mutton and lamb are serious competitors of the English-produced article, and shall we not inevitably get a cry from the Romney Marsh farmers and the Southdown agriculturists that if beef is to be favoured, why should not mutton and lamb be helped? But there it is. We do not regret having this further opportunity to discuss the Government's policy. We think it is a wrong policy, and we think it is inevitable as a result of the general policy of the Government, but we think that now that the Government are including an essential food of the people, we are bound to oppose it and to register our protest.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Colonel Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
Both my right hon. Friend the Minister 2285 of Agriculture and the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) have reminded the House that within quite recent times we have had a very full debate on this matter, and I do not propose to detain the House for more than a very few minutes, but I would like to make one or two observations on some of the matters which have fallen from the right hon. Member for Swindon. He charged the Government with introducing this Bill in order that they might gain time. Well, I think it may sometimes be a laudable thing to do, to gain time, and in this case I think the Government are right. The Government at this time are engaged in endeavouring to do something to further inter-Imperial trade, and any measure it may like to take, after due consideration, even though it may take some time to negotiate it, is well worth it if in the end, as a result, it proves of benefit to the Empire producer and of the home producer as well. I do not think therefore that the scorn which the right hon. Member for Swindon has poured on the Government for taking time in this matter is at all justified.
The right hon. Gentleman also alluded to the purchasing power of the people. I think it is well that he should realise that the general cost-of-living index figure is far better than the figure at which it stood at the time the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were in office a few years ago. He will not surely argue either that the index figure of wages has fallen. He knows that the contrary is the case. Therefore, you have this situation, inevitably, that the cost-of-living having fallen and the index level of wages having either remained stationary or in some cases risen, the purchasing power of the mass of the people must have improved. One can draw no other conclusion. Actually the retail price of beef in this country has fallen by about 3d. a lb. since the right hon. Member for Swindon and his friends were in office. Therefore, I think it is rather absurd to attribute the difficulty into which the home producer of cattle in this country has fallen to the notion that there has been any fall in the purchasing power of the mass of the people.
What really has happened—and the point was touched on by my right hon. 2286 Friend the Minister—is that this country, a small island, as the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has reminded us, with over 40,000,000 mouths to feed, is the Mecca of all food-producing countries on the earth. Every country that produces anything agricultural, after it has retained a certain amount of its home product to feed its own people, sends the rest abroad. Where does it send it? Practically all to England, the only country able to accept it, and very often the only country able to pay for it. That being so, you obviously get a great concentration of all the surplus agricultural produce from all over the earth pressing at all times into England's food market. But England has a food-producing industry of her own, and the question that has to be decided by any Government in this country is this: Is it worth while, or is it not, to maintain the greatest industry known to-day to England, namely, the agricultural industry?
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon, who has quoted from the White Paper, that in paragraph II, sub-paragraph 4, we are told that the agricultural industry, in which the breeding and feeding of livestock are an essential element, gave employment in 1931 to nearly 1,500,000 persons, and its production was valued at £254,000,000, of which livestock and livestock products accounted for between 70 and 75 per cent. Would the right hon. Gentleman deny that the livestock branch of agriculture is threatened to-day with collapse? I do not think he would, and yet it is one of the most important branches of the whole industry. What is the alternative? Would the right hon. Gentleman let things slide? He would not. He does not subscribe to the policy of the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green, who has evidently come this morning after tending flocks and herds on the verdant pastures of his constituency. He chided the President of the Board of Trade with having forgotten some of his former Liberal principles. I would suggest to the hon. Baronet that he has forgotten nothing and learned nothing, and that he has entirely failed to observe the great world movements that have been going on in production in every country, the 2287 great improvement in the means of transport, and many other factors which have entirely caused, if not a revolution, a great evolution in the whole of the the world's trade and industry. The hon. Baronet would ignore them all and go back to the laissez faire policy and allow the livestock industry to fall into complete collapse and decay. He would not care twopence what happened to the farmers or whether farm workers fell out of employment so long as a few people in Bethnal Green were able to buy Argentine meat.
I cannot understand the position of the Socialist party which opposes every proposal for the restoration—or I should say, rather, the preservation—of the industry of agriculture in this country, in view of the fact, which is known to all the world, that it is an industry of the greatest magnitude and a wealth producing industry. That does not mean that the producer is getting wealthy, but even where the producer produces a pig, a sheep, a sack of wheat or a beast at a loss he is adding to the general accumulated wealth of the country. Surely, for that reason alone, the industry is worth preservation. On the other count in regard to the number of those employed in the industry, I am at a complete loss to understand the mentality of the, Socialist party. In view of the facts showing the vast number of those employed directly in the industry and the vast number employed in all the ancillary services that revolve round the industry, how is it that the Socialist party wants to let the industry go down and the workers—
§ Dr. ADDISON
I challenge the hon. and gallant Member on that statement. The Socialist party is the first party that has really drawn up an intelligent policy to put agriculture on a, proper basis. The hon. and gallant Member's party does not know how to do it.
§ Sir E. RUGGLES-BRISE
We should not know how to do it if we adopted a Socialist policy. I am still at a loss to know why, with a great wealth producing and employment giving industry, even if temporary measures of this nature are necessary to save the industry from collapse, the Socialist party inevitably opposes every measure of the Government. 2288 The industry of agriculture is so fundamental in the general economy and wellbeing of our nation that I should like to see it removed entirely from the realm of party politics. It is the one fundamental industry on which the prosperity of all our other industries ultimately rests, and I think that, instead of having this opposition from the Socialist party and the kind of opposition, which I find it hard to describe, that we get from the Liberal Members, it would be far better if we tried to take broader views of the industry to which every party might well subscribe.
§ 12 n.
I am sure the farming community will read with great interest the clear and definite statement of my right him. Friend the Ministry of Agriculture. He has said in no uncertain terms that the Government are determined to preserve the great livestock industry, and that of course means that they are determined to preserve the agricultural industry, because the livestock industry is the greater part of agriculture. While I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) say that he was convinced the livestock industry and the agricultural industry should be preserved, and to hear the hon. baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) utter the same sentiment, I cannot but be sorry that the party opposite and the Liberal party are to vote against this measure. Nothing less than the fate of agriculture is at stake. That was made abundantly clear in the Debate on the financial resolution. I would add to the figures which were given by the Minister that between 1933 and 1934 the price of livestock fell by no less than 4s. 8d. per cwt., so that the price, which was already below the cost of production in 1933, was still further below in 1934. The index price in 1924–5 for fat cattle was 151. The price in December, 1934, was 90, an immense drop. If we reckon the 5s. per live cwt. from the cattle emergency fund in December, it only brings it up to 103, so that the receipts for fat cattle are now 32 per cent. below the level of 1924–25.
That will show the desperate position in which the livestock industry is placed. These unremunerative prices have been going on for something like three years. 2289 Large numbers of farmers and graziers are not men of great substance who can afford to go on bearing losses year after year, and, if something immediate is not done, it will inevitably mean that many of them will be forced out of business and possibly into the bankruptcy court. The right hon. Member for Swindon touched lightly on the point of where the money from this temporary subsidy goes. He mentioned the producers, he mentioned the middlemen but he forgot to mention the public.
I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the price had fallen and that the public had got an advantage, though I thought it was made clear in the debate on the Financial Resolution that the subsidy was shared, generally speaking, though we do not know in exactly what proportions, between the producers, the middlemen and the public. The right hon. Gentleman said that the producers did not get enough, that the money seemed to slip away; but is he so certain that if he were able to take over control, with multitudes of inspectors and vast buildings full of officials, the money would not then slip away and that the producer would get better prices and the consumer cheaper meat?
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman into that side of the question; what I want to impress upon the House is that we are dealing here with a subject which is really one of national importance. The hon. baronet the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) has stressed that point with great vigour—that this is a matter of national importance. Many of us are looking to the eventual development of agriculture to help to solve the great problem of unemployment. Many of us have been looking forward to that for years. We believe that by giving the British farmer and the British farm worker a proper chance, and giving the smallholder his opportunity, we can find occupation for a great many more people on the land. But that, of course, is in the far distant future. If we reject this Bill the condition of the countryside will become so serious 2290 that the cattle raisers will naturally turn to something else, because they will be forced out of business, and it is impossible for such a calamity to overtake so large a section of the agricultural community as the livestock section without doing damage to the whole industry.
What is to happen to the land when livestock can no longer be produced? One of the first things to which a hard pressed farmer can turn is milk production, but the House has already had experience of the measures which had to be taken owing to the very large output of milk in this country. To what other form of production can the farmer turn? If the right hon. Member for Swindon and his friends succeeded in defeating this Bill they would deal a blow at the agricultural industry from which it might take years to recover. Do hon. Members opposite quite realise what a vast amount of capital, ingenuity, and hard work have been applied to bringing the land of this country to its present state of productivity? If the country people drifted away from the land, and if the land went out of cultivation, the cost of putting it back under cultivation should conditions require it would be so high that I doubt whether in any forseeable time, the finances of the country could ever bear the strain.
Another aspect of the matter on which I would like to say a few words is the effect which a further great decline in agriculture, and especially in livestock raising, would have on this country in time of war. Only 7 per cent. of the population are now engaged in this great industry. Eves since the Great War Governments here of every party have done their utmost to maintain peace, and will continue to do so, but can the most optimistic pacifist, looking around the world to-day, say that conditions are such that he would guarantee the continuance of peace? I do not think any responsible person could do so. That being the case, can we allow our livestock production to decline still more, until we get into such a position that we should not be able to increase it, as we were able to do in 1914 to 1918? This national point of view ought to be considered by hon. Members opposite before they walk Into the Lobby against this Bill. It is a vital Measure for the agricultural industry. If the House should let down the 2291 livestock producer, after all the suffering he has undergone, it would be taken as a sign that the House no longer has any interest in the agricultural community, despite what hon. Members opposite may say about the interest they feel. I would note in passing that the hon. Baronet the Member for Bethnal Green had no alternative policy to put forward. If the House rejected this Measure the farming community would take it as a sign that they had no further concern in them, and had left the livestock industry and the industry of agriculture generally to the desperate fate which would take it unless some other remedial measures were soon forthcoming.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST YOUNG
I do not know of any speaker inside or outside this House who makes so eloquent and plausible an appeal for food taxation as the Minister who is in charge of this Bill. We who are opposed to food taxation object to it simply and solely because it raises prices against the masses of the people, who cannot afford to pay more than they are paying now. Although this present tax is called a subsidy and the one which is to follow is called a levy, they are in essence and in effect examples of that tariff reform or protection which has been advocated by certain Members of this House ever since Mr. Chamberlain started it in 1903. The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam), who made such an eloquent plea for agriculture, used the old argument that those who oppose this projected tax are traitors to the nation and have no interest in agriculture or stock-breeding. That argument has been used by every section of industry which has ever wanted State assistance in this particular form. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) accused those who opposed the Bill of being supporters of the old laissez faire economics, but I would say of my own party that there is no evidence whatsoever that we have at any time supported that particular economic doctrine. I belong to a party which was the first to put restrictions on certain things, but we were never disciples of that particular theory. We believed in free trade, and we believe in it now.
§ Mr. YOUNG
Yes, as a theory now. Our position is perfectly consistent. When you have protection—[Interruption]. Perhaps hon. Members will hear the argument first. If you are giving tariff benefits or protective benefits to anyone—farmers, industrialists or anyone else—you are giving them the legal right to charge the rest of the people more for their goods, and if you are going to give protective advantage to every other in-interest in the country, I cannot consistently advocate the throwing of my own industry to the wolves, leaving them to face this competition which is imposed not only from abroad but more particularly at home.
Would the hon. Member agree to a tariff of 33⅓ per cent., say, for those agricultural products which do not have anything like that tariff now?
§ Mr. YOUNG
I would say this. I am not in favour of any tariffs at all, but if every industry has a right to manufacture goods and to charge the farmers more than the market price would be if those tariffs were not there, I see no objection to the farmers having protective assistance as well. But the hon. Member has quoted the iron and steel trade, where the tariff was given contingent upon it re-organising its industry and making itself as efficient as possible, and the iron and steel industry is certainly doing its best to carry out its obligation to the State to-day. But no such conditions are imposed upon the agricultural industry. Why is it that to-day the stock-breeders and farmers generally are in such a parlous condition as against their competitors abroad? Is it, for instance, due to the higher wages they pay than are paid in some countries abroad? Do they pay as high wages as are paid in Canada? I am not cognisant of the wages paid in the Argentine. Is it because the land here is less productive? I know that, as far as wheat is concerned, we can grow more to the acre than any other country? Is it because the farmers have to pay £38,000,000 in rent every year to the landowners? Is there a fund there from which could be recovered in some way, such as land values taxation, to give farmers a better footing in the market in competition with others?
The White Paper says that one of the competing advantages which some other 2293 nations have is that their industry is subsidised in competition with us. We may put on a levy, but suppose foreign governments decide to increase their subsidy, and to keep on increasing it, as they possibly could do, then the whole of that advantage is gone. The only thing that would happen would be that the prices of imported supplies would remain as at present. The Minister of Agriculture does not accept our economics, but has a system of his own. He suggested to my hon. Friend a few days ago that you do not find that where wholesale or importing prices have been put up by a tariff it is reflected to any considerable extent in retail prices. I do not think anyone will argue that this foreign meat will not be dearer when the tariff is imposed. When the cattle are bought from abroad—and hon. Members opposite who are interested in agriculture will, perhaps, bear me out—and when they are shipped, the chief officer there describes the cargo's value, and when the ship reaches this side the Customs officer goes aboard, looks at the bill of lading and assesses the value. If the cargo, for instance, is worth £1,000, and the tariff or levy is £100, this tax has to be paid before the cargo can be cleared. The owner may take his goods to the city or market and sell them, and usually, whenever he can, he charges a profit on his tax as well as on the article he has to sell. In these days of costing down to the smallest decimal fraction, you will never find a business man not attempting to get a profit on the tax as well as the article. He will sell his cattle to a middleman, who will sell to the butcher, who will again charge another tax on the tariff as well as the meat itself. By the time the article reaches the consumer, the consumer is not able to pass on the charges any further, and there is a very considerable difference in the cost of the article he has to buy. That is one of our objections.
The matter I quoted a moment ago is another objection. Is there any reason to assume that when this levy is working, foreign governments will not increase their subsidies? I hope the Minister will tell us, because he must have some theory, why it is that the British farmer is heavily handicapped to-day against his foreign competitor. It is not because we are a free trade country, because we are not. It is not because people in the 2294 Argentine have some particular advantage, which they have not got. There must be some reason why the British farmer is handicapped in competition with his rival. Unless we get some adequate explanation or, on the other hand, we are satisfied that the agricultural industry will be requested, required or commanded to put its house in order in the same way as the industrialists have had to do, we shall oppose this tax, which passes under the name of a levy, but which is an ordinary tariff tax, and will make a considerable difference to the purchasing power of the people who to-day are living on the lowest possible margin.
I hope that the Minister will deal with that question, because industrialists have a real grievance against agriculturists. For years past agriculturists have been the spoilt pets of governments. Governments on three occasions altered their rating charges, and at last, in desparation, they took off their rates altogether, except on their dwelling-houses. They have facilities which we have never had, and those facilities are always granted unconditionally. I would like to know, and I think all would like to know, why farmers, because they have had exceptionally able gentlemen to plead their cause, should have that advantage over the industrial community, which is at least as important, and which has done more to build up the prosperity of this country than the farming industry can ever hope to do.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I shall not attempt to follow the hon. Member in what was not a very good defence of free trade, although he no doubt did his best. I should like him to tell his constituents what some of them may know better than he, that, if it were not for the prosperity of the agricultural industry and for its spending power, the trade of the towns would be very much worse off than at present. The spending capacity of the agricultural industry, which is the largest industry in the country, is a very important factor. I have had an opportunity of speaking in manufacturing places on this point, and it is of vital importance, however we regard this measure, that the towns and the countryside should work together for their mutual benefit. It does not help in that respect, when matters connected with the 2295 towns are being debated, to say "Because nothing is done for agriculture we shall not support you", and vice versa. We have to help each other for the general well-being.
I shall speak only for a few minutes to-day as I have already spoken on this subject, but as I represent one of the districts where the raising of cattle is of primary importance I should be neglecting my duty if I did not say a few words in that behalf. I have already voiced in this House the great debt of gratitude that we owe to the present Minister for the steps he has taken on behalf of our industry, and one and all, farmers and farmworkers, realise that the Minister is doing all he possibly can, and appreciate it. I am always reminded that in the past, when the Government came into office, we did not make the best of our opportunity in the realm of agriculture. I well remember when the Import Duties Act came into operation and there was the question as to whether meat should be on the free list. I considered then, as I consider now, that one of the greatest mistakes we made was to put beef on the free list and omit it from the ordinary tariff. The argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply to us, was:In the present circumstances and having regard, in particular, to the cost of living, we do not consider that it is a time when it would be prudent or wise to put a tax on meat imported into this country.That was regarded as not being a prudent time, but the cost of living to-day is very little lower than it was then. I believe that all our troubles started from that time. If we had had an ordinary tax we could not have gone to Ottawa, or we could not have made an arrangement with Argentine to prevent ourselves from putting a tax upon imported meat, because we should already have some tax in operation, and we should have had infinitely better bargaining power with our friends in the Dominions and with Argentina. The White Paper excellently sets out the whole position from the point of view of inter-imperial trade, whereby an arrangement may be made with the Dominions, the exporting countries and Argentina for some levy and some further control of imports. If an arrangement is not forthcoming, nothing can be done 2296 as regards imports with Argentina until 1936, or with Empire countries until August, 1937.
Having reached that point, unless agreement can be come to, we are bound to fall back, if we are to preserve the future of our livestock industry, upon such a scheme as we have to-day. It is not a popular thing to hand out money to particular industries; nobody likes it, but this is a loan out of the Cattle Fund which is to be repaid as soon as we have a proper scheme of levies. It is not like the subsidies, which have been granted to coal mining and which there is not the slightest possibility or likelihood will be repaid. This is the same type of loan as was given to the Pig Board, and which was repaid very shortly afterwards. We shall owe £4,000,000, but when the scheme of levies comes into operation it will be possible in a very short time to absorb that amount and at the same time to establish a reasonable price in regard to beef production in this country.
As far as my constituency and other constituencies in my part of the country are concerned, we particularly desire that the long-term scheme of the Government of a levy on imports, with a preference to the Dominions should be put forward. We desire that deficiency payments and a guaranteed price to the home producer of not less than 48s. per cwt. must be forthcoming under that scheme. We desire a guaranteed market, which would come from the control of imports, and we do not desire any further marketing scheme for meat until we are satisfied that the marketing schemes in operation are satisfactory, as we hope they may be. One of the most important points is the guaranteed price, Under the present regulations there is no guaranteed price. It is true there is a grant of 5s. per cwt., which has been divided between the producers, the middleman and the consumer, but it has not given a generally stabilised price to the producer of livestock. If we are to continue to produce livestock, we must be assured, not only of a certain market for it, but of a definite guaranteed price when times are bad. Everybody knows that if times improve and general world conditions improve, it may well be that the guaranteed price will be lower than the world price, and in that case the 2297 whole of this operation will not be necessary. At the present time, however, it is of vital importance to those who produce cattle in this country.
There are serious results of the present disastrous condition of prices. The first is that practically all calves in the count-try are being slaughtered. The second is that the ordinary rearing of livestock as an industry, with the considerable employment it gives not only to the farmers and the people that they employ but to the farmers' wives and daughters, is being seriously jeopardised. Until we get a long-term policy and a certainty of a guaranteed price, we cannot expect a farmer to take the enormous risk of rearing cattle from the time they are born, and, having spent a good deal of time and money, to find two or three years afterwards that he is not able to make a profit but has to sell the cattle at considerable loss.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who used to be the Leader of the party of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, wishes to put another million people on the land; but, unless we do something quickly to stabilise the livestock industry, which represents three-fourths of the capital of the agricultural industry, we are not going to be able to think of putting another million people on the land; on the contrary, we shall be taking several hundred thousand people off the land. Those of us who represent agricultural constituencies and realise the importance of this problem know that that would be one of the most disastrous things that could happen. These are some of the problems which affect us in the Midland counties, and we are enormously grateful to the Minister for what he has done. We hope and pray that the very delicate and difficult matters which he trying to arrange with the Dominions and Argentina may quickly come to a successful issue, in order that the general conditions of the agricultural industry may see a permanent improvement.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Sir THOMAS ROSBOTHAM
I, also, feel that I should be failing in my duty as a tenant farmer if I did not say a word or two this morning in support of the present Bill. Some doubt has been expressed as to whether the farmer or 2298 stock-feeder is actually receiving the benefits under the Bill, but I can assure anyone that any doubts on the point can be dismissed, because the farmer and stock-feeder is really receiving the subsidy. Only this morning I had a letter from a farmer who took some cattle to Wigan on Wednesday, and he had the benefit of the subsidy. The Bill also encourages the production of early-maturing beef and of the small joints which are so popular in these days. At the same time it does not increase the price to the consumer, and it gives to all classes the opportunity of obtaining beef of first quality. Why should not the working classes have an opportunity of purchasing first-class beef at a reasonable price? Why should it always be said that we have this cheap foreign beef coining in, and it is good enough for the working classes I maintain that good first-class beef is cheaper than foreign, because it goes much farther. The policy, especially of the Opposition, seems to be that the working classes should be confined to purchasing the low-quality beef.
§ Sir T. ROSBOTHAM
That is the argument that is set forth, but the good-quality beef is cheaper. The main question underlying what we are discussing this morning is: Do we want a British agriculture? I say that, we do want it, that we cannot do without it, and that it is worth the cost. In Lancashire some of the towns would be in a very poor way if it were not for British agriculture. My own town of Ormskirk absolutely depends on the agricultural industry. The farmers and agricultural workers of the district come in on Saturday nights to buy their goods, and, if it were not for that, which can only be maintained by doing something to assist agriculture, the town of Ormskirk—and it is only one of many—would be in a very bad way. Without assistance such as the Bill gives, our rural population will be depleted. It is said that nothing' is ever passed on to the agricultural worker, but we never shall be able to pass anything on to the agricultural worker until we make the agricultural industry prosperous. Already in 28 counties there has been an increase of wages and some reduction of hours. We want that to go on: we want to see the agricultural worker more prosperous and 2299 content. If the farmer goes bankrupt, the worker will be put out of his occupation, and will drift into towns like Middlesbrough and come into competition with the larger number of unemployed people there.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) always makes a point of being in his place when anything comes forward for the benefit of agriculture. He accused the President of the Board of Trade of swallowing his principles; but the right hon. Gentleman has swallowed his principles for the good of his country. What has the hon. Baronet done? It would be better if he followed the right hon. Gentleman's example. The hon. Baronet put foward some very weak arguments this morning. His arguments were all full of apologies. He gave us a report about some of the London markets, but it may be taken for granted that this little Bill does not put up the price of the chilled or foreign meat; it keeps it at a ridiculously low price for those who wish to buy it. The hon. Baronet agrees that, after all, home-fed beef and homegrown vegetables are the very best that can be produced. That is our policy on this side of the House, and that is what the policy of the Minister of Agriculture is for—to increase the quantity of homegrown products, to increase the quantity of good old English roast beef. I would warn the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. E. Young) that his party is a waning party; the way in which its candidates lose their deposits at elections should be sufficient warning of that. The hon. Member mentioned rack rents, but it is not a question of rents. The occupying owner is in a worse position than the rack-rented tenant farmer.
§ Sir T. ROSBOTHAM
Yes, but those who have purchased their farms are in a far worse position than the rack-rented tenant farmer.
§ Sir T. ROSBOTHAM
I daresay that amount is only bringing in about two or three per cent. to the owners. I know that some of my constituents who have bought their farms are in a worse position than tenant farmers; it is far better to be a tenant farmer with a good landlord, who will do your repairs for you, than to have to pay for your own repairs, for draining, for Schedule A, and also for Schedule B. Assistance given to agriculture, as in the case of any other industry, is given in return for organisation. Agriculturists must organise their industry, and we are doing that through the marketing boards. There are many who do not agree with them, but are putting up with them in order to try if something can be done to improve the industry. It is not fair to say that agriculture is not under some obligation to reorganise. It is, and it is doing it. As I have already said, this subsidy goes to the farmer. I do not wish to take up any further time, but I felt it my duty to make these few remarks. When we go to a Division, I hope that, after all the arguments which have been put forward, we shall see Members of the official Opposition and Members below the Gangway going into the Lobby with the Government in order that something of a really practical character may be done to maintain the old-established industry of agriculture and put it on its feet once more.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Perhaps the less the hon. Gentleman says about changing principles and party the better for him.
§ Sir T. ROSBOTHAM
I do not think that is quite fair, because I changed my principles to stand by the country in the hour of danger and the others ran away.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Gentleman need not complain that I have raised the question of changing principles since be readily admits that he did change his principles in order to obtain the seat that he now occupies. Neither ought he to say much about waning parties. I very much doubt whether his party will be a party any longer after the next general election. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill on the Financial Resolution made special reference to the prophets of evil who sit on these benches. We had last July a Bill before the House 2301 whose object was identical with the present Bill. Some Members addressing themselves to this question pointed out that in certain circumstances there would be an increase in the pride of all kinds of meat and that the consumer would have to pay such price while, so far as the general efficiency of the industry was concerned, no guarantees were available at that moment. The right hon. Gentleman says that all these prophecies have not come true, but they did not come true merely because the right hon. Gentleman's policy failed and to the extent of the failure of his policy the prophets were a similar failure.
This, we are told, is another expedient. I agree that a three months' period is a very short one and £1,050,000 is a very small sum of money, and, if that would restore the livestock section of the agricultural industry to prosperity, I should offer no objection to this Measure at all. Indeed, I should think it would be well worth the investment. But these temporary expedients have been going on ever since 1925, and, although sums of money have been expended or given in various forms to preserve agriculture, the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) throughout these ten or twelve years has never failed to declare that the last Measure will restore prosperity to the industry and that without it agriculture will collapse and absolute bankruptcy will follow. He always comes back the next time to say that it is the next Measure that matters. The condition of agriculture at the moment, including the livestock section, is clearly the measure of the policy that he has been supporting throughout these dozen years. They have been such an abject failure in everything they have done that even now we want just £1,000,000 more to prevent utter bankruptcy.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise), who has played such an important part in our agricultural debates and in the agricultural committee, of necessity must come along on every occasion when there is money about and claim that the industry needs it and would collapse without it. I am delighted that at long last he has discovered that there is some importance in the livestock section of the industry. I remember the time when he declared that wheat 2302 was of such paramount importance that, unless the Wheat Act with the annual subsidy of £6,000,000 which was given to that section of the industry, was made available at once, it would collapse. He was so eloquent in his plea that he actually made some of us believe there must be some point in it. At that time wheat was the only section of the industry that really mattered, and once the wheat areas were subsidised and made secure all would be merry and bright in agriculture. I remember him playing an equally important part when the sugar debate was taking place. If the Government would only subsiclise sugar as it was subsidised in Czechoslovakia, Holland, Germany and Timbuctoo, if we would only pay a subsidy for the production of uneconomic sugar, that would place our arable farms on a firm foundation and there would be no more distress in agriculture for a century. At that time the hon. and gallant Gentleman was the last person in the House to confess that either wheat or sugar was insignificant and that livestock was of paramount importance. Now we have a White Paper, for which the Minister presumably is responsible but which no Minister has signed. One must assume that this is the only emblem of Cabinet unity since it represents them all, and no one has put a signature to it.
After £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 has been given to restore wheat and £40,000,000 has been given to sugar, at long last the Minister, or someone, the Government presumably, meaning everybody and meaning nobody, declares that livestock and livestock products represent from 70 to 75 per cent. of the value of the sales of our farms. It is really interesting to discover at long last that wheat and sugar are insignificant and that it is only livestock and livestock products that really matter. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman who acts as chairman of the Conservative Agricultural Committee had told the House and the country at the time of the Wheat Bill that if they had £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 to spare they should give it to the section that is of paramount importance and which represents from 70 to 75 per cent. of the value of the sales of our farms, as the Minister himself states in the document, we could have understood his statement this morning. When he declares 2303 that beef is of paramount importance and that we must have a few more millions to restore beef, he is rather late in the day. If he really had the interests of agriculture at heart, as I believe he has, he would have served the agricultural community better if he had advocated the payment of some of those millions which have gone to wheat and sugar to beef. He would have served the State, he would have served employment, and he would have rendered real value by his contributions in this House, but they were not forthcoming.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asks this morning why the Socialist party always oppose every motion that comes before the House. I will tell the hon. and gallant Member. It is because every proposal that the Conservative party have brought before the House during the last 10 or 12 years, involving the taxpayers and the ratepayers in over £100,000,000, has not been of any value to agriculture at all. Even this morning the Minister declared, in effect, that agriculture was never in a more parlous state than it is now. If that be not justification for the policy of opposition to those expedients which have had no value to agriculture, I do not know what is.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) truly said that the Socialist party are the only party who have attempted to produce a constructive policy and the only party that can make it possible for the hon. and gallant Member or the Minister to do anything in the direction of the marketing of agricultural produce. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has added to the Marketing Act of 1931 the Prohibition Act of 1933 and that he has given to agriculturists all the things that could be done to encourage them to accept, what he himself and intelligent agriculturists themselves also believe, to be the basis of any prosperity in agriculture, the sensible marketing that was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon when the Labour Government passed the original Marketing Act of 1931. But this Measure is one of a different character. They have only had two or three years of marketing experience, but they have had lots of financial subsidies to carry on the Board. They are not succeeding as perhaps they thought they ought to succeed, 2304 and now they are changing from marketing schemes to indirect subsidy schemes of which this is one more example.
In Clause 2 of the Bill we are informed that the Treasury can advance £1,050,000 but that before the end of August the Treasury must be repaid. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman where from? Perhaps he can tell us, so, that it will save me addressing myself to the question. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what Clause 2 means, and from whence the money will be refunded, and if, as I assume, the money is to be refunded out of the levy? We are asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill to lend £1,050,000 to the Cattle Fund, the Fund having to repay the Treasury, when at present there is no source of supply from whence the money shall be drawn. It is only a suggestion in the White Paper that, if the Dominions and foreign countries will agree to a variation of their respective agreements, there shall be a levy and that from part of the levy a refund can be made. Assuming that there is no levy, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the repayment really means, because that is very important? If the repayment must be made out of a levy, it will satisfy the farmer and stockbreeder, and it will satisfy all the farmers, because, as the farmers and stockbreeders seem to suggest, they are now turning from marketing schemes and any element of commercial efficiency to a much easier means of obtaining money from either the taxpayer or the consumer. It is generally known that the Wheat Act was a definite imposition upon the poor.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Gentleman will listen for a moment, I will even try and teach him for once—and it is thought that he understands these questions—that the Wheat Act was an imposition upon the poor. The poorer the family the less meat and other valuable foodstuffs they can afford to buy and the more bread they must consume. As they consume a far greater proportion of bread than people in higher society, they have to pay a bigger proportion of the £6,000,000 indirect subsidy than do the wealthier sections of the community. The hon. Member must know that the wealthier sections of the community only consume bread in the form of crumbs, 2305 over that delectable fish the sole, or over some other such dishes. Therefore, it is an extra levy on the poor section of the community. The beef levy is understood to be another means of imposing upon the poor for the benefit of the well-to-do. If you impose a levy upon frozen or chilled meat, the only kinds of meat that can be purchased by the poorest sections of the community, so that the higher grade English meat can be sold at a price less than its economic price, it means that the poorest section of the community subsidise the richer sections of the community. There is another point, and it is vital to agriculturists. They will take the subsidies either for wheat, sugar, milk, beef or for any other thing, but they will not give control. They will not give a quid pro quo for anything.
Our whole argument against the Minister this morning is not that we would deprive the beef producers of this country of an economic price for their product, even though that required direct assistance from the State on occasion. But if a million pounds is required to subsidise English beef which is sold at An uneconomic price, who ought to provide the million pounds? The consumers of frozen meat or the people who consume the English meat? For my part, I should say that of the levy proposal and the direct Government subsidy, the subsidy is the more equitable, for, at all events, the people who consume high-grade English meat at a price less than it costs to produce it would have to pay the real economic price through the channels of taxation. That is infinitely more fair than a levy. But what the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir T. Rosbotham), the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) and the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) and their colleagues all want are these financial dips without any organisation. They do not want a marketing Board, but an ad hoc commission working in obscurity, collecting a levy on imported beef, frozen and chilled, and merely distributing the cash to the producers of English beef. They do not want any interference with their industry or trade, but they want guaranteed prices. An hon. Member says "Hear, hear." Possibly if I were a farmer, I should want the same thing, but it is very doubtful 2306 that I should expect an intelligent Parliament to give it to me. Whether I am producing coal, beef or anything else, it is expected that I should render a real, useful and. efficient service before I can claim a quantum price for my product. The agriculturist is neither better nor worse than any other section of the community.
§ Mr. EVERARD
As long as that service does not cost too much money. I am afraid that marketing schemes are putting a very large levy upon the people concerned.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
That is because the people in charge of marketing schemes have not experience and have not been interested in marketing schemes. They have not welcomed the marketing scheme at all, and it is only because the Minister has tried by various kinds of bribes to bring them to common sense that they have adopted any schemes at all.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The hon. Member ought to know, if he purchases any. When I arrived home on Friday evening of last week, after a fairly cold spell elsewhere, and looked at my beautiful glowing fire, I immediately despatched an order for some more coal. I. paid about 32s. a ton, and I think it is the cheapest thing that I buy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
If the hon. Member is interested in the production of coal, or the limitation of production, or an increase in price, I would advise him to approach the President of the Board of Trade, who has power, through consumers' organisations, to see that no excess price is charged to the consumer of coal.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I think we had better leave these questions about coal to some other occasion.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
In all industries other than agriculture the inefficient industry has gone to the wall. That industry 2307 which tries to get along without adopting modern business methods stands very little chance of success, and agriculture ought to be no exception. I do not suggest that agriculture can jump from the antiquated methods of a, century ago to modern methods in the twinkling of an eye. It has to go slowly, but so long as the method is continuing and their business methods are improving, I do not think that any complaint can be made even against agriculture. The levy forecast in the White Paper is not likely to be an equitable method of dealing with agriculture. To give £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 to-day and £1,000,000 a few months later, in addition to the many millions already given, the Minister ought to guarantee to the House, the taxpayer and the community generally that for every subsidy, direct or indirect, handed to agriculture—we do not deny the depression at the moment—the distribution costs are going to be dealt with. Guarantee a price to the producer, by all means, so long as he is producing efficiently, but guarantee to the consumer that no party or body between the producer and the consumer is going to exploit the beneficence of the State.
The right. hon Gentleman knows that we have plenty of knowledge about market rings. We have had a report on the slaughtering of cattle. We have had a report of the Cattle Diseases Committee, known as the Hopkins Committee, who say that the quantity of cow beef which floods the market does not give the real beef producer a decent chance. All these reports are valuable, but I do not know of a single thing that the Government have done to give effect to any of their recommendations. Nothing in the way of reorganisation has taken place. It is not because of our desire to see agriculture go bankrupt that we oppose these proposals but because we think that any national assistance to agriculture ought to be accompanied by national guarantees of efficiency. Take the case of the co-operative societies. They have farms in different parts of the country. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) will know that they have six or seven farms close together in his county, under a very able and efficient manager.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
They produce some of the best cattle in the country and sell them to their own butchers' shops, but because they own the farms and sell their own beef to their own butchers' shops they are not permitted to participate in the largesse of the Minister. This Bill cannot be amended to make that possible. It may be that there are 10,000 difficulties surrounding this proposition, and I am not sure that I ought to be asking for the co-operative societies to participate in anything that the right hon. Gentleman gives to agriculture, but if he is giving £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 for three months and £1,000,000 for another month he ought not to exclude a very important section of the agricultural industry, as represented by the co-operative farms. I would ask whether or not he can see his way clear between now and the committee stage to make the Bill, bad though it may be with its omission, equitable in its applications. We are as interested as the hon. Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) in agriculture, and we want to see it prosper. Our policy is open for the world to see. We want to do the right thing for the producer, the consumer and the State, and it is because of the omissions from this Bill that we shall be obliged to vote against it.
§ 1.11 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
I am sure that we all welcome home our hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). It was with great regret that we felt his absence from our counsels, and we only hope that his long voyage overseas has restored him fully to health. We shall welcome him back again to our debates, although I noticed a certain ascerbity in his tones which I think was not always there before he went away. I hope very much that his recovery of health will not go so far as to put an edge to his sword and give to it an unfriendly swish, because we have engaged in many friendly debates and I hope we shall be able to continue them. I think his logic has suffered a little during his long voyage overseas. He put forward some very interesting arguments. He said the retailer was getting too much, and the middleman was obtaining an undue amount of profit, and that an attack ought to be launched on the middleman's profits. He wound up with an eloquent plea that the subsidy 2309 should be given to the retailer, because he happened to be a co-operator. That seemed to be a non sequitur.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I said that while we disagree with the methods, for reasons that I explained, if the subsidy must be given to producers it should be given to all producers, and not to the retailers at all. Surely, if the Leicester Co-operative Society has five, six or seven farms and their main industry is the production of cattle, they are entitled to participate in the fund as well as the farms that have joined them.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member having failed to say whether the price of coal had been raised by the quota, has also failed to answer my question. His contention was that the wicked middle man was getting away with so much profit that it was impossible to contend that any subsidy should be given to him. In the case of co-operative societies they are getting so much retail profit that they do not need any additional subsidy from the State. How does the hon. Member escape from that? We may take it that the co-operative societies are perfectly happy and do not need the subsidy.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must admit that if the cooperative societies as producers of cattle can manage without subsidies, because of their efficiency, that is a full justification for my argument.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The producer butcher is not getting the subsidy anywhere because the purpose of this proposal is not to subsidise butchers. Why should the butchers get the subsidy? Does the hon. Member suggest that the butchers are losing money?
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The producer butcher who is getting the retail profit is not getting the subsidy. No producer butcher is getting this subsidy. We do not make any exception. The argument of the hon. Member is that in addition to the profits being made just now by the retail trade, that trade should also have the advantage of the subsidy given by the State. That is entirely illogical. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The producer butcher, whether a co-operative society or a private individual, does not get this subsidy. Does the hon. Member deny that. This does 2310 not differentiate against a co-operative society. Is it his contention that this subsidy should be given to all producer butchers?
Mr. WI LLIAMS
The right hon. Gentleman must not put into my mouth words which I did not use. I said that a farm owned by a co-operative society which sells beef to certain co-operative butchers ought to enjoy the same privileges as are given to farms adjoining the co-operative farm. Take a simple example. If a co-operative society owns a farm in Leicestershire and sells its beef to co-operative butchers and a privately owned farm adjoins the co-operative farm, the privately owned farm will secure the subsidy and the co-operative farm will not. The privately owned farm may sell their beef and cattle to the co-operative society in the same way as the co-operative farm sells its beef to the co-operative society. I am not asking for a subsidy for the retailers or butchers, or any one else but the farmer who produces the meat.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The hon. Member should be aware of the fact that a privately owned farm which, like a co-operative farm, sells its beef retail gets no subsidy. Neither the co-operative farm nor the privately owned farm which produces beef and retails it gets the subsidy. There is no favouritism, no discrimination. The person who enjoys the profits of the retail trade does not enjoy the subsidy because no one will suggest that the retail trade is in the same position as the producer. If we are agreed that it would be unjust for the producer butcher to get the subsidy in these circumstances we shall also agree that it would be unjust to make a differentiation in favour of the co-operative producer butcher.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
There may not be many, of course, in Walthamstow, but there are many places where there are many producer butchers, and the hon. Member should know that. I quite admit that the Debate really has been of a friendly nature. The suggestion has been made that in getting assistance from the State agriculture itself has not undergone re-organisation. That struck me as about the oddest accusation I have ever 2311 heard. How much re-organisation has the coal trade undergone in consideration of the enormous amount of assistance it has had from the State? Nothing compared with agriculture. Surely one of the main complaints of hon. Members opposite against me is the amount of reorganisation which is going on in agriculture. It is true that they sometimes speak with two voices. We have the hon. Member for the Don Valley stressing their responsibility for the 1931 Act and the marketing scheme, and expressing a desire that it should be fully operated. On the other hand, we have his colleague, Mr. A. V. Alexander, a member of the Cabinet which was responsible for the 1931 Act, covering the country with pamphlets against marketing schemes and vehemently inveighing against the egg marketing scheme, for which the right hon. Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) has a certain amount of responsibility. I hope that the hon. Member for the Don Valley will have a few words with his friend the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) who has been denouncing the marketing scheme on the ground that it is a burden to the consumer, and will come forward and say that these are things for which the Socialist party take full responsibility and that their only complaint against the Minister of Agriculture is that he does not press them forward and insist upon them.
Nobody can complain that agriculture is not taking the most vigorous steps towards re-organisation. Our only fear is that we should press the matter too fast and too far. It is no good introducing great schemes of organisation unless the people in an industry are able to rise to the height of the re-organisation. The only reason why agriculture asks that we should go slower is that it wishes to see the schemes already in operation a success before re-organisation is extended in further directions. Organisation in agriculture in this country has been a marvellous achievement, and the last accusation that can be brought against it is that it has not done its utmost to re-organise in recognition of the assistance and support it has received from the State. The right hon. Member for Swindon has repeated to-day that this Bill is to give time for the Government to make up its mind. Instead of that it is to allow those who 2312 are sending goods into this country to make up their minds. It is for their benefit, not for ours, that we are holding our hands and are not bringing into force the restrictions which we have power to do under our treaties. It is for the good of those engaged in trade and commerce overseas that we are holding our hands. We want them to determine whether the matter shall be dealt with by quantitative restrictions or by tariffs, with a preference to the Dominions. Those are the problems upon which they have to make up their minds, and that is why we come to the House for this further assistance. It is not a valid argument to say that this money is to be found because the Government do not wish to make up their mind. There is also the point that we shall never recover as long as the purchasing power of the people is allowed to remain as it is. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon is aware of the fact that the effect of the policy of the Labour Government, towards the end of their period of office, was that two people lost their jobs every minute—
§ Dr. ADDISON
I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic and perhaps he will explain what he means by saying that two men lost their jobs every minute.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman but every minute in the year two men lost their jobs when the Socialist Government were in power in 1931.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
No. The whole weight of the attack had not got round to agriculture, but if we had not taken the necessary steps it would have begun to apply to agriculture also. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that the passing on of these benefits to the agricultural labourer is safeguarded by the wages boards. Repeated rises in the wages of agricultural workers have taken place. The farmer is doing his best to see that there is co-operation with the labourers and that a proper share of any benefit is handed on.
The Liberal party spoke through the mouth of the hon. Baronet the Member 2313 for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Young). The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough went a great way to disprove one of the arguments brought forward by the hon. Member for Don Valley. The hon. Member for Don Valley said that if this levy is to be paid on imported meat it will in the long run be paid by the poorer consumers. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough contended that it would be paid by the foreigner, and he went on to indicate that as the levy went on so the subsidies of foreign Governments would go higher and higher.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
That is exactly what I was saying. The hon. Member said the whole of this burden would be borne by foreign countries. I thought that admission was a sign of grace on his part, and that the hon. Member was pointing out a new sort of revenue. It is useless for me to suppose, in face of a proposal like that, that this House will refuse a levy. It is unnecessary to go deeply into the arguments of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough and the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green. Let them convince their own party before they try to convince the House of Commons. I am interested in the representation of the Liberal, party this afternoon. It is very odd how seldom agricultural members of the party come down to give us the benefit of their opinions on this matter. I have been looking up the voting of the party in the past. In July, 1934, on the Financial Resolution, four of them voted for the Resolution, nine voted against and 18 abstained altogether. On the Second Reading two of them voted for, 10 against, and 19 abstained.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
Not of the whole Liberal party, but of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) once described as "the bifurcated rump of a party." On the Third Reading two voted for, 10 against, and 19 abstained. In February of this year none of the party voted for the Financial Resolution, seven voted against it, and made up for that by 24 abstaining aitogether. When the matter came along in Committee of Supply four voted for, eight against and 19 abstained altogether. I should add that the followers of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) took up the position of complete teetotalism. They were total abstainers on all the Divisions.
One or two questions were asked me by the hon. Member for Don Valley. He asked how the repayment of these advances would be made. It does not, of course, come from the levy. There is no power in this Bill to impose a levy. This is a series of accounting entries and the money will be repaid from Government funds. It must come up in a Supplementary Estimate. It will, of course, be repaid by the levy in the long run. As for the hon. Member's general arguments upon the meat levy, I think it would be desirable to postpone the reply until the question of the levy is actually brought before the House. I do not think the policy of "British beef for the British working man" is a policy of which this Government or any Government need be ashamed, And we shall be content to meet the argument against it when the time comes. This admittedly is a Measure which can only be defended upon the grounds that we are working to a longterm policy. We can claim that we are doing that. The policy has been laid before the House in the White Paper. It is therefore with great confidence that I ask the House now to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put, "That the wood new' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 120; Noes, 23.2315
|Division No. 86.]||AYES.||[1.34 p.m.|
|Albery, Irving James||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Braithwaite, J, G. (Hillsborough)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J.||Brass, Captain Sir William|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Beaumont, Hn. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Brocklebank, C. E. R.|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Bllndell, James||Brown.Brig.-Gen, H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward|
|Cooke, Douglas||Leckie, J. A.||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).|
|Crooks, J. Smedley||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Selley, Harry R.|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovll)||Mabane, William||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Mac Andrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Smithers, Sir Waldron|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Maitland, Adam||Somerville. Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Storey, Samuel|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Mayhew, Lieut-Colonel John||Sugden, Sir Wilfred Hart|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Mills. Sir Frederick (Loyton, E.)||Thomas.James P. L. (Hersford)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Fox, Sir Gilford||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Tree, Ronald|
|Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Goldie, Noel B.||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Nunn, William||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Grigg, Sir Edward||Palmer, Francis Noel||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Patrick, Colin M.||Watt, Major George Steven H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Penny, Sir George||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Potter, John||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Wood, Rt. Hon, Sir H. Kingsley|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Robinson, John Roland||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Captain Sir George Bowyer and|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||West, F. R.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Lawson, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Batey, Joseph||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)|
|Daggar, George||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wilmot, John|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Parkinson, John Allen||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Edwards, Charles||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Janner, Barnett||Thorne, William James||Mr. Groves and Mr. Paling.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
Resolutions agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Dr. Morris-Jones.]