§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
On the 6th July last, my predecessor, the Secretary of State for Scotland, outlined in the House the permanent proposals of His Majesty's Government for safeguarding the livestock branch of the agricultural industry. The House has already considered and has approved, in Committee of Ways and Means, one of the features of that policy, which was a Resolution imposing a duty of ¾d. a pound on imports of foreign chilled beef and corresponding duties on other beef products. The arrangements for regulating the flow of beef supplies to this country were also described in advance by my right hon. Friend, who told the House then that it was proposed to entrust this duty to an international body called the International Beef Conference, with an associated Empire Beef Conference. I am glad to say that the arrangements for the setting up of these conferences are very well advanced, and we hope to be able to make a very early announcement on the subject. These two things —the duty on beef and the regulation of imports to this market—are very important features of the policy, but the Bill for which I now ask a Second Reading fills in the blanks and deals more particularly with what I might call the domestic side of the livestock industry; that is to say, having done our best to secure the external position, we now proceed to take the corresponding measures which are necessary to promote the efficiency and earning capacity of the industry inside this country itself.
I do not propose to-day to dwell at any length on the importance of this branch of the industry. The House during the past two and a half years has had many opportunities of considering emergency legislation on the subject, and my right hon. Friend has frequently emphasised to the House the great importance of livestock to this country of ours. Perhaps to-day it will be 188 sufficient if I remind the House that the livestock industry, with its products, accounts for three-quarters of the value of the output of our farms and that beef alone is responsible for nearly a fifth of the farmers' income, taking the average all over the country. I would also remind the House that our breeding stock is predominant in the world. The industry has been carried on with great success in the past, and it has reached a position which is world-famous. Therefore, on that account as well as for the other reasons which I have mentioned, it is deserving of the sympathy and consideration of this House.
But there is one other aspect of the livestock industry to which I would particularly direct attention. An adequate livestock population upon the fields of this land is essential to the fertility of those fields, and if in any time of emergency we were to call for increased production from those fields, they would only respond if in the meantime they had been carrying their normal equipment of livestock, and that is a consideration of which I am sure the House will take note. Therefore I assume, owing to the discussions of the last two and a half years, that I can proceed, in propounding this Bill, on the assumption that the House as a whole is fully seized of the essential importance of the livestock industry, and if that is so, I submit that certain things follow quite definitely from that position. If the livestock producer of this country is to carry on his business as he has carried it on in the past, under different world conditions, he must have some reasonable expectation that he can make a living out of it. That is the first point which seems to me to be essential. Secondly, I would say that if we are to assist this industry from public funds, we must give that assistance in a form which provides not only cash but an encouragement towards better quality production and that principle the House will find contemplated in the Bill. Thirdly, I think the House would expect that if public money is to be given to this industry for its assistance, the Government, in proposing that assistance, should combine with it proposals for the more efficient marketing of the products of the livestock industry, so as to make sure that the greatest possible assistance to the industry is given, not only by public funds, but by reorganisation of its 189 own processes of distribution and marketing. It is on these three principles that I commend this Bill to the House to-day.
With regard to the first of these, the Bill proposes the safeguarding of the meat market in this country by the regulation of imports. It is true that we hope that the regulation will be effectively carried out by those who, if they do cooperate together, are in the best position to do it, namely, the producers themselves, but it is essential to provide against the contingency, which I hope will not arise, that this method may not succeed. The Bill provides, as a safeguard against that contingency, that the Board of Trade shall have the necessary powers to regulate the quantities of livestock and meat imported into our markets. I hope I need not argue at length the necessity for some proposal of that character. I believe quite firmly that it is contrary to the public interest that you should have a state of affairs all over the world, as well as in this country, in which the products of the livestock industry are disposed of at prices which are grossly unremunerative. I believe it to be bad, not only for the producers, but in the long run for the consumers, because the reaction of a long spell of depression upon an industry of this character always leads to a reduction of output to an extent which makes for disaster from the consumers' point of view in the long run. You cannot live indefinitely upon bankrupt stock, and to do anything which would result in a policy of that character would be acting in a way not only ruinous to producers, but in the long run jeopardising the consumers' access to a steady supply of food.
I would say that our method of trying to settle this matter by international co-operation is, I believe, the right method to adopt. It is not in the interests of this country as a whole that agricultural production in the livestock branch should be conducted at a loss in our own Dominions or elsewhere abroad. As long as we have trading interests in those parts, it would surely be to our advantage if all the producers could get together and ensure such a flow of imports to our market as would provide them with reasonable remuneration and a reasonable reward for their toil. This international co-operation, which I hope will be successful, involves the free ex- 190 change of market intelligence, and we must try to build up an organisation on these lines which will produce harmony among the nations concerned. I need say nothing further on that except to repeat that if this plan of international co-operation does not work, as we hope it will, there is power in the Bill for His Majesty's Government to effect the necessary regulation.
I have dealt with this aspect of the policy now because I believe it to be the stable foundation on which the rest of the Bill is built. A regulated meat market is, in the Government's opinion, the first essential, and we propose to adopt these methods for securing the market so that we can build on that firm basis something of lasting good to the industry. It would be possible no doubt to make such drastic use of these powers as to create a shortage, but the Government have no intention of doing anything of the sort. If however supplies to our markets are to he continued at about recent levels there will be a deficiency between what is realisable for the livestock industry of this country and the broad average of production costs in the conditions of Great Britain. Therefore, we say it is right and proper that, as we are allowing supplies to be obtained at reasonable levels, we should make a contribution in order to make up the deficiency which will thereby result, and it is proposed in the Bill that an annual subsidy not exceeding £5,000,000 shall be at the disposal of the industry under proper safeguards.
In order to attain the second object I have mentioned it is essential that the subsidy proposal should take account of quality. There should be more encouragement for the production of animals of better class than there is for the inferior sort. I know that this cash end of the business is the one which is of great interest to many hon. Members, and that they would like to know precisely what are the proposals which we have in mind for the subsidy. It is obvious that, as the Bill entrusts the management of the subsidy to a permanent Commission, it will he premature for me to say what precise figures are in view. They cannot be stated until the Bill is passed, which I hope will be as speedily as possible, and until the Commission have been set up and their proposals considered. As it is an important matter, I hope to give to the House shortly, before the Com- 191 mittee stage if possible, a statement in the form of a White Paper showing what we have in view with regard to the provisions of the subsidy so that hon. Members can approach the Bill in its later stages with a definite idea of what the Government have in view, it being always understood that the final arrangements cannot come into operation until the Commission is set up. The forecast which I will then give to the House, therefore, must be provisional.
We have proposals of an important character for dealing with the efficiency side of the industry. There are two matters in particular which are dealt with by the Bill. One is the problem of livestock markets, and the second is the problem of slaughtering livestock. There is also a third which the Bill will enable to be carried into effect, namely, the cooperation of all the interests concerned for schemes of service to the industry, such as advertising, education and the like. When one considers the magnitude of the problems which are involved in market reorganisation and in the question of central slaughtering, it will be obvious that there is a heavy task in front of those who undertake that duty. It is for that purpose that the Government have decided that the best method of approaching it is to create an organisation capable of the task. Therefore, the independent non-representative Commission which is foreshadowed in the Bill will be charged with the duty of making proposals for the reorganisation of markets and for schemes for central slaughtering. I hope that we shall find the House ready to accede to this Commission in principle.
I know that there are hon. Members who feel a little suspicious about this Commission, thinking that in some way it is a derogation from the producers' control which has been exercised in other branches of the industry. I would ask hon. Members to reflect on the magnitude of the tasks which await this body. The matters concerned with markets involve contacts with local authorities, and involve, it may be, powers to over-ride certain ancient charters and private Acts. The problem of slaughtering involves not only local authorities and the bodies directly concerned, but contact with the problems of public health. When the House reflects on these matters, I am confident that it will 192 come to the conclusion that it is in the interests of producers and all concerned that the negotiation of these schemes should be entrusted, not to a producers' board because the problems which it will have to encounter go far outside the range of normal producer activity, but to a body independent and armed with sufficient power to conduct this important work. I regard the Commission as practically the keystone of the policy. It will have a very important and continuous part to play in all the long-term proposals for the development and better organisation of the livestock industry.
I will now refer in more detail to some of the proposals in the Bill. On the question of the subsidy, it being granted that there is a necessity for assistance, the question is what that assistance should be. Why is this branch of the industry taken? It is not only because it is important, but because recently it has not been sufficiently remunerative. The needs of it compared with the position of farming as a whole may be judged by the following figures for England and Wales which have been got out by my Department. The general index number of agricultural prices fell from December, 1929, to December, 1936, by 17 points, or by 13 points if allowance is made for the wheat and cattle subsidy payments; whereas the index of fat cattle prices fell in the same period by 39 points, or by 25 points when account is taken of the cattle subsidy, showing that this vital branch of the industry has in recent years suffered most severely from the depression and bad times. Some hon. Members will say that £5,000,000 is inadequate, and others will say that it is too much, but I hope to be in a position to justify the amount.
One of the forms which criticism of the amount takes is expressed in the desire for a guaranteed price. I venture to suggest that some of the advocacy behind that method of approaching the situation is based upon a false analogy with the Wheat Act. In the case of wheat, the home-grown product is a very small proportion of the total supply over which you can spread a subsidy derived from a small levy placed upon the whole output of flour, and consequently that works very well. In the case of meat there is no such disproportion between home production and imports, and consequently it would be difficult to impose such a levy 193 or to guarantee a price in that way. There are other difficulties. A guaranteed price would be a very difficult thing for this House to accept. It would be very wrong to ask the House to place upon the Exchequer an unforeseen and unforeseeable liability.
If that course were followed, the last state of the industry might conceivably prove to be worse than the first. Those of us who recollect the fate that befell the Corn Production Act, when an unlimited liability was undertaken by the country, will remember that the burden proved one which the Government of the day could not carry, or refused to carry, and men who had been induced to launch out into great expenditure on the faith of that promise were disappointed and found their last state worse than their first. I ask the House to accept it as a cardinal principle that no policy for agriculture is really sound, really in the interests of the industry, unless permanence is one of its essential features. Agriculture is an industry which moves with a biological rhythm. You cannot accelerate that rhythm as you can speedup the mass production of a motor car factory, for example, and unless the farmer is enabled to look ahead with confidence for a period of years, he will never derive any lasting benefit from proposals, however attractive they may seem. For these reasons I venture to say that it is in the interests of the industry itself, as well as better practice for this House, that the assistance should be given in the way suggested in the Bill rather than that we should pledge ourselves to a guaranteed price, which, mark you, if we were to adopt that method, would need to be pitched so low as to be of little assistance to the industry.
I am not going to talk at all about the ¾d. per lb. duty on beef from abroad. Hon. Members can form their own opinions as to the effect which that will have upon the industry. It has been asserted that it will be of no benefit to British agriculture, because the Argentine Government will pay a subsidy to their producers which will equalise the disadvantage under which the duty places them. I would much rather await the event than prophesy at the present moment; but if that should be so I think it is a sufficient argument for those who would have us confine our assistance to the industry to what is called "a straight 194 tariff," because if, as is asserted, that tariff can be so easily wiped out by a foreign subsidy it would afford very little protection to our own industry. But I prefer to wait and see how the matter develops. I would only say one other thing about the subsidy and that is that there is a provision whereby the rates can be varied from time to time by the Commission with the approval of Ministers and the Treasury—and it will not be necessary, therefore, to come to this House for further legislation every time some minor alteration is proposed in the rates of subsidy or in the administrative arrangements. Probably that step is one which will commend itself to the House.
§ Mr. De Chair
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that the subsidy can be enlarged by the Commission beyond the sum of £5,000,000?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. I thought I had made it clear that the sum of £5,000,000 is a maximum—the subsidy is not to exceed £5,000,000.
I now wish to turn to the proposals for dealing with livestock markets. Though it is a difficult problem, from which Governments have at times shrunk in the past, some reform is overdue. It has been mentioned by commission after commission and committee after committee that the redundancy of markets inflicts damage upon producers. I hope that in our decision to tackle this problem we shall not be regarded as precipitate. It is go years since the House passed a general Markets Act, and in those go years immense changes have taken place. We have had two major revolutions in transport, the advent of the railway and the advent of the motor car. We have had immense changes in communication, including the introduction of the telegraph and the telephone; and now we have the fat stock prices upon the radio. In spite of that, the House has not seen fit, up to now, to approach the question of markets for a period of go years.
I shall not deal at any length with the deficiencies of our markets system. There are in Great Britain £1,100 markets, handling some 25,000,000 head of livestock each year, and there are a number of small markets in certain areas which tend to defeat the very object of a market. What is the object 195 of a market? Its object is to attract a sufficient number of potential buyers, so that there shall exist healthy competition between those buyers to secure the produce which is offered for sale, and it is obvious that where there are small and redundant markets there is no real competition; there is not a real market at all and the producer suffers. There are other ways in which markets need improvement. Some of them do so little business that they have not been properly equipped, though the equipment of a market is often a matter of vital importance to the producer and may in the end affect the return for his labours. Many markets are to this day shackled by ancient charters. In some cases there may be two markets in neighbouring towns, and even in the same town, taking place at the same time, and distributing between them business which is only sufficient for one.
I am anxious not to overstress this problem of redundancy. The question is not one of dealing with the small market, necessarily, but with the market which is redundant, that is, a market the continued existence of which operates against the interests of producers. It is a regional problem; it depends on the demands of the area whether a market is redundant or not, and the Bill proposes that the Commission shall make recommendations for dealing with the country area by area. Ample safeguards are provided. Public notice must be given by the Commission of their intention to submit a draft Order. The Minister to whom the draft Order is submitted must consider any objections and may order a public inquiry. The Bill then applies the Provisional Order procedure, which the House has long approved in cases where private interests are involved. In the last resort recourse can be had to a Select Committee of either House, or a Joint Select Committee if that be expedient, and there the case of anyone opposing the proposal can be stated. No action can be taken which is detrimental to the interests concerned until after there has been the fullest examination and consideration of the position. There are provisions for compensation for interests adversely affected; for example, if some redundant market is no longer authorised. The money for compensa- 196 tion does not come out of the Cattle Fund, but out of a levy made on the owners of those markets and on the auctioneers concerned who, as a consequence of the operation of the Order, stand to benefit by the exclusion of their competitors. Owing to the susceptibilities which may be offended by any suggestion of closing small markets I am anxious that the House should realise that the important part about the proposals is not the closing of markets, but an improvement in the efficiency and equipment of the vast majority which will remain. We propose that under these orders the Commission should be given power to deal comprehensively with equipment, and also to make by-laws specifying matters which make for efficiency and fairness in the markets.
I pass to the slaughtering provisions of the Bill. In the discussions which have taken place, some people have said that centralised slaughtering is the key which would unlock the door to the whole problem of the livestock industry. Others have held that while centralised slaughtering has worked with remarkable proficiency in South America, such conditions did not obtain in our country, and they were disinclined to believe that there was anything in the idea. The Government believe that there is certainly enough in the idea to warrant an experimental approach to the problem. There are 15,000 private slaughterhouses and 100 public abattoirs in England and Wales, the latter handling about one-quarter of the total slaughterings. Scotland, on the other hand, has about 150 public slaughterhouses dealing with about 90 per cent. of the home-killed meat consumed in that country. When you see one big public slaughterhouse, you do not necessarily see a building that is operating as a unit. Very often there are a number of small slaughtering units under one roof, which entails a good deal of overlapping and inefficiency.
Many committees have dealt with the question of slaughterhouses. I need not go into what they have all said, but they have all concurred in the view that it is time the problem were approached in a way promising the best method of solution. We have any number of plans on paper for reform; what we want to get is an answer to the question. No one has 197 ever been able to say with complete certainty how this idea, which works so well in the great meat-exporting countries, will work in the very different situation existing in our Island. We believe that we must experiment to get at the facts. Therefore, the proposals in the Bill dealing with slaughterhouses are quite different from those in Part IV relating to markets and designed to provide a permanent legislative machine for comprehensive reform of the markets system of the country. Part V embodies no such general policy. Future policy in this matter can be determined only when we have the facts and have time to consider them and to frame our policy in accordance with the facts revealed by this experiment.
There are not more than three experiments authorised by the Bill. It will be open to any local authority or any body or company to submit to the Commission proposals for the erection or adaptation of a central slaughterhouse and if the Commission, having regard to the situation of the building and the equipment with which it is proposed to furnish it, think that the proposal offers the sort of thing that we want for this experiment, they can submit the scheme to the appropriate Minister—myself for England and Wales, and, in relation to Scotland, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The scheme will still have to be approved. One fact about central slaughtering which must be faced is that it imposes a certain amount of control over slaughtering in the area in which it is proposed to erect the meat factory. One essential feature in the economic working of these concerns will be that there shall be a continuous through-put to enable them to work efficiently. What is proposed in the Bill is that the Commission may provide two zones, one, the nearer zone, in which it can, if necessary—it entirely depends upon the locality—close down existing slaughterhouses with compensation. In the other zone, the Commission can restrict development of slaughtering. The reason for the latter provision is that it is always possible, after erecting a central slaughterhouse which attracts a large number of cattle, that more private slaughterhouses might be erected, and thus jeopardise the through-put and prevent the scheme from showing us what we want to know, namely, how the factory system works in British conditions.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Will the Minister tell me, purely for information, whether he visualises the possibility of a local authority or a combination of local authorities, or private individuals, producing this central scheme, and submitting such a scheme to the livestock advisory committee, which will hand it on to the Commission and to the Minister?
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly; it will be open to any such combination of local authorities as the hon. Gentleman suggests to submit a scheme of that character. The scheme must specify all matters about compensation and a great deal of the detail as to how the slaughterhouse will be run. If those conditions are satisfactory it will go ahead, under the supervision of the Commission.
§ Mr. Morrison
Such a course is theoretically possible. I told the House that we are to have only three experiments. Considerations such as that mentioned by the hon. Member will do doubt profoundly influence the Commission in selecting the localities in which they start the experiments. I should think it very improbable that they would place themselves in such a position as the hon. Member has in view. An authority can choose any area for these experiments, and I should not think it would put itself in that position.
§ Mr. Morrison
Of course, all these things are theoretically possible. The Commission will have to choose. It is very unlikely, in the first place, that anyone will go forward with a scheme whose economic possibilities are absurd; in the second place, it is highly improbable that the Commission would forward such a scheme to me, and, in-the third place, it is highly improbable that I should approve it.
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. My original answer to the hon. Gentleman who asked me a question on this point is the right one. The whole matter will be closely supervised.
I would only say one more thing about the Commission. I ought to have said it earlier, because it may dispel some alarm which is felt about this matter. The Commission is to be advised continuously by a body called the Livestock Advisory Committee, which will be representative of all the interests involved or affected by the proposals of the Bill. Consequently, the House may take it, as an assumption on which it can rely, that the machinery we are setting up in connection with the Advisory Committee will bring before it all such local considerations as may specifically affect the problem.
With regard to the three experiments for which the Bill provides, there is the most elaborate provision for securing that all interests that may be adversely affected shall have full opportunities for consultation with the Commission and full opportunities for making their views known. Not only can they negotiate with the Commission, but they can, when the matter has reached the stage of Ministerial approval, make their point of view known, and in the last resort the schemes for central slaughterhouses will have to be laid before this House, and will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. There is every possible method that we can devise for securing that no injustice is done.
There is one other thing that I should like to say, as I am anxious to assist the hon. Member opposite who asked me a question. We consider that the body of persons, or local authority, or whoever it may be, who engages in the enterprise of conducting one of our three experimental slaughterhouses, is conducting pioneer work, which I believe will be of great value to the country, and for that reason we think it right and proper that the Minister should have power to assist these enterprises from public funds; and a sum not exceeding £250,000 in all will be placed by the Exchequer at the disposal of the Minister for the purpose of assisting these enterprises, because they 200 are national experiments. I would like to make it clear, because there has been some apprehension on the matter, that this £250,000 does not come out of the Cattle Fund; it is entirely separate. As to where these experiments will be carried out—
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
May I ask whether this grant of £250,000 will be entirely in respect of capital cost, or whether it will include any provision for compensation? If not, how is it proposed to deal with compensation?
§ Mr. Morrison
We propose to deal with compensation in the scheme, and it must vary with the conditions of the locality where the slaughterhouse is intended to be erected. Of course, it will be possible for the authorities to use for compensation whatever funds they can get. If by one of these schemes the position of some other slaughterhouse is improved, it would be possible to provide for making a levy for that purpose.
§ Mr. Morrison
No. I want to make it perfectly clear that the £5,000,000 is quite a separate matter.
I shall be asked where we propose to carry out these experiments, but at the present moment I am quite unable to say. It is a matter for consideration by the Commission, and depends entirely on the sort of schemes that are put before us. They may be anywhere in the whole of Great Britain. There might be an idea, for example, to try out an experiment in a big exporting district, say in the North-East of Scotland. One might be there, and there might be two in England, either in large producing areas or in large consuming areas, as may seem fit, but the matter will require very careful judgment if we are to get the best advantage out of these proposals.
On Part VI of the Bill, which relates to service schemes, I need not say a great deal. The purpose we have in view is to provide some means by which all sections of the industry can co-operate, either jointly or severally or nationally or locally, in order to carry out schemes of service to the industry. I have given the example of advertising. I would emphasise that this part of the Bill is purely enabling legislation; it enables 201 those who desire any sort of service to co-operate effectively for the purpose. How far it is made use of will depend, of course, upon the initiative, the ingenuity and the needs of those who might be helped by the proposals. I could give many instances of service schemes, and perhaps at a later stage I may be permitted to develop this very important part of the Bill a little further.
There is one thing to which it might be convenient to refer, because I have received a number of inquiries on the subject. I said earlier that the Livestock Commission will have to consult such bodies as appear to the Commission to be representative of the local interests concerned, and I am asked, who are those bodies? The House will see from the wording of the Bill that I cannot bind in advance the Livestock Commission, which does not yet exist, by any specific assurance as to what will ultimately occur, but I can give a quite unqualified general assurance that the whole conception underlying this part of the Bill is that the fullest possible consultation should take place from the outset with all substantial interests affected or likely to be affected by these proposals. What I have said so far refers to consultation in the initial stages, when schemes are being prepared, but, of course, the procedure for the making and confirmation of these Livestock Markets Orders and central slaughterhouse schemes, and so on, makes it quite open to all bodies who are interested to make their views known first of all to the Commission, then to the Minister, and, in the case of the Livestock Markets Orders, to Parliament itself. Such bodies as chambers of commerce and chambers of trade will have the fullest opportunity, therefore, of making their views heard.
Some hon. Members asked me why this Bill varies a little from the Agricultural Marketing Acts in that it does not specifically and by Statute enjoin consultation with the different Ministers for the purposes of the Act. I assure the House that that is merely a matter of form and wording. When the Minister exercises his powers and duties under this Bill, he is acting, not for himself, but for the Government as a whole, and his act is the act of the Government. Therefore it is perfectly obvious that, before any Minister takes action which involves the 202 duties of other Departments, consultation is the normal and inevitable consequence, and it seems to us, as a matter of drafting, to be quite unnecessary to state by Statute what is the well accepted constitutional position as between Ministers and the Government.
I am not going to say anything about the Amendment, which hon. Members opposite have put down. I have such a high respect for their ingenuity that I should hesitate to prophesy or anticipate the arguments which they might adduce in favour of their Amendment; but I note with some satisfaction that they give a blessing to those parts of the Bill which deal with efficiency, marketing, and so on, and from that I hope I can say that I shall have their support for 45 out of 55 of the Clauses of the Bill. If I can be assured of that, I look forward to the Committee Stage with some confidence. Of course, they object to the subsidy; they state, in an extremely wide form, that they object to any measures calculated to swell private profits at the public expense. I do not know how far they are prepared to carry that principle, but I would only say this about the agricultural industry as it is affected here: I believe that assistance to the livestock industry of this country is not merely a matter of private enrichment. There is no enrichment at the moment. The money spent in assisting the livestock industry of this country goes back to the capital resources of the country, because to improve the stock, is to improve the land. (Laughter.) Hon. Members opposite laugh, but the land of this country is the possession of all the people in it. I do not deal with land in the narrow sense of hon. Members opposite; I mean that every single citizen has an interest in the fields of this country in that they should be able in time of need to supply him with nourishment. The well-being of the land, therefore, is of interest to every single citizen.
I would only say, in conclusion, a few words about changing organisation. In dealing with the problem of the agricultural industry it is necessary to remember the necessity for permanence, and the slow procedure of the biological processes in agriculture. But at the same time, that slowness should not apply to methods for better organisation. It would be folly for us to take up the point of view 203 that agriculture is a static industry and that one form of organisation is good for all time. Agriculture is a dynamic industry. It changes very rapidly from year to year according to world events over which we have no control, and we must be prepared, if we approach the problem of agricultural organisation, to take wide views and keep open minds, and to adopt those methods which modern practice and modern thought seem to us best to fit in with modern conditions. I believe that this Bill when it becomes law will mark a further step forward in the great problem of restoring agriculture to a proper position in our island. Of course no one can say that this Bill alone is the final embodiment of the wisdom of the Government, but the operations to which it will give rise will be of lasting good to the agricultural industry, and, in benefiting that industry, it will be in the interest of everyone in this country.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House welcomes legislation for better marketing and central slaughtering of livestock, but regrets the absence of any provisions for ascertaining the cost of production of fat cattle, and cannot assent to measures calculated to swell private profits at the public expense.If the speech to which the House has just listened had been made in 1932 I am sure that every Member would have welcomed it. Were it not for the bitter experience through which we have just passed I am sure the House would be much more optimistic after that speech than it can be in face of our experience in the period I have mentioned. I will, however, concede this to the right hon. Gentleman: whatever may be our views of this Bill, taking it as a whole, we do welcome the marketing and slaughtering proposals. After years of agitation, after inquiries by numerous committees and commissions, the Government have at long last begun to appreciate the need for orderly marketing and some slaughtering reform. When there is all-round prosperity in an industry no one need worry about organisation. Any old system will do in those circumstances. When the agricultural labourer in 1914 was content to receive about 18s. a week wages, organisation was never thought 204 of, and farmers and landowners were extremely happy indeed.
The right hon. Gentleman has truly stated that since the War world events have moved much more rapidly than they did in the past. The financiers have done their work. Prices have continued to descend, and year after year apparently the depression has deepened. The farmers in this House and beyond its four walls have been utterly helpless to retrieve themselves, and instead of their plaintive cry being, as it was in the past, "Hands off the industry," they have been crying, "Hands on the industry." All sorts of expedients have been adopted by the present Government and their predecessors. They have abolished agricultural rates, they have granted subsidies, conceded levies, duties, regulations, restrictions, quotas and other expedients, and still little or no fundamental organisation or reorganisation has taken place within the industry.
§ Mr. Williams
Like "flowers that bloom in the Spring" that has nothing to do with the position with which the farmers of the country are faced to-day, for they still tell us through their mouthpieces, notwithstanding anything that may have been done since 1932, that the industry is more distressed to-day than ever, that it is certainly unbalanced and uncertain, and that it does not quite know where to turn in order to place itself on a firm foundation. To some extent I have sympathy with the farmers of the country because such hon. Members as the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) and many of his colleagues have definitely and deliberately discouraged the farmers of this country from organising themselves as they might have done.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away from that fact, but if he dares to try to do so I shall remind him of almost every vote that he has cast in this House since 1932 on the subject. I want to go further in dealing with organisation and its discouragement. It has been the general political belief of the hon. Gentleman and many of his 205 colleagues opposite that agriculture, differing as it does from many other industries, has no need to organise, that all it requires to do is to present a Bill to a Conservative Government, to press an electric button and, hey presto, the money is forthcoming.
§ Sir J. Lamb
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled to make a statement which is not true and without giving particulars of the votes to which he is referring and the conditions under which they were given?
§ Mr. Williams
I have no objection to the hon. Gentleman's interjection. I should prefer, however, if he interjected for the purpose of giving information, since all these problems seem to be hidden in a mist that it is impossible to penetrate. The Government's policy since 1932 has been just as mischievous as it could be. As a means of discouraging Parliament from doing anything the Government have just had their day-to-day and month-to-month expedients, leaving the farmers in a state of whirl, where they do not know quite where they are. It has been said that agriculture is very different from any other industry in this country because it has a series of industries within itself. What has been the effect of the legislation of the present Government and its predecessors? They have disposed of all the rates, they have conceded a subsidy for sugar, they have granted a subsidy for wheat, they have granted a subsidy for milk, and so quite naturally, if there is one particular commodity out of which farmers are not making a livelihood and any other commodities offer a chance of stabilised prices and a guaranteed market, farmers transfer from one commodity to another, and instead of organising, as many other industries would have to do, many farmers who were, say, beef producers, have transferred to some extent to sugar, while others have transferred to some extent to wheat, if they could, or to milk; and so they have been moving backwards and forwards because of the piecemeal policy of the Government. Because of that fact, farmers have not only not organised themselves from within, but the policy of the Government has tended to upset the balance of the industry and 206 to delay organisation; the industry has been turned into a sort of Flotsam and Jetsam industry, and finally into a Nervo and Knox industry; it has been turned from a comic opera industry into a tragic opera industry.
I suggest that while the State always must have obligations to agriculture, agriculture must always remember that it has obligations to the State and to the consumers within the State. I hope that this first approach towards real organisation in this Bill is intended to be serious and that the right hon. Gentleman will face up to all those vested interests that bar the way to an efficient service of agriculture, and that while conceding to them all the rights of inquiry to which they are entitled under the ordinary code of law, he will allow Objections to he brought forward, but that ultimately he will persist in the endeavour to superimpose marketing organisation, the thing for which I have been pleading from this Box for five, seven or eight years.
We welcome the approach to an organised slaughtering service referred to in Part 6. But I regard this as a very mild and tepid thing indeed. The right hon. Gentleman in Clause 28, Sub-section (2), even anticipates failure. Why he should introduce a Bill with several Clauses relating to machinery and organisation and calculated to provide an efficient service to agriculture, and then actually, within the Bill itself, anticipate failure and the revoking of the schemes that have been brought into existence, I cannot understand. I am also disturbed at the right hon. Gentleman's reply to a question. It is perfectly obvious to every hon. Member that some more efficient slaughtering system must be brought into being. The right hon. Gentleman contemplates three experimental slaughterhouses. That is a very small start. We will concede that it is perhaps the best way out, but these experimental slaughterhouses are intended to be a service to agriculture, and private individuals will not undertake to touch the scheme with a long pole unless they can see a profit in it.
I think, therefore, that the Government, as they are contemplating doing here, paying £5,000,000 per annum direct as a subsidy and putting up £150,000 as a grant towards the three abattoirs, ought to run those abattoirs themselves not as a profit-making institution at all, and the 207 balance sheet ought to be based not necessarily on hard cash but on the service that they give to agriculture. It is one of those very knotty problems which are not easy to solve but, if there is anyone who is going to enter into the experimental, and to that extent speculative, business of new gigantic slaughterhouses, he will want to know that a profit is assured before he will come in. For that reason the right hon. Gentleman ought to be content to run one slaughterhouse. He has his Livestock Commission and his Livestock Advisory Committee. They are not only going to provide the area, fix the rate of compensation, fix a limit to the charges that may be made by these slaughterhouses and recover the commission's expenses. They have the power to fix the contributions of all who are to use these slaughterhouses to recover the commission's expenses, and it seems to me that it is merely toying with the problem to let one or two of these experimental slaughterhouses out even to local authorities or to bodies of private individuals.
While I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the health services, I would ask why a local authority or combination of local authorities should enter into a highly speculative experimental business when ratepayers' money is involved instead of the Government when it is the taxpayers' money that might be involved. After all, the Government, through its commission and its Livestock Advisory Committee, is going to control virtually its beginning and its ending, and it seems to me that they might go one step further and, if they are putting up £150,000, they ought to proceed and put up the abattoirs, and see that they are run on the most efficient lines possible without outsiders intervening at all. There are many Clauses in Part VI but the whole basis of the service schemes is voluntary, and unless the appropriate representation is made by those involved in the production and sale of the slaughtered products to the Livestock Commission to prepare a scheme, no service schemes will be provided. Here, again, I think the right hon. Gentleman might contemplate going one step beyond the provision of the three experimental slaughterhouses and running them as State institutions for, if the maximum use is to be made of the byproducts, apart from the meat itself, it 208 must be part and parcel of the service scheme, and ought not to be left in a voluntary way when it seems to me to be an absolute necessity.
That is all that I can say in favour of the Bill, and I am not sure that what I have said has been 100 per cent. in favour. Parts II, III and VII deal with the method of determining the subsidy that shall be paid for various kinds and qualities of cattle. Part III deals with restrictions and regulations, while Part VII fixes the £5,000,000 subsidy as an annual payment permanently. I am not sure that any one of these things commends itself to any one on these benches. I understand that the committee dealing with these payments for cattle slaughtered during the past year or two have been carefully studying the sort of payments that will be made under the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that he has no information at his disposal which would enlighten the House as to the intentions of the Department, particularly in regard to improving the quality. Clearly the House ought to know a wee bit more about the intentions of the Department than they can gather from reading Part II of the Bill. The £5,000,000 to be granted under Part VII, according to the right hon. Gentleman, is calculated to restore prosperity and so forth. Does he really believe that this £5,000,000 is going to restore prosperity to beef producers, or that it will divert from the production of milk those who originally produced beef but went over to milk, or wheat, or sugar? Is it calculated to improve the quality of the products? Will it bring confidence to the fanner and will it restore fertility to the soil and ultimately help to balance agriculture?
The right hon. Gentleman must answer in the affirmative if he has any confidence in the Bill at all. I doubt whether that optimistic frame of mind is justified, and for once in a way I can speak for the farmers. It is true that they are never satisfied. I do not see why they ever should be while there is a Conservative Government in office. But in this case I have not so far met one fanner who is prepared to admit that this £5,000,000 will restore prosperity to the beef side of the agricultural industry. The National Farmers' Union are very emphatic that it will not prevent a further decline in livestock production. The Council of Agriculture for England are equally disturbed. 209 They had a motion on the Agenda to be discussed on 10th December, long after the beef policy was known, to be moved by a prominent and well-known farmer from Leicester:The Council of Agriculture for England desires to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the fact that there is more apprehension amongst those engaged in agriculture to-day concerning the Government's agricultural policy than at any time since they came into office.The Scottish Chamber of Agriculture has sent a memo to every Member of the House. They condemn the Bill in no uncertain measure. I do not agree entirely with everything they say, but they do see clearly the road that some Government ought to travel when dealing with agriculture and they record their opinion of the cause for a good deal of distress in the industry. They say, for instance:The present state of the agricultural industry in Great Britain is such as to cause grave concern not only to those connected with the industry but to all who have the safety and prosperity of the country at heart. A contributory cause is undoubtedly the lack of uniformity in the measures adopted by the Government to help the industry. Instead of a properly related uniform policy for the whole industry there has been a series of experiments—quotas, restriction of imports, both by Order and voluntary agreement, tariffs, direct subsidies, marketing schemes, each dealing with one product. Where the production of a particular product has been helped by the measure or measures taken and production was capable of rapid expansion, unbalanced production has followed. This has been particularly noticeable in the case of milk and wheat. The cumulative result has been to cause disorganisation within the industry considered as a whole, to upset the natural balance between the various forms of production, and in many cases to lower the standard of production and also the fertility of the land, as is happening over large areas of England, and to a lesser degree in Scotland.The British and Scottish Chambers of Agriculture are more disturbed and more anxious to-day than ever before as the result of their experience.
§ Mr. Boothby
The hon. Member has left out the most important body of all, the Scottish Farmers' Union, which is in favour of the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
I thank the hon. Member for bringing one crumb of comfort to the right hon. Gentleman. But why are these various elements so disturbed? What has been our experience during the past few years? We must be guided by experience, otherwise we shall not make very wise moves. The Secretary of State for Scotland said in 1933 that it must be the beef man's turn sooner or later, justified on the basis of prices. In 1934 he commenced his emergency proposals. For 2¼ years a subsidy was granted to beef producers and ever since 1st September, 1934, the price has consistently fallen and, after having paid nearly £9,000,000 in subsidies, it is smaller at the end of the period than it was at the commencement. I do not profess to be a conjurer and I cannot solve these mysteries. There must, however, be an explanation because, if £3,780,000 per annum has failed to stop the fall in prices, does the right hon. Gentleman really believe £5,000,000 is going to succeed? I think he is rather optimistic if that is his point of view.
I do not suggest that this is the one real reason for the situation. The price received by the producer to-day is little more with the subsidy than it was in 1934 without the subsidy. A reply was given to a question yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman himself as to the number of cattle placed on the market in the last four months of 1934, when a subsidy was being paid, and the amount that went on to the market in 1935 and 1936. There was an increase in the number of cattle brought on lo the market in 1936 over 1934 of 369,827. I do not suggest that the beef producer has knocked the bottom out of his market. I only bring these figures to the notice of the House because they seem to be one reason why we are justified in doubting that, if £3,700,000 per annum has failed to stop the rot, £5,000,000 is going to stop the rot. The same thing that happened in 1934, 1935 and 1936 can happen in 1937 and 1938, and at the end of 1937 or 1938 we may be no better off than we are at this moment. I am not speaking in terms of theories or of any doubts or even hopes, but referring to our experience during the past 2¼ years. I am not nearly as optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman, much as I would like to see 211 either him or any other Minister belonging to any party sitting in this House finding a lasting solution to our agricultural problems. The fact seems to be that the farmers themselves are very disturbed and unhappy. They think that this piecemeal policy will lead to more and more confusion and uncertainty, and, after all, that is all that we can claim for this Measure. It is another bit of piecemeal legislation, and it may lead to more confusion and uncertainty.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a perfectly legitimate question or two. Will he tell us on what basis the subsidy of £5,000,000 is to be paid? Have there been any ascertained costs of production, and, if so, who has made the calculations? Would these calculations satisfy the Auditor-General or the Treasury? If any calculations as to costs have been made, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us upon which sort of farms the calculations have been made? Has the Agricultural Research Department played any part in producing any existing figures? So far, much as we have honestly tried to get hold of the real and actual costs of production, we have failed. If the right hon. Gentleman has the facts and figures before him, he ought to give them to the House. If he fails to give us the facts and figures upon which the £5,000,000 is based, must we conclude that amount is another bit of guess work, and, if the £5,000,000 is another bit of guess work, may it not be possible that the sum is either too small or too large? Surely, we are entitled to know a wee bit more about the facts than we know at the moment. In any case, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the workers, the poorer section of the community, are to be called upon to pay £3,500,000 of the £5,000,000 which is to be granted, and so we ought to know something about the costs of production.
I recognise that agriculture is a distressed area up to a point. I know the distressed areas, but while one distressed area is cared for and nursed very carefully, other distressed areas are left severely alone. As the poorer sections of the community have to pay £3,500,000 in duties towards this £5,000,000, what proportion has the right hon. Gentleman persuaded the landlords of this country to pay? Have they during the last few 212 years to his knowledge—and he really is the person who can tell the House—generally reduced rents during this very depressed period?
§ Mr. Williams
Will hon. Members who know all the facts be good enough to tell the House exactly what the position is to-day compared with 1929? We frequently heard that the price level in 1929 was "A" and that the price level in 1936 was "B," but we have never been given the true facts of the rent-roll in this country, so that some comparison may be made of the fair share of sacrifice made by the farmer, the landowner and the consumer. After all, we are all parts of this piece of furniture, and as long as you call upon the poorest consumer, or even upon the taxpayer, to make a contribution, we ought to know what the contribution of the landowner is to be. I listened on Monday night to the 20 minutes' radio talk for farmers only. I am not a farmer, but I listened. The speaker gave a very fine review of market gardening areas in particular, and he referred to areas in Bedfordshire and so forth where you could not get an acre for love or money under £5 or £6 per annum rent. I know that there are many acres to be got for 30s. or £2, and that there are very special areas. Broadly speaking, the landowner is always out, like any other business man, or man who is not in business, to make the best deal for himself he possibly can. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not in business."] If he renders no service, he ought to receive the least consideration.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman the services which the landowner does render? The agricultural landowner puts all the capital into the land, farm buildings and everything else, and no other business man does so much.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman was in this House in 1925 he must recall the speech which was made by Lord Halifax, when Minister of Agriculture, at that Box, when he informed the House that the landowners that we used to know in the past were slowly but surely moving on. They were no longer rendering the same service to the industry as hitherto. For one reason or another, 213 they were no longer financing farming operations, and the State was being called in to deal with that kind of thing. My simple point is, that, if the taxpayer and the consumer are to put up money—and probably they may be right in putting up money—to restore prosperity to agriculture, the landlord ought to make his contribution.
Part III of the Bill deals with restrictions. Regulation has been taking place either voluntarily or compulsorily ever since 1923. Foreign countries, in 1923, sent us 12,000,000 cwts. of meat, and in 1935 the same countries sent 9,700,000 cwts., and actually less in 1936. Since 1923 there has been a sliding scale downwards. Now there are to be more restrictions, and the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith), who does not speak without his book on agricultural questions—I concede that to him—said in a Debate here about a month ago that an industry is entitled to ask for a shield against the operation of science. I do not object to agriculture being provided with a shield against the advance of science, but we are entitled to ask for how long must any one industry be granted a shield against science. I recognise that the consumer has rights, but I also recognise that the producer has rights, and I am prepared to go as far as any man in this House to concede legitimate rights to the farmer. When thinking in terms of more and still more restrictions, I realise that the Argentine is our second best customer for cotton. If we are to restrict more and more imports from Argentina, is it not fair to assume that they will restrict more and more cotton imports from Lancashire, and that the weavers must look, owing to the duty and restrictions, to further loss of trade and more meatless days? I have a letter from Scotland, the home of the right hon. Gentleman, which I could read to him on this restriction business as it is likely to affect the poorer people in Glasgow, but I do not intend to do so because he knows so well that, sooner or later, these persistent restrictions will ultimately increase the price, whether the duty does so or not. Unless you can do something to restore the lost purchasing power brought about by increased prices to the vast army of poorer people, then you will not solve your agricultural problem, but rather will you 214 leave it in a worse state than it was before.
I cannot conclude without referring to the profits to which reference has been made. They have gone down secret avenues somewhere. We cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman where. It is his job to find out. All we know is, that the Government have put up £3,700,000 in one year, and that the price at the end of the year was less than it was at the commencement. There may be secret avenues, but the money is finding its way somehow into private hands. We object, therefore, to continue making these piecemeal payments, when we can see no end to them and no final solution of the agricultural problem. While I disagree with the financial proposals of the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, I am convinced, after very careful consideration, that their approach to a final solution is the only one, apart from that put forward by the Labour party, namely, to establish an agricultural commission, with commodity committees, livestock, dairy farming and the rest, so that any sums given to the industry at all should be given in the ratio of the importance of the particular commodity in our agricultural life. It is only when we sit down and study the industry comprehensively that there will be a possibility of restoring the balance, giving the farmers security and a sense of certainty, so that they can get on with the job. I am convinced that, sooner or later, we shall have to return to the position in 1931 and start all over again, undoing what we have done, and finally do the one and only thing of looking at the industry comprehensively as a whole, for only by that means shall we find the solution of that problem.
§ 4.43 P.m.
§ Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise
There were many parts of the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) which were highly controversial, and on some of the points the hon. Member hardly did himself justice, as, for instance, when he tried to repeat the oft-exploded theory, that the landowner provides no services to the agricultural industry. I do not intend to pursue that subject, merely assuming that in that respect the hon. Member knows better. 215 I would rather see whether there is not a point or two upon which I can find myself in agreement with the hon. Member. I find myself in agreement with the last few words of his speech, when he made a plea to the Government that they should have a more comprehensive policy for the industry. I am in accord with that particular part of his speech. But when we turn to the main criticism put forward by the hon. Member against the proposals of the Bill, we find that it was chiefly concerned with the payment of the subsidy of £5,000,000 which figures in the Bill. On that he and his party, apparently, are united, in that they consider that there should be no financial assistance whatever given at this time to the cattle industry of this country. If I am doing an injustice to the hon. Member I have no doubt that he will contradict me. If I am right in interpreting the hon. Member's speech as explaining the policy of his party, he would at this moment wash out the subsidy altogether and leave the industry entirely to what little crumbs of comfort it might glean from such things as improved marketing.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am sure the hon. and gallant Member does not wish to misrepresent us. We have never said from this Box that we object to helping agriculture if a case can be made out, and the assistance is being given for the purpose of restoring prosperity to agriculture. It is only because, on the hon. and gallant Member's own showing, that the assistance has always been given in a piece-meal fashion during the last five years that it has failed in its object. That is why we oppose the Government's piecemeal proposals.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I understand that view, but I do not understand what is in the mind of the Labour party. If they oppose this subsidy, or any subsidy, whether for £3,000,000 or £5,000,000, and they vote against the Bill because it contains this proposal, what substitute have they in their minds at this time? Are they completely bankrupt of all policy?
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Member has invited me to make a statement. I am sure that he has heard me state our point of view on this subject frequently. We have often said that what you gave to wheat, or a proportion 216 of it, might be given to beef, and that what you gave to sugar, or part of it, might be given to beef. We have always regarded beef as the foundation of the industry. We have said that you are paying out money in the wrong direction. It is because of the faulty way of distributing national funds that we have opposed the Government from time to time.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I am sure the hon. Member will not quarrel with me if I put this interpretation upon the policy of his party. They will simply rob Peter in order to pay Paul. Let us examine the situation of the cattle industry as we find it to-day. We have a range of prices at market for fat cattle which are still below the pre-War level. That may be rather a startling statement but it will bear examination. The producers of fat cattle to-day have to put their animals on to the market and to receive market prices below the pre-War level. When we turn to the cost of production, we find that it has been infinitely enhanced as compared with the pre-War cost of production. One has only to mention two items of expenditure, the increased cost of labour and the increased cost of feeding stuffs to prove this point. The cost of the two most important items which enter into the production of fat stock is greatly enhanced. Therefore, we are faced with prices below the pre-War level and a post-War greatly enhanced level of costs. It is the gap which exists between those two factors that is the fundamental trouble against which the industry finds itself, and we must try to remove that trouble if we are to find any solution.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
The Bill provides a sum of £5,000,000 to try to bridge the gap between the price level and the cost of production.
§ Mr. MacLaren
The previous Minister of Agriculture gave figures to the House on 17th July, 1936, in which he clearly indicated, in reply to the Labour party, that the cost of feeding stuffs and fertilisers had greatly dropped. He gave the figures. That is a complete reply to what the hon. and gallant Member is now saying, that the cost of production has gone up.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Perhaps the hon. Member does not know that with regard to the feeding of cattle fertilisers do not enter. He cannot deny that feeding stuffs are at a higher level of price at this moment than they were pre-War.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I am a purchaser of them and a producer of fat cattle. I do not think the hon. Member can deny that another chief item in the production of fat cattle is the cost of labour. Broadly speaking, the cost of agricultural labour is two to three times higher than it was in pre-War days. Therefore, I do not understand the interruption of the hon. Member. It is in regard to the closing of the gap which exists between the market price level for fat cattle and the cost of production that the whole of this question turns. My right hon. Friend realises that fact, and this Bill is an endeavour on the part of the Government to close the gap. Therefore, when we examine the Bill to see whether it is good or bad, we must examine it from that point of view. Does it go far enough, reasonably, to close the gap between the price level and the cost of production? That is the basis on which I would desire briefly to examine the Bill.
I should like, however, to take the parts of the Bill in their order. Part I sets up a Livestock Commission, which is to be assisted in its work by a Livestock Advisory Committee. It is necessary that the members of the Commission should be appointed by the Government, because it is a Government Commission, but when we come to the appointment of the Livestock Advisory Committee, I think the Minister might have considered that the industry should have been permitted to nominate some of their representatives on the committee, which is an advisory one, rather than that the Minister should have retained the full right of appointing the members of the committee. The Government, in common with all Governments, have a simple faith in the appointment of commissions. They may be necessary, but judging from past results where we have had commissions on agriculture—and we have had a great many—I do not think that the farmers have great reason to expect too much from any commission that may be set up. What is important 218 in the setting up of a commission is the nature of the task entrusted to it by the Government and the character of the tools which the Government place in the hands of the commission to enable it to carry out the task. Although the Government may set up a commission to deal with any matter, the responsibility for the operation of the commission must remain the full responsibility of the Government.
Let us examine the nature of the case and the quality of the tools which the Government are entrusting to the Livestock Commission. That brings me to Part II of the Bill—the cattle subsidy. With Part II we must consider Part VII. There is to be a maximum subsidy of £5,000,000, which is to be paid into the Cattle Fund, to do two things—to provide the subsidy payments made to the producers of fat cattle, and to provide the expenses of the Livestock Commission. That £5,000,000 is an increase of £1,500,000 over the existing subsidy. To that extent I am sure the Bill is very welcome to farmers, but I would draw attention to the nature of the subsidy and the way in which the assistance is being given. It is a bald subsidy, payable by the Treasury, that is, by the taxpayers. It is interesting to note, however, that before the Treasury consented to make this increased contribution it took good care to fortify itself by seeing that there should also be a Bill which will bring in some fresh revenue to the Treasury. Actually the Treasury is going to gain by this arrangement, because the amount of money that will come in from the Import Duties Measure which we shall be discussing later, will be a greater sum than the increased subsidy which is to be given by the Treasury. I suppose that nobody will complain of the fact that the Treasury, or the taxpayer's pocket, will be saved. I am sure that hon. Members behind me will be delighted that any revenue which may be raised by the import duties on meat will relieve the pockets of the taxpayers.
Hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies and the farmers they represent are all aggrieved that the Government should have departed from the levy subsidy proposals which were put forward in the White Paper in 1934. That form of assistance would have been far less obnoxious than this direct and bald subsidy. It would probably have 219 contained far greater germs of permanence had this assistance been afforded by way of levy subsidy. Beyond the fact that the Government have at last decided to make the importers of foreign meat pay a toll for the privilege of entering our home market, the Government in that White Paper envisaged a scheme to make everybody, the Dominions included, pay a toll—it would have been a preferential rate for the Dominions—to come into this country. Had they pursued that policy, which I regret they have not done, there would have been a greater sum obtainable to meet the requirements of the cattle industry. They would have been able to do more to close the gap to which I have referred, without increasing the liability on the Treasury.
The Treasury naturally objects to having placed upon them anything in the nature of an unlimited liability, but may I point out to my right hon. Friend, as he has made a point of it in his speech, that the easiest way to put a limit on Treasury liability would have been to set up a standard price. If he had imposed a duty on all meat coming into the country, and had then said that there should he a standard price, the Treasury making up only the difference between the duties, which could be ascertained, and the standard price, at once there would have been a limitation on the Treasury contribution. That would have been the right way to have worked the proposal. There might have been another way. Had the Treasury said: "We are already finding £3,500,000 for cattle subsidy and we will limit ourselves to that amount, but at the same time we will impose a duty on all meat coming into the country, which will realise £4,000,000 or £5,000,000," we should then have had £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 available, with a strict limitation on the direct Treasury contribution. That sum of money would have gone most if not the whole of the way to have closed the gap. I said that I would examine the proposals of the Bill, whether good or bad, and whether they are sufficiently effective to close the gap, and I regret that the Government should have gone back on their original proposals.
I should like now to say a few words about Part II of the Bill, the "subsidy arrangements." I understand that this 220 term includes proposals put forward by the Livestock Commission for new methods of grading. On that I have only one observation to make. It is obviously desirable that if an animal is sent to the market of especially good quality, the producer should receive a higher price as the reward for his skill and trouble in producing a perfect animal, and the man who does produce a super-beast nearly always receives a higher price as a result of competition for the animal in the open market. Therefore, in framing their proposals I think the Livestock Commission should take care that they do not take too high a premium, out of the amount available, for the higher grade animals which have already received a higher market price. I am entirely in favour of the producer of these animals receiving a higher subsidy, but I do not think it should be made too excessive, as the market price of these animals will be some reward to the producer, and if too big a premium is put on the higher grades the effect will be to deplete the sum available to cover all the animals of average quality in the country. After all, it is the average animal of standard quality which should be looked after, because it forms the greater proportion of the fat stock marketed in this country.
One word about Part IV which deals with the regulation of livestock markets. It is obvious that there is room for improvement in the livestock markets of the country. In my opinion the process of the elimination of redundant markets will almost naturally follow a healthy, revived and resuscitated livestock industry. Modern methods of transport have largely transformed the whole position. Almost any farmer to-day, however isolated his farm may be, can send his cattle by lorry to a far more distant market than he was able to do a few years ago. There may be a small market quite close, but inefficient. In the old days it was impossible for the farmer, except at great cost, to send his animals to a more distant and better market but that difficulty has largely disappeared to-day, and it is more easy for the farmer, if he is not satisfied with his nearby little market, to send his animals to a better one. At the same time, we are all agreed that there is room for improvement in connection with some of our markets, but I believe that if you can get the cattle industry on a reasonably paying basis, redundant and in- 221 efficient markets will die a natural death of inanition. I hope the Commission in carrying out this part of their task will give every opportunity to existing owners of markets to submit their own plans either for the elimination of the market or its improvement. If the Commission are prepared to proceed with reasonableness in this matter, they will win a large measure of good will and get the job done a good deal quicker than if they put forward arbitrary proposals.
As regards the slaughtering of livestock in England and Wales, there are some 15,000 slaughterhouses and 100 public abattoirs. Here, again, I think the Commission should proceed with great caution. As regards the experimental schemes I am not too sanguine. The Bill deals with three. I think two are enough to start with—one in Scotland and another in the West Midlands. I am rather doubtful about putting one of these large central slaughterhouses in London. There are dangers. You have a highly organised and delicate machinery which is on the whole dealing efficiently with the distribution of meat in London and Greater London to some 8,000,000 of people, and if you impose upon them a central slaughter market you may dislocate this delicate machinery. Apart from that, there are one or two other considerations which should be kept in mind in suggesting a central slaughterhouse for London. In the first place, it would mean longer and more costly transport. The animals would have to be taken further to the central slaughterhouse, and then the carcases would have to be delivered further distances. This extra transport will do something to increase the congestion which we know is a very grave evil, and if you are going to send tens of thousands of cattle a mile, or even half a mile further to central slaughterhouses, and then have to bring the carcases back again, you will be doing something which will aggravate the congested nature of the streets of London. In the third place, and perhaps the most important point against central slaughterhouses for London, there is the increased danger in time of war. I will not labour that because it is obvious. There should be no concentration of foodstuffs or stores anywhere in these times. We want to decentralise our foodstuffs rather than centralise them.
222 It is difficult to assess the degree of success which may arise from these proposals relating to the improvement of markets and central slaughterhouses, They may lead to a tightening up of the processes of the industry, but whether they will do anything to achieve the real purpose, whether they are going to put a better price into the pockets of the producers, is open to question. They may be good things in themselves even if they do not achieve that primary object. These are the main proposals of the Bill, and I hope they will do something to close the gap to which I have referred. They certainly will riot in my view go the whole way to close that gap, and in so far as they fail to do so the Bill must fail to that extent. There is a growing feeling in the country that the Government should formulate a more comprehensive policy for agriculture, more especially in these times when we are all gravely concerned as to our food position in case of emergency.
I must remind hon. Members of something that I have said before on the question of a policy for agriculture. The fact is that there has been no comprehensive policy, I might say at any time for the last 100 years for agriculture, except during the 4½ years when we were actually at war. That was the only time when any Government really had an agricultural policy and did really endeavour to win from the soil the maximum of foodstuffs and place them at the disposal of the consuming masses. But since the War there has been a policy on the part of all Governments to consider the interests of the consuming masses and not the interests of the people who produce the food. All Governments have said that so far as the food supplies of the country are concerned they must do everything to keep the price level low, and they have been remarkably successful especially in the case of food prices. It is only necessary to give the index figure for 1st January, 1937. The general index figure for all commodities is 51 points above the pre-war level, but if you turn to the price level of foodstuffs it is only 35 points above. There is therefore a difference between the price level of all other commodities of 16 points as compared with the level of food prices. All Governments have pursued the same policy, and I am not saying that it is not a desirable policy, but as all Governments have pursued this 223 policy with the result that the price level of foodstuffs is so much below that of all other commodities, they should see that the producer does not bear the full force of the gap. That is what we have never yet had from any Government in this country since the War.
That is the plea I make to my right hon. Friend. I am sure when he has had the time that he will evolve a comprehensive policy for agriculture and tell us the road which the producers of food in this country are to follow. We shall give him every co-operation, but we do want to know where we are going and whether it is to be the policy of the Government to keep the price level low. We have no quarrel with that, provided the Government say that they will somehow make good the gap to the producer. That is the point I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider. I shall certainly support the Second Reading of the Bill as it goes a little way to close the gap, but I cannot feel that as a final and long-term policy for the livestock industry it is adequate.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir F. Acland
I notice that however generous the Government are in regard to the time allowed on these occasions—they have been very generous on this occasion —towards the end of the Debate many agricultural Members go sorrowfully away full of the speeches which they have not had an opportunity to deliver, however long the Debate has lasted. Therefore. I shall do my best to be as brief as I can. I have not had any communications from any of my constituents on the subject of this Bill, and that leaves me free to voice such principles as I hold, but I do not wish to describe them at too great length, because during the last four or five years I have had many opportunities of going so, and especially because several of the developments that have taken place in the Bill enable me to say, "I told you so," which gives only very limited satisfaction and therefore had better be omitted.
I think most of us agree that the general tendency during the last few years has been for the industry to expect, almost as a right, more and more subsidies without any modification or improvement in the service rendered to the public in exchange for them. I hold that to be an extremely dangerous thing for the industry. I expect we shall hear a 224 good deal in that tone during to-day and to-morrow, and on that matter I would like to do as my hon. Friend who spoke for the Opposition did, and say something about a set of documents which has been sent to us by the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which puts a point of view held by many people as clearly as it can be put. Those documents incidentally give some interesting figures showing the amount of the assistance which is now given to the industry. The figures show the assistance as amounting to £15,500,000 from import duties and levies, and subsidies—reckoning the cattle subsidy at £5,000,000—come to £14,000,000. Those figures exclude the sugar subsidy, taken at £4,500,000, which gives a total of £34,000,000 a year. That is not bad, even if it be compared, as my right hon. Friend so rightly and invariably does compare it, with the help that is given to the steel industry and other industries.
Besides giving those figures, the Chamber objects to any interference with marketing or slaughtering and—a most important point—advocates the levy-subsidy plan to which, it says, the Government had previously been pledged, and under which a body appointed by the Government, but not responsible to this House in any way, would be responsible for recommending all rates of import duties to the Import Duties Advisory Committee, the proceeds being earmarked for distribution among agricultural producers. [Interruption.] The Chamber indicates, at any rate, that the levy-subsidy plan had been promised by the Government. I am not saying whether that is so or not, but only stating that the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture says it is so. From these documents, it looks as though the only sums to be received by producers shall be the proceeds of these food taxes, but a covering letter makes it clear that the Chamber has definite ideas about subsidies, namely, that there shall be a subsidy which shall vary, but which shall always be the difference between the average market price and the standard price fixed according to cost of production.
As that type of scheme in one form or another has already been suggested, and will no doubt be suggested again as the Debate proceeds, I would like to say that of the two policies outlined, that of 225 the Scottish Chamber and that in the Bill, we on these benches prefer the scheme of the Bill. First of all, we think it right to keep separate the questions of duties on imports and the subsidy to the industry. We think it right that Parliament should keep the same sort of control over duties on foodstuffs as it has in the case of duties on spirits. tobacco, tea or anything else, and deal with them on the same general principles —that is to say, how they affect different classes of the community, increased prices, and so on—and that no class of duties should be regarded as specially earmarked for any particular purpose. For those reasons, I am glad that the two things are to be dealt with separately in two different Measures to-day and tomorrow, so that the House may decide separately upon them. May I say, incidentally, that from the inquiries which I have so far been able to make among my friends, we shall be bound to vote against the Bill which puts new taxes on foreign meat which we shall reach to-morrow night?
We welcome the fact that in this Bill the Government link up the proposal for a subsidy with proposals for better marketing and slaughtering, and general organisation. That seems to us to be a very wise and necessary warning to the industry that if the subsidy is to be stabilised, as is proposed in the Bill, it can only be in connection with and on account of the steady working out of a better service to the consumer. That is the only way in which I believe such assistance as it may prove necessary to give to any industry can ever be put on a stable basis. Unless the general public, of whom the agricultural producers are only 7 per cent. are convinced steadily election by election that they are getting something in return for these subsidies, very unpleasant things are liable to happen. To give a subsidy quite apart from any improvement in service, and to give it, as the Scottish Chamber proposes, as a guarantee that a certain set of producers shall get their costs of production quite apart from the demand for and quality of, and the price that may be offered for, their products, and quite apart from the question of whether there is any real market for that product, appears to us to be sheer suicide from the point of view of helping the industry to establish and reorganise itself on such 226 a basis, as we hope it will, that subsidies may be reduced and ultimately discontinued. A scheme of the kind recommended by the Scottish Chamber would run straight on the rocks which were fatal to the Corn Production Act, for the scheme is practically the same as that was.
We on these benches have always been against a permanent subsidy system. A system of permanent subsidies is the destruction of sound national finance. Industry after industry claims them on the grounds that if others have them, why should not they have them? Once a habit of leaning on the State is established, they all follow it, and they lean harder and harder, until ultimately they not only lean on the State but treat it as a sort of armchair, expecting it to provide a reasonable profit on anything they choose to produce, irrespective of the demand for that product and the efficiency with which they produce it. The slope very quickly becomes an extraordinarily steep and slippery one. But the opinion which we hold strongly has to be brought into relation with what we know to be the present position of beef production. Prices have gone clown to an intolerably low point, and the beef producers have had to face almost intolerable burdens and difficulties which they had expected would be to some extent relieved from them when the subsidy system was started. It is obvious to us that if the beef-producing industry is to be reorganised and give better service to the public, there must be, for at any rate a series of years, a basis of stability as to prices, with consequential help from the State.
It is very difficult to account for the disastrous failure. Why is it that, with more general prosperity in the country and with a subsidy being given, there should of late months have been a lower standard of prices than has ever been recorded before? It does not seem natural. That is one of the points on which I should like to have more information. Have we been living on our capital? Are people cashing in on their livestock at whatever loss in the hope they may be able to go in for something else? Or is it because competing standards of beef, such as Argentine beef, have been improving very much in quality owing to their better processing, while ours have not been improving in the same way? 227 Those are important things. But whatever may be the reasons, there can be no doubt that the result has been disastrous to the industry.
In speeches on the subsidy system before the Bill was introduced, the word It "permanent" was used very freely, and it seems to me that it can have two meanings. If it means that whatever might be the demand for beef, whatever might be the price, however much the demand and the price must improve as a result of an improvement in general prosperity—as we hope it would—or however much it might improve because of better quality and a greater demand caused by better marketing and slaughtering schemes, £5,000,000 shall for ever go to beef producers, the proposition is one which I do not think anybody should be asked to accept, and certainly we could not accept it. But if the word "permanent" is used, as it might be in a relative sense as a contrast to the system of subsidies which we have had hitherto, renewable every few months and thus causing anxiety whenever they came up for renewal, and in particular if we can get assurances, by means of amendments to the Bill or otherwise, that every effort will be made to enable the beef industry to stand on its own legs and that if there are improvements the subsidy will be reduced and possibly finally withdrawn—if it is not permanently intended that beef producers, like sugar beet growers, shall always be on the dole—we are inclined to accept the subsidy proposals of the Bill as being necessary to provide a basis for better organisation of the industry, and we shall vote accordingly.
That means, of course, that we attach great importance to Parts IV, V and VI of the Bill, which are none too strong now. I believe that if the question of better marketing and slaughtering is to be tackled it must be done very thoroughly. In that connection, a great deal will depend upon the Commission which is to be appointed. We on these benches do not like strict controls, regulations, compulsions and penalties, but I have always said that once an industry starts leaning on the State, these things are inevitable and are bound to grow. A sign of that is that the Government in this Bill are breaking away from the principle which 228 was started with the Milk Marketing Act some years ago by putting more power in the hands of the board elected by the producers. I think that change embodied in this Bill has become inevitable, but how the new Commission will act, and whether they will find their powers sufficient or not, is not yet clear to us. We shall investigate that matter in Committee.
I notice also that under Clause 29 a not very large but a definite sum is to be allocated for the three experimental slaughterhouses scheme. That I think is right. I would not rule out, as the hon. Member who preceded me did, the possibility of setting up a central slaughterhouse not in the centre of London but near London in view particularly of such facts as this—that to hang a carcase for a week at Islington costs 15s. 6d., and at Amsterdam 1s. 8d. That is not the sort of thing which makes for efficiency in the treatment of beef in this country. I think it right that special money should be devoted to limited experiments with regard to slaughterhouses.
No special sum is allotted for helping to carry out the reorganisation of markets under Part IV of the Bill. I doubt whether that is right. I think if you touch marketing at all you must take very full powers, else you do not give your scheme a fair chance. I should hope that many of the powers which might be taken could be kept mainly in reserve, but I think they ought to be taken in the Bill. If hon. Members look at the report of the Reorganisation Committee on Fat Stock, pages 25, 39, 42 and 45, they will find recommended four specific things which are essential to better marketing and which are not mentioned in the Bill. First, there is the need for a real system of marketing intelligence. At present the extraordinarily able officials of the Ministry cannot really tell us about the movements of our fat stock populations. Then there is the question of the private sale of stock on farms which it is said depresses market prices. There is also the question of the limitation in certain cases of choice of markets—that a seller shall give reasonable notice when he is going to change from one market to another, to prevent a particular market being ruined by deliberate, planned and concerted withdrawal of stock from it. Finally, there is the difficult question of 229 the power—the very necessary power—to deal with rings which we all know exist in many markets in many parts of the country.
The success or failure of any marketing scheme depends on getting an adequate and steady supply, and being able to make certain that your market will not be flooded at certain times of the year with more than it can sell profitably. If that is to be done, it will be necessary to take powers, not now contained in the Bill, to go some way towards regulating and directing supplies to the markets. These are mainly committee points, but we attach a good deal of importance to them. We shall listen to the remainder of this Debate, and, particularly, to what may be said at the close of it as to the interdependence of the subsidy principle with vigorous action under Parts IV and V and as to what is meant with regard to the permanence of the subsidy. We hope, as I say, that having listened to the Debate we shall find ourselves able to vote for the Second Reading. Our vote on the Third Reading will depend on what happens in regard to the various points which I have mentioned and others. Sure as I am that there is a growing feeling in the country that farmers are demanding and obtaining subsidies without rendering an improved service in exchange, I would remind hon. Members that if that feeling grows and if it is justified by events, then some day these subsidies will be swept away altogether without regard to the needs of the industry. It is only by making better marketing a reality that that can be avoided.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey
At the outset of my remarks I wish to reply to a question which was put by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I do not wish to go into the whole question of rural economy, but the hon. Member raised a point as to the part which the landlord is playing, and I take it first, not because I attach most importance to it, but in order to get it out of the way. The hon. Member asked for particulars about rents, and I am prepared to give him some figures which I quote from memory, and which I have quoted in the House before. I had sent to me last summer particulars of the rents of 22 farms in Kincardine and Aberdeenshire—which is an absolutely germane 230 case, because that is a cattle-producing area—and from those figures I find that the rate of rent was 25 per cent. lower last year than it was in 1913. Since 1929 rates and taxes have gone up appreciably. Therefore, there has been a considerable fall in rents in that part of the country as compared not only with pre-war days but even with the pre-slump period, and to that extent the landlord has borne his share of the decline in the general value of cattle.
As regards the Bill I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) that it will have to be judged by whether or not it succeeds in bridging the gap between the cost of production and the price which is being obtained. The Bill seeks to do this by two principal means. One is by a scheme of restricting imports and the other is by subsidy. As far as the imports are concerned, I sincerely hope that the new international body which is to be set up will come speedily to a satisfactory conclusion, but I cannot say that I regard the prospect with a great deal of expectancy, having regard to the fact that the Argentine has refused to agree to any but a very small reduction at our request during the next few years—I think 5 per cent. spread over three years—and the Dominions are constantly clamouring for an ever-increasing place in our market. Therefore, it does not look as if that commission will be able to get a serious reduction in the amount of imports into this country. Not only so, but Government policy has recently been to keep imports at a sufficiently high level to maintain the price in the towns as low as it reasonably can be maintained. Nobody would have the slightest objection to that part of the scheme provided the policy were carried out in a logical way. If the Government said, "We believe we must produce cheap food for the people in the towns, but we realise that we must also maintain the agricultural industry in this country. Therefore, if we are to get what we want on the one side, namely, cheap food, we must pay for it by making up the price to our home producers, by giving them a reasonable price," no one could object. If that were the policy I, for one, would have no qualms about it.
Before I come to the question of subsidy, there is one point in connection 231 with restrictions which I should like to make. I think we have in this Bill one thing for which we must be thankful. Now we are going to have the necessary power to enforce restriction. If this international commission cannot come to any agreement, then our Board of Trade can enforce restriction on imports. In the past, methods of restriction have been agreed to in theory but have not been carried out in practice. Therefore, for that provision in the Bill I am grateful. But I do not think the Board of Trade is the Department which ought to have the initiative. I speak as an agricultural Member who has watched the actions of the Board of Trade for the last five or six years, and I believe I express the opinion of every agricultural Member in this House when I say that we distrust the entire Board of Trade from the President down to the last-joined charwoman, in this matter. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee that initiative will be put into the hands of those who ought to have it, namely, the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I believe in that way we are more likely to get satisfactory results.
Now let me turn to the subsidy. Here I should like to join with the hon. Member for Don Valley in a question which he put. On what basis has this sum of £5,000,000 been fixed? The Minister was careful to say nothing about that. He was concerned with proving that it was impossible to go on the lines of the wheat scheme and to have a fixed standard price. It seems to me that if you are to restore prosperity to the industry, you will require some basis on which to fix the total amount of assistance to be given. You must have some idea of the cost of production, if you are going to bridge the gap between the cost of production and the price which the seller is getting. I have a few figures here bearing on the point, and while there is nothing more difficult than to dogmatise on any definite figures of price, I think they provide a certain indication which goes to show that the £5,000,000 proposed in the Bill will not bridge the gap and will be inadequate to restore the livestock industry to that position of prosperity in which we all want to see it.
It is generally conceded that 1929 was the last year in which there was a real 232 condition of prosperity in this branch of the industry. The price then was 52s. 7d., and it is interesting to note that that price nearly corresponds to the figure given by the National Farmers Union of Scotland as the figure of production, namely, 52s. 3d. I do not wish to tie myself down to these figures. As I say, I only quote them as an indication, but even if we take a figure a great deal lower such as 48s. which I have heard mentioned we find that the average market price for England, Scotland and Wales in 1934 was 395. 2d. or, plus subsidy, 44s. 2d. and for the first ten months of 1936, the last figures which I could obtain, the average price all over the country was 37s. 10d., that is to say, plus subsidy 42s. 10d. If you take the subsidy at 6s. 3d. that would make the price 44s. 1d. There is a big difference between 44s. 1d. and anything near 52s., and if you take even 48s. as the cost of production you have still a gap of approximately 4s. which is not filled up, and to that extent this £5,000,000 will not be sufficient for the purpose.
The Minister said he could not tell us on what basis the new subsidy is to be given. I agree that it is better that we should not put into this Measure exactly how quality is to be encouraged. I agree that we ought to do all we can to encourage quality. I think it is vital, but whereas the 5s. flat rate was good enough as a temporary expedient, it is not desirable as a permanency or even as a semi-permanency. I believe we would be encouraging quality if we set about giving the subsidy in the right way and I should feel much happier if I knew a little more about how the proposed quality payments are to be made. At the moment, we are in the dark and when these schemes are produced the only method by which we shall be able to check them in this House are cumbersome. It can only be done by the procedure of a Prayer, which presents considerable difficulties, and I suggest that that is a matter which ought to be considered in the Committee stage. But I am glad to hear that we are at last to have a White Paper setting out the Government's general ideas. Then we shall be in a better position to judge of this important matter.
§ Mr. Alexander
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that part of his speech, would he mind completing the figures which he has given us? Can he give us the actual 233 cost of production in 1929? We are very anxious to get the cost of production.
§ Sir M. Barclay-Harvey
I am sorry that I cannot give that figure. I have not got it, and, as I said, I do not wish to tie myself too closely to those figures. As a practical farmer, I know that there it; nothing in the world more difficult to get at than the cost of production of any article on the farm. There is one other point in this connection which I believe nobody else has mentioned so far, and that is the question of farm servants' wages. It is said that they have gone up since the War, and I think that is true, but at the same time they are a great deal lower than they should be in Scotland. If farm servants' wages are to be increased in the way in which we should like to see them increased, however, it can only be done by increasing the prosperity of the farmer. Therefore, I urge the Government to reconsider this question, even at this late hour, because it is vital to the success of their Measure that they should do so. While I think that the farm servants have earned every penny of very great deal higher wages than they get, if the farmers do not get assistance, in a few years in the North East of Scotland they will cease to exist. There is no part of the agricultural industry more dependent on farm servants than the livestock industry, and unless we are in a position to pay higher wages, we shall have the greatest difficulty in carrying on at all.
That brings me to the general re-organisation question. I do not like this idea of having this appointed commission. It is too much a question of the Minister and his own appointed commission running the whole industry, and I do not like the idea of this industry being put so much under the direct control of a Minister and a body of people appointed by him, though I have no doubt that the present Minister, with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, will probably appoint a perfectly good commission. We have the Livestock Advisory Committee, which is to consist of representatives of the producers, of the auctioneers, and of the local authorities, with three independent members. Why three independent members on an advisory committee? It seems to me 234 that it would be very much better if you could have an independent committee representing those different bodies, namely, the auctioneers, the producers, and the local authorities, having independent access to the main Cattle Commission, and then each branch of the industry would feel that its particular point of view was being put to the Cattle Commission in the way in which it would like it to be put.
As regards the general reorganisation, I think that Part IV, which has evoked so much enthusiasm from hon. Members on the benches opposite, will be far more effective in England than it is likely to be in Scotland. As far as Scotland is concerned, I welcome the fact that it will be the Secretary of State who will deal with it, and I hope that anything which he does in that connection he will do with all caution. After all, our marketing in Scotland is very much more efficient than is the marketing in England. The auction marts in Scotland fill a very important part in the general economy of our agricultural life, and they have an enormous amount of money on loan at the present time. They play a very useful part, and they have played it well, but I do not want to see the Minister put us in the position that we in Scotland may not be able to maintain our relative superiority over England in this matter. We are better than the English are now, and I want to see us remain better. I sincerely hope the Minister will use these powers very cautiously, if he has to use them at all, and I think it is quite likely that he will not have to do so.
It is the same with the question of the slaughterhouses. There again we are much better off in this matter, and I am not convinced that if we have one of these new slaughterhouses, it will be better than the best of those which we have at the present time. There is no doubt a considerable amount of anxiety on the part of a great many people in Scotland that if one of the Government-financed schemes is brought to bear, there will be a sort of compulsion, and that whatever happens that scheme will not be allowed to fall down, even though it should be run by a local authority with the Government behind it. It may be that methods would be adopted to encourage its use which would not be open to the ordinary private person. But I do not want to 235 close my mind to the possibility of getting one of these slaughterhouses in Scotland, if there is anything good in these things. I saw them in the Argentine, where they are undoubtedly good, and I do not want to say, "Do not let us have anything good in Scotland." I want to know rather more about them, however, and to make a little more sure before I urge on the Secretary of State to try to get one for us, and I ask him again to move with very great caution.
If these Government-financed slaughterhouses are to be set up, great care should be taken that other interests, not only those of other slaughterhouses in the area, but interests such as the auction marts, are not affected, because we all know that if there is a central slaughterhouse, it may increase the temptation on local farmers to sell direct to the slaughterhouse and so shut out the auction marts. Those people's interests must be safeguarded, and therefore, if there is any question of their interests being destroyed, they must be properly compensated, and such compensation, in my view, should come, not out of the Cattle Fund, but out of the £250,000 or other moneys to be provided. As far as Part VI is concerned, I think it is wholly good and should be worked greatly to the advantage of the industry. I think that in England Part IV will be very good, and therefore I think that in Scotland we have to keep our eyes open and to see that they do not steal a march on us, but I want to warn the English people that whereas we have more efficient marketing arrangements in Scotland than they have, at the same time our producers are not in a prosperous condition as a result of that, so let them not think that this will mean prosperity to their industry.
In conclusion, I shall support this Bill because it is undoubtedly going to give us rather more than we have had in the past. It will undoubtedly encourage quality of production, and that is something which is right and proper, but to say that I think it is an adequate Bill for the requirements of the case would be to say something which I very much regret that I cannot say. While I support the Bill because I think it is a step in the right direction, I shall be very much surprised, unless things change very much in 236 the near future, if in a short time we do not find the Government coming down to the House and saying, "Our long-term policy has not been adequate, and we are now going to bring in another."
§ 5.53 P.m.
§ Mr. Price
This Bill is the second of two Measures which the Government have brought before this Parliament for dealing with the livestock industry. I think we did well in resisting the first one to the uttermost, because it attempted to raise revenue on the imports of foreign meat into this country, on the assumption that the trouble in the livestock industry is due to foreign, importations. That subject, however, has been discussed. The second of the two Measures of the Government is that which we are discussing to-day, and here I think there is much to be said for what they are proposing to do in the way of the reorganisation of marketing and slaughtering. The Bill is an attempt to introduce some kind of order into the chaotic conditions of the marketing and slaughtering of livestock in this country. We have heard that the conditions in Scotland are very much better than they are in England and that the relative success of the industry North of the Tweed is due to the fact that we South of the Tweed are disorganised. Our Scottish friends are certainly in advance of us in this matter, but I hope we are going to take a leaf out of their book and to follow along the lines which they originally started in Scotland.
Everybody who has had anything to do with the livestock industry must know that the industry is in a worse condition now than it has ever been in. In 1927 there was a temporary and very serious fall in fat stock prices. They recovered again, and towards 1929 the position was much more satisfactory, but ever since then there has been a steady reduction. Although we do not know what the costs of production are, we do know that certainly they are at least 50 to 100 per cent. above what they were before the War, and a very serious situation has developed. Not very long ago I visited the livestock market in Hereford with a view to studying the position there, and I found that store cattle were being sold —and not very big ones at that—at 42s. per cwt.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
Only a month ago I attended Hereford market, and cattle were making only 32s. per cwt.
§ Mr. Price
On the day when I was there they were very much dearer than that, and I put it down to the fact that owing to the state of the industry generally, there is not that rearing being done on the Welsh borders and in the Hereford and Radnor and all that district which formerly has been done. People are going over to milk production, and the result is that the rearing of calves is being dropped, and what few come on the market make prices which it is impossible for buyers to pay. A chaotic condition is obviously developing, and it is getting worse and worse. There is a slump in rearing, and the result is general chaos. The causes, I think, are complex and obscure. It is very difficult to analyse fully what the causes of this fall in beef and in fat stock prices are, but much of it is due to causes beyond the control of the producer. I do not take the view that is held by so many hon. Members opposite, that it is due to foreign importations. I think that to some extent it is due to a change in food habits. We are not eating the amount of beef we formerly ate. The depression in the mining industry and the Special Areas is playing a role, too, and the demand for small joints rather than for large gives a preference to mutton, pork and bacon rather than to beef.
There are also causes which are to some extent under the power of the agricultural industry to control. There, I think, is where this Bill may be of use. An enormous amount of beef which is coming on to the market to-day is of a very inferior quality. Our herds are not what they were. Our beef-producing herds have gone down in recent years. We and Ireland are still the producers of the finest livestock in the world, but while we may have the best individual herds the average run of our cattle is very much lower than it was. The reason is that the development of the dairying industry has tended to flood the meat and beef market with the throw-off s of the dairying industry. We have too many beef cattle 238 produced by dairy bulls or by dual purpose bulls than we should have, and the number of beef cattle coming on to the market produced by best quality beef bulls is nothing like the proportion it used to be.
§ Mr. Price
I should call a dual purposes bull a shorthorn bull which is used perhaps in a dairy herd, but whose bull calves go on to the meat market. I know that there are various grades of stock. Some are developed for dairy properties more than others, but there are all sorts of grades between the beef and the dairy types. It has been estimated that one-third of our beef is now coming from animals which are produced from dairy and dual purposes bulls.
When we come to that part of the Government's proposal which deals with subsidies, we come to a point where much more information is required. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory to lay down a basis of subsidy without having far more knowledge than we have of the cost of production of beef cattle. We have some information about certain classes of agricultural production through the work of our research stations. We know something more about the cost of production of milk than we did. We know that the costs vary from district to district and from farm to farm, but at least we have a lot of information. About beef production, however, we have nothing at all. I have been trying to get information from certain agricultural research stations and they inform me that nothing seriously is known. In fact, some of them have made attempts to get information and to obtain money for the purpose of inquiring into this matter, but nothing has been done, and altogether the position is very unsatisfactory. I hope that the Government are not going to give a subsidy based on the difference between the cost of production and the average price in the market until they know more about it. It is a fact which is borne out by research in other branches of agriculture that very much depends on localities and on the efficiency of the individual farmer. One can certainly say as regards the rearing and fattening of livestock that in the upland districts and the hill country the fattening of livestock is a slow and costly process. In the lowland pasture districts 239 it is a quicker and a relatively cheaper process.
The danger I can see is that the Government may fix the subsidy on the basis of the cost of production of the least efficient and most expensive farmer where the costs are the highest. No State money ought to be used to subsidise inefficiency. I admit that it may not always be the case that the individual is inefficient. It may be due to the locality. Even so, you cannot base the State subsidy upon what economists call the sub-marginal land. All these things have to be gone into. I am disturbed not to have heard in the speeches of hon. Members opposite to-day any real indication that they appreciate this important point, because this House as the guardian of the public purse ought to see that where money is used for this purpose it is used in the most efficient way possible. I had a letter only the other day from an official of an agricultural research station pointing out the difficulties of getting this information. He said:It is not sufficient to give the average cost of production in a given area since all farm costs vary considerably, and it is often important to know the range of the costs and their distribution.I come to that part in the Bill which deals with central slaughtering. Here, I think the Government have taken a step very much in the right direction. I only wish that the step were a little bolder and that they would do rather more than start three experimental stations. I feel that here is probably one of the main solutions of this problem. There are 16,000 private slaughterhouses in this country and 37,000 retail butchers. That means that one half of the butchers appear to own slaughterhouses, many of which are very small and inefficient. It is true that there are some which are owned by local authorities, small slaughterhouses doing good so far as they go, but they are not central slaughterhouses of the kind which are foreseen in this Bill. They are really collections of private slaughterhouses where butchers can go and slaughter on common premises. There is no real method of dealing with by-products in a proper centralised way like there is by the abattoir methods in the Argentine and the United States. I was immensely impressed when I was in Chicago some time ago to find that in the great fac- 240 tories every conceivable portion of the animal is utilised for some purpose.
I should like to know whether it will be possible under the central slaughterhouses proposed in this Bill for all the by-products to be properly utilised. So very much depends on that. In the interesting and important report on the slaughtering of livestock which the committee of the Economic Advisory Council made in 1933 a lot of information is given about the waste going on in the slaughtering of livestock which, if it were saved, could go to the producers in an enhanced price for their cattle. For instance, it is estimated that by central slaughtering we could save from 4s. to 5s. per head in overhead charges alone. In regard to hides, it is estimated that 40 per cent. are classed only as seconds and fetch 1d. per lb. less in the small slaughter-houses than if the slaughtering were done under a central system. That means a loss of from 3s. to 3s. 6d. a. beast. The fats, which are another important by-product, make roughly ½d. per lb. less in the smaller slaughterhouses, which means a loss of from 3s. to 4s. a beast. In blood there is a loss in the smaller slaughter-houses of is. per beast. In the fat, bones and glandular products the loss is from 2s. to 2s. 6d. per beast. In other words, there is a loss of 15s. per beast which could be saved if the animals were slaughtered under the methods proposed in this Bill.
That is something which is of immense importance to the agricultural industry, and three experimental stations is not enough. I hope that if there is the least sign that they are being successful they will quickly be enlarged to very many more. I know it is sometimes said that under the central slaughter-house methods English beef may lose the value which it now has over the foreign product, and that because of the cooling and hanging it loses its bloom and will not cook out so well as beef which is killed and delivered. The evidence is not that way at all. The cooling of beef in the central slaughter-house is not the same thing, by any means, as the freezing or chilling of beef which comes from abroad. Frozen beef is kept at 15 degrees Fahrenheit for a long period, and chilled beef at 29 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas cooled beef is kept at 36 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature which does not seriously interfere with chemical or organic processes 241 inside the meat. The meat does not lose bloom, nor does it "sweat," as it is called, on cooking, provided, of course, that it is not kept under cooling conditions for too long, and there is no reason why it should be. I believe that under the central abattoir system country butchers will benefit, as they will be able to order the best joints for their customers, and have a far wider choice than is provided by the small slaughter-houses scattered about the country.
There is one word I wish to say about the constitution of these central slaughterhouses. Clause 23 does not tell us very much about them. I should like to know what bodies are to manage them. Will it be possible for bodies of producers or consumers to form and operate central slaughterhouses under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1930? We know, of course, that municipalities will be able to do so, and it is desirable that they should do so, but it may not always be possible for them to do it. We ought to know more about the bodies which will be set up in cases where municipalities are unable or unwilling to undertake the work. Further, if we are to have these what I may call public utility bodies, is there to be any limitation of profits? If it is to be a public utility body with a monopoly over an area it is important that there should be some limitation of profits, and I can see no provision in the Bill dealing with that point. I hope we shall learn more about that in the later stages.
Finally, I would say, speaking for myself, that I think that this Bill has very much to recommend it, although it is obscure on many points. While I shall vote for the Amendment, I do not wish it to be thought that I have the least wish to see the Bill dropped. Well, we are perfectly entitled, in a reasoned Amendment, to call attention to the defects in a Bill, and that is all we are doing. I hope the Government will go on with the Bill and give us satisfaction in Committee, and I, for one, shall reserve my right to do as I think fit on the Third Reading stage if the Government meet the objections which we have brought forward.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel the Marquess of Titchfield
For what we are about to receive may our constituents be duly thankful. I am going to support the Bill, because 242 I regard it as a genuine effort on the part of my right hon. Friend to try to get the stock raiser out of the Slough of Despond in which he is at the present moment. But this Bill does rather remind me of the curate's egg; it is good in parts, but there is very little nourishment in it. I shall vote for the Bill because it is good in parts and I want to preserve those parts. I see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture on the Treasury Bench, and I should like to ask him two or three questions which I hope he will answer when he winds up the Debate. First, I should like to know what the machinery of the Bill is to cost. I have looked through the Bill pretty carefully, but I cannot find any estimate. I am delighted to hear that the money for the central slaughterhouses will not come out of the £5,000,000 fund, but I wish to know what is the cost of the machinery, and whether that cost will be borne by the Treasury or be met out of the £5,000,000?
In Sub-section (2) of Clause i we find that the Commission is to consist of eight members and a chairman. I hope that when the appointments are made at least two practical stock raisers will be put on the Commission. Clause 3 deals with the Livestock Advisory Committee. It looks as though that Committee is to be a very large one, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep it as small as possible. It is my experience of large committees that they are usually inefficient: the smaller one can keep a committee the more efficient it often is. Clause 15 deals with the control of livestock markets. I do not think that will affect my constituents at all, but I hope that when those who are responsible for closing some of the markets have done their work we shall not hear complaints from all over the country that small and useful markets have been closed down, and that as a result farmers have to stand the cost of railway freights in sending their cattle to markets further away. I understand that modern slaughterhouses are to be set up and small local ones shut down, with appropriate compensation to their owners. I should like to know this: Will the slaughterhouses pay the farmer on a dead weight basis and then sell the meat to the local butchers at cost price, or will the slaughterhouses charge a profit when the meat is sold to 243 the butcher? As far as I can make out the Bill does not explain that point.
I have likened this Bill to the curate's egg, but there is a feeling among some people, and particularly butchers, that the world price of meat is going to rise, that is to say, they think there is going to be a shortage. Two or three butchers have told me that, but they could give no adequate reason for saying so; they just say they have a feeling that there is going to be a shortage of meat. I welcome that feeling, because if that should prove to be the case the wholesale price of meat will go up, which will be good for the stock raisers. But unless we do more than we are doing at the present time that rise in price can only be very temporary and very fluctuating. To my mind prosperity can come to the stock raisers of this country only if there is a proper balance between producers and consumers. We have in the world a vast amount of production and not enough consumption, and I believe it is the case all over the world that if the stock raiser is to be prosperous he will have to cut down his production.
It is said, and I believe it to be true, that production and consumption have a tendency to level themselves. If producers "go broke" and cannot produce any more, prices start to rise. That is all right for the rich man with plenty of capital, who can then come into the industry again after the storm has blown over, but it is a very serious thing for the small stock raiser. Unless something is done in the near future the producer will speedily be bled white; indeed, that is what has been happening for some years past. If he is to be rescued from his present situation the Argentine and the Dominions will have to cut down their production. They will have to get a better price for less.
One of our chief difficulties, I think, is that the farmer in the Dominions is abysmally ignorant of British agriculture. A friend of mine who is a leading agriculturist in Nottinghamshire was in New Zealand about two years ago and was talking to a New Zealand farmer. The farmer said to him, "Just think, in our country we have over 1,500,000 head of dairy cattle. After all, what does agriculture matter to England? You are a great manufacturing nation, and the agri- 244 cultural area of your country is only very small." When my friend turned round and told him that there are more than 5,500,000 dairy cattle in this country that New Zealand farmer began to take a very different view of things. I am sure that the Dominions want to help us, and I believe that a little money would be well spent on propaganda, in teaching the people of the Dominions that they cannot have a prosperous mother country unless that mother country has a prosperous agriculture.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is an expert on starting hares, started again the old hare that this Bill will put up the price of the food of the people. He was given the answer to that by the Minister of Agriculture when he spoke during the last Debate we had on the subject. I think the truth is that this Bill will not put up the price of meat to the people, because it is said that the Argentine Government will pay a subsidy to its own producers, so that it will not be the British consumer who has to pay the three-farthings per lb. duty but the Argentine. No doubt the Bill will be used as a vote-catching Measure by hon. Members opposite, but I believe that the intelligent voter—and there are more intelligent voters in this country than hon. Members opposite think—is seeing the other side of the picture, and realises that we cannot have a prosperous England without a prosperous agriculture, and that a prosperous agriculture cannot be secured unless individual farmers are able to make a reasonable profit. Quite frankly I would rather see the price of the people's food go up a little—quite a little would do the trick—and 250,000 men put back to work on the land, than see what I see at the present time. The remaining half-million could have their unemployment insurance so increased that where they lost on the swings they would gain on the roundabouts.
Furthermore, the hon. Member for Don Valley asked what landlords do for the country? We landlords give our tenants cheap money as no one else will. Unfortunately there are very few landlords to-day who are able to do that, owing to the heavy taxation. What else can we do? We can help, with our cheap capital, to grow food for the people, which is important. We are also good employers of labour. We employ brick- 245 layers, plasterers, plumbers, slaters, men working on roads and men working in woods and in other jobs. One or two hon. Members asked what was the cost of a beast, and how much it cost to bring it up. I worked out the figures the other day. It costs somewhere between £19 and £20 to produce and fatten a calf up to 8½ cwts.
I welcome the Bill for what it is, but I tell my right hon. Friend that the Bill is not good enough, and that we have to do something better in the near future. We have the greatest confidence in him. The other day I heard him described as the Golden Miller of the Front Bench. I want to remind him that this Bill is not good enough and that we have to do very much more. I believe that the very best we can do for the cattle breeder of this country is to work hand in hand with the Argentine and the Dominions. and to see whether we can get better arrangements for products through the international committee, which I hope will be set up soon and will function successfully.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I am in the difficulty that help is being given to the agricultural industry, but help of which I do not approve. For that reason I ask myself whether I should oppose the help which is offered. I represent an agricultural division and I know, of my own knowledge, that agriculture needs help, but when I read the Bill I agree with the opinion which has been expressed about it from both sides of the House, that it is totally inadequate to meet the problem. That problem can be simply stated, but is exceedingly difficult to solve. The problem is: Is this House to provide fair conditions in which the farmer can pay his way, or is this House to say quite bluntly and plainly to the country: "We propose to buy everything we can from abroad, and those who wish to farm do so at their own risk"?
There seems to be no middle way to these alternatives, and we have to make up our mind whether we are going definitely to allow the fanner conditions in which he can pay his way. I would have preferred the Minister to have come to the House with a wide, comprehensive, root-and-branch policy. I would have preferred a scheme by which the farmer 246 would get a guaranteed price for his product. Whether we like it or not, the House will sooner or later have to come to that solution. Agriculture is no different from any other industry, in that it cannot carry on if it does not pay its way. I am not at all impressed with the flimsy reasons which the Minister has put forward, saying that the policy of a standard price is impossible. We have already had two schemes put forward by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). If the Minister says plainly, "I cannot work this scheme," let him go to New Zealand, where there is in practice a scheme under which butter has been fixed at a guaranteed price for next year. Let him ask the New Zealanders how they work it.
The question for me is: Should I accept half a loaf, or have no bread, even if the half loaf is not the particular half loaf I should like? The answer seems to depend upon the answer to a further question which is whether one really believes that the farmer is as down-and-out as we make him out to be. I can only say that, from my own observations of the farmers of West Wales, they are badly in need of immediate help. The farms are, for the greater part, family farms, mortgaged up to the hilt. You have only to walk on those farms and see the state of the outbuildings in order to gauge at once the financial standing of the man inside. He is engaged in producing milk and cattle. Milk pays just now, but cattle have been losing him money for years, and in the panic he has gone from cattle to milk. This fanner works 365 days in the year and from 12 to 14 hours a day. It has been calculated that his return is from 24s. to 28s. per week. His son gets pocket money and his daughter gets nothing. The person who works hardest of all, his wife, also gets nothing at all. I am certain that the economic vice is squeezing this type of farmer out of existence.
The point is, can we really afford to see that process go on without providing the conditions in which he shall have a fair chance to pay his way? What does he do? He lets his wife and family go into the town, and the farm which he has left is joined with another. You get three or four farms run by one man and a dog. It has been said that we must wait for postings. I have asked a number of farmers in my Division about the cost of producing fat cattle. Having no 247 scientific figures, their answer is good enough for me because it is born from experience. Without exception they say it takes 40s. per cwt. for a grass-fed animal and 50s. per cwt. for a stall-fed one, but this week in Carmarthen market, first-grade animals have been sold at from 32s. to 34s. per cwt., plus 5s. for the subsidy. You get, at the highest, 39s. How can you carry on an industry upon that return, for something which any hon. Member will say costs him 45s. to produce? The question is, How long can industry be carried on on lines of that sort? Will the Bill help these farmers? In my respectful submission there will be very little help indeed for them. The farmers believe that the Government were guilty of a very grave breach of faith when they did not carry out their levy-subsidy policy, combined with the policy of the standard price. I agree with them that it was set out in the clearest possible terms in the Government's White Papers. The Bill does not carry out the policy of the White Papers.
Part I of the Bill is mere machinery. I looked for the qualification of the big eight who have been established, but I regret that nowhere in the Bill have those qualifications been set up. That is not following the precedent of the London Passenger Transport Bill. The qualifications of the original board of five were quite clearly set out. I think it is following the bad example of the Milk Report. In that report it was suggested that four men should manage the milk trade of this country; in the Bill there is no idea of the qualifications that they must have. One qualification they will have is to have nothing to do with the livestock industry. On the Advisory Committee, I notice with very great regret that the producers most certainly will be in the minority, although the greatest responsibility and the greatest risk will rest upon the producer and the farmer. Therefore they should have the biggest say in controlling the destiny of their industry.
Part II deals with the subsidy. I voted for the subsidy because I think it is the only part of the Bill that offers any great hope for the farmer. Supposing there is a surplus in one year in which the £5,000,000 is not used, I would ask my right hon. Friend whether that surplus 248 will be passed over to following years. Part III deals with control of markets. I am going to ask my right hon. Friend: Does he not think that this is a clear fraud on the farmers? If he has any doubts on the matter, I would point out that, sitting behind him, is a gentleman who will enlighten him as to what fraud really means—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I should say a distinguished lawyer, who will, I am certain, give the Minister advice on the spot. Is it not a fact that, if this part of the Bill were left out altogther, the farmer would be in precisely the same place in which he is now? This is mere eyewash. One has simply to read the way in which the whole of the Clauses of this Part are worded to see that it means nothing at all. It means nothing at all for this reason. We are bound by treaty now to Argentina, to Denmark, to the Irish Free State and to the Dominions, and we know, for instance, that the imports from Argentina will be decreased by 2 per cent., 2 per cent:, and r per cent. It is suggested by the Government that that arrangement will be altered? If it will not be altered for the countries I have named, for what other country in the world can it be used?
As regards markets, I have been interested to know from farmers themselves that there is a very great division of opinion among them as to whether it will be a good thing or a bad thing for them to see the small market wiped out altogether. Part V of the Bill deals with slaughtering, and I must say, speaking for myself, that the excellent letter which was written to the "Times" the other day by Mr. John Edwards—obviously a letter written by an expert —gave me much food for thought. On the whole, however, it seems to me that Parts IV and V, which deal with markets and with slaughtering, must inure to the benefit of the farmer. But, as regards the three parts on which the Government depend for raising the price to the farmer—Part II, the subsidy part, Part IV, which deals with markets, and Part V, which deals with slaughtering—from which of these parts do the Government say the farmers in Carmarthen will get an increase in price from 34s. to 40s. a cwt.? I do not see how it can be done. More than that, does any Member in any part of the House think that the question of markets will be settled in less than two or three years; does anyone 249 think that the slaughtering arrangements will be settled in less than two or three years? What is to happen to the farmers this year—now? Hon. Members in all parts of the House have said that the farmers are in need of help now. It seems to me that, if this Bill represents the long-term policy of the Government, the farmers are right when they say they are gravely dissatisfied with the Government's policy. Nowhere in the Bill is there a single Clause dealing, for instance, with cow beef, but I am told by farmers in my own division that, if separate markets were set up to deal with cow beef, that in itself would' improve the price of best beef to-day. There is nothing at all in the Bill to suggest that that will be done, nor is there anything in the Bill about the question—a very grave question for the farmers of West Carmarthen—of store cattle. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest, for instance, that the subsidy on Irish stores ought to be less and less for the next four years until it is wiped out altogether. For these reasons, while for the sake of the subsidy, and for that alone, I propose to vote for the Bill, I consider that the Bill is totally inadequate.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Captain Dixon
On behalf of the cattle-raisers whom I represent in this House, I can definitely say that we welcome this Bill, and our reason for welcoming it is that at any rate it shows that there is going to be some continuity of policy in the matter of beef. That will be of tremendous value to the stock-raiser. The man raising stock has to look forward to at least two years before he can sell a beast, and, therefore, it is essential that the Government should have some longterm-policy, even if it is not a very good one. As I see this Bill, it is divided into three sections—the section dealing with slaughtering, the section dealing with marketing, and the last and best section of all, the section which gives the man who has the fat beast a certain amount of money.
The first two of these sections are looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion by cattle-raisers. I think I ought to say a word on the subject of slaughtering, because I have had personal experience of it in my own city of Belfast. Forty-two years ago the municipality took over the slaughtering of 250 cattle within the city, and in 1899 they got further powers from this House which gave them absolute control over the slaughtering of cattle in the city of Belfast in public abattoirs. There is no room for doubt that this has been a success, and it has been a success for two or three reasons. One reason is that it is much more humane, because, when you have great numbers of cattle being slaughtered at the same place, it is much easier for those who look after the humane slaughtering to see that it is done in a proper manner. A second great advantage of these public slaughterhouses is that they make it much easier to detect bad meat; and the third and greatest advantage, from the cattle-raiser's point of view, is that people are given confidence that they are getting clean and good meat, and the result is that they buy meat more freely, because they know that it is clean and good. Therefore, having had experience of these public slaughterhouses, which have been in existence for many years in the city of Belfast, I can say definitely that at any rate stockbreeders have no need at all to fear the public slaughterhouse.
The second section of the Bill which is looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion is that which deals with marketing. That can be made or marred very largely by the Minister himself. If he is going to attempt to put all his officials on, and to turn this marketing into a bureaucracy, it is certainly going to fail. If he wants it to be a success, he will try to get the dealers and others who have spent a lifetime in the selling of meat to get together and themselves to eliminate the weak elements in their own trade. If it is going to be turned into a bureaucracy, I can say definitely that, like the Wheat Bill, it will fail, but on the other hand, if the Minister fishes with a long line, and allows the traders themselves to eliminate the worst elements among them, I see no reason why it should not be a success.
There is one thing that has justified itself all over the country, and that is the subsidy. No one can go through any of the stock-feeding districts in England, Ireland, Wales or Scotland to-day without seeing that a definite improvement has been made on the farms. You cannot keep beasts without having men to look after them; you cannot keep beasts unless you have extra food to give 251 them; and the men looking after the beasts and the extra food which is grown on the farm have both brought prosperity to the countryside. I find that farm after farm in the areas which I know personally is employing one or two extra hands, and I find, and I am glad to say it, that the men on the farms are being paid a more or less decent wage. Therefore, the Government did a good thing when they provided this subsidy on cattle. I only wish they would give us another 2,000,000; then we should be on a certainty. But I can honestly congratulate the Minister on the present provision of £5,000,000, and I hope that the subsidy will be in operation for many years.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Whatever hon. Members in different parts of the House may say about the merits of this Bill, I think we are all agreed that it is one of the most important Measures—from the point of view of agriculture perhaps the most important Measure—that has been brought before the House for a considerable time. We have come at last as a people—thank Heaven for it—to realise that the maintenance of a vigorous and prosperous agriculture is vital to the national security. In the last four or five years agriculture has been led from the obscurity of the wings to the very centre of the public stage. It stands to-day revealed as the most powerful element in the country's economy, and in spite of the criticisms that we sometimes make of him, and that I may be disposed to level against him to-night, we are, I think, bound to recognise that for that revelation of agriculture's place we owe an abiding debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Scotland. Through bad times and good, by wise legislation and some that is not so wise, by that dazzling compound of exhortation and coercion to which he has treated us, he has succeeded in raising the Ministry of Agriculture to a first place in the Government. That is a great piece of work, for which I, at least, would like to pay a respectful tribute to my right hon. Friend.
Livestock, the problem we are now considering, is by far the most valuable part of British agriculture. It is especially so 252 in Scotland, and it is about Scotland that I would venture to say a few words tonight. In Scotland livestock is of greater value than all the other products of agriculture put together. There is not a man or woman in any part of British agriculture who does not depend directly upon the prosperity of the livestock trade. For years—for too many 3,-ears—that particular branch of agriculture has been allowed to languish. To-day, after a very long incubation, we seem to see the Government's substantial policy.
I want to say at once, despite the views expressed by some of my hon. Friends behind me, that I welcome the general background of this Measure. The large sum of money placed at the disposal of producers, in order to equate costs of production and market prices, is good. It may not be enough, but let us welcome it for what it is. Then there is the control of imports for the benefit of home growers. I recognise, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) recognised a few minutes ago, that, whatever may have been our past views on this matter, the facts of the case demand some control of imports. The research that is to be undertaken under the Bill with the object of improving methods of production, of sale and of the disposal of meat, is also good. The encouragement that is to be given—all this is not in the Bill, but I was glad to hear it said by my right hon. Friend in his New Year broadcast—the encouragement that is to be given, not only to the production of higher quality meat, but to home breeders and to the producers of store cattle at home, is a welcome provision. And I must say that I rather look forward to what I may call the centralising of the brains of this business. But that is about as far on that point as I can go. As representing an agricultural division, I want to say, with regard to all these provisions, that I am grateful for them and acknowledge their value.
What a pity it is that the fair countenance of this great Measure—for it is a great Measure and will be looked back on as such in days to come—should be scarred and scratched by the imposition of a livestock commission, a new authority with powers not only to stimulate and encourage better marketing, but with powers also—and indeed, as I read it, the clearest intention—to exercise over the whole business of livestock 253 marketing a form of dictatorship unequalled in any other industry in the country. It is true that the Orders of that livestock commission and their Bylaws are usually to be preceded by inquiries, public and otherwise, and that they must afterwards usually be approved by the Minister and in some cases by Parliament itself. Much was made of that by the Minister in his opening speech. But our experience—my own personal experience of the last four or five years—of the various Marketing Acts, and the provisions and Orders that have come before the House, has shown that all that procedure of inquiry, examination and approval is in practice a mere matter of form; and in view of that experience I take the view that in effect the commission will do more or less whatever they like.
What is the kind of thing that the commission are likely to do? They may specify areas, large or small, within which the whole business of the marketing of livestock is to be controlled. Within such areas they may close down markets altogether, large or small, efficient or inefficient. There is no definition in the Bill of the markets to be closed down, and I would ask the House to note that, not only may they close down a cattle market, but in the closing of that market they may be closing a market for a variety of other products. I think of my own county, Perthshire. There is a market at Aberfeldy. Suppose that they sold fat stock there and it was decided to close the market in favour of Perth, where are the pigs, sheep and cows of that district to be sold? Are they all to be carried to Perth? The Commissioners may order markets in these special areas to be radically altered in character and form. They may impose levies on existing markets. We have now had some experience of levies. They may fix days and times of business, rents and charges, and in respect of all markets, whether in controlled areas or not, they may regulate the holding of auctions, may limit charges, fix market days, regulate the management, and fix the time and days of sales. In the case of slaughterhouses the powers of interference and control seem to me still more severe. It appears that the entire business of the disposal of livestock from the farmer to the butcher is to he placed in the hands of this new commission. Cattle Com- 254 missioners they are called; cattle commissars would seem to me a more appropriate title for this body.
Why is it set up? I have said that I am in favour of any method for providing better leadership and drive. This is something entirely different. Fortunately, we have had not only a number of speeches from Ministers, but the Ministry of Agriculture were good enough to issue what they call "Notes on the Livestock Industry Bill." I gather that it was sent to various trade interests, to the Press and elsewhere. They set out here the reason for this new and revolutionary Measure. They say on page 3:In the case of markets there is general agreement as to the nature of the problem and the remedy. It can, therefore, be approached confidently. There are over 1,000 markets in Great Britain, which handle over 25,000,000 head of livestock a year.They develop that particular point and they proceed to quote, as evidence of their complaint as to the inefficiency of the markets, a number of reports dealing exclusively with English conditions. Here they are all laid out in one report after another. These conditions in England are chaotic. It was my duty some 10 or 12 years ago to make a close investigation of those same markets in England. Coming as I did as a Scotsman—like the Secretary of State for Scotland, the son of an auctioneer—I was frankly shocked by the chaos I found in many of these markets. There are apparently a thousand different markets, 15,000 different private slaughterhouses, and in the whole of England and Wales only 100 public abattoirs.
I admit that there is something to be said for a livestock commission with rather strong powers in conditions of that kind. I am quite ready to be persuaded that the strong hand is needed in these circumstances. The Minister may well claim justification for such powers. Indeed I imagine he has more than justification for this Bill for England. He has had, I am told, an actual demand for a Measure of this kind. I am informed that the Farmers' Union, the salesmen and the auctioneers themselves in England have asked for something along these lines. But has anybody in this House or elsewhere ever heard of any demand for this new oppressive legislation in Scotland? Has anybody in this House been watching 255 the Press of Scotland? I think almost every branch of the Scottish Farmers' Union has met in the course of the last few weeks, and I have not heard of one which asked for this marketing legislation. With few exceptions indeed they have protested against the Bill. It is true that the Central Executive of the Farmers' Union passed a resolution giving conditional approval, but it was very conditional. I was at a farmers' dinner the day the resolution was passed and next to me sat one of the leading farmers in Scotland, one who has taken part in the negotiations with the Minister, and he was asked what the resolution meant. This was his version: He said in effect, "We agreed to support the Bill, leaving ourselves entirely free to oppose it whenever and wherever we thought fit." That does not strike me as being very enthusiastic support.
So much for the farmers. My hon. Friend spoke of Belfast. Edinburgh, Dundee, and Glasgow can provide as efficient and large-scale public slaughterhouses as Belfast. All these authorities have protested against this Measure. No wonder. I have asked whether the House has ever heard of a demand for this legislation from Scotland. Has the House ever heard that there is any need in Scotland for these new coercive proposals in Parts IV and V? It is not expressed in the Bill, and certainly does not appear in the Notes to which I have referred. There is scarcely a word in these Notes about Scottish conditions except words of praise, showing how incomparably better our system is in the North. Indeed, every report on Scottish conditions has shown, not certainly that everything is rosy in the garden, but that we are so infinitely better organised in England as to make it almost unbelievable that both sets of conditions should exist on the same small island.
No one has paid higher tribute to the efficiency of the Scottish livestock marketing system than the Scottish Secretary himself. Not many months ago—on 24th July last year—he told the House:One must always remember that there is a great difference between the two countries of England and Scotland in this matter, and that Scottish organisation is very much more advanced than that of England … Let me give the figures.Then there was a slight interruption by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. 256 Boothby) the current of the Minister's thought was interrupted but he went on later:In England and Wales 27 per cent. of the animals slaughtered are slaughtered in public slaughterhouses. In Scotland the figure is 92 per cent. As for the animals going for sale in England and Wales, an average of 1,784 cattle go to each certification centre as against 3,029 in Scotland. The figure is very much higher in Scotland, where the organisation of public slaughterhouses is much more extensive than it is in England and Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th July, 1936; cols. 995, 996; Vol. 315.]I could quote the evidence of authority after authority for the claim I make that our conditions in Scotland are entirely different from those to be found in England. This Bill may be justified because of English conditions but that does not mean that it is suitable to be applied to Scotland without drastic amendment. I do not pretend that the Scottish system of marketing is perfect. I have no doubt that there are cases of redundancy, that there is need for greater efficiency, and for reducing the gap between producer and consumer, and that a better intelligence service is required by farmers. I agree that the dead meat market—and certainly as it is affected by Smithfield—wants the most careful attention. I am agreed on all that and I have been urging some radical change in that direction for a long time, but not even the most revolutionary critic of our conditions has ever contemplated a Measure of this kind as the right way to achieve these ends.
No one has ever suggested that this bureaucratic method was necessary. If you are going to introduce a bureaucracy, the project you are going to handle must necessarily be a very simple one so that it can be run by easy rules and regulations—something that can be picked up and understood quickly. You cannot do that with the marketing of livestock as now it exists in Scotland. It is not a simple localised toy. It is a most complex, delicate machine, built up over a century by the application of brains, enterprise and hard work, a machine in which there is invested, I am told, between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 of capital, most of it farmers' or ratepayers' capital, a machine which provides £3,000,000 of credit, if not more; and that machine is apparently to be handed over to this new Commission. I feel that the House dare not hand over 257 this great enterprise to the harsh play of Whitehall officials.
The Minister of Agriculture last night made some play with the sort of criticism I am now making. He said that if the Commission were stark, staring lunatics, some queer things might happen. I think he must have, been sitting near the Scottish Secretary for that phrase has a familiar ring to us in Scotland and to those who have been watching marketing legislation. Well let me say it may have gulled these gentlemen sitting in London last night after a comfortable dinner, but it cuts no ice with Scotsmen. We have had an experience very like this. When the Scottish Milk Marketing scheme was being canvassed it was said by some of the producers, "You are going to have a levy of 4d., 5d. or 6d." The advocates of the scheme, in order to quieten and smooth over the critics, replied, "If we are lunatics you will have a levy of 5d. or 6d." But the levy was 5d. not so very many months ago. It is not enough therefore to have the personal assurance of even so great an authority as the Scottish Secretary that nothing rash is to be done. I am told that when he meets his farmer and other friends in Scotland and they are rather panicky about this Measure, he says, "Trust to me, the son of an auctioneer. I will not do anything rash." In this great matter, the handling of this most delicate machine, I am not prepared to trust the Secretary of State or any other individual or body without specific assurances. We are not here considering the qualifications and character of individuals; we are considering a Bill which gives this new Commission almost exceptional powers to overrule a condition of affairs which is admitted by all to be more efficient than that in any other part of the world. The House dare not give that authority, and at the right stage I will move to delete Parts IV and V of the Bill until such time as full investigation is made arid a full statement provided to Parliament by the Commission to show precisely what it proposes to do.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Richards
Several references have been made to the comprehensive character of the Bill. After all, this purports to be one of the vital industries as 258 far as agriculture, and indeed the whole of the country, are concerned. The question the House must ask itself is, to what extent the Bill is likely to succeed in establishing the industry on a satisfactory basis? It seems to me to divide itself roughly into two parts. One is going to extend the subsidy to a limit or £5,000,000. The other part is concerned almost entirely with machinery and with the attempt, which is long overdue, to reorganise the industry as far as marketing and slaughtering are concerned. It seems to me that we are a little in the dark as to how the increased subsidy is going to be divided. Under present conditions the subsidy of 5s. a cwt. is paid on graded cattle. Are we to have a super grade? Last July the former Minister of Agriculture spoke of adjusting the subsidy so as to give further encouragement to the industry. Does that mean that we are to have graded cattle which will receive 5s. and super-graded cattle which are going to receive an addition of 1s. or 2s. per cwt.? It is not defined in the Bill. If I understood the Minister aright, he suggested that this is a matter which is going to be adjusted by the Livestock Commission when it comes into existence.
It is, I think, the height of irony to speak of the finisher as the producer of cattle. He may hold the cattle for three months, or perhaps a little more, and he is regarded all the time as the producer. It is rather ironic that we should regard as the producer the man who has kept them for three months and forget the man who has possibly kept them for nearly three years. This is a fatal defect in the Bill. The livestock industry is, after all, wider than the mere feeding industry, and we want to do something to encourage the breeder, whose difficulties are very real. He has to rear the animal and he would very much like to finish it, but he has to rear it under difficult conditions because his land is not good enough to finish it and he feels that the opportunity of profit making and of getting a subsidy, and possibly an increased subsidy, is passed on to the finisher.
There is a real hardship in this case. I do not see why the rearers of stock, those who engage in the initial part of the undertaking, should not be encouraged by having a share of the increased subsidy. After all, store cattle are in many cases 259 sold by weight. Is there any reason why the experiment should not be made of giving the producer of the stock, say, half a crown or 2s. a cwt.? There is no doubt at all that stock all over the country is improving as the result of the policy of the Department. Is there any reason why we should not further encourage the rearing of the stock by arranging that in certain markets, or at certain times of the year, stock reared in that way should have some share of the subsidy, which I think is very essential?
I do not entirely share the apprehensions of the last speaker concerning the setting up of the Commission, but I would suggest, if it is going to function fairly, that there should be on it representatives not merely of the producing side but of the consuming side as well. It was emphasised earlier in the Debate that we cannot carry on the industry by disregarding the consumer. I suggest also that we might have a representative of public health. The sooner we detach these Commissions to some extent from complete connection and subordination to a particular industry and let in the consumer, the better. After all, he has to Ray the bill; he has to pay for the meat and for any subsidy that is given. There are to be two sub-committees of the Advisory Committee, one functioning for England and the other for Scotland. I have no quarrel with that except this: Why not have a sub-committee functioning for Wales as well? There are very definite Welsh problems in connection with the industry, and the feeling in Wales, especially amongst small farmers, is that when there is a subsidy none of it by any chance comes along to them. It is very problematic whether they get anything as the result of the subsidy that is paid now for fat cattle. The Minister will be doing a good service to Welsh agriculture if he considers the special Welsh point of view—and there is a special Welsh point of view in the matter.
The Council of Agriculture for Wales some time ago drew up an elaborate scheme for the marketing of store cattle. I am told by friends of mine who had a share in drawing it up that the National Farmers' Union of England look askance upon it because they do not want the Welsh trade in cattle organised at all. I would not put it as high as that, but there is a conflict of opinion and a con- 260 flict of interest between the two countries. The feeder wants his store as cheap as possible, and the rearer wants to get as good a price as possible. There is a conflicting point of view which ought to be recognised, and I think it would be well recognised if there were a sub-committee set up specially to look after Welsh interests.
I should like to be clear about one other point—the control that is to be exercised over markets, which is, I think, on the whole long overdue. I do not know of anything so chaotic in the modern world as agricultural marketing in many of its aspects. The life history, for example, of the so-called Welsh bullock, I always think, is a very interesting story indeed. He starts very often on the plains of Cheshire or Shropshire. He is brought into Wales, after careering around a number of the border markets for a week or 10 days, perhaps. He is brought home by the Welsh farmer and reared after considerable difficulty, as the proportion of these calves which die of scour or some other similar disease is very considerable. At any rate, if he lives, he is reared, and the local dealer sets an eye upon him. This man takes him to a local market, where he is sold to another local dealer, who takes him to another market. He is then taken to the feeding counties of Leicester or Northampton in summer time, or to Norfolk or other Eastern counties in the winter, when he is disposed of again. Finally, he may be feeding still on some farm in Norfolk, and he is then disposed of again. Can anything be more uneconomical? But that is the life history of the so-called Welsh bullock. That sort of thing can be repeated, I have no doubt, in other parts of the country.
There is everything to be said for the organisation of marketing. Will the organising affect the old annual fairs held in certain parts of the country? These fairs are not held under any charter or deed of any kind, as far as I know, but take place once or twice a year and provide a very good opportunity for the remoter districts to dispose of their stock. I hope that nothing will be done to disturb these fairs. They do not come within the category of markets at all. They are very old institutions, and afford a much-needed opportunity for the remoter farmers to dispose of their stock. On the 261 whole, as we have heard already, the Bill is comprehensive, particularly on its organising side, and I hope that the Government will be resolute in their determination to alter the chaotic conditions obtaining at the present time.
§ 7.33 P.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I do not think that there is anything in the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) with which I disagree; on the contrary he made a most excellent constructive speech. I particularly welcomed the remarks he made about the breeders of cattle, and I hope that the Government will be able to tell us that as far as they are able to secure it, the bulk of this subsidy shall go to the men who not only breed cattle, but who breed the best cattle. That is a very important factor. I listened without much astonishment but with a good deal of quiet amusement to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), and, without being offensive in any way, I hope that he will forgive me when I say that it was a characteristically Liberal speech. These Liberals are tremendous lads on paper, but when it comes to action of any kind they run away like hunted hares. I remember a speech made by my hon. Friend on the last Cattle Bill that was introduced into this House by the Secretary of State for Scotland on 13th July of last year. I have no need to disagree with his opening sentence, when he said:We all listened to the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire with very great respect.He went on to say:But I also have studied the marketing of livestock, and indeed 10 years ago … I was responsible, with some of my hon. Friends opposite"—Liberals again, from whom he is now sadly separated, but perhaps not for long—for producing recommendations very close to those which the hon. Member has mentioned here to-day. I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend at that time supported them or not, but I am glad he does to-day. I believe profoundly in the necessity for the better marketing of livestock.He proceeded to say that he was sceptical as to its value in actually raising prices, and went on further to say that he regarded central slaughterhouses and other things of that character as essential. He concluded his speech by saying: 262I beg the Minister to review his whole method of applying assistance to agriculture, and, even at the cost of some delay, to come to the House with such a new plan as shall satisfy us that all parts of the country are being treated fairly, and that, indeed, the support, the assistance and the encouragement of this House shall be on a planned and balanced basis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1936; cols. 1742–45, Vol. 314.]That is just about what this Bill attempts to do. I give my whole-hearted support to it. I have always pleaded in this House for the better organisation of agricultural marketing, as has my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife. When it comes down to practical politics and a Bill is produced which will, admittedly, push some people about, I am not, going to run away from the statements I have made and the paper proposals put forward by many of us in this House for the better organisation of marketing. If you are to reorganise marketing or anything else, you are bound to cause a certain amount of temporary dislocation and disturbance. You cannot avoid it, and that fact has to be faced. As representing one of the leading cattle-producing constituencies in Scotland, I am perfectly prepared to face up to that fact, and I think that most of my farmers are prepared to do the same sort of thing.
I favour the subsidy. I am particularly in favour of the grading proposals, although I echo the remark of the hon. Member for Wrexham, that we regard it as very desirable that the bulk of the subsidy should go to the breeders who produce the best type of cattle. It is all to the good that the Livestock Commission should be independent of the industry altogether, and without a taint of vested interests of any kind. If you are not to give it adequate powers, it really would be better not to set it up at all. It may be that you run the risk of giving it, perhaps for the moment, too great powers. I say emphatically that I would rather run that risk than give it too little powers. I believe that it will do a great deal of good, because it is an attempt, which I personally welcome most cordially, to tackle the distributive side, which has not been so far adequately tackled in British agriculture. I believe that hon. Members of the Labour party give support in principle to that policy. It is admitted on all sides that the Scottish marketing is more efficient on the whole at the moment than the English. We have not 263 the same influences as they have in England, and we certainly have a very much smaller number of marts and slaughterhouses. I do not think that we move our cattle about to anything like the same unnecessary extent, but that indicates that the Commission will exercise its powers in Scotland in a much less oppressive manner than they will in England.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife complained that the Commission was going to be oppressive in Scotland. I do not think that that is the case at all. In so far as our marketing is more efficient, the action they take must be less. I would point out to the Government that the mere closing of marts is not sufficient to secure efficiency. There is a real danger here that you may possibly, in some cases, put a premium upon inefficiency in the marts that are left, and on rings. I do not say that these things are going to happen, but they are dangers, and have to be guarded against very carefully. If the powers that are to be vested in this Commission are wisely exercised, I do not think that anything but good on the whole can result either in Scotland or in England.
What is our ultimate goal as far as agricultural marketing is concerned? It is the greatest possible efficiency, the maximum price to the producer, and the minimum price to the consumer. I believe the ultimate ideal to be a chain of markets, not more than 40 in England and 20 in Scotland, operated by the most experienced auctioneers in conjunction with the farmers. I believe that to be, in many ways, the desirable ultimate objective. It may take many years, but with the assistance of the Livestock Commission, it should be a perfectly realisable end. I welcome the tentative proposals with regard to central slaughterhouses which the Bill contains, and I would plead that one, at any rate, of these slaughterhouses should be located in Scotland. I would ask the Minister that during the provisional period steps should be taken to see that other centres are not penalised by the fact that one Government subsidised and controlled central slaughterhouse is established, but the supreme advantage of a controlled slaughterhouse of this kind is that the frightful wastage of offal which goes on 264 at the present time will be averted, and this is worth almost anything. I ask my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, to give us some assurance that the producers will be adequately represented upon the Advisory Livestock Committee. It is very important that the producers themselves should be heard upon the Advisory Committee.
My last word is one of regret that still the Government have not seen their way to tackle what is, in some ways, the fundamental root problem of all with regard to the marketing of agriculture, and that is the Smithfield Market. Eighty per cent., pretty nearly, of our beef in Scotland eventually finds its way to Smithfield, which still remains essentially an overseas market, but which, nevertheless, in the end, fixes the prices in our local Scottish market. The big buyer from Smithfield ultimately controls and fixes the price of cattle from day to day in the marts of Aberdeenshire. After the Smithfield telephone message comes through, the farmers know pretty well what the price of fat cattle is to be for that particular day, and you will never really tackle, and get a final and completely successful solution of the problem of the marketing of livestock in this country until the Government are prepared at least to investigate the problem of Smithfield, which is a great problem, at any rate, as far as the production of prime Scotch beef is concerned. My complaint is, therefore, not that the Bill is bad, but that in certain respects it does not go quite far enough, but as far as the producers and the money, the grading and the marketing proposals are concerned, the more reasonable people in Northern Scotland will welcome the Bill as a whole, and I shall have great pleasure in voting for the Second Reading.
§ 7.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Christie
I should think that it was a great pleasure to my right hon. Friend to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). It was very refreshing to see him scatter bouquets on the question of beef, and, therefore, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind if I do not follow that line, but say a few words of criticism. The matter of the encouragement of the beef industry has always, in my opinion, been the most important of 265 all the questions affecting agriculture. In fact, the first time that I spoke in this House, in the year 1925, was to suggest, at the time when wheat was bulking very largely, that beef, and livestock generally, were more important. I have waited a great many years, and I honestly say that when I first saw this Measure I was bitterly disappointed. It is a very pathetic attempt to meet a very serious crisis. To suggest that 1s. 3d. per cwt., which is just over one farthing per lb. increase in the subsidy, is going to save the beef industry strikes me as being simply ludicrous. We are told that this is money to be payable for the benefit of superbeef and not spread over the whole of the beef produced. I am not quite certain that I absolutely agree with the general support that is given every time this super subsidy is mentioned. I have very grave doubts whether it is really possible accurately to super-grade the live animal. It can be done efficiently with a dead carcase, but I am afraid that an attempt to do it in the live animal will cause a tremendous lot of ill-feeling, where you get animals which are just near the line, either super or under super. It will be very difficult to make a general sort of rule all over the country which will satisfy farmers generally, and I think there is likely to be ill-feeling about this matter.
There is a suggestion in the Bill that Irish cattle are to be penalised, and I am sure that a good many hon. Members would like them to be penalised. The moment one talks about Irish cattle we show from which side of England we come. People in Norfolk and the Eastern counties who fat cattle are not philanthropists, and nobody must blame them if they say that they must buy the cattle most suitable for their purpose. If they find that Irish cattle pay them better, hon. Members who represent the grass areas must not blame them. Certainly, they are not justified in saying that the Norfolk and east-coast graziers should be deprived of part of the subsidy in consequence. If there is a feeling that it is unfair that Irish cattle should come in and be bought in such large quantities, let it not be forgotten that there is a tax on Irish cattle when they come in. Surely, some of the money which is obtained from that tax might be added to the £5,000,000, in order to see that the home-produced animals do not suffer.
266 Although I am rather doubtful about the extra quality subsidy I am not against some form of differentiation. One thing that nobody ever seems to mention is the fact that cattle fatted on grass are fatted at a very much lower rate than cattle fatted in the yard. If you have a flat rate of subsidy which is given to all fat cattle, wherever they are fatted and at whatever difference of cost, you will be doing an injustice either to the grass man or to the man who fats the cattle in the yard. If the rate of subsidy is fair to the grass man it is not enough for the man who fats in the yard, and, vice versa, if it is enough for the man in the yard it is more than is necessary for the man who fats on grass. I have made the greatest efforts to find out the comparative cost and I think it is not unfair to say that one cwt. of beef can be produced on grass at somewhere about 36s. or 37s., but in the yard I think the cost comes out at from 55s. to 60s. Therefore, on the face of it a level subsidy for all classes of beef is just as unfair as would be a level price for summer and winter milk. No one would deny that the producer of Milk in the winter should receive more than the producer of milk in the summer. Why, therefore, should not the producer of beef in the winter have a greater subsidy than the producer of beef in the summer?
It seems to me that the Government would be wise to abandon this quality subsidy and instead have a winter price and a summer price for the subsidy. The Minister of Agriculture told me just before the Recess that very often a high-grade bullock fetched 12s. a cwt. in the market more than the average price, but in a Debate on 2nd December on the Motion of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) the hon. Member for Banff (Sir E. Findlay) made this statement:I have taken out some figures which show that according to the wireless prices, at Carlisle market a 10-cwt. beast fetches 30s. per cwt., which amounts to £15. The farmer gets a subsidy of 5s. per cwt., or 16⅔, per cent. The beasts of my constituents in the North-east of Scotland fetch 50s. to 51s. per cwt. and they get the same subsidy, or only so per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 211d December, 1936; col. 1310, Vol. 318.]I need not go further with the quotation, but there is a difference here on quality of not less than 20s. The Minister said that the difference was 12s. Surely this 267 is a sufficient reward for quality. I suggest to the Government that instead of adopting this super grade subsidy they might very reasonably say that, on the analogy of winter and summer milk, they would pay a bigger subsidy for the yard-produced animal than for the grass-produced animal. It would have this tremendous advantage, that nobody could make a mistake. You might make a mistake as to whether an animal should be super graded, but no one could make a mistake in regard to an animal fatted on grass and an animal that has been fatted in the yard. If the Government do not do something of this sort, and if, as is the case as far as I know, the production of beef on good pasture land is a more or less profitable undertaking at the present time, whereas the winter production of beef loses money, it is inevitable that farmers will gradually give up altogether the practice of grazing animals during the winter months. If they do that it is inevitable that the fertility of the land will suffer tremendously. The low prices of beef have already had some effect in that direction.
The farmers in the Eastern Counties had one alternative. They found out that if they could not make winter beef production pay they could maintain the fertility of their soil by growing sugar beet and ploughing in the tops. Many farmers did so, and they kept up their fertility by thus adding a lot of humus to the soil. What, then, was their despair when they found that this year, for some reason or other, the Sugar Commission fixed the price for their sugar beet at a lower figure than that in any other area of England? The farmers found that their land, which was so deficient in humus, was to receive a smaller sugar beet price than the rich black soils around the Ely factory, which were to receive 1s. more. It was a most astounding policy, and I have never been able to understand the reason for it. When the farmers found this out they said to themselves: "Very well, we are going to have a beef policy at last. The turn of the beef man is to come. If we cannot grow sugar beet at a profit, we can go back to mangolds and swedes and fat bullocks, as our fathers used to do," but when they eventually saw the present policy they thought they had been sold both ways.
268 The serious thing is that when the grass feeder feeds his cattle his idea is to sell through them the value of his grass and his hay. His labour cost is very low, but as long as he keeps his fences trim, and so on, he can make something. When the arable farmer buys some cattle to fatten he has the ability through them to sell his roots and his hay, but the reason why he buys the cattle is because he knows perfectly well that he cannot go on growing his crops unless he has farmyard manure with which to manure his land. It may be asked, if the stories which the farmers tell about fattening bullocks is true, why do they go on fattening them? The reply is, that although they know that they may lose money, they also know that they cannot farm without farmyard manure, and therefore they are prepared to go on with it. I cannot help thinking that the Government are losing a perfectly splendid opportunity of doing a really fine thing for the land of this country. We are always talking about the possibility of war coming, and the necessity of being able to develop our agriculture if war comes. What better way could the Government have at a time like this than to draft their Bill so as really to encourage the keeping of a great many more cattle than have been kept for years past. Every bullock that is fatted means an extra acre manured. Farmyard manure has a perfectly astounding effect on soil, which lasts for years afterwards.
No better plan for preparing for a crisis could be thought of than to increase the number of acres manured, so as to store up fertility in case of need. The position is entirely different from what it was in 1914. Up to 1914 the land of this country had been farmed on the four course shift almost entirely. Every four years it had two dressings of farmyard manure, in addition to the roots of the clover ploughed in after the hay crop. At that time the Government were in the fortunate position that they had all this stored-up fertility on which to draw, so that the crops could be grown without any great fear of exhausting the soil. But the position at the present time is entirely different. The bad lessons learned during the War of growing one corn crop after another and getting away from the good old four-course shift has had a very bad effect. There is no doubt that in many parts of this country the reserves as 269 regards fertility of the soil are low and that we are living from hand to mouth. Here the Government had an opportunity of building up new reserves, and all they give us is one-eighth of a penny per lb. in addition to the old subsidy.
It has often been said that it is not policy to increase the number of cattle in the country, and when one asks why, we have been told that in time of war it would be difficult to bring over to this country the cake which would be necessary to maintain them, and that shipping would be much better employed in bringing home wheat. There are two answers to that contention. One is the extravagant amount of cake which at the present time the farmer gives to the bullocks he is fattening. If there were a rationing of the amount of cake for the feeding of bullocks in this country, it would be quite sufficient to feed half as many bullocks again without any increase in the amount of cake. There is also another answer and that is the drying of grass which was referred to by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) before the Recess. There is no question at all that the possibilities of drying grass for cattle food are tremendous. The technique of drying wet things is complicated and very expensive, and it is obvious that farmers have not the capital to do it. I believe the possibilities not only of drying grass but of lucerne, which can be grown on any soil however poor as long as it has a little lime in it, are simply tremendous, and the Government might very well institute experiments into perfecting plant which can do the drying more economically than the plant already in existence. I suggest that they should set aside a considerable sum for this purpose or offer prizes through the Royal Agricultural Society. There is no earthly reason why the number of cattle in this country should not be tremendously increased to the great advantage of the fertility of the soil.
We have heard a great deal about the redundancy of markets and many hon. Members seem to agree with the Government that it is a wise thing to do away with some markets. Thirty years ago there would have been a much better case for this than there is at the present time. The Minister of Agriculture himself gave some good reasons why there is now no great necessity for it. He called attention to the new method of transport—motor cars—telephones and wireless 270 prices. Those are good reasons why the necessity for doing away with markets does not arise. From my experience farmers are always going around the markets trying to find the best for their stock, and the question whether a market becomes redundant or not is the number of sellers and buyers in a particular market. If they find they are not getting such good prices as they can get elsewhere the market will make itself redundant. I have in mind a little market not far from my home where a good many cattle were sold in the old days. None are sold there now as people have found that they can get better prices elsewhere. I may be old-fashioned and a crusty old Tory. I believe in letting business take its own course, and I feel confident that all the talk about people going to markets where they get bad prices and where matters are dominated by rings is pure rubbish. Farmers are not such silly fools. They take the trouble to find out where prices are good, and they follow those markets. I should be sorry to see any markets in my constituency done away with, as they serve a good purpose.
A word about abattoirs. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) and I was bitterly disappointed when he told us that the abattoir which he visited gave a dividend of only 15s. a beast. I thought that he was going to say 30s. or £2. However advantageous abattoirs may be from the public health point of view, if they are going to appeal to farmers you will have to show him a better dividend than 15s., otherwise they will find that the extra transport of getting animals to the abattoir will swallow up the 15s. and something over and above it. It was all rubbish for the hon. Member to say that cattle which had been killed in these abattoirs could not be taken for chilled beef as they did not show any change when put in a butcher's shop. I cannot agree with him. I think the meat does show a change, and a change which is easily detected by the public. The one chance that English beef really has is the fact that it is fresh killed and looks fresh, and I have a fear that if this abattoir business is carried out we shall find the prices of our meat descending to the prices of imported beef.
271 As in milk, so in meat. Farmers have been so depressed by the low prices that many of them in despair have opened butchers shops or taken an interest in these shops so that they may have some share in the retail market. Is it fair that where this has been done in the neighbourhood of a city for good reasons that these people should be disturbed if an abattoir is established? I think they should be considered. I am afraid that I cannot say a good word for that part of the Bill. I expect the right hon. Gentleman will think that I have been very rude to his Bill all the way through, but we remember that this child has been forced upon him. It is not his own infant and perhaps when he gets into his stride he will be able to produce a much more efficient and useful Bill.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I know nothing or very little about agriculture and I do not propose to criticise or support the Bill. My only experience in agriculture was as a boy when I went to work on a farm and stayed sufficiently long to enable me to do two things—to learn to milk a cow and to get out of the industry. But the Bill is going to have an effect on a number of people who are employed by the Cattle Committee, and I hope that some consideration will be given to the conditions which will be imposed upon them. I presume that when the Commission commences to operate it will want a staff, probably a larger staff than the one which is now operating under the Cattle Committee. The circumstances are rather peculiar. The Cattle Committee was set up in August, 1934, and these temporary clerical employés came into the service of the Government in August, 1934, or afterwards. Shortly after this Committee was set up a temporary staff committee of the Government was operating, and it made a recommendation to the Government which they accepted. One of the conditions in their report was that all temporary clerical employés should only be entitled to become permanent on certain conditions, one of which was that they must have been in the Government service prior to 1st August, 1934. Therefore, technically everyone of the employés of the Cattle Committee is ineligible to become permanent if that condition is strictly operated. I want to ask 272 the Government to give consideration to the special circumstances in which these men are placed.
There is also a committee called Committee C, which is operating in the Civil Service National Whitley Council, and they also have made a report which has been accepted by the Government. In this report it is laid down that as a general rule temporary civil servants shall be in the service for only 18 months. In connection with the Unemployment Bill which was introduced in 1934—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
I really think the hon. Member ought to raise this on another occasion. He is quite entitled to ask what is going to happen to the staff of the Cattle Committee and whether they are to be taken over by the new Commission, but I think that any general question as to temporary civil servants should be raised on another occasion.
§ Mr. McEntee
May I submit to you that I am only illustrating what has taken place with regard to another set of temporary men situated in the same circumstances?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member cannot go into that now. The Bill deals with livestock, and he must keep to the Bill.
§ Mr. McEntee
May I submit that the Bill deals with everything connected with livestock? Surely the people who are now operating the Committee, and who will operate the Commission when it is set up, may be considered under the Bill. All I ask is that these men shall receive consideration such as was promised to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland when he was Minister of Agriculture. On 20th July last, my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) asked the right hon. Gentleman a question which I will not read, but the general effect of which was that these temporary employés of the Cattle Committee should receive special attention when the promised legislation was brought before the House. That legislation is now before us, and we are considering it. In reply to the question, the right hon. Gentleman said, "Yes"; that is to say, they would receive special and favourable consideration. I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of 273 Agriculture to that promise. If the rule that was adopted by the Government on the suggestion of the Civil Service Temporary Staff Committee is applied, all these temporary employés will be moved out. I think that would be a grave injustice to them, and I do not think any hon. Member would desire that they should be so moved out. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to these temporary employés, and to treat them as similar temporary employés were treated by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, who had the same point to consider in 1934, when the Unemployment Bill was before the House, in regard to the staff then operating temporarily for the local authorities, which was passed over to the Unemployment Assistance Board. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give favourable consideration to this matter.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Russell
After the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and his strictures upon his Scottish colleague who sat on this bench with me, it takes some temerity on the part of another Liberal supporter of the Government to rise and give support to this Bill. However, it may satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen to know that I agree much more with him than with my Liberal colleague. I think there is one point at which all our opinions may converge in congratulating the Government upon the introduction of this Bill, and it is that the Bill shows once more a will on the part of the Government to assist agriculture and put it into such a position in the national organisation as will enable farming to pay. I well remember the change that has come over this House in regard to agriculture during the past seven or eight years, for almost eight years ago I heard the Minister of Agriculture of that time say at that Box that for two years he had never been challenged on agriculture. I think that since then there has never been a month when the Minister of Agriculture, whoever he may have been, has not had to defend his position and his Department. We have passed Measure after Measure trying to deal with agriculture and put it on its feet.
There is only one point of approach which I wish to make to this Bill to-night. I would like to ask whether, 274 after the experience we have had during the past seven or eight years in all the agricultural Measures we have passed, there is anything that has made either for success or failure which is repeated in this Bill. The first of those Measures was the Wheat Act. Of all the Measures that have been passed by this House in support or in re-constitution of our agricultural position in this country, that Act has been the most successful, and it has been the most successful because it was the most complete. Then there was the milk scheme, which has been successful in parts, but it has also failed in parts, and the point of its failure has always been the point of its incompleteness. The Milk Commission recommended that we should pass a scheme dealing with distribution and production, but we passed a scheme dealing with producers, with the result that from the standpoint of distribution, we have to-day a very considerable failure of the milk scheme. In the pigs scheme there has once again been a failure owing to incompleteness in approaching the problem, and that scheme is in the chaos in which it is to-day because of its incompleteness and because it left so large a proportion of the pig population of the country outside the purview of the scheme.
I now come to the scheme which is before us. I have looked at that portion of the Bill which deals with the question of subsidies, and I have tried to find out the figures of the fat stock in the livestock market which will receive the subsidy. Although I am open to correction by the Minister, I think a very large section of fat stock is excluded by the Bill from participation in the subsidy. I am referring to that portion of the livestock in the markets which is called the "turn-off" from the dairy cattle of the country. I was astonished when the Minister declared yesterday thatNo estimates are available of the numbers of cows sold for slaughter each year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th January, 1937; col. 21, Vol. 319.]It seems to me that to-night we are being asked to give a blank cheque without having sufficient data. I have been at some pains to try to find out what may be the amount of these cattle in the livestock market. I have written to representative dairy farmers throughout the country, and I find that turned-off cows represent in one section of the 275 dairy industry one-third of the herd annually; in another section a quarter of the herd annually, and that the lowest proportion is one-fifth of the herd annually. Taking it at one-quarter of the herd, as we have about 3,000,000 dairy cattle annually, it means that something like 750,000 beasts go into the market for which this Bill makes no provision except this new emergency subsidy that is payable on cow heifers. Cow heifers are defined as those which have six teeth. Now the cow heifer when it has six teeth and before it has eight is generally not more than three years old. That is to say the only section in this part of the livestock industry which is going to benefit under this subsidy is that section which first goes into the dairy and is a failure at the first lactation period, or has some accident such as damage to the udder and has to be fattened up and sent into the market. It seems to me that this is a leap in the dark and that when there are some 600,000 to 700,000 beasts outside the purview of the Bill, there is a danger that we may fail again in this Measure as we have already failed up to a point in other Measures of the kind. I ask the Minister to see that this point is carefully considered when the Commission is set up, with the object of finding out how far it is possible to spread the subsidy evenly over all the reliable and healthy cattle which go into the market.
There are innumerable Committee points in this Bill, and we shall have to tackle those at the appropriate time, but there is one point of major importance which I should like to mention although reference has already been made to it to-day. We talk about markets and auction sales and so forth and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) has said that something should be done to stop the creation of rings in the market. That, I take it, will be one of the duties of those who are to reorganise markets throughout the country. At present it is often the case that a group of purchasers will come together in a market and prevent the farmer from getting the right price for his cattle. I think we want to go even further than dealing with that matter. We must ask why there has been such a disastrous failure during the last year or two with 276 regard to the subsidy already given. It is simply because these rings and combines so control matters that they capture the subsidy while the producer for whom it was intended misses it. It has happened in the case of cheese, it has happened in other cases, and I wish to ask when the Government propose to tackle the bigger problem of exercising some control over this kind of combination in trade, so as to prevent the benefit which the Government intend for the farmer going into other and private hands.
I, for one, representing an agricultural constituency, welcome the Bill as another attempt to deal with a difficult problem. The livestock industry stands midway between dairy and arable farming. It is necessary to maintain the fertility of the soil on the one hand, and, on the other hand, you must have an opening for the dairy farmer to dispose of his cattle when he is finished with them. It is vital to the agricultural interest as a whole that this question of the livestock industry should be settled on broad and wise lines, and, in supporting this Bill, I express the hope that in Committee we shall do all we can to make it a practicable and useful Measure.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Colonel Ropner
The Government probably knew before to-day, and they certainly know now, that there is no little disappointment in the livestock industry with the Bill which is now before the House. There are two main reasons for that disappointment. The first is that the Bill is not what the farmers expected. For that the Government are entirely responsible. A White Paper was issued in July, 1934, and another in March, 1935, and, without a shadow of doubt, the farming community was led to believe by the contents of those White Papers that the long-term policy of the Government would be in the nature of a levy subsidy—a levy on imports, deficiency payments, and a standard price. That policy the farmers thought was simple, easily understood, and very much what they wanted. It may be that as a result of further inquiries the Government have now found that a levy subsidy policy is not practicable, but in that case I think hon. Members will agree a grave error was made in broadcasting the White Papers and leading farmers to believe that a levy subsidy policy was possible. There 277 is very natural disappointment that effect has not been given to that policy.
The second reason for disappointment is that with prices at the present level, £5,000,000 is not sufficient to meet the losses incurred by producers of cattle. This Bill is a cumbersome Bill. It gives very wide powers to the Livestock Commission. Many of its provisions may be of great assistance to the livestock industry. On the other hand, they may be useless or even harmful, if they are not administered properly by the Livestock Commission. Farmers will have to wait and see, but at present prices there is no need for him to wait, in order to appreciate the fact that £5,000,000 will not make up his losses.
There are still many hon. Members who desire to speak and I shall confine my remarks on the last five parts of the Bill to a single sentence on each of two Clauses. First of all, with regard to Part IV, the regulation of markets, I understand that there is a strong demand among auctioneers that action under this part of the Bill should be delayed for a time and that they should be given a chance of submitting their own schemes to the Commission when it is set up. I have considerable sympathy with that point of view, provided there is no undue delay. Then there is a somewhat natural demand among auctioneers that compensation paid under this part should come from national funds and not from local funds. With regard to Part V, I am glad to note that the cost of the three experimental slaughterhouses will not come out of the subsidy, but will be additional money, largely provided by the State.
Now I come to those parts of the Bill which are being most anxiously examined by farmers. I would say first, with regard to the subsidy itself, that I hope the regulations will be so framed by the Livestock Commission that the genuine producer of fat cattle gets the benefits of the subsidy first and foremost. On Monday of this week I met representatives of seven branches of the National Farmers' Union in the West Riding of Yorkshire. They put their case to me very fairly indeed, they appreciated the difficulties which the Government had to face, they showed much consideration for the position of the consumers, and they appeared to be entirely free from that bias, bigotry, and narrow-minded- 278 ness which has in the past, I may say the distant past, been attributed to the British farmer. There was a general expression of opinion that under the regulations as at present administered dealer-farmers as opposed to producer-farmers are getting too large a share of the subsidy, and their anxiety in this respect was to a certain extent increased by Clause 10, in Part II of the Bill, which appeared to them to make it possible for a further class of individuals to benefit under the Bill, namely, butcher-dealer-farmers. I hope the Minister will be able to assure this House that it is the genuine producer who will get the first and the greatest share of the subsidy. My farming friends appeared to be glad, and I am, that there will be something in the nature of a quality subsidy, but the remark was made, and I believe it to be true, that the farmers can get quality only if the price is right. I hope that the difference between the subsidy given to beef of moderate quality and that given to beef of super quality will not be too great.
Finally, I come to that part of the Bill which is surely the most important, but which seems to have been very largely ignored, or at any rate overlooked, by the most ardent critics of the Bill. I said earlier in my speech that the £5,000,000 which is to be given is not enough to cover the farmers' losses at present prices, but powers—
§ Colonel Ropner
I will tell the hon. Member in a minute. Powers are conferred on the Government in this Bill by the use of which they could, if they desired, double the price of beef in this country in a few weeks. It has been said, and I think with justification, that the voluntary agreements for the limitation of imports have not been strictly observed. It has been said that lower imports from the Argentine have invariably led to higher imports from the Dominions. But now, for the first time, the Government are taking real control to limit imports. Quantative regulation is an important part of the Bill. So far as I can see, the powers under this part of the Bill are almost limitless. There is power to do all that the farmers want, and more, and I cannot agree for one moment with the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. 279 Hopkin), who gave such a graphic description of present-day conditions on the Welsh hill farms, that this part of the Bill is a fraud. At the same time I should be happier and more confident if the Minister would say that which I have just been asked to say by an hon. Member opposite, namely, what the Government consider would be a fair price for good quality beef.
I ask that because it is a little disconcerting to representatives of large agricultural constituencies to know that it is the President of the Board of Trade whose duty it is to regulate imports. I feel certain that no action of this kind would be taken without close consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland, but the President of the Board of Trade is not credited by the agricultural community with too ardent a desire to help their important industry. Clause 3, on page 9, which attempts to give guidance to the President of the Board of Trade, mentions in particular the interests of the consumers. This Clause seems to me to be superfluous. Of course, the interests of the consumers would have to be taken into account when the regulation of imports was being considered, but I should have thought that if a Clause of this sort was to come into the Bill at all, the interests of the farmers might have come first. After all, it is a Bill by which you are professedly dealing with agriculture. However, these fears may be groundless.
It is perhaps not necessary for me to remind the Minister of Agriculture that distressed areas are not limited to the scheduled Special Areas. There are many distressed acres lying between prosperous industrial areas, and with the cost of production up by about 100 per cent. and the price obtainable only some 7 per cent. above the pre-war level, the Minister, the Government, this House, and the whole country will appreciate the fact that the livestock producer cannot possibly make a profit and must indeed sustain a loss. An hon. Member who spoke earlier quoted this remark of the Minister's: "It must be the beef man's turn sooner or later." I sincerely hope that the Minister of Agriculture, in whom we have such faith, will ensure that this Bill is administered in such a way that the beef man has his turn soon.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley
This Debate has proceeded so far in an atmosphere of general harmony. I am the more sorry, therefore, to have to produce a somewhat jarring note. Before doing so I desire to associate myself with those on all sides of the House who have commended certain admirable features of this Bill. We all agree about the advisability, if anything can be done by the Government, to improve the efficiency and economy of the marketing and slaughtering of livestock. Although I may sound a jarring note before I have finished, we on this side fully agree that the agricultural producer, like all producers, is entitled to an adequate remuneration for the services he renders to the community. There can be no dispute about that. I would even go further and say that, apart from the question of Free Trade or Protection, the farmers, as all other producers, are entitled to take every legitimate step with Government assistance to get for their commodities an adequate living return.
We are all in agreement with that part of the Bill which seeks to embody that general principle, but the Bill, in doing it with regard to livestock, is asking the House to consent to the use of certain finance for the benefit of a comparatively small interest, namely, the livestock section of the agricultural interest. I think one can fairly say that the £5,000,000 which the Bill will provide annually for the assistance of this section may directly affect something like 100,000 people. Not more than that number will receive the subsidy for the class of cattle which will qualify under the Bill. The House of Commons, however, represents the interests, not of 100,000 people, but of 45,000,000 people. When we have legislation which will have the effect of transferring to a special section of the community assistance from the whole nation, we are entitled to ask two questions. The first is, who is to find the money and bear the burden of the finance; and the second is, who is to receive the money?
§ Mr. Riley
It is an approximate figure. There are about 200,000 farms in this country, and I have mentioned 100,000 as the number of people who would qualify for the subsidy. I do not mind if 281 the hon. Gentleman puts it at 200,000. I am contrasting the interests of that limited number with the interests of the 45,000,000 people whom this House represents. We are bound to ask ourselves those two questions. To the first there are two answers. It is provided in the Bill which comes up next week that at least £3,500,000 of the £5,000,000 is to come from a levy upon imported chilled beef. It is immaterial to my argument whether it is said that that amount will be a burden on the consumer—and the poor consumer at that—or whether it is claimed that it will be borne by the exporters from the Argentine. It puts us on the horns of a dilemma whether the Government ask the poor consumers to find this money or whether they say they will get it out of the exporters of beef in the Argentine. I would ask the Minister whether either is a respectable policy? Are the British Government going to rely on financial assistance from some foreign trade in order to carry out public policy? I think the balance of evidence is that the bulk of the money will be a direct burden upon the poorest consumers of beef for the benefit of the agricultural interests, including landlords.
We are also bound to ask ourselves who will receive this money. The presumption is that the farmers will. I would concede without any doubt that they will receive the bulk of the levy but is there anyone with any experience who does not know in his very bones that some portion of every contribution which is made to improve any kind of industry concerned with the land will find its way to the landlords in the shape of rent? No one can contest that. The expenditure of public money on a highway or on contributions to the farmers carries its portion to the landlords. If the Government want equity in this matter, and if a subsidy from the State is necessary to assist the livestock industry, let us be straight about it, and let those sections of the community which can afford to find the subsidy pay for it by Income Tax instead of depending upon the beef eaten by the poor or upon the exporter. If there is to be assistance to the farmers, let the well-to-do of all sections make their contribution, as is the case now, before this Bill comes into operation.
I submit to the Minister that this Measure indicates a reaction from what 282 was actually done before. The £3,700,000 which was paid last year in the way of subsidy was raised out of the taxes of the country, but now the Government say, "Let us put the charge on to beef, and the poor will have to pay." I say that is an unsound policy. As regards the proposals for centralised slaughtering, under which three large experimental slaughter-houses are to be set up, I suggest that as the money for them is to be found by the State—it is in addition to this £5,000,000—the Government ought to be bold and courageous and organise them as national institutions. At least the Government ought to depart from the policy of giving further subsidies to private undertakings, and if they feel that they cannot establish slaughter-houses themselves they ought to make it a condition that the local authorities shall have the benefit of the contributions given towards those slaughter-houses. I shall oppose this Bill because I regard its finance as being unsound.
§ 8.56 p.m.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) both have the idea that the cost of production for which they asked the Minister—as they were entitled to ask for it—is not forthcoming because it would reveal how the money is going into the pockets of the agricultural landlords. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said that rents have gone up, that all these contributions go eventually into the pockets of the landlords, and that a Noble Lord had said that some years ago, and also that the new landlords were not as good as the old ones. The central Landowning Association, of which I am a past president, took steps at the time when accusations were made that all the relief given in rates went into the pockets of the landlords, to find out from their 12,000 members, in 40 different counties, what was the real state of affairs. They have done so again since, and what they found was that rents as a whole have not gone up and that none of that money which was said to be going into the pockets of landlords came from increased rents. Rents are no higher. There is this other point, that no industry in this country gets such cheap capital as those engaged in the agricultural industry get 283 through the agricultural landlords. Of the landowners who get some return on their capital, and many thousands get nothing, none gets more than 2½ per cent. on his money, most of them get only 2 per cent. and many get nothing at all.
The money from rents goes back on to the land in payment of farm repairs and so forth, and in expenditure to keep pace with the various changes which occur in the agricultural situation. If hon. Members opposite want to prove the truth of that, they can ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much extra money he is getting from agricultural landlords, and they will find, as I have said, that they are the people who provide the cheapest capital which any industry enjoys and that rents as a whole have not gone up. The hon. Member for Don Valley spoke about £8 an acre for land in Lincolnshire. I doubt whether that was land used for the grazing of cattle. It may have been paid for horticultural land, or perhaps it was paid for an accommodation field—I have no doubt that there might be such an instance here and there; but if he inquires about grazing farms of 300 or 400 acres, where the farmer is engaged in the production of beef, he will not find that there have been any increases in rent. A great deal has to be spent on keeping up fences and gates, and, as I have said, the cheapest capital in the world is provided for those who are trying to produce beef.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The hon. and gallant Member will not object to a correction of his statement. I referred to Bedfordshire, not Lincolnshire—to a large market gardening area where, according to a speaker on the radio, you cannot get a square yard of land at less than somewhere about £8 per acre.
It was my argument that it was not ordinary grazing land. The hon. Member was quite entitled to ask the Minister about the cost of production, and rent, of course, is one of the things which enters into it. I should gladly welcome any examination into that aspect of the problem. Another reason why it is difficult to fix the cost of production is found in the variations in the cost of feeding stuffs. If six months ago the Government had given a subsidy based on the cost of production they would have found 284 that the price fixed would have been perfectly useless by now, because for some reason or other—some world cause or other—the price of linseed and other things which the farmer has to buy to fatten his stock has gone up by one-third. I was lucky enough to have bought cake a year forward; otherwise I should have been feeling very uncertain about my position when it came to selling my beasts.
Like many other agriculturists I feel very disappointed at the change which this Bill makes in the policy of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture gave us very good reasons why this or that could not be done, but he did not explain—it would have been skating over very thin ice—why the Government had departed from the policy which his predecessor put forward in the White Paper. It may be that a fixed price would not do, but we still have the levy-subsidy. He explained in regard to the question of a guaranteed price, that there would be no security in regard to the attitude of the Treasury, but what security is there now for the cattle breeder? This subsidy of £5,000,000 has to be passed every year by the House of Commons, and there is no security now, any more than there was in the case of the Corn Production Act, that another Parliament will not do away with the subsidy, or even that the same Parliament may not take it away in a year's time if things happen to go wrong. I cannot see how we can expect cattle breeders to have the confidence to lay out money for three or four years ahead when they know that this is only an annual subsidy. As to the amount of the subsidy, I agree with those who have said that we had better take half the cake than get none, but we shall need to look very carefully into the disposal of this £5,000,000 to ensure that too much of it is not appropriated before the money gets to the farmers. One has only to look at the Bill and to think of the expenses of the Commission to understand the fears that arise in many minds. Sub-section (5) of Clause 3 speaks ofSuch expenses of the Livestock Advisory Committee as the Ministers may approve shall be defrayed by the Commission.There is no security that that Commission may not take away a great deal of 285 that £5,000,000, for reasons of their own, and their action may be approved by the Ministers for some reasons of their own. There will be people on that Advisory Committee representing municipal authorities. When they find the Government behind this scheme I do not think they will be slow in asking for money, not so much for markets as for various organisations or changes which they want in their own vicinities. It seems to some of us that we must try in Committee to move an Amendment to fix the whole of that £5,000,000, except what is obsoletely necessary to go to the Commissioners. It should be safeguarded for the producer and the breeder of cattle. I cannot help thinking that otherwise a great deal of it may be whittled away.
The Advisory Committee seems to be a useful body in some ways, but the Commission arid the Advisory Committee are much too top-heavy with officials. The hon. Member for Don Valley mentioned the Council of Agriculture for England and Wales. If the Minister had gone to some such body as that, he might have avoided the extra expense of having an advisory committee at all, and have used what he has already. The Council's duty is to advise the Minister, but I think that hardly any Minister of Agriculture has used it. It is representative of farmers, owners, farm workers, women from the women's institutes, and others. As one of the two representatives of my county, I am constantly listening to their pleas. One year they had a representative of labour as chairman, the next year a representative of a landowner and the next year a representative of a farmer. Surely they ought to be able to give the Minister as good advice as any advisory committee.
No. It is quite true that it would not, but they are all consumers. There are no local authorities' representatives and I think it is a good thing that there are not. There are, of course, representatives appointed by county councils. The only other matter I want to mention is in regard to the powers of the Board of Trade. The Board have power, but do not use it, to help agriculture. I hope that the regulations will be used in the interest of the 286 country as a whole, but I have not much confidence in the Board of Trade to do that. The Board are so much mixed up with other matters, that agriculture is always passed over. If they have the power, and if they put regulations upon imports, they should not forget the seasonal imports. There are six months of the winter season when farmers get paying prices here, and perhaps that is the time when the regulation of imports ought to be forthcoming, so that farmers can get a fair price for their beef. It will help, also, to relieve the milk industry of the glut which is now upon it. I am afraid that it does not give us much confidence. We shall still have the trouble of beef producers turning to milk, and vice versa. It is not what is in the Bill which matters so much; what matters will be the regulations made by the Commission. The First Schedule of the Bill states:The functions of the Commission and of their officers and servants shall be deemed to be exercised on behalf of the Crown.I gather that the Commission will do exactly what the Crown and the Government tell them to do. The Commission is really a first step to nationalisation, and as such ought to be welcomed by the Socialist party. On these benches we do not like all these powers being in the hands of the Government. They are not necessary for the producers or the consumers of beef. What matters is how the Bill is carried out. I think there is a great danger in having a Commission with these great powers for making regulations which may alter the lives of the whole of the 45,000,000 people in this country, without those who produce the food having some better say in the matter than is provided by the Bill.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir E. Shepperson
I rise with considerable doubt as to whether I ought to bless or to condemn the Bill. Upon consideration, for the reason that we can always catch more flies with sugar than we can with vinegar, I think I will curry favour with the Minister by blessing the Bill, because it will not be long before we shall be asking for more. My gratitude for the help which the Bill proposes to give must be rather lukewarm. It is rather similar to that of a hungry child on being given a piece of bread when it expected bread and milk. British agri- 287 culture, as a separate producing industry, is to-day pleading for help. It is very hungry, but the Bill will only give it a very small piece of bread. What is the financial assistance that the Bill will give to the British beef producer? Will it help him to meet the cost of production? What extra help does the Bill give him? There is a figure of £5,000,000, but does the Bill give him the £5,000,000?
Two or three years ago the Government, to meet the urgency of the situation, passed a temporary Measure giving him a subsidy of 5s. per cwt. Since that time the situation has deteriorated very much, and, in response to many requests from agriculture, the Government, in March, 1935, issued a White Paper intimating their desire as soon as possible to assist the livestock industry according to its needs from the proceeds of a levy upon imports. The industry has been hungrily waiting for this long-term policy. What does this long-term policy give us? Unfortunately, the levy-subsidy principle which we were led to expect has gone altogether, and in its place we have this Bill. What does it give us? It gives us £5,000,000, but not £5,000,000 extra to the 5s. per cwt: that we have been receiving under the short-term policy; £5,000,000 is the total sum. The 5s. per cwt. was costing nearly £4,000,000, and, therefore, this Bill is only giving a little over £1,000,000 extra, representing something like 1s. 6d. per cwt. For even this small help British agriculture is grateful, though I am afraid the amount is totally inadequate.
The inadequacy of the help, the smallness of the piece of bread which is given to the hungry industry, will be realised when it is considered that for months the beef producer has been holding his cattle in anticipation of that help. To-day this Bill gives him 1s. 6d. per cwt. What is the position of the beef producer? During the last two or three months the price of the artificial food that is necessary to feed his cattle has gone up by 2s. per cwt., and it takes 3 cwt. of food to produce 1 cwt. of beef. In the last few months, therefore, the costs of producing beef have gone up by 6s. per cwt., and this Bill gives him 1s. 6d. per cwt.—a very small piece of bread to give to hungry agriculture. It will only partially satisfy its hunger, but it is grateful for it. 288 As I said when I began, it will not be long before it cries for more.
But even this small portion is not given to the hungry child without further restriction of its liberty. It is not to do this, it is not to do that, in the efficient exercise of their powers by the Minister and the Commission; it is a case of "It is forbidden." When I was young, many years ago, I was travelling in Germany with a relative. On arriving at a station I woke up and looked out of the window, and saw on a board the word "Verboten." I went to sleep again. After the train had travelled some distance, again I woke up, looked out of the window, and saw a board with the word "Verboten"; and I said to my relative, "What have we been doing? Have we not got past Verboten?" I fear that British agriculture has arrived at Verboten. It is forbidden to sell milk except at a certain price; it is forbidden to grow more than a certain quantity of potatoes; it is forbidden to grow more than a certain quantity of potatoes; it is forbidden to grow more than a certain quantity of sugar beet. These restrictions are applied to British agriculture, but the agricultural industry is so hungry that it is prepared to put up with them if we only give it a piece of bread, a tiny crust of bread.
What would the Minister of Health say if, while he was making efforts to improve the physical condition of the youth of this country, parents were feeding their hungry children with small crusts of bread? He is advocating nutritive food. He divides food into protective and non-protective foods, and he is advising parents to give their children more protective food. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to take an example from the Minister of Health, and supply this hungry agricultural industry with more protective food. There is still to be introduced a Financial Resolution, and, therefore, it would possibly be out of order for me to discuss finance on the Bill; at any rate it will be out of order in Committee to alter this figure of £5,000,000. But I would like to repeat what I have already said on many occasions, that, if the Minister had stuck to the policy which he advocated in the White Paper of 1935, that is to say, the placing of a levy upon all imports of meat with a substantial preference to the 289 Dominions, Part III of this Bill would have been unnecessary. Foreign countries could have dumped all their surplus food products into this country, and we should have had the right of placing a flexible levy on these dumped imports—the more they were dumped, the higher the levy—in order to keep solvent a fund out of which to pay a deficiency payment on a standard figure to the home meat producer. If that policy had been carried out, the people of this country would have had their cheap food, and the British agriculturist—the beef producer—would have received the price he wanted for producing his beef.
To-day we have this Bill, which to me appears to have two sides, a debtor and a creditor side. The creditor side is the financial advantage that we hope to get from the Bill—the subsidy; the debtor side is the rest of the Bill. In reading the Bill it appears to me that the debtor side is permanent, whereas the creditor side, the amount we are going to get, is at the discretion of the Minister year by year; and my fear is that we shall be saddled with all the Regulations under the Bill, and may find a Minister of Agriculture from the opposite benches eventually in power who will wipe out the benefit we are going to get from the subsidy. A Livestock Commission and an Advisory Committee are to be appointed, representing to a certain extent interested parties. There is one thing that I would like to point out to the Minister. In Part II of the Bill, under which the Minister, in consultation with the livestock Commission, is to make regulations regarding the payment of the levy, there is no instruction for the Commission to consult the Advisory Committee. I would like the Minister to bear that point in mind. We consider that in making these regulations the Commission should consult the Advisory Committee.
In Part III we have the regulation of imports, and I was happy to hear the Minister say that it was customary, in proceedings such as this, for the President of the Board of Trade to consult the Minister of Agriculture, but I should have liked to have seen those words in the Bill. Part IV deals with livestock markets. It has been mentioned by many speakers that they are not particularly concerned with that part of the Bill which exercises control over local markets. I differ from them. I have in my constituency three 290 local cattle markets. Not merely are cattle sold in those markets, but when the markets are held it is market day for those small towns, and everybody from the villages round makes a point of going to buy their requirements on that day. If the commission advised in future that any of those markets are redundant, and the question comes before this House, I am going to dissent from the destruction of any of those markets in my constituency.
We are grateful for the small financial assistance that is given, but we are to some extent afraid of the regulations that accompany that help. It appears to us to mean an increase of official interference and a loss of our independence. That is the trend of all modern agricultural legislation. No one can be more conscious than I am of the great help the National Government has given to the industry, and no one is more grateful than I am for it. I appreciate how much we as agriculturists owe to the efforts of the former Minister, and I appreciate the vigour and energy of the present Minister. That energy, accompanied by the knowledge he has of British agriculture, makes me an optimist for the future of the industry. But I look with some apprehension to this increase of officialdom over our industry, the loss of independence and constant control by inspectors. Three or four years ago I had in my constituency a cinema van for propaganda purposes, and one of the films was a "Micky Mouse" film exhibiting what British agriculture would be like under a Socialist Government. There was a field with growing plants in it, and dotted all over were inspectors in long black coats, and with bulging umbrellas and big glasses, inspecting the plants. I trust that our Central Office has not destroyed that film, because if things go on as they are it might be useful to show again—but under a different title "British Agriculture as it is under a National Government."
I would like to deal with the Amendment that the Labour party has moved, and the question whether there is a need for this assistance. There is some criticism that because we want £5,000,000 to help beef production in this country we are inefficient as compared with Argentina. I would like the House to consider the different conditions existing in Argentina and here, where the cattle are fed in winter in covered yards, where 291 artificial food is given them and a great deal of labour expended on them. It is obvious that costs are higher here than in Argentina. Labour costs are fixed by Acts of Parliament. The British farmer has no desire to do other than pay his labour a proper standard. He has no objection to the Agricultural Wages Act. All he asks is for the ability to pay. There was some criticism that this money would go into the landlords' pockets. The British farmer is prepared at once to share with his labour any help that he gets to run the industry. The labourer is a partner in the industry.
In Huntingdonshire an application was made by the representatives of the agricultural labourers for an extra is. a week in wages. The man who proposed it said that he would say only a few words because he was going to ask Mr. A. B., who represented the farmers, to second it. That is to say, the farmers agreed to the extra Is. before they had the means to make it; they did it in anticipation of the help this Bill will give them. I appeal to the Minister to see that these farmers are not let down. This Bill is merely a crust of bread, and cannot satisfy the hunger of the industry. We shall continue to come for more and better food. Will the Government sympathetically respond, not merely by these crusts of bread but by food of better nutritive value, by some of the protective foods of which to-day we hear so much?
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member has said. I cannot say that it was unqualified approval of the Bill. He said that the subsidy was not enough to satisfy the hungry farmer. He said that if the Government tried to close any of the markets in his division he would meet them with unrelenting opposition. I thought he was going to say that the mountain had been delivered of a mouse—a Mickey Mouse. Every speaker I have heard on the Government benches has been in the same critical mood. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) indicated that a little altercation was taking place between the farmer producer, the dealer in livestock and the butcher producer as to the allocation of the subsidy. I do not envy the Minister 292 his task in trying to allocate the spoils among the varied classes of claimants who are out after the £5,000,000. One has to show the Farmers' Union that they are dependent for the sale of their livestock upon the great consuming areas, and the great interests of the great consuming areas seem to be the last thing the Government and speakers opposite have contemplated.
The speech of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who, I suppose, is a supporter of the Government, was from beginning to end a tissue of merciless criticism of the Bill. His condemnation was 100 per cent. He talked about the oppressive bureaucracy that was to be set up and the interference—in fact, he had nothing to say in favour of the Bill. He criticised the Commission and the Advisory Committee lock, stock and barrel, and cursed it with bell, book and candle. He talked about the delicate and complex machinery of livestock distribution and marketing. He said that, if the Government attempted to interfere in this complex machinery, they were doing something for which they would be sorry for. Anyone who thinks that this complex machinery is planned machinery knows very little about the distribution and sale of livestock.
I want to characterise it as archaic. It has grown up haphazard without plan or order. It carries with it enormous waste, which is all expressed in the price of the article to the consumer in the great consuming areas. The hon. Member to some extent admitted it. The butchers have to fetch their livestock sometimes 100 miles to the slaughtering areas. We all agree that it is high time that some order and planning were brought into the marketing of livestock. There are many factors that have to be considered in order to set up a proper plan and to bring order into the industry. There is the question of the elimination of long journeys. There is the question whether these markets should be placed in consuming or producing areas. I do not envy the Government their task in that matter. There is also the question of suitable transport. Whatever the Government do on this they are going to be mercilessly criticised. When I see the serried ranks of the Farmers' Union, the auctioneers and the butchers aligned against the Government I shall look with great interest 293 to see, in face of that, if they are prepared to go on even with the very limited improvement in this matter of livestock marketing that is foreshadowed in the Bill.
I got up mainly to speak about the aspect of the Bill which deals with the great consuming market. We have been waiting for a long-term policy for a considerable time. The Bill has within it all the expedients of delay. It proposes to place the whole matter in the hands of a commission and an advisory committee. In short the Government have shelved the responsibility for this very vital service to the community. No one can say they have not all the facts before them. Inquiry after inquiry has been held and commission after commission has reported, but even yet the Government have not courage enough to face the House of Commons with a complete and comprehensive Measure which is going to put this great industry on its feet and bring some plan and order into it. In fact, I should describe the Bill as a standstill order as far as the consuming markets are concerned. The Government have not yet made up their mind. The slaughtering proposals are pitifully inadequate to deal with the matters with which they propose to deal. There were two alternatives that the Government might have adopted. I am not at all sure that they have given the local authorities a square deal. Local authorities have certain powers to deal with, for instance, the closing of redundant slaughterhouses and to concentrate all the slaughtering in one particular place in a great consuming city. They have never had much encouragement to bring into the service something like planning, order and hygiene and to put the thing on a proper, healthy basis.
I am chairman of a markets' committee which has built one of the finest abattoirs in the country. I speak of Sheffield. I can remember the very arduous task of closing the private slaughterhouses there. We paid thousands of pounds in compensation for which there was not an atom of justification. A slaughterhouse that was in existence before 1890 might be one of the most dirty and filthy places in the town, but we had to pay very heavy compensation. If it was built in 1890 and was a licensed slaughterhouse, it could be closed without any compensation. It is possible for a slaughterer, or group of slaughterers or 294 wholesalers to go outside the city into the boundary of some other local authority and build a small slaughterhouse and bring to nought the praiseworthy efforts of local authorities. The Minister could have given local authorities more powers. He could have made those compensation Clauses much easier for them to tackle. If that had been done, there would have been a different tale to tell so far as the consuming areas are concerned.
The sum provided in the Bill—£250,000—to make these three experiments is pitifully inadequate to meet the needs of the situation. It appears to me that the Government have not visualised what they are up against. That sum would not provide the necessary building and equipment for one factory abattoir. The Sheffield abattoir cost well over £250,000 and the Liverpool abattoir probably over £500,000 and, even so, there is no centralised internal slaughter. If the Government think they are going to introduce, especially inside the new building, centralised slaughter and the provision of all the services subsequent to slaughter, they have not grasped the subject they are up against. An abattoir should cover processes which deal with skins, blood products, offals, and the rendering of these products into all kinds of saleable articles, and the production of fertilisers, and should provide adequate and full opportunities for the inspection of meat by the local authorities' inspectors. Unless that is contemplated by the Government, they have not sufficiently thought out the matter, and have not really made provision for the first thing in factory abattoirs.
There is another matter which I should like to put before the Government. How long are these experiments to last? Many local authorities in this country have been holding up matters for five years and dare not spend any capital because they have been waiting for the Government's long-term policy. That long-term policy has again provided for delay, and consequently local authorities will not be prepared to spend any money until they know finally what these experiments bring forth. The Government have all the facts and material at their disposal, and they know very well from long experience of various local authorities what the needs really are. They could have taken hold of one of these great public 295 abattoirs, and, with a little expense, have turned it into a factory abattoir and have got their experiments over in a very short time. It appears that the pressure of private interests has been so great that they have to contemplate setting up an abattoir run by a group of private enterprises. They have brought the question of profit-making within the range of abattoirs with regard to the production of human food. It is a wrong principle altogether. Local authorities need to develop their activities and expand their powers, and they would have given the Government a far better planned industry or marketing than they have to-day. I am against private companies owning these buildings. There might be something to be said for groups of wholesale butchers getting together under the supervision of the local authority to carry out some kind of function like this in the local authority's building. But there are many things to be considered from that point of view.
We all agree that one of the things which we ought to ensure in an abattoir or great slaughtering centre subsidised by Government funds is that the animals should be killed as humanely as possible. That can only be done by a local authority owning the building and allowing their inspectors to see what is taking place inside. A local authority, when it owns a great public building of that character, is always subject to public criticism, much more so than if the building were owned by private enterprise. A public building is easy of inspection. The local authority needs some protection in this matter. I could mention to the right hon. Gentleman various places where even to-day blood and all kinds of things are allowed to run into the sewers, blocking them up, and putting expense upon the local authorities in cleaning them out. The possibility of this sort of thing happening is lessened if a building is owned by the local authority. We who have given any thought to the matter will agree that, if an experiment is to be made, it ought to be made inside a building owned by a local authority and subject to inspection from the point of view of cruelty to animals and in order to see that no diseased meat gets on to the market.
The Bill introduces profit-making, which, I believe, is bad. Abattoirs 296 to-day do not pay. I cannot imagine any private enterprise being able to make them pay without putting up the price of meat to a very great extent. We must regard them—and I hope that this House regards them—as great public health services. They never pay a cash profit, but they are of benefit in the matter of public health, and the avoidance of people eating bad meat, and this can be placed against the very remote possibility of a cash profit. They give services to the butchers even to-day at very low cost. The modern public abattoir gives lairage accommodation free, and we desire public inspection in order to see that animals are properly cared for while waiting to be slaughtered. In most public abattoirs they provide cooling rooms for the maturing of the meat, and the Government cannot contemplate building these places without providing these modern conveniences.
There is the question of the transfer of market rights. Many local authorities have paid enormous sums for market rights. I do not know whether the Government contemplate paying compensation to a corporation which has spent, say, £50,000 or £100,000 for market rights. If the Government are to pay such sums they will be in for a very big order. Many local authorities have paid enormous sums out of the rates in support of these various buildings. The Bill only just touches the fringe of the matter. I should have been pleased if the Government had come forward with a bold and courageous policy to face up to the immense vested interests of this ancient industry in this country. They are merely playing with the matter, and both my colleagues and I will go into the Lobby against the Bill.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Lieut. - Colonel Acland - Troyte
Like most Members on this side of the House who have spoken, I desire to support the Bill, but with very considerable reluctance. It is true that the Bill or the policy upon which it is founded gives some help to the meat side of the agricultural industry, but it certainly does not give enough help, and does not bridge the gap which exists between the cost of production and the price at which the meat is sold. Certainly, it does not fulfil the hopes which we founded on the White Paper published by the Government, and, 297 to be quite frank, there is not the least doubt that farmers in this country feel that the Government have let them down very badly on this matter. We hoped that the Government intended to give a standard price and to raise the money required to pay the deficiency payment for that standard price by means of a levy upon imported meat, both beef and mutton, of Dominion and Foreign origin. There is not the least reason why the Government, if they had been firm in their negotiations with the Dominions and foreign countries, should not have done so. They should have put a higher duty on Argentine meat, and a duty also upon Dominion meat, giving the Dominions a good preference, which should have satisfied them. Naturally, neither the Argentine nor the Dominions wanted this sort of thing, and they apparently bluffed the Government on the subject.
The Government ought to have realised that our market is the only market into which the Dominions and the Argentine can send their meat for sale, and that these countries are bound to pay whatever duty the Government think it necessary to put on, but the Government apparently did not do this. It appears that the Government are afraid to bring in Measures which will make agriculture really prosperous. No fuss is made if in another industry, such as the motor car industry, the protection of a tariff enables it to make large fortunes. Apparently the Government think that if they bring in a Measure which will just save farmers from bankruptcy, we ought to be very grateful indeed. The industry of agriculture has a perfect right to the same protection as that granted to any other industry. If it is decided that cheap food is necessary and it cannot be brought about by way of a tariff it should be done by means of a levy subsidy. The agricultural industry has the same right to protection that is given to any other industry.
The Minister thinks that there is likely to be a rise in the price of meat and that, therefore, this Bill will be sufficient to help the agricultural industry. If there is a rise in the price of meat it will not be due to the Government's policy, and the Government will not be able to claim that it is their policy that has put the farmer on his feet again. Even if there is a rise in the price of meat, we 298 have to remember that there is a rise going on at the present time in the price of feeding stuffs. It is certain that this Bill will not carry out the oft-repeated policy of the Government, which has been approved by the Dominions, and that is that the home producers should have first place in the home market, the Dominion producers second place, and the foreign producers third place.
The Bill will require very careful consideration in Committee. There is very much to be desired in the proposals of the Bill with regard to the Livestock Commission. The Government are going to hand over the whole interests and future of the industry to a Commission to be appointed by the Minister from people who, I fear, may have no interest whatever in it. The powers granted to the Commission are very much too wide, and more specific provisions ought to be laid down in the Bill. We know nothing about the principles on which the subsidy is to be granted, or how the grading is to be done. We are told that there will be two grades, but we do not know what will constitute the super-grade or what the rate of subsidy will be. It is of great importance that the grading should be uniform throughout the country and that the farmers should have confidence that it is uniform. They have not confidence in grading as carried out at the present time. It ought to be laid down in the Bill that a lower subsidy should be granted to cattle produced from foreign stores than the subsidy granted to cattle produced from home stores. I know that this matter is controversial and, being controversial, it ought to be settled in this House and not by any outside commission.
It is questionable whether the Government would not have done best to use the Council of Agriculture instead of forming a new Advisory Committee. The committee will consist of such diverse elements that it will probably never agree about anything. The question has been asked whether there are any representatives of consumers on the Council of Agriculture. There will not necessarily be a representative of the consumers on the Advisory Committee. There probably will be such representation, but it is not laid down in the Bill. As it has been decided to set up an Advisory Committee it ought 299 to be made compulsory and not optional for the Commission to consult it. It ought to be made compulsory for the Commission to consult the Advisory Committee on Part II of the Bill, which deals with the subsidy arrangements. With all the new commissions and committees of which the Government are so fond, expense is being created. In the memorandum attached to the Bill it is calculated that the cost will not be more than £140,000. If a Government Department say that the cost will be £140,000 it usually means that it will be £240,000. That will consume a very large proportion of the amount of extra subsidy that is being granted under the new arrangement.
I welcome the power to regulate imports, but I wish the power had been put into the hands of the Minister of Agriculture and not into the hands of the Board of Trade. We all know perfectly well that the Board of Trade in their trade agreements have not been generally favourable to the agricultural industry. Agriculturists are beginning to regard the Board of Trade as Public Enemy No. 1. It is important that the amount of beef allowed to be imported into the country should be varied at different seasons and not fixed for the whole year at a time. The Minister of Agriculture seems to put considerable trust in some international committee which he hopes he will be able to get set up. If international committees have ever done anything to help British farmers, I shall be very much surprised to hear of it. Usually they think of their own interests and not of the interests of the farmers of this country.
It is generally agreed that there are too many markets, but the suggestion to close markets is bound to cause very great difficulty. The powers given for that purpose will have to be exercised with very great tact. Markets must not be closed simply because they are small. A small market may very often be important, especially to the smallholder and the small man. Markets must be closed only if they are redundant and unnecessary. I am not sure that the powers that are being taken for closing markets are really necessary. If the Commission decided that a certain market was not to be the certifying centre for the 300 subsidy, that market would tend automatically to close so far as cattle were concerned, although it might well carry on for sheep and other livestock, but it would appear that markets may be closed not only for cattle but for all kinds of livestock. Another matter which will require very careful handling in regard to the closing of markets is that of compensation. It will be very difficult to make certain that the compensation is fair.
Another important matter, and a controversial one, is that of the slaughterhouses. I note that certain slaughterhouses are to be established as an experiment. I have no objection to the experiment being tried so long as it is not tried in my area. I do not like the power given to the commission to delegate their powers to local authorities or joint boards. There seems to be no provision in regard to slaughterhouse profits. Any profit which may be made should go not to the local authorities for the relief of the rates but should be used to augment the cattle fund and go to the benefit of the industry. I should like to know what is going to happen in regard to markets in a slaughterhouse area. It seems to me that practically those markets will be closed down. There will be no competition. The poor farmers will be handed over lock, stock and barrel, and the slaughterhouses will give them whatever price they like for their produce. It may be said that the farmer can send his beasts outside the area, or that people will come into the area to buy. That means more travelling and the farmer again will be the loser.
The Bill will not restore prosperity to the livestock industry. It will do little to restore the balance in agriculture. It will do little to persuade farmers who have gone from meat to milk to turn back to meat. It will give a direct subsidy, which none of us like but does not give a standard price which we feel is necessary to help the industry. On the other hand, it does give a small duty on foreign meat and does something to encourage the production of the best class of beef and an improvement in markets. It also gives some help in the way of an increased subsidy. Although I feel greatly disappointed with the Measure, I think that the advantages do slightly outweigh the disadvantages, and for that reason I shall vote for the Second Reading.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I have had the pleasure, or as some people may think the misfortune, to sit through the greater part of the Debate, and I do not know what the Minister of Agriculture thinks of the reception his Bill has had. It has certainly been a most tepid reception, summed up in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte), who, having weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the Bill, came to the conclusion that there was just a slight difference in favour of the advantages and would, therefore, support the Bill. A curious feature of the Debate has been that this tepid support has come from both sides of the House. In the one case the Bill has been damned with faint praise, and on the other it has been praised with faint damns. The right hon. Gentleman can take his choice. I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the general merits of the Bill for the reason that I am not competent to do so. I make no pretence to be an agricultural expert, and if I did I am sure that the House would soon find me out.
My object in rising is to call attention to the curious fact concerning the Bill that though its father and mother are both Scottish, and the hon. Member who is going to follow me is a Scotsman, while the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who has to look after the finances is a Scotsman yet nevertheless the Bill is unsatisfactory to many sections of opinion in Scotland. It is essentially an English Bill and has been very imperfectly adapted to the peculiar conditions of Scotland. As regards markets and abattoirs, the position in Scotland is materially different from that in England. In Scotland there have been markets and slaughterhouses for many years, very efficiently run, and in much more satisfactory conditions than exist in England, except in one or two places. Not only are they different in that respect, but the laws relating to the control and ownership of abattoirs and markets are in many respects different from the laws in England, while the phraseology and legal decisions surrounding the laws are also different. I have been expressly invited by the corporation of the great city, part of which I have the honour to represent in this House to put this view forward to-night, 302 and to point out that the attempt in Clause 53 to apply the provision of the Bill to Scotland is quite inadequate. There is a code of law in Scotland relating to a great many questions, and it will be very difficult to modify or interpret the existing code by the mere change of a few words provided for in Clause 53. We cannot cut out the existing code. If you do so, it will result in a lacuna, which would have to be filled, and it is unsatisfactory that the Government, and particularly the Scotsmen who are responsible for this Measure, should have attempted to deal with the question in this way.
The opinion of the Edinburgh Corporation, and also of other towns in Scotland, is that the right way to deal with this problem would have been to introduce two separate Bills, one dealing with England and another with Scotland. That would have been the easier solution of the difficulty. The Scottish Bill would have then been subject in its Committee stage to the decision of Scottish Members in this House, whereas in the present circumstances English Members will be able to override their Scottish colleagues in matters purely affecting Scotland. I do not know whether it is possible for the Government to reconsider the position. Perhaps it is too late in the day. What Amendments can be moved in Committee I do not know, but certainly a grave mistake has been made, and I hope that in any future legislation a similar mistake will be avoided.
The second main point which I have been asked to put forward applies principally to Scotland, because markets and abattoirs are generally in the hands of local authorities, but it applies also to England. There are, of course, in England as well as in Scotland, a large number of local authorities which own markets and abattoirs. They are very well run institutions and cost a great deal of money. In the City of Edinburgh the market cost about £80,000 and the slaughterhouse about £72,000. The expenditure on the market has been entirely paid off, and is now yielding a profit to the Corporation, but the expenditure on the slaughterhouse has not yet been fully paid off; there is still a considerable amount of debt to be met. The point I wish to make with regard to 303 this aspect is, What precisely will be the position of a corporation such as the Edinburgh Corporation when the Bill comes into effect? It is clear at the present time, when the Corporation owns its market and its slaughterhouse, that under existing legislation it has the powers necessary to borrow money to improve, to enlarge or to deal in any way it thinks fit with the market and the abattoir. If the Bill becomes law, we are not clear in Edinburgh what will be the position of the Corporation. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the position of the Edinburgh Corporation with regard to those institutions will be precisely the same as it is at present, and I shall be glad to have an explanation on that point; but it is our view that the position of the Corporation will be substantially changed.
We are not clear whether these concerns will be the property of the Corporation or not, or whether in fact the Corporation will not be acting merely as agent for the Commission in running them. I will give one or two grounds for that view. One of the essential conditions of ownership is that one shall be able to run the institution in the way one wishes and charge the price which is necessary to make a profit; but under the terms of this Bill we find that the Commission may over-ride the Corporation on both those points. Clause 17, Subsection (2, a) provides for the fixing or limiting of the charges levied at the market. If the Commission can fix the charges which the Edinburgh Corporation is entitled to make, it can obviously prevent a profit being made at the market and prevent the Corporation being able to cover the expenditure which it covers at the present time.
There are a great many other ways in which the Commission can interfere with the normal financial working of the market and the abattoir at present being run by the City of Edinburgh. The hybrid control and ownership which the Bill proposes to set up between the Corporation and the Commission raises a new point. At the present time it is possible for the Edinburgh Corporation to borrow money and take other actions required in the interests of its market and its abattoir, since those institutions are in its possession, in its control and 304 are run for Edinburgh; but if, as a result of this Bill, these institutions are to be run not exclusively for Edinburgh and if in fact Edinburgh is to run them merely as the agent of the Livestock Commission, it seems exceedingly doubtful whether we have, under the existing law, the powers necessary to deal with those institutions and still more the powers required to borrow money if it be necessary for improvement or alteration.
We notice that in Clause 22, Subsection (2), there are provisions for overriding all existing by-laws. What will be the effect? Apparently the statutory rights which the corporation at present possesses may cease to have effect. In that event, the position of the corporation, which is a statutory body, will become exceedingly difficult. It may be that there is an explanation of all these points. If so, I hope that either the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to-night, or the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the Debate to-morrow, will give it. But, having studied the Bill with great care, we find considerable difficulty in regard to these matters. I may remark, in passing, that what I have said with regard to Clause 22, Sub-section (2), which deals with markets, applies equally to Clause 30, Sub-section (2), which deals with slaughterhouses. The difficulty which we see is that if the existing by-laws and regulations which enable the corporation to carry on its present business are swept away and superseded, we shall not know precisely under what code of laws we are to carry on the business of our market and our slaughterhouse, how they are to be financed, how they are in future to be run.
I now come to the question of compensation. I am bound to say that the Bill to us appears very vague in regard to this question. In other legislation the precise terms on which compensation is to be given are set out in the Measure in which the change is effected. In this Bill we have a vague and rather uncertain provision that compensation may be granted and that it is to be subject to discussion. That seems in many ways unsatisfactory. In this respect the Bill differs essentially from the Electricity Act, which, in effect, provided adequate compensation for local authorities. It did not do so in so many words, but it provided for the supply of electricity to local authorities at a price sufficiently low to 305 enable them to carry out their original undertakings to the consumers. In effect under the Electricity Act the position of local authorities which had previously operated generating plants was adequately safeguarded.
While I am dealing with the question of compensation, I would point out that in the Electricity Acts, where institutions are superseded, and therefore the individuals working for those institutions are deprived of their employment, compensation is secured to those individuals. One of my hon. Friends behind me referred to a case where he thought that there would be individuals deprived of their employment under this Bill and he asked whether compensation would be given in their case. But I would extend that question to cover all the individuals who are likely to be superseded by the provisions of this Bill when markets or abattoirs are changed from one place to another, and I think the House will not be satisfied unless some provisions for compensation in all those cases are included, not merely in the pious aspirations of Ministers, but in the actual text of the Bill itself. These and a great number of other matters raise, in a manner which seems alarming to the Edinburgh Corporation, the arbitrary powers given to the Commission, and we feel that there ought to be, in all cases where local authorities are to be handled by the Commission, a definite power to go to arbitration, so that these matters may be threshed out fairly and squarely.
The Minister may say, and it is very likely true, that the Commission will probably deal fairly with such questions, but I would ask him to remember that the Corporation of Edinburgh and a great many other public authorities have spent very large sums of money upon the markets and abattoirs which they have constructed and which they run at the present time, and it is not good enough for them to live in the hope that some Commission which the Minister will appoint will deal fairly with their interests. We feel that their interests ought to be secured beyond a peradventure within the four corners of the Act of Parliament which may be going to sweep away the work which they have done and affect the expenditure out of the rates which they have incurred and in some cases the large 306 debts which they can only hope to meet by the profits from these institutions which they were encouraged to construct.
I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is replying to me, and I hope he will deal at once, as far as he can, with the points which I have raised. They are only a few of the very large number of points that occur on this Bill, some of which are appropriately Committee points, but I think the matters to which I have called attention are a good deal more than Committee points, and I do not think the Minister who introduced the Bill or the Secretary or Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will in the least attempt to deny that fact. Therefore, I hope we may have some explanation which will to some extent allay the fears of myself and the Corporation of the city which I represent, and also a promise that any Amendments that we are able to put forward in Committee will receive, not merely careful consideration, but very sympathetic consideration, when the time for that arises.
§ 10.29 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I think the very wide range of points raised in this Debate indicates the great interest that is taken by the House and the country in the livestock policy of the Government. A great many of the speeches which have been delivered have been concerned with points which are more appropriate for the Committee stage. When the time comes for those discussions, the Government will give to all these points the most careful and sympathetic consideration. The House will readily understand that a Measure of the magnitude and complexity of this Bill is bound to affect many sections of the community—some of them probably in ways which we may not altogether be able to foresee at this moment—and the Government will be most grateful for criticism and co-operation from all sections of the House in eradicating any errors, whether they be errors of drafting or of judgment, which it may be possible to detect in the Bill. I will confine my remarks at this stage to the more fundamental questions which have been raised in the Debate.
I think that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who spoke first for the Opposition, went to the root of the whole problem that we have to consider when he described the agricul- 307 tural policy of the Government as a piecemeal policy and contended that it had resulted in greater disorganisation of the agricultural industry. If I understood his argument rightly, it was that whenever we produced some Measure designed to assist one particular kind of agricultural product, too many farmers immediately proceeded to grow that product so that its production became excessive in comparison with other kinds of agricultural produce. He gave as examples the beet sugar subsidy, implying, I take it, that it had resulted in comparatively excessive production of sugar beet; the wheat quota, and the subsidy paid through the Milk Marketing Board. My own experience of the political side of this question is much inferior to that of the hon. Gentleman, but I held the opinion long before 1931—and I am sure that opinion must be shared by many Members who were then. in the House—that the disparity between different types of agricultural produce in this country was much more serious then than it is now. I think it was one of the strongest arguments for the Wheat Quota Act that owing to the prolonged depression in the price of the grain too many farmers in all parts of the country had put their land down to grass, and it was unquestionably desirable that a great deal of land should be put back into arable cultivation.
The hon. Member condemned our agricultural policy as a piecemeal policy, and it is perhaps true that the agricultural policy of the Government has been delivered to us, like Holy Scripture, at sundry times and in divers manners, but, like Holy Scripture, it is not altogether unco-ordinated. If I had the time to mention all the various branches of our agricultural policy, I would certainly argue—and I think I should find most of the House in agreement with me—that as a result of our policy during the last four years we have moved not only towards a better balance of agricultural produce, but towards a greater volume of production, without incurring the danger of a glut in any commodity and without unduly raising prices to the consumer.
I was very interested to note that the hon. Gentleman expressed his approval of the general plan put forward by the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, which he obviously did with some little 308 embarrassment, as he is no doubt aware that the Chamber of Agriculture has most strongly condemned all the provisions in the Bill which he himself particularly approved this afternoon. When the hon. Gentleman came to the subject of livestock he maintained that the provisions of this Bill would be quite insufficient, as he put it, "to stop the rot." He described to us what was the extent of this rot. He pointed out that since we first began to pay the cattle subsidy there had been a fall of several shillings per cwt. in the price of fat cattle, and that at the same time the number of beasts brought into the market had increased by 369,827. I am not very sure that an increase of nearly 400,000 animals for the use of the consumer, and at a lower price, would be universally described as "a state of rot."
Let me try to connect that with the next point which the hon. Member raised, about the cost of production, a point which was also referred to by many other hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows very much better than I do how difficult it is to arrive at any estimate of the cost of production which would be of any use to us in our debates. To do that one would have almost to get a separate estimate for every single beast which is produced. We know how much the estimates which have been given have varied. My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Aberdeen (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey) was careful not to commit himself to any figure. He did refer in passing to the estimate of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, 52s. 3d., and tentatively mentioned the figure of 48s., but did not commit himself to that. My Noble Friend the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) said that he had worked out costs which I think came to about 43s. or 44s. He said it was for a beast weighing 8½ cwt. and I think that would work out at 44s. a cwt.
Marquess of Titchfield
I think I said it was £I9 or £2o; but I said I was speaking only from memory. It was something like that.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is making the formal reply of the Government on one of the 309 points of the Opposition Amendment, that with regard to the cost of production. If he is essaying to do that I hope he will answer this point: The Government are asking us to give approval to a permanent subsidy of £5,000,000 a year. They have now had nearly 2½ years' experience of the administration of a subsidy. They have had all that time to make inquiry into the cost of production, as the Milk Board have done in regard to milk, and there is no reason why we should not be given the information.
The point I was trying to make was that it was not practicable to elicit any figures of costs of production which would be useful to us, and I was illustrating that, in passing, by comparing the various estimates which had been given. Everybody knows that we could not compare the cost of producing a first-rate Aberdeen-Angus beast with the costs of production of a farmer who buys and fattens Irish cattle; and even within the same categories of cattle there are such wide variations and so many circumstances to be taken into consideration that I do not think it is really useful to produce an estimate. All we can say is that, upon the information which we have and which is generally recognised by the House, the present price of fat stock is not high enough to ensure the level of production which we think desirable, and at a price which would give reasonable security to the farmer. We believe that the provisions of the Bill are the best methods which can be found of repairing that deficiency in a manner which will not jeopardise the interests of the consumer.
That brings me to the next point, which is whether the subsidy provided by this Biil will be adequate to bridge the gap between the costs of production in most cases and the prices which will be received by the producer in the market. My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Western, who speaks on this subject not only with great personal knowledge as a practical farmer but as a representative of an area which produces possibly the finest quality of beef in the United Kingdom, and which has suffered more severely, perhaps, than any other area from the agricultural depression, was clearly of the opinion that it was not adequate. He could not give any estimate of the exact cost of production, 310 and since I myself have made the same admission I shall not attempt to convince him that the financial provisions of the Bill will be adequate to secure the object which he has in view. I would like, however, to present him with one or two considerations which may modify, even if they do not remove, the apprehensions which he entertains.
In the first place, as he is aware, the amount of subsidy which is provided under the Bill is considerably higher than that which has been paid out of the cattle Fund during the last few years. The total payments amounted to about £4,000,000 a year. of which £1,000,000 applied to Scotland. The amount of the subsidy under the Bill will be £5,000,000, that is to say 25 per cent. more. In the next place, the Bill provides for higher payment for animals of higher quality. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture undertook in his speech to issue a White Paper before very long, explaining the methods by which those graded payments will be made and, of course, I cannot at this moment anticipate what the White Paper may contain. My hon. Friend would be well advised to await the issue of the White Paper before he commits himself to any figures in regard to the rates of payment likely to be received by producers. Thirdly, there are the provisions for restricting imports which will, we hope, exercise, as they are intended to do, a hardening effect upon the price.
§ Sir M. Barclay-Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that imports will be reduced appreciably below their present level?
I could not say whether that will be necessary. The international conference may recommend it. and if it does not make recommendations which, in the view of the Government, are satisfactory, the Government may take action. It all depends upon the amount of the demand and the amount of the supply, and without knowing all the relevant circumstances, it is of course impossible to say whether a reduction of the present volume of imports would, in fact, be necessary to a hardening of the price. Finally, there is the fact that there is at the present moment a rather increasing demand for beef. As my hon. Friend probably knows, there has been 311 a tendency among all classes of the community for some years to prefer other kinds of food than beef, and beef has been rather going out of fashion; but I understand that, largely on account of the revival in the heavy industries, where workmen employed on that type of work seem to desire to eat more meat, there has been an increased demand. At all events, it is the fact that the consumption of meat per head has gone up by several pounds this year. I hope that all these factors combined may be of some comfort to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart), who expressed support for the background of the Bill, seemed to have been thrown into a state of the greatest alarm, and even panic, by the marketing provisions which it contains. He complained that the Bill was "scarred and scratched by the imposition of Commissioners with powers to exercise dictatorship unequalled in any other industry." He said that the provisions were rabid and revolutionary, and he expressed the view that the Commissioners ought to be called, not Commissioners, but rather Commissars, because they would have arbitrary bureaucratic powers to alter our marketing arrangements.
I think my hon. Friend was not in the House during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in moving the Second Reading or he would no doubt have heard my right hon. Friend explain that, before any marketing Order can be carried into effect, it must not only be approved by the Minister, but must be approved by an affirmative Resolution of the House of Commons. My hon. Friend was also, unfortunately, absent during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who followed soon after, and who referred him to his own observation of last July on this subject, in which he then claimed my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen as a rather unwilling and reluctant recruit for that policy of marketing reform of which he himself had been the principal champion, but the practical realisation of which now throws him into such paroxysms of apprehension.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen gave, I think, a very complete 312 and sufficient justification of the application of the marketing provisions of the Bill to Scotland. As he rightly pointed out, our marketing arrangements are already very much more efficient and very much better organised in Scotland than they are in England. We have only about 120 markets altogether, as compared with some 1,100 in England, and, as he said, it will obviously be much less necessary for the Commissioners to take action, and they will have very much less to do, than they will in England. As he also added, that is no reason why we should deprive Scotland of any of the benefits which may be obtained from Parts IV and V of the Bill.
My hon. Friend asked me for assurances on two points—first, whether producers would be properly represented on the Advisory Committee; and, secondly, whether one of the experimental slaughterhouses would be set up in Scotland. On the first point I can certainly give him the fullest assurance that there will be the fullest representation for producers on the Committee. With regard to the second point, it is our intention that one of the three experimental centres should be established in some Scottish area provided we can obtain, as I have no doubt we shall obtain, the co-operation of all the interests concerned in whatever area may be selected for the experiment.
I have made a careful note of all the points which were raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). As he himself said, many of the matters which he raised were Committee points, but he wanted assurances on one or two general matters. He reminded us that not only the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself but also the Minister of Agriculture and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury are all Scotsmen. So we are, and we certainly do not resent the fact that it should have fallen to the lot of an Englishman who has been adopted by the capital of Scotland, and who is a Member of the party opposite to give us a robust defence of the necessity of making profits out of markets. He put forward the apprehensions which have been felt particularly by the Corporation of Edinburgh and also by other cities, Glasgow, Dundee and Ayr, who own markets of their own, and other places which have slaughterhouses. I think that I can say in general that there is no ground for any of the 313 apprehensions to which he gave expression, and if it is necessary to make that clear, we shall be glad to do so on the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not agree with the view that there would have been any useful purpose in having a separate Bill for Scotland. Indeed, every scheme which will be brought forward with regard to marketing is almost a separate Bill in itself. Clause 23 says:The Commission may, after consulting the Livestock Advisory Committee and such local authorities and other bodies as appear to the Commission to be representative of local interests concerned, make and submit to the appropriate Minister a scheme for the exercise of such control, and the said Minister, if he is also of the opinion aforesaid, may, subject to the following provisions of this section, by order confirm the scheme.I think it is quite obvious that that is almost as good as having a separate Bill. The position of Edinburgh Corporation as regards their present property will remain unchanged. All the matters which the hon. Gentleman raised with regard to these corporations are at present the subject of consultation between my right hon. Friend and the authorities concerned and any point which may arise will certainly receive our fullest consideration on the Committee stage of the Bill.
If I may conclude with one slightly more general reference to the Amendment which is before the House, and which condemns this Bill on the ground that it is calculated to swell private profits at the public expense, I hope that hon. Gentlemen who put down the Amendment will forgive me for saying that when I remember the condition of Scottish agriculture, and English agriculture, too, since 1929—and indeed before 1929—I cannot help feeling that there is something a little ironic about this phrase, "Swell private profits." Probably most people who are acquainted with the difficulties that agriculture has passed through will feel that there is something rather grotesque in the suggestion that you are going to put farmers into a state of affluence by providing them with a few shillings more per cwt. on the beasts that they sell. I do not intend to deal with the plight of the farmers because the Bill is not intended to be a Measure of compassion. It is not the duty of the Government to ensure that any individual farmer whose business may be doing badly should be provided with a certain income. It is the purpose of the Government 314 and of the Bill to provide that we should produce a certain quantity of beef which might not otherwise be produced, at prices which, as far as possible, will give the farmer some encouragement to produce it, and some assurance of protection against those fluctuations in world price which the farmer can neither control nor foresee. We think the Bill is one of the most necessary pieces in the general framework of our agricultural policy, which is designed to develop and to secure that industry which is still the heart of our economic life, and whose prosperity for that reason is to the advantage of all sections of our people.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Gentleman has rendered a very notable service in reminding the House of the Amendment that the Opposition have put down. I have been astounded at the scarcity of argument directed from those benches to their Amendment. I thought the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) might have risen to support it but, instead of welcoming the provisions for central slaughter, he said that was the part of the Bill that he disliked. The chief speech from the Socialist benches was that of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) smiles. Are they going to take the whip away from the hon. Member because he is representing his constituents? He said he wanted a guaranteed price. He did not believe in assenting to measures calculated to swell private profits. He is the only Member on the Socialist benches who knows a little about the livestock industry and he said he required more money than was given by the Bill.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) made a very remarkable speech. He said the present situation was due to the use of the dual purpose bull. I do not know what he means by a dual purpose bull. I suppose it is the bull that you milk at one end and at the other end get the beef from. When I asked him with all humility what he meant, he said he meant the shorthorn bull. He said that our livestock was in a very strong position and that the Argentine still came to this country for good pedigree stock. The stock that they come to this country for is shorthorn— 315 what we call Scotch or dual purpose shorthorn, not dual purpose bull. I think that the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.