HC Deb 21 January 1937 vol 319 cc429-81

Order for Second Reading read.

7.52 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a beef and veal Bill, and unlike the last dish, it is not quite fresh. It has been fully savoured already, when in December last the Financial Resolutions Were discussed in Committee of Ways and Means. For that reason I do not propose to speak at much length. I recollect, however, that on the occasion to which I have referred some complaint was made by hon. Members opposite that the agricultural aspect of the problem had not received more attention. That contention cannot be voiced on this occasion, because we have had a day and a half devoted to the livestock question with speeches by three Ministers on the subject. Therefore, the agricultural aspect has had very full consideration. The provisions of the Bill were discussed on the Financial Resolutions, and are confined to what is necessary to impose the duties set out in the Resolutions. The assistance we propose to give to the cattle industry will impose some burdens on the Exchequer, which will have to be met out of the general revenues of the country, and in this Bill we are asking the House to provide additional revenue.

I may be asked why this particular method has been taken of raising the additional revenue which is necessary, and why we have taken this time of the year to introduce a revenue-raising Measure. There are two answers. In the first place, the difficulties of the producers of cattle in this country have been a matter of concern to the Government for many years, and they have been recognised by the assistance already given in the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Acts of 1934 to 1936. These difficulties have not been easy of solution. There will be no doubt about that. There have been many and often conflicting interests to contend with, and while we have been anxious to introduce more permanent measures than the emergency legislation, the nature of the subject has precluded us from doing so earlier. Further, we have, of course, in any permanent scheme to consider the needs of the Exchequer and the necessity for maintaining international trade, and particularly overseas trade, which is of such importance to the country. The House is aware of the trade and commercial agreement made between this country and the Argentine Republic, which was signed on the 1st December last year. The Bill now before the House provides that the duties shall be deemed to have been in operation as from the 16th December, 1936. The rates of duty in the Bill as in the Financial Resolution are the highest permissible under the Argentine Agreement and form part of the bargain negotiated with the Argentine Government. They are such as in the Government's view are necessary to maintain for this country the benefit of the valuable concessions we received under the old Argentine Agreement. When that agreement ran out it was necessary to have a further agreement. We should have been remiss, I stress this point, in our duty of husbanding the nation's finances if we had not taken advantage at the earliest possible moment of our agreement with the Argentine. That answers the question why we are bringing in this Measure at this moment—it is the earliest possible moment having regard to our commitments with the Argentine.

The Bill provides for a specific duty on certain kinds of meat and veal with an ad valorem duty on other descriptions of beef and veal, as set out in the first Clause. With one exception the ad valorem incidence of all the duties is approximately the same—20 per cent. They have, in fact, been determined by the measure of the duty on chilled beef. The one exception is the duty on tinned tongue which will be 20 per cent. in addition to the present duty, 10 per cent., and has been imposed in order that the preference enjoyed by British manufacturers may be maintained.

The provisoes of the Financial Resolutions exclude from the liability to duty imports of raw tongue, tinned tongue and chilled beef. These provisoes are not repeated in the Bill, but their effect will be continued by Order-in-Council under Section 14 of the Finance Act, 1933, which will be laid before the House and will take effect immediately on the passing of the Bill. The House will probably recollect that the reason for this exclusion, as I explained in Committee, is that for the time being, under the Anglo-Polish Trade Agreement, the duty on tinned tongue and jellied veal is consolidated at 10 per cent., the rate of duty to which they are at present subject under the Import Duties Act. Sub-section (2) of Clause r exempts from its operation imports of sausages and paste, which already pay a 30 per cent. duty, and Sub-section (1) exempts sweetbreads, for the reason, as I explained before, that a considerable part of our imports of the raw material is used for the manufacture in this country of insulin and its salts.

None of the duties which it is proposed should be charged under the Bill will apply to Empire products. The House is aware that we recognised in the Ottawa Agreements the importance to the Dominions of the development of their beef industry, and as part of the negotiations which we have had with them to secure their participation in the scheme for the orderly regulation of supplies to our markets—and again I stress the importance of securing agreement with the Dominions on this question of orderly regulation—it has been agreed that Dominion supplies should have preference to the full extent of the duties permissible under the Argentine Agreement. Accordingly, Empire products enjoy free entry as hitherto. The reason for that undertaking was clearly explained to the House and accepted by it on the occasion when the Resolutions were discussed in Committee of Ways and Means.

Under the Financial Resolutions which were reported on 15th December, the Customs and Excise Department has, since 16th December, in accordance with the provisions of the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1913, required payment of duty on goods already subject to duty, and under Section 6 of the Finance Act, 1926, has obtained security against payment of the duties on goods not at present subject to duty which will become dutiable on the passage of this Bill. This was fully explained to the House at the time when the Resolutions were discussed. I have had inquiries made from the Commissioners of Customs and Excise on the exercise of their powers in this matter, and I am satisfied that the collection of the duties will proceed without friction and that the co-operation of the importers and all concerned is readily forthcoming. The experience gained since the reporting of the Financial Resolutions confirms that the estimate of rather over £3,000,000 which I gave to the Committee of Ways and Means will be closely justified. That is our experience so far.

The provisions of the Bill are the result of very careful consideration both of the needs of the Exchequer and the interests of producers and consumers in this country. The Government are satisfied that the interests of the consumers will, in the long run, best be served by the policy which they recommend, that of combining a subsidy with a moderate duty, which is at the same time an outcome of long negotiations both with the Dominions and the Argentine. I would emphasise that I believe the Government's proposals for the assistance of the livestock industry, of which this Bill is one, are framed to secure the maximum advantage to the nation as a whole.

The hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), whose name I am sorry to see attached to an Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, when speaking in the Committee of Ways and Means, answered a question which I put to hon. Members opposite as to how they would deal with the agricultural problem, by saying that he believed the best way of dealing with the agricultural problem in this country was to put the consumers in a position to pay for British beef. I have not quoted the hon. Member's exact words, but that was the sense of them. In that respect the National Government need not be ashamed, since owing to the improvement in trade and industry in this country there are coming back into industry large numbers of men who were previously unemployed, and we are to a marked degree assisting the general body of consumers in this country into a position in which they can spend more on food. I do not wish to weary the House with statistics to prove that, but it can readily be shown that, as compared with a few years ago, there is much more money in circulation owing to the improvement in industry which is evident in all parts of the country. I agree that there are certain areas which have not shared to the same exent, but the statement in general will stand examination.

I would also say that I agree that the farming industry in this country is not an exporting industry, but one which supplies the home market. It must be recognised, and it is recognised, that its success depends to a very great extent on the general level of prosperity among consumers in this country and on the level of activity of industry. That is a fact which is widely recognised and which hon. Members on the other side have not a monopoly of demonstrating. But when that is said, I do feel that it should be stressed that it is to the consumers' advantage in the long run that our livestock industry should be maintained on a firm basis of efficiency and prosperity, and that is the Government's objective. The best assurance which the consumer can have that his needs will be met year in and year out at fair prices is that the industry should be on a firm basis. It is essential in the conditions of to-day that this industry should be safeguarded. We believe—and this is where I think the Government radically differ from hon. Members opposite—that if it were left to face unaided the full impact of world supplies in these difficult times, the consumer might gain some transitory advantage, but it would be no more than a transitory advantage, obtained only at the price of a breakdown in the agricultural system, which is so largely bound up with the livestock industry.

It may be argued—and I think the hon. Member for East Ham, South, has already referred to it in his previous speech—that the burden of these duties will fall wholly on the consumers. I think that criticism could easily be exaggerated, and I certainly would not agree that the whole amount of these duties is likely to be passed on to the consumers. There are various interests concerned before the ultimate consumer is reached. It is too early yet to draw any lasting or satisfactory impression of the effects of the duty, but it is my firm belief that the duty will not be by any means solely borne by the ultimate consumer. I feel that the step which we are proposing, which has already been agreed to in Committee and which is in the Bill presented to-day, is one which is wise policy on the part of the Government, which has to consider the interests of all parts of the community. If agriculture were to break down, it would involve permanent damage to our national economy which could not be easily retrieved, and I recommend the Bill with confidence to the House.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Barnes

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."

We have now reached the stage of deciding who is to pay for the Measure to which the House has already given a Second Reading. I think that whatever uncertainty or confusion may have prevailed in regard to the previous Measure, it disappears on the issue of who is to pay. I have no doubt that here we shall get a clear division on both sides of the House. Members of the National Government are always enthusiastically united when it is a question of putting their hands into the public purse. I notice that on this occasion, although hon. Members of the Liberal party below the Gangway supported the Second Reading of the previous Bill, they have announced their intention of voting against this particular proposal. I consider that the issue is very plain. If the Government consider that the livestock industry should receive assistance—if they are prepared to accept that responsibility—they should impose that burden upon the State in the form of a charge on the taxpayer. That method has decided advantages in financing schemes or proposals of this character. The taxpayer, through the Treasury, is much more insistent on economy, on efficiency, and on having value in return for the money.

Another advantage of the Treasury bearing a charge of this description in financing an aspect of public policy is that periodically this House has to accept responsibility for continuing payment of the subsidies. Those of us who are familiar with previous policies of subsidising agriculture and other industries have seen the advantages of Treasury control and Debates in the House, since public opinion gradually develops and becomes insistent that this type of policy is injurious to the interests of the nation as a whole in the long run. From the standpoint of public policy, we oppose this method by which the finances of the Livestock Industry Bill are to be raised.

Our second objection is that it is a pernicious system to tax directly one section of citizens for the advantage of another group. That becomes doubly indefensible when one is taxing a relatively, and in this sense an actually, poor section of the community, and giving the advantage to a section which is easily more well-to-do. To-night the Minister has again evaded the real facts of this Measure. Neither he nor his colleague, the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, in the Debate on the Financial Resolution, dealt adequately with the issues raised, and when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade replies later on, I would like him to deal specifically with these points. Will he say whether the method involved here is a defensible method to introduce into our fiscal system as related to commodity production within our internal economy? Will he say whether this method of raising taxation is equitable? Will he state whether it will accomplish the purpose for which it is designed, and, particularly in view of his past political attachments, will he say whether the foreigner or the British consumer will pay this particular duty? Will he state specifically whether this commodity is consumed by the poorest section of the people, or can he prove that it is consumed by the more well-to-do section?

In the discussion on the Financial Resolution, I drew attention to the fact that Sir John Orr, following his investigation, had pointed out that, taking the various purchasing groups in this country in relation to their meat consumption, the lowest purchasing group consumed only 20 ounces of meat per week, whereas the higher purchasing group consumed as much as 50 ounces a week—a very wide difference, especially when it is considered that the higher purchasing group enjoys a much wider range of foodstuffs. Still, we find this very large discrepancy and our contention is that the real solution of the problem of the agricultural industry in this country and particularly of the livestock branch, depends on expanding the consumption of meat by the masses of the people.

May I develop this contention by offering further circumstantial evidence? There are 4,500,000 persons in this country, representing 10 per cent. of the population, who can only afford, on the average, 4s. per head per week as their total expenditure on foodstuffs. It is grotesque and ludicrous to argue that a family which can spend only an average of 4s. a week on food is in a position to pay the price charged for English meat. It follows that they have to purchase frozen and chilled imported meat, and it is people of that type who will have to pay this duty. As further evidence, reference may be made to the fact that the consumption of meat, vegetables and eggs rises with income, and especially is this fact noted where working-class families have a higher rate of regular employment.

I do not think the Financial Secretary can claim on behalf of the Government any credit for the increase of employment which has taken place since the Government have been in office. In the Budget Debates I was able to point out that expenditure on armaments in the main producing countries of the world in 1932 was, in round figures, 1£1,000,000,000. The corresponding expenditure of these countries in 1935–36 had increased to £2,500,000,000 or thereabouts. My contention is that if you throw into the productive markets of the world an additional expenditure, which is in the long run an uneconomic expenditure, of £1,500,000,000, it is bound to affect the cost of primary commodities. It is bound to start a general rise in retail and wholesale prices. For the time being it improves profits in industry, but there will come a time when we shall have to pay the price for that. If there should be any easing of the international situation such as everybody earnestly hopes for, and if that enormous expenditure is sharply restricted, you are bound to have a reversal of that policy and you will have to confront the possibly worse situation which will then emerge. Although the Government have had the advantage of that artificial prosperity I do not think they can claim any credit in the sound economic sense.

Another piece of corroborative evidence in support of my contention is revealed by an inquiry which took place in London recently with regard to the provision of milk for schoolchildren. Some 85,000 inquiries were sent out to the parents of children who were not taking the third of a pint of milk per day which had been made available, and of that number, 21,500 replies revealed that the parents in those cases could not afford the penny per day. When we are confronted with statistics of that description, even in London, it supports the general contention that that type of person is unable to purchase English meat. Therefore, it is upon that type of person that this duty will largely fall. I would also refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to a statement made by his own chief at St. Ives on 2nd October, 1931. That was during a rather memorable period and it was the occasion of the right hon. Gentleman's famous declaration about the Post Office Savings Bank. On this particular question the President of the Board of Trade then stated: I would not be in favour of an import duty on food. What we ought to cut off are imported luxuries. Are we to take it that the right hon. Gentleman considers the frozen and chilled meat of the poorest people in this country a luxury? If not, why is he supporting a proposal of this description? The Secretary for Overseas Trade in the Debate on the Financial Resolution quoted the fact that in London only 30 per cent. of the meat supplies were home-killed or home produced; in Cardiff, 50 per cent., and on the North-East coast 58 per cent. I suggest that to quote percentages of meat consumed in various towns is not to reply to the main point, that it is the poor people who are compelled to consume this frozen and chilled meat. I have taken the opportunity in the meantime of getting the opinions of qualified persons in certain centres. I need only quote two. The reply which I received from Aberdare is as follows: The main trouble in the meat trade in this district is that people have no money to buy either fresh or frozen meat and mostly have to go without it. Although we are told that the consumption of home-produced meat on the North-East coast is 58 per cent., I received the following from Newcastle: I beg to inform you that our experience is definitely that the people in the poorer localities are the principal purchasers of chilled and frozen imported meat. I regret I have no comparative figures available, but from an intimate knowledge of the quantities retailed in the shops in the poorer districts there is, undoubtedly, a very large demand for chilled and frozen imported meat. The Government ought to make some reply to a definite statement of that character.

The next question to which I should like the Government Front Bench to reply is whether the foreigner will pay this tax or whether it will be paid by the British consumer. I will refer to an authoritative source from the Government's own Benches. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith), in the Debate on the Financial Resolution, made this specific statement: We"— that is, the farmers, for the hon. Member is Chairman of the Farmers' Union— have to buy a tremendous amount of goods which are taxed, taxes which are borne by the farming industry alone."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1936; col. 2354, Vol. 318.] He went on to point out that fertilisers bear a tax of £4 a ton; implements and machinery, 30 per cent.; shovels, spades, etc., 15 per cent.; mowers, ploughers, reapers and binders, 15 per cent.; and wire 33⅓ per cent. Will the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade explain why, if the taxes put on implements and the commodities used by the farmer are borne by the farming community alone, a tax put on something that the farmer grows is not by some miraculous means borne by the purchaser of the commodity, but by the foreigner overseas? If the Argentine exporter is going to pay the tax on the meat that he sells here, how is it that the foreigners who send fertilisers, wire and ploughs to this country do not pay the tax also? That is a point we have never had adequately explained.

The Financial Secretary stated that he did not consider this tax will be reflected in higher prices to the consumer. It is rather late in the day for the Government spokesman to make that declaration. We are fortunately in the position of having had experience of commodity prices with regard to those foodstuffs about which the Government have legislated. It is significant that the movement of prices of those foodstuffs is different from the general index level of food prices. It has been repeatedly stated in the Debate on the Livestock Bill that the general index figure for all foodstuffs in May, 1936, as compared with 1914, represents an increase of only 25 points. When, however, we take milk, potatoes and fish, three commodities in which the Government have indulged in their legislative activities, we find that milk is 73 per cent. above 1914, as against the general level of 25 per cent. for all foodstuffs. Potatoes are 65 per cent. above 1914 and fish 107 per cent. Therefore, before we can accept the declaration of the Government that their policy in this instance will not be reflected in increased prices, they must explain why the commodities they have already handled have gone up beyond the general level of food prices.

My final point against this Bill is that it continues the general policy of the National Government of transferring the burden of taxation from the Income Taxpayer and direct taxpayer to the consumer of the commodity. If we take the general policy of the Government, of which this is merely a supplement, we find that Customs and Excise duties last year were up by £22,000,000. This year the Government expect to get another £14,000,000. Now we have this new meat levy of £3,500,000, which means that in two years the policy of the National Government has increased the indirect taxation of the consumer by roughly £39,000,000. Will this additional burden on the consumers restore prosperity to the agricultural industry? If we test the policy of the Government by results, as I did in the case of food prices, we find that at each successive stage that policy has not improved the position of the section of agriculture which the Government set out to assist. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), speaking on the Financial Resolution on the 15th December last, stated that the number of agricultural workers in 1921 was 996,000 and that in 1935 it had declined to 783,000, a drop of 213,000. I would remind hon. Members opposite that the Conservative party has held power for II out of those 14 years. Therefore, if there has been that decline in the number of agricultural workers during that period they must accept full and complete responsibility for this state of British agriculture.

I am against this policy of subsidies, levies, quotas and restrictions on foodstuffs and all the rest of the paraphernalia to which vested interests are turning for the purpose of maintaining their profit system. It leads to all-round irritation. We can already see the perplexity of hon. Members opposite in trying to harmonise the interests of the Dominions producer with those of the home producer, and in this case with the interests of the Argentine producer, without injuring the British finance in the Argentine and the trade it represents in this country. In the long run it develops irritation and antagonism between the producer and the consumer. No policy in the long run can be more fatal to agriculture than to develop antagonism between the large industrial and urban population and the countryside. It sets the consumer against the taxpayer. You get differences between seller and buyer, and conflicts between producer, manufacturer and distributor.

I suggest that the House has for many years now followed this policy of trying to impose on British agriculture a rigid system of control which is costing the taxpayer and the consumer more each year without solving any problems. The sooner this House and the country realise that the real solution of the agricultural problem in this country is a complete system of co-operative organisation from the field, through factory and slaughterhouse, to the consumers, the sooner we shall get British agriculture on the same basis of prosperity and continuity as countries like Denmark have represented in the past. The only way to get success is to turn agriculture on to the production of higher-priced commodities that can yield the standard of living which we demand. Therefore, I oppose this Bill, because it is inequitable and against the principles for which we on this side stand, and I hope the House will reject it and compel the Government to put the burden where it rightly should rest, and that is on the taxpayers of this country.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Holdsworth

I beg to second the Amendment.

Whenever the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury introduces a Bill or gets up at that Box his manner is so charming that I always feel that it is almost criminal to oppose anything which he suggests, but to-night he has used one or two arguments in favour of this Bill which call for some reply. We are told that this duty is put on with a view to affording assistance to the livestock industry. He suggested that it was essential to pass this Bill to keep in being an efficient livestock industry. I want to deny that argument. For two or three years—I cannot say exactly how long—a subsidy has been paid to the livestock industry without there being any tax upon meat. Only to-day we have passed a Bill which, apart from anything that this Bill may do, gives a permanent subsidy to the livestock industry. It is arguable whether a subsidy should be given or not, but it cannot be contended that in order to give that subsidy it is essential to pass this Bill. There is another purpose of the Bill, described on page 1, which absolutely confirms what I said on 15th December. It states that the Bill is brought forward in order to make an addition to the public revenue. On 15th December I described the Financial Resolution as being for the relief of the Treasury, and whatever may be the views of hon. Members as to the need of keeping in being a livestock industry, surely the meanest of all ways to do it is by putting a tax upon the consumers of the poorest grades of beef. I really detest the argument that in order to assist our farmers it is essential to put a burden on the backs of those who can afford only this cheaper kind of beef. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade smiling.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Dr. Burgin)

May I be allowed to explain why? The poorest class of consumers in this country eat meat which comes in from the Empire and bears no duty either at present or in the future.

Mr. Holdsworth

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that statement as an answer to my arguments. I do not think anybody can deny that if the people of this country had sufficient money they would buy neither Empire beef nor chilled beef, but English beef. I do not think that statement can be challenged for one moment. Supporters of the Government's policy are saying to the eater of Empire beef, which is of much inferior quality to the Argentine beef, "You shall get that beef without a tax, but if you want a bit of better beef you must pay a tax upon it." I repeat that it is scandalous to put forward this policy at the expense of the consumers of chilled beef. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also used the argument that the consumer was pretty certain not to pay the whole of this duty, presupposing that the exporters of Argentine chilled beef would pay part or the whole of it. That is a strange argument. Time after time in the past five years the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stood at that Box saying there could be no recovery in international trade unless the prices of primary commodities were raised; but if the Argentine producer is to pay part of this duty it means that he will elect to take a lower price for his produce. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right, then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must be wrong. If this duty is paid by the Argentine that country will have less money with which to pay interest on the debts owing to this country, or less money with which to buy the manufactured products of this country, and that reflection cannot be an incentive to Members to vote for this Bill. I wish to spend a moment or two in calling attention to the tremendous sum now being raised by food taxation in this country. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), speaking on 15th December, said: Since 1921"— I think that is a misprint. I think it should be 1931— this Government and the preceding National Government have increased the taxation of food by over £20,000,000 per annum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1936; col. 2390, Vol. 318.] I do not want to take an oath about these figures, because I am speaking from memory, but I believe it is true to say that almost £30,000,000 per annum is now being raised by food taxation in this country, and remembering the past of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade I shall be interested to hear him justify raising almost £30,000,000 a year by food taxes. It is astonishing to go through the list. I do not know whether tea would be called a food or not, but it is looked upon as an essential thing by the poorer sections of the community. It is subject to taxation, and so are sugar, dried fruits, vegetables, butter, and bacon. Bacon is almost at a prohibitive price through the policy of this Government, which is paying the exporter of bacon twice as much money as we need have paid him, or almost twice as much, in order to give an advantage to one-fourth of the suppliers of the consumers of bacon in this country. We have done it in the dearest way. Wheat has been made dearer, and milk is almost at a prohibitive price. In Bradford we pay 2s. 4d. per gallon for milk; we pay 3½d. for a pint of milk. I suggest that all this additional taxation on food is making things almost unbearable for the poorer sections of the community.

Further, this additional taxation comes at a time when food prices are rising. There can be no denial of that. I was interested to see that last week's figure for food prices was said to have gone up only about three points. I am certain that there is a real and serious increase in the price of food. Potatoes are getting almost prohibitive in price, the price is jumping up almost every week. One thing after another on which the people have to depend for their sustenance is being put out of their reach. I believe that everyone in the House is agreed about there being under-nourishment. I do not say that I accept all the figures of Sir John Orr, I am not competent to say whether every figure is correct of not, but I can say without fear of challenge that there are millions of people in this country who are under-nourished. Not only in this House but in almost every Parliament of the world there seems to be a conspiracy against the goodness of Nature.

I shall never forget when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade told me on one occasion in the last Parliament that I needed to learn a new economy—the economics of glut. My reply was, and still is, that I am perfectly willing to begin a new education when the hon. Gentleman can tell me that everybody in this country has sufficient. The time to talk about glut is when it is proved that everybody has enough to go on with. The policy of food restriction and taxation is insane. It is almost—I say this reverently—a crime against the Deity to put restrictions upon the essentials of life. Another thing always strikes me as contradictory. We have every reason to be proud in this country of the amount which is spent on social services, but what is the good of spending money on health services to patch up people who have broken down, and yet to deny them the right to spend their money upon getting the essentials of life? It seems to be the dearest way of doing it. It would be far better if we left the money to fructify in the pockets of the people, who would choose for themselves the dietary that they think they need, and they would choose not less but more things, if they had the money with which to buy them.

Time after time I have referred to the subject in this House, and I repeat what I have said. I have had personal experience in my younger days, and I know what I am talking about. The woman, on Saturday night, does not say how many pounds of beef she is going to buy. She does not begin by assessing the needs of the family. What she does is to look at her pocket and say to herself, "I have so many shillings left; what will that buy? She does not purchase according to need, but according to the power of her pocket, and every farthing of taxation that is put on makes it more difficult for that woman to do her shopping. It is usually a woman, at least in the North, who does the buying, in order to provide the essential health-giving food for her people, who have spent all their time working in order to enjoy the necessaries of life.

I was amazed that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should try to convince the House that the Bill is in the interests of the consumers. How can it be in the interests of the consumers to make things dearer for them by deliberate legislation, and then—it is almost pulling their legs—to tell them, "This is all for your advantage"? I have heard nothing to substantiate that statement. I said at the beginning that I made a long speech on this subject on 15th December. I shall not reiterate all the statements I then made, but I shall finish as I began by saying that this is not a Bill to help the livestock industry. We did that in the Bill which we passed at half-past seven. This is a Bill to relieve the Treasury at the expense of the consumers of imported beef. I do not mind how much the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade smiles. I do not believe there is any way of getting over my argument. Even those who want to see a successful livestock industry tell the Government that this is not the way to do it. Some reference was made to the necessity of relieving Income Tax payers; I say deliberately, although it is no joy to me to pay Income Tax, that I honestly prefer to pay a little more tax towards relieving the livestock industry, if that be necessary, than help to place an added burden upon those least able to bear it.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. H. Haslam

The argument of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House, and that of the hon. Member who preceded him, are based upon the assumption that this tax on foreign meat will fall entirely upon the consumer. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) certainly said that possibly a very small part would fall upon the producers. Generally speaking, his argument was based upon the contention that this Measure was taxing the consumers of the article, and that the consumers were very poor people. Neither hon. Member took the trouble to give the reasons on which that assumption was based. They did not give any instances, and I suggest to them that they have failed to study the fiscal history of this country during the last five years, when we have seen taxes on manufactured products without those taxes having raised the price of the articles to the consumers.

As an agricultural Member, I freely concede that it is not to the interest of the farming community to place burdens upon the poorest of the poor, but I do not believe that this small tax is other than what is described as a revenue-producing duty. Let me give one or two arguments to show where the taxation will fall. When this duty was first proposed to the House a month ago, we were told by those who took part in the negotiations that the representatives of Argentina asserted during the negotiations that the tax was going to fall upon the Argentine producer and negotiations were conducted on that basis. I think they were right. Argentina had a good deal of basis to go on in saying that the taxation would fall upon them. While on this subject, I should like to mention something which I have seen in the Press, namely, that the Argentine Government have agreed to give the benefit of a subsidy to the producers in the Argentine on account of the tax which they suppose will fall upon the Argentine producers.

In that connection, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to say, when he replies, whether such action by the Argentine Government of subsidising their producers, comes within the ambit of the Agreement. In any case I would venture to suggest, to those hon. Members who are specially representing in this House the point of view of the consumers, that, if the Argentine Government is going to pay the producers of chilled meat £1,000,000 a year in order to help on production and pay the tax, and if the British Government is going to give the British producers £5,000,000 a year, the consumer in this country is in a somewhat favoured position. Here we have two Governments subsidising meat production. Who is going to get the benefit? It seems to me that the consumer must get the benefit. £6,000,000 a year is to be paid, £1,000,000 in the Argentine and £5,000,000 here, and, therefore, I think that the consumer need not view this small tax with any alarm.

Let me turn to the larger argument, as to whether the policy of the National Government in supporting agricultural production by means of import duties, by means of subsidies or bounties, by means, when required, of restrictions on foreign supplies when those foreign supplies have proved to be knocking the bottom out of the market, is justified or not. I would ask hon. Members opposite what would have been the effect on British agriculture if no such policy had been followed, if none of these things had been done? As an agricultural Member I can assert that land would have gone out of cultivation in the most wholesale manner, that the countryside would have become depopulated, and that the depletion of the number of farm workers, instead of its going down from 900,000 to 780,000, would have been colossal. In these bad years, with unemployment in the towns at record figures, there would have been a steady stream of men and women from the countryside into the towns seeking employment.

If we take the long view, and I am endeavouring to put the long view now, would a temporary cheapness resulting from our taking in foreign-produced food at prices less than the cost of production have really benefited the British consumer? I submit that the price paid for such a temporary cheapness—the destruction of British agriculture—would have descended upon the heads of consumers as a terrible disaster. Now we are enjoying a period of peace and peaceful expansion, but there is a possibility, almost, of war, and I submit that, in view of the possibility that the people of this country might simply not have food, it would be absolute madness to allow our agricultural production to fall. Our agricultural production now is at a lower level than is compatible with national safety in time of war. Therefore I support such a tax as this, which I regard as no more than a revenue duty, and I support the policy of the Government in these matters, as I have done all the way through during the last five years. In summing up this long view I say there can be no doubt that agriculture would have suffered a decline which would have appalled any hon. Member opposite, had not the Government adopted a strong policy and passed Measures to maintain production on the countryside.

I notice that hon. Members opposite seem to be against all these Measures. The Mover of the Amendment said he was completely against proceeding by the taxation of foreign food; he said that he would much rather have had the whole subsidy borne by the taxpayer—that that would be much fairer. The hon. Member for South Bradford said exactly the same thing. Indeed, he even went so far as to say he would be pleased to pay an additional Income Tax. I am not in the secrets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I expect it is quite possible that he may have to do that in any case. That was the argument of hon. Members opposite—that they would sooner have a subsidy which fell on the taxpayer than place a duty on imported food. During all these years the Government have been proposing subsidies, but hon. Members opposite have not supported them. Subsidies have been proposed as alternatives to import duties, but did hon. Members opposite go into the Lobby with the Government on those occasions? Not a bit of it; they steadily opposed every subsidy, just as they opposed the subsidy which was proposed earlier to-day. Therefore, I suggest that hon. Members opposite are inconsistent in these matters.

I would like now to refer to the question of the consumption of English and foreign meat. I have no doubt that hon. Members are justified in saying that the poorer classes of the community purchase principally foreign meat, but that is not true of all. A great number of people in all ranks of society prefer homegrown meat. In fact, I think the Mover of the Amendment stated that on the North-East Coast something like 58 per cent, of the meat consumed was homegrown. That is a good large figure, and it shows that a very large number of working people in that part of the world prefer English to foreign meat. [HON. MEMBERS: "They all do."] It shows that a great many people in that part of the world have the sense to pay a little more for a better article. Even the poorest of the poor will prefer to do so, because they find from practical experience that it is better to have a little less of English meat than a larger quantity of foreign chilled or foreign frozen meat. For my part, I think it is very important that those of us who have any power or influence should do our utmost to encourage the attitude of mind that the homegrown article is really worth the money, as opposed to the foreign or the frozen. We in agriculture all know that the very best thing that can happen to us is that the miners should be prosperous.

The miner, who has to do hard muscular work, knows that one of the best things he can consume to enable him to do it, is good English meat. I believe they realise that in Scotland perhaps more than we do. Why not, then, endeavour to encourage the consumption of English meat? I am not going to argue that this very small duty will raise the price, because I do not believe it for a moment. But I hope that the policy of the Government will result in a larger amount of British home-grown meat and rather less of foreign. I believe that that will be good for the health of the people as well as for the agricultural industry. In view of the arguments that I have put before the House, I support the policy of the Government.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Woods

The hon. Member's arguments might or might not be valid in support of the Bill that was passed earlier in the day, but he has not said a single word that applies to the Bill that is before us now. Although it is linked up with the other Bill, because it deals with a common trade, it has nothing in common with that Bill. The Government have pledged themselves to provide a subsidy to the beef-producing section of the community, amounting to £5,000,000. That may or may not help agriculture. What we are dealing with now is the question, who is to pay? The Government have been paying rather more than £2,000,000 as a temporary subsidy. Now they are going to pay £5,000,000 and, according to the estimate of the Financial Secretary, this Measure will bring additional revenue into the Treasury of £3,000,000 plus, and the vital issue is whether it is moral or equitable that the section of the community which will have to foot the bill should pay it exclusively.

It seems to me that the discussion has been perfectly sound in rotating round the point as to who will pay. The old idea that the foreigner pays has been trotted out by the Mover of the Bill and by the last speaker. The last speaker even suggested that the Argentine Government, realising that their producers will presumably have to pay £3,000,000, are going to give them £1,000,000 to begin with. I am surprised at an hon. Member who speaks on behalf of an agricultural constituency talking as though agriculture in any part of the world is flourishing at present. It is quite unfair to our farming community, and I do not think it flatters the Government, to give them the impression that the agricultural industry in any part of the world is really a flourishing concern. It is not.

Mr. Haslam

I do not think I made any statement at all that the farming community in the Argentine was flourishing.

Mr. Woods

If they are not flourishing, you are making their hardship even worse and trying to stabilise British agriculture at the expense of Argentine agriculture, and the sooner farmers here and all over the world begin to think in terms of world agriculture the healthier it will be and the better perspective we shall get of its problems. But the problem here is: Who pays? The Financial Secretary gave us a vague hope that somehow the Argentine or other producers would pay, but he gave us no data as to how that was to be achieved. We know only too well how easy it is to juggle with figures and to take one article where in face of a fall in price an additional tax has not been noticed. But this £3,000,000 will not come out of the air. Some one has got to pay it, and if the Argentine producers are in such sore straits that they have to go to their Government and ask for assistance, it is obvious that they are not in a position to pay this £3,000,000.

It might be argued that the large-scale cattle industry of the Argentine is so profitable that it can easily pay this out of its profits. I do not think they are likely people to make a gift of £2,000,000 to the British public. A moral and spiritual revolution would be needed before you could get big capital in the modern world to make a gift of £2,000,000 to the people of any country. Experience will prove that this tax will fall upon the people who consume the commodity, and for that reason it is quite unwise to embody in permanent legislation such a method of taxation as this. The whole argument used by the Mover of the Bill and in the subsequent discussion has hedged round the question, Who will pay? If experience proves that the burden will fall upon the consuming community, it would seem that there is a case for doing away with this form of raising the necessary £3,000,000, but when once this is on the Statute Book, whatever our experience, and whoever pays, this will remain the method of taxation. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade interjected the remark that poor people do not eat this class of meat. That means that they neither eat frozen nor chilled beef.

Dr. Burgin

No, that is not what it means. It means that statistics of the consumption of meat by the poorest classes of people show that something like three-quarters of all the meat that they eat is Empire produced, bearing no duty in the past, in the present or in the future.

Mr. Woods

Then who eats the other quarter? I have been chairman of the butchery department of a very large organisation, and we actually separated the foreign and Empire from the English pieces. We immediately found that there was objection to that because there are heaps of poor people who are very respectable and look upon their poverty as a disgrace and try to shield it from the world, and they complained that, because of their poverty, they had to buy imported meat and did not like having to go into a separate shop where it would be seen by all who passed that they were having to eat this kind of meat. Whatever the Minister's data may be, when it comes to serving behind the counter, the people who buy this meat are those who cannot in the ordinary course afford English meat. There is no doubt whatever about it, and I am surprised at any one representing the Government making a fuss about it, because we have argued the question of feeding the troops on British meat, and the argument has been that the Government could not afford it.

I had the experience of speaking in a market place at an actual auction of beef. A supporter of the National Government, in one of his strongest arguments before that community, said that he was in favour of British beef for the British troops. We have heard nothing more about it. If the Government really desire to help agriculture and would give the home producers that order for the Army it would cause a substantial increase in the production of British beef. Even the Government, in order to economise, purchase the other kind of beef. They may argue, as they argued with regard to margarine, that it is better for the troops. Nobody believes it, and they know that, athough it may be all right for platform work, it is not good enough for wholesale consumption.

Let me mention a few of the classes of people who will have to pay their contribution towards this £3,000,000. We can take them in different groups. In the first place, we have the whole of the old age pensioners of this country whose income is 10s. per head per week. Everybody in this House is sympathetic towards the old age pensioners, the overwhelming majority of whom have given the greater part of their lives to the service of the community. In their old age they do not want a lot, but all of us would desire that the little which they require should be the best that the community can give them. Old age pensioners when they eat meat will, because they are compelled to buy the cheapest kind, have the privilege of subsidising British agriculture. It is scandalous. Then there are the unemployed. We talk very often in this House as if the unemployed were a sort of theoretical abstraction existing in places called distressed or Special Areas. They are human beings like ourselves, who grow hungry and need food, and who have children and desire that they should grow up and have an opportunity of getting decent employment and becoming a credit to their country. They have to feed those children upon a miserable income. They are kept at the barest minimum by a Government who are anxious to be generous to agriculture. The only meat they will be able to buy will be imported, chilled or frozen.

It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to say that 75 per cent. of what they eat is Empire meat, but 25 per cent. of what they eat is Argentine meat. If there is 100 per cent. of imported meat, 25 per cent. roughly will represent foreign meat and will be covered by this Bill. If no meat comes in under this Bill, there will be no £3,000,000. Somebody will have to pay the £3,000,000. Then there are the agricultural labourers themselves. The standard of wages in agriculture at the present time is well known in this House and throughout the country, and I would say, in answer to the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam), why they are so anxious to leave the industry if they can get employment in other industries. The only reason is the appallingly low wages which are paid to the actual producers of British beef and British corn. They are the people who do the work. I can assure the occupants of the Front Bench opposite that the most regular customers at the imported meat shops throughout the country are the agricultural community. The very people who produce the British beef of which we boast are compelled, because of their poverty, to buy the imported commodity.

You are saying to those who are giving their services towards building up this great industry, which you say is so necessary in the event of war and all the rest of it, "All we can do for you is to give you 30s., 35s. or 38s. a week, upon which you can bring up your family." You are insulting them, and the wife of any agricultural worker will tell you that that sort of thing can only be told to someone who is fit for a lunatic asylum. They know that if they are to have British beef, they must have higher wages. If they buy any meat at all, it has to be imported meat. The average agricultural labourer's wife is not tremendously concerned where the meat comes from so long as it is the best that her money can buy, and, generally speaking, the Argentine product is among the best qualities of imported beef we eat. The agricultural labourer is to be asked to pay an additional amount in order to help to make agriculture a success. It is utterly immoral.

It has been argued that the Bill which has been read a Second time to-day, and this additional help by the Treasury, will help agriculture and mean increased employment. Nothing can be further from the truth. If, as a result of these Measures, there is an expansion of the fat stock industry in this country, it will follow as night the day, that there will be a diminution in the employment of agricultural labourers. The more land goes out of cultivation and is put down to grass, the less will be the actual employment. It always has been so, and will continue to be so. It will be argued by some who know very little about it, that all stock now are hand fed and are not put out to grass. That is sheer nonsense. Stall feeding actually demands very little labour indeed. A good deal of the diminution in agricultural employment in recent years has been due to the expansion of the dairying industry. Dairy farming needs less labour than arable farming. Anybody who knows anything at all about agriculture is aware that stock raising means far less labour even than dairy farming, so that the agricultural labourers will not have increased employment, but increased unemployment.

There is another aspect of this system of taxation which has been emphasised on Liberal platforms, and it is so profoundly true that we should continue to emphasise it. It is not only an immoral and inequitable taxation, putting upon particular sections of the community what should be a national burden, but also an uneconomic raising of taxation. It will be a most costly method of collecting it. Every butcher throughout the length and breadth of the country who handles this commodity will be a tax collector. You will not pay him yourselves. He will not be officially appointed. You are to leave the customers the honour of paying him the additional duty. In a commodity like imported beef there is rather an excessive shrinkage or wastage. I am not speaking here without my book, because I have had experience, as many Members on these benches and on the benches opposite know. No shopkeeper when dealing with commodities ever says "I am paying 4d. for the commodity and I am paying 1d. or 1½d in tax. I will only put the profit on the 4d. I am paying for the commodity." He has to put the margin on the whole of his capital costs and it is necessary to add that 25 per cent., 33 per cent. or whatever the cost may be, to cover wastage and all his other expenses.

By this system of taxation in the long run you are adding something in the region of a further £1,000,000 to the burden on a specific section of the consumers of this country. If these arguments can be refuted I should be only too glad, because I am interested in the consumers of this country. If we can get any guidance from the Government Benches as to how the consumers can be saved from unnecessary burdens we shall be the first to listen with all our attention and to profit accordingly. But until we have an indication that these are not the facts we shall oppose this Bill.

9.26 p.m.

Major Braithwaite

We have just listened to a violent partisan speech. If the hon. Member had been discussing the coal mining industry and he had found that coal was coming into this country to the detriment of his own constituents he would be the first to get up and say, "This is a thing we should not allow." For my part, I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I regard this Bill as going only half way. I want to see a protective duty put on meat coming into this country, so as to give the farmers a chance. It is no good beating about the bush. The Government have promised the farmers substantial provision for making their industry pay. I thought that they would have been honest and shown what that policy was. But these are mere aggravating duties which neither accomplish their end nor satisfy the people whom they are designed to protect. If we had been given a duty which would have filled the gap between the cost of production of meat and the price at which Argentine meat is being sold, that would have been a substantial help, but this duty is neither sufficient to fill the gap nor to offer a semblance of protection.

This principle of importing beef from the Argentine is a relic from the War. The English farmer during the War gave the best of his stock and had to slaughter more of the herds of the country than he would have done in ordinary circumstances. In view of that, British agriculture emerged from the War with sadly depleted herds, and the Argentine saw that it was quite a practicable proposition to put more and more meat into this country. With the advent of modern science and refrigerator ships, they have been able, with the climatic conditions of their country—and it is possible there to raise a steer and bring it to the point of killing in 16 months, instead of a certain two years here—to produce beef at a price much lower than is possible here. There is no argument that it is good meat which comes from the Argentine, and it can be produced at a cheaper price. But we have to face the effect this will have on the general balance of agriculture. We have seen the dislocation of agriculture because of the conditions in the livestock industry. We have seen people entering the milk trade, the overflooding of markets and the downward trend of prices.

Let us be perfectly frank and honest. Do the Government want the livestock industry to continue? Because it cannot continue if it is not a profitable industry. The farmers have lost the bulk of their capital in unremunerative prices, and unless we can have a position where farmers can make the industry pay we are going to lose, as the Minister of Agriculture said, three-fifths of the total income of the farming community. This miserable duty of ¾d. a lb. on Argentine beef is neither one thing nor the other. It is entirely unsatisfactory. It gives no protection. I am hoping that the Government will see their way in Committee to increase this ¾d. a lb. and make it at least id. That, I believe, would fill the gap between the cost of production and the market prices which the farmer has to face at present. It would be rendering the agricultural community, if they could do that, a real service. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) suggested that old age pensioners were going to pay the increased prices. They are not the people who eat Argentine beef.

Mr. Woods

They are not eating any meat at all.

Major Braithwaite

Yes, they are eating Empire meat, which is cheaper than Argentine meat, and in many cases they are eating English meat. But if old age pensions are inadequate to buy meat, it is the duty of this House to put them right, and not to throw the burden on the farming community.

Mr. Woods

I dealt with the subsidy when the hon. and gallant Member was not present. I agree with him that agriculture must be helped. It was only a question of taxation that I raised.

Major Braithwaite

The suggestion was made that the people who are to pay this ¾d. a lb. were the unemployed, old age pensioners and agricultural labourers. I have one of the largest agricultural constituencies in this country—the third largest, I believe—and I have as fine a body of agricultural labourers in my constituency as can be found anywhere. I discussed this matter with them—I do not discuss these things only with the farmers and landlords—and they asked me, "Why do you not protect our industry against foreign imports and give us a chance to get a better wage? What opportunity will there be if you allow this market to be open to the unrestricted competition of low wages in other countries?" I am satisfied that no agricultural labourer in my constituency or his wife would object to paying a little more if it gave a better chance to British agriculture. If the unemployed cannot afford meat, it is the duty of this House to put that situation right by giving them more so that they can, and not bring it down to the point of depressing a vital basic industry, for this industry still remains the largest and greatest labour-employing industry in this island. There is no excuse for any section of the community being used as a weapon to depress an industry. You cannot keep an industry going without profits. If there is an uneconomic level of prices, measures should be designed to correct that.

I shall vote for the Bill. In spite of the sparseness and frugality of the gifts which it offers to agriculture, it opens up a new principle for this Government. We have to make up our minds, if British agriculture is to be saved, that agriculture is entitled to exactly the same protection that we are prepared to give to other industries. I hope that this small amount of duty will so encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that they will take their courage in their hands and impose proper duties later. There is no dearth of knowledge in our agricultural community. If they are given the opportunity they can farm as well as, and probably better than, anyone in the world. There is no danger of the agricultural community exploiting the people of this country by high prices if they are given the opportunity of producing in quantity. I thank the Government sincerely, even after the criticism that I have made, in having made a satisfactory start on the subject of food duties, and I hope that the present duty will prove so satisfactory, and have so little of the ill effects feared by hon. Members opposite, that they will be encouraged at a later time to come along and say, "We will give our own people, in our own country, the first chance of our own markets." I am certain that the results will make for employment, happiness and contentment in the homes of our people.

9.37 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

The House will have noticed the solicitude with which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade endeavoured to prove that only a small amount of the meat to be taxed by this Bill is consumed by the poorer sections of the community. Why was he so solicitous? Because he was bound to admit that the tax would be borne by the consumer. Otherwise, why trouble as to what class of food the poorer sections of the community consume. We on this side of the House do not agree with the statement he made that Empire meat is consumed by the poorer people. Empire meat in the opinion of the working classes is inferior in quality—that has been admitted in this House—and Argentine chilled or frozen meat is superior. It is for that reason that the poorer people will make the sacrifice of spending a little extra upon Argentine meat as against Colonial meat. It is that class who will be hit by the new duties.

We have gone back in the outlook of the present Government to the days of the hungry 'forties. From now onwards we are to have a succession of definite, deliberate taxes upon the food of the people. The Government have succeeded in that direction fairly well so far, and the cost of our foodstuffs has risen steadily. In 1932 the price was 25 per cent. above the pre-war level; in 1935 it had risen to 31 per cent. and in November, 1936, 36 per cent. was the figure at which foodstuffs stood above the prewar price. That increase is very serious for the poorer section of the community. It means that since 1934, in a world which is offering foodstuffs of every description at lower levels than ever before, the poorer sections of the community are being deprived of the advantage of world production, and that on every pound's worth of food that the working classes consume the value is 1s. less through additional taxation.

The hon. Member who spoke last said that these were trivial duties. It may be a trivial matter for the farmer, the putting on of a duty of ¾d. a lb., but a section of that meat is taxed as high as 20 per cent. ad valorem duty on the price, and that is borne by those who consume the meat. Why do the Government deliberately state that sweetbreads required for insulin will bear no taxation? If the foreigner pays the tax, why relieve him of that tax? It is perfectly clear that the consumer in this country pays the tax. Since this Government and the previous Government came into office and we have changed from the Free Trade system to a system of tariffs, the prices of commodities of all sorts have been raised systematically and automatically, and to a greater extent than the actual amount of the tax. I anticipate that in the counties of Durham and Northumberland the additional charge for Argentine meat when the duty operates will not be ¾d. but more like 1¾d. There will be an additional profit taken upon the duty itself.

If it were possible, we are anxious to defeat this proposal. The unemployed and those in employment have no means of defence against the increased cost of living. Their wages are fixed. We have in County Durham many thousands of people who are in receipt of less than £2 per week. In Durham the subsistence men working in the mines receive £2 0s. 8½d., which includes an allowance of 5s. 6d. for house and coal, but there are very large numbers who do not receive the house and coal allowance, and they have to live in council houses and pay rents of from 10s. to 12s. a week. It will be seen that these people are below the poverty line and are not able to pay any additional cost for foodstuffs. It is an interesting fact that, so poverty stricken are large numbers of the people I represent, that the local authorities are supplying free milk not merely to nursing and expectant mothers and children but to every member of certain families. The local authorities know that the free milk supply is helping to relieve the low standard of life to which many of these people are driven at the present time.

We rightly contend, and it is certainly indisputable, that if you take steps to make more difficult the export of foodstuffs—as the Government are doing under powers given in previous Acts and as they will under this Bill—from the Argentine and other food-producing countries, those countries in the very nature of things will take less of our goods.

The Prime Minister, and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the latter of whom, I think, was really the author of the system of taxation under which the country suffers to-day, and but for which we should have been altogether more prosperous than at the present time, are both very loud in their declarations that nothing is more desirable than the reduction of tariffs, quotas, and restrictions such as those which we are about to impose by this Bill. Members opposite must not be surprised if those who are hit by this taxation are resentful of our attitude, and I make bold to say that probably the prime cause of the unrest in Europe today is the taxation which the Government have imposed upon imports into this country. There is deep resentment on the Continent, which is not permitted to enter the newspapers of this country. Well may the Prime Minister, particularly in his declarations which are intended for consumption abroad, declare that one of the desirable things is the reduction of such international obstacles to the flow of trade.

When the new currency control agreement between France, the United States, and Great Britain was made, the Treasury issued a statement That the participating Governments attach the greatest importance to action being taken without delay to relax progressively the present system of quotas and exchange controls with a view to their abolition. What steps have the Government taken to honour that statement, which everyone who trades with Great Britain must have believed was seriously meant and would be honoured when the opportunity occurred? It has not been, and I suppose that as long as the present Government exist it will not be, honoured. I venture upon the prediction that the Government are now proceeding and will continue with these measures for the progressive taxation of the food of the people. They have the power to do it, they are doing it to-day, and this will be followed in due course by other steps. As a result we shall be certain that in the course of time, when the opportunity occurs, the electorate of this country will use that taxation as the prime weapon for expelling them from office; and it may be long before they return again.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. J. Rathbone

I am grateful for this opportunity of making what I hope will be the shortest speech made to-day. I would like to put a very different point of view from that which has come from the benches opposite. All the speakers from those benches have looked upon this ¾d. in the pound purely from the point of view of taxation and have avoided any idea that it could possibly afford any protection to agriculture. Various other industries—the steel industry, in particular—have reaped enormous benefits from protection, and the result has been that hundreds of thousands of people have got back their jobs. Is it too much to ask that agriculture should have a little share in the protection that is being dealt round? From the point of view of taxation, a lot has been said about making food dearer. Cheapness is not everything to go for in this world. After all, it is better surely, instead of paying, say, 6d. for a product with only 8d. in your pocket, which leaves you 2d. only, to have to pay 8d. for the same product with is, in your pocket, leaving 4d. over, and that is precisely what the Government have tried to do. It is precisely that idea of getting more money into the pockets of the people, of getting them back their work, and surely nobody will deny that wages are rising all along the line. Even to the agricultural labourer wages have risen.

Furthermore it has been suggested on the other side that it was the consumer who would have to pay, and continually on this side that it was not the consumer who would have to pay. Attention was called to what the National Farmers' Union said, to the effect that the farmer had to pay the tax on fertilisers, spades, and so on, but surely it is largely a question of how much competition there is abroad to gain our markets. Where there is great competition for our markets, where our markets are really wanted abroad, then you have a greater readiness abroad to make the sacrifice and to pay the duty. Where, on the other hand, the same article can be got here just as easily and at the same time there is not a terrific rush in the British market, naturally the foreign producer can afford to charge the extra which is involved in the duty.

The suggestion was made by one hon. Member opposite that increased beef production would cause a greater acreage of grass and that that would cause further unemployment in the agricultural industry. I was surprised to hear that suggestion. I do not set myself up as the expert that he evidently is, but I was under the impression that one of the chief troubles of agriculture to-day was that everybody was going into the dairying industry, and that if some of those now in that industry went into the beef industry, there would be less grass and not more, and there would be more employment and more hands would be taken on. That was my impression, but perhaps I was wrong.

There is one other point that I want to deal with, and that is the point made by one hon. Member to the effect that there were thousands of people who could not pay the penny per day for cheap milk in schools, and yet from the same side of the House a mere few hours later there comes the statement that poor people are prepared to make the sacrifice to get the better quality Argentine beef instead of the cheaper quality Empire beef. Those two remarks are hard to reconcile. No, Sir, I look upon this partly, but not altogether, as a revenue-producing Measure. I look upon it as something which is producing just a little bit of protection for agriculture. I do not say that it is enough, and I think the general trend of speeches made on this side shows that it is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction, and for that reason it will receive my support.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Paling

The levy proposed in this Bill is for the purpose of making a contribution towards the £5,000,000 to be paid as a subsidy to the producers of beef in this country. I have said before in this House, and I suppose I shall say it again if I stop here long enough, that I am surprised yet at the shameless begging, bullying, threatening, and cajoling for pocket money that go on particularly by representatives of agricultural interests. We have had two days on this business and everybody representing an agricultural constituency who has spoken has begged for more money. In so far as they have had anything to say, it has been to the effect that the money is not enough, they hope that the Government will give them more and in the meantime they will use every endeavour to compel the Government to give them more. I was reading to-day what Lord Allendale said addressing the Farmers' Union at a dinner in Birmingham yesterday. He said: I was brought up by my father on the old dictum 'Hands off agriculture, we do not want any interference from Whitehall.' It is a good one, and I only wish it could be carried out in these days. In 1922 when we were passing legislation dealing with industry, agriculture included, one of the main arguments which hon. Members opposite used was, "Let us alone. We do not want Whitehall to interfere with us." There has been a change in their tone since then. Nearly every industry has come down to this House begging, and bullying and threatening for more public money to help it. There was, I am told, an old tradition in this House that when any legislation was being passed which would financially benefit any particular Member it was the custom for him neither to speak nor vote. If there was such a tradition it has gone. There is no hesitation now in speaking and voting. As a matter of fact, hon. Members have gone to the other extreme and threatened the Government that if they do not get more than they have been promised they will vote against them and turn them out. The fact that this Government has had such a large recourse to the subsidy policy has probably helped and made people ask for more public money in this shameless manner. I think we are building up by these subsidies a vested interest which will take a tremendous amount of breaking down at some future time. We seem to be teaching the agricultural industry, and other industries as well, to rest upon subsidies rather than upon their own energies and initiative.

The hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) who comes of a good old family, was pleased that there were £5,000,000 going to the farmers and landlords. He was thankful for the amount his constituents are going to receive. The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) is always frank about this business. He was proud that the industry was going to get £5,000,000. But he wants more. He started by inquiring whether he was likely to get more if he spoke on a sugary note rather than on a vinegary note, and then decided that he would speak in sugary accents. That is how hon. Members opposite talk when they want to get public money. The hon. Member for Leominster drew a sad picture of the poverty in the agricultural industry and represented the poor farmer as being so hard hit that he had to come to the Government and beg for bread and milk. Then he said that the only thing they got from the Government was just bread, but hoped that in the near future they would get much better food in the shape of increased subsidy on foodstuffs.

Sir Ernest Shepperson

What I said was that I hoped we should get some protective food.

Mr. Paling

Yes, in the shape of more subsidy. It amounts to the same thing. But when the hon. Member talks about the poverty of the industry I turn to a little paper, issued by the agricultural workers, which each month publishes a list of the wills of farmers and landlords who have died; the people who come to this House in the words of the hon. Member and ask for bread and milk. The first name in the list this month is a well-known landowner who died leaving £476,000. Not much reason there to ask for bread and milk. There are 21 of them in this list, and the average that has been left is about £50,000 each. This hardly squares with the poverty about which we have heard so much.

Mr. Rathbone

Is it suggested that that sum was in each case made out of the land?

Mr. Paling

I am merely saying that there is this list of landowners and farmers. Such a list is given every month. Evidently some of the landlords and farmers who are asking for public money are doing very well indeed and are not nearly so badly off as some people who are on the means test, which hon. Members opposite always support. There is no means test in this subsidy. The first man who died worth nearly half a million pounds would get his share of the subsidy without any inquiry as to how much he was worth. Hon. Members opposite when dealing with the means test in the future should have more regard for those under the means test, especially when they so lavishly hand out money to their own friends. There is an old saying that a Tory Government always looks after its friends. No Government has ever looked after its friends like the last National Government and the present Government.

Sir Edward Campbell

I suggest that a Socialist Government would have no friends to look after.

Mr. Paling

Wait and see. If we look after our friends half as well as the Tory Government look after their friends the people of this country will not have any trouble. The farming community has always been Tory in its outlook and this Government has outbid any Government for a century in handing out money to its friends, the landlords and farmers. Great complaint has been made as to the plight of the farming industry, but no industry has ever been treated so generously. Look at the amount of money which has been paid to the industry in the last few years. Having regard to the great amount paid in direct subsidies one can only be impressed that poverty should exist in the industry.

It seems to indicate that all the actions of the last Government and of this Government, all the subsidies which have been paid to the industry, have been useless for making it prosperous. Last year £3,800,000 was paid in regard to fat cattle, and the sum is to be increased now by nearly £1,500,000. The following amounts were also paid: Wheat, £6,300,000; milk, manufacturing, £1,200,000; milk in schools, L500,000; sugar subsidy, £2,700,000; Revenue rebate, £2,900,000. That leaves out of account the fact that the industry pays no rates, and I am told that it is calculated that if the industry paid rates, it would account for another £15,000,000. Even then I am leaving out of account import duties, and so on, which have benefited the industry indirectly. In spite of all this assistance, we are told again and again that the industry languishes and remains in a terrible state of depression. It appears at any rate that the policy of the Government is not succeeding in bringing prosperity back to the industry.

There is another question I would like to raise. The cattle subsidy is to be increased to £5,000,000, and still we are told that it is not enough; but what is more important from our point of view is that the method of obtaining the subsidy is to be changed. Previously it has come direct from the Treasury, and I think it is fair to say that the Income Tax payers—the wealthy portion of the community—have paid a fair share of the £3,800,000 which came from the Treasury last year. In future that money is to come out of a levy of ¾d. a lb. on imported chilled beef, and to that extent the amount coming from the Treasury is to be reduced. Consequently, it is fair to argue that the Income Tax payer will be relieved of taxation to that extent. That does not surprise me, for it is in strict accordance with the Chancellor's policy. Every year his Budget has indicated that he is interested in decreasing the amount of direct taxation and placing the burden on the backs of the poor. In this question of the subsidy, the Chancellor is carrying out the same policy of putting on to the backs of the poor that which he is taking off the backs of the rich. I am informed, moreover, that the increased taxation on food alone, since the present Government have been in power, has increased by £20,000,000, and it is now to be increased by the £3,800,000 obtained by the levy. In the case of general commodities used by the working class, a sum of about £80,000,000 has been imposed. The policy of raising this money by a levy means the carrying out of that same policy of transferring the burden of taxation on to the working class of the country.

With regard to the meat itself, there has been some argument as to whether the poor people of the country really consume the imported chilled beef which is to be affected by the levy. I did not quite understand the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and the figures he gave in this matter, but I think it is fair to say that this chilled beef, whether or not it be sold to the poorest of the poor, is in the main sold to the working class. Its main feature is that it is cheaper than home-produced beef, and that is the reason working-class people buy it, not because they prefer it. Working-class people, particularly in the mining community with which I am acquainted, like the best beef possible, but I am afraid that for a good many years now they have had to buy imported chilled and frozen beef because they have not had sufficient money to buy any other. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to explain in more detail what he means when he says that the poorest or the poor do not consume this imported chilled beef on which the levy of ¾d. a lb. is to be imposed.

Another feature on which I would like to comment is that the levy will work out at about 7s. a cwt., and I am told that it represents a duty of 20 per cent. on the price of imported chilled beef. That is a fairly stiff proposition. Hon. Members opposite have tried to-night, as they did the last time this matter was discussed, to prove that the ¾d. a lb. will not go on to the price of the beef. I do not know whether it will or not, but I think it will. On the last occasion on which we debated this question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) pointed out that the organisation with which he was connected had already sent him evidence of quotations of goods they were buying in future which showed that the prices had gone up by as much as 7 to 18 per cent. weeks before the duty was imposed. With regard to the question whether the importers of Argentine beef will pay the ¾d. a lb. or not, I would like to draw attention to a statement made by the Minister of Agriculture yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman is not so sure that the importer is going to pay it, or that the Argentine Government will pay it. He said: 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 wait the event than prophesy at the present moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January. 1937; col. 193, Vol. 319.] Apparently he is not very sure that the importer is going to pay. Indeed, he is pretty sure that it is the people at this end who are going to pay—and so is everybody else who knows anything about it. We are justified in assuming that this beef is going to cost the poor people of the country ¾d. a lb. more. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade has been interested in these negotiations, and probably so has the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. My mind went back, as did the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) to the election speeches made by the President of the Board of Trade in 1931. An outstanding feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches was his declaration that he would never approve of the imposition of duties on food of this description. The President of the Board of Trade was then looked upon almost as the arch-apostle of Free Trade and if he had a second in command, it was probably the hon. Gentleman who is his second in command at the Board of Trade to-day. They both preached the doctrine of Free Trade. I wonder what do they think about their previous principles now when they are imposing this ¾d. levy, this 20 per cent. duty, upon one of the chief foodstuffs of the people.

I was rather surprised yesterday at the hostility shown to the President of the Board of Trade in some of the speeches made from the benches opposite. In spite of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and his lieutenant had swallowed all their principles and virtually eaten dirt, in spite of the fact that they had agreed to this duty for raising a £3,500,000 subsidy for the agriculturists, the agriculturists were not satisfied. No, they are after the blood of the President of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member for Kincardine and Western (Sir M. Barclay-Harvey) said: I do not think the Board of Trade is the Department which ought to have the initiative"— that is, with regard to restriction of imports— 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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1937; col. 231, Vol. 319.] That does not appear to be very charitable on the part of hon. Members opposite. The hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner), who was anxious to interrupt a few moments ago, also spoke about this matter, and I was amazed at such remarks coming from him of all people, because he is a shipowner as well as an agriculturist, and the President of the Board of Trade has given £2,000,000 to shipping, out of which the hon. and gallant Member has done very well. An hon. Member on this side pointed out not many weeks ago the profits which had been made out of the £2,000,000 shipping subsidy, and the firm represented by the hon. and gallant Member was given as one which had made more out of it than any other. Yet this is the gratitude which he has to the President of the Board of Trade. He said: 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.…the President of the Board of Trade is not credited by the agricultural community with too ardent a desire to help their important industry. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1937; col. 279, Vol. 319.] That appears to me to smack of base ingratitude. That is not the end of it. I am told that at the Farmers' Union annual meeting yesterday they were after the blood of the President of the Board of Trade with regard to his seat. They are sick of him and want to put up somebody to oppose him. That seems to me to be very unworthy, and I hope that next time the President of the Board of Trade is putting on these duties after he has swallowed all his principles and professions, he will think about the gratitude expressed by his present friends who sit behind him and will perhaps argue with himself whether it is, after all, worth while. What effect will this ¾d. per lb. have upon the working-class people who have to pay it? I am assuming that they will have to pay it. I do not think that the rich people eat this meat. We do not eat it in the House of Commons. When there are complaints about things costing too much we are told that we buy the best British beef, and so on. It is generally admitted that British beef is better than imported chilled beef, which I am sure the rich people do not eat. Whether it is eaten by the poorest of the poor as represented by old age pensioners, agricultural labourers, and people on the means test, I do not know, but it is eaten in the main by people who work for wages and whose wages in the main are pitifully inadequate.

We are now complaining about the physique of the younger generation, and the Government are going to take drastic action in order to improve it. We were told during the last War that we were a C.3 population, and the Government promised that it would never happen again. It has happened, however, and now that we are threatened with another war we are getting alarmed about the physique of the younger generation. Is the imposition of this ¾d. per lb. on meat likely to help the Government in this matter? Will this imposition help in improving the physique of the people? If the Government want to make a success of their efforts to improve physique I should have thought they would have regarded this point and been reluctant to impose this tax. Have the Government had regard to the statements made by that well known scientist, Sir John Orr? The hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) denied that the poorest of the poor would pay it. But if we leave them out there are still, according to Sir John Orr, approximately 20,000,000 people who are living on incomes insufficient to maintain a decent standard of life, and insufficient to buy the home-produced beef which hon. Members opposite are so anxious to sell—and at a profit, as someone remarks. As Sir John On says, half the population cannot afford the sum of 9s. a week for food which is necessary according to his calculations, and there are nearly 5,000,000 people who cannot spend more than 4s. a week on food, while inquiry shows that there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed whose expenditure on food is from 2s. to 3s. 6d. a week. The diet of those people is deficient in every way. They cannot keep fit and are losing their hold on health.

As the hon. Member for East Ham South said, Sir John Orr has also pointed out that the consumption of meat, probably the best home-produced meat, among the people whose income is sufficient to maintain a high standard of life is about 50 oz. per week, while among masses of other people it is 20 oz. and less. The same comparison applies almost to every other commodity which people have to eat in order to maintain health. The wealthy people who are going to benefit by this change at the expense of the poor not only have the advantage in meat but in everything else. They consume four eggs a week to the poor man's one and a half, and fruit to the value of is. 8d. compared with the poor man's 2½d. worth. But this advantage is still not enough according to hon. Members opposite, and it is to be increased further by the imposition of ¾d. per lb. on imported chilled beef.

There is another question in which hon. Members opposite are interested. I wonder whether the President of the Board of Trade and his lieutenant, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and all the other people who were engaged in these negotiations had regard to it. Hon. Members opposite are interested in recruiting. They make a great shout about it in the country and in this House. Figures were given yesterday showing that we are 19,000 people short, I think, but I am told that half the people who offer themselves for enlistment have to be rejected for physical reasons, and experiments made in the last few months have shown that part of the defects for which they have to be rejected arise from lack of food. It is not a question of an ill-balanced diet, not the case that they eat too much of one thing; their physical condition arises from their being short of food. So the experiment was made of feeding them, of giving them plenty, and the latest report shows that that experiment has been attended with excellent results. As hon. Members opposite are interested in this question of physical fitness, I would ask whether regard was paid to that aspect of the matter when the question of putting ¾d. per lb. on beef was under consideration.

Finally, I should like to ask in connection with this subsidy, and the other millions which have been paid in subsidies, What about the agricultural labourer's share of it? Where does he come in? Yesterday the hon. Member for Leominster told us in glowing terms how anxious the farmer was to pay higher wages to his labourers. I say that he is not.

Sir E. Shepperson

I said yesterday that at the meeting of the Huntingdonshire Agricultural Wages Board the representative of labour proposed that wages should be raised 1s. a week, and said, "I will ask the representative of the farmers to second that." And the representative of the farmers got up and seconded it.

Mr. Paling

I am not disagreeing with the hon. Member. I do not wish to misrepresent him. That is what he said, and the general impression given by his speech was that if farmers could do so they would pay better wages. I say they would not. My experience as a trade unionist organiser is that the agricultural labourers, like the miners and all the rest, get only as much as they can force out of the farmers or the coalowners. If it were not for the Agricultural Wages Act being in force the wages of agricultural labourers would be much lower than they are.

Sir E. Shepperson

I am sorry to interrupt again, but in the county in which I live we pay weekly 3s. more than the Wages Board rate, and we pay that voluntarily.

Mr. Paling

I am not disputing it. I do not dispute the other fact which the hon. Gentleman mentioned; I merely point out that he mentions it because it is the outstanding fact. It is the exception, and not the rule. The hon. Gentleman is like many other hon. Gentlemen; when he wants to prove his case he tries to do so by citing the exception and not the rule. What applies to mining applies also to agriculture. One knows the wages that the agricultural labourers are getting, and that they have not received any share of subsidy. We are always told in sonorous terms by hon. Members opposite: "You put the money in at the top and it percolates down to the bottom."

Mr. Turton

Agricultural wages are higher now than they were when the hon. Gentleman's party was in power.

Mr. Paling

The best thing ever done for the agricultural labourers was to put into operation the Agricultural Wages Act, but in spite of that their wages now are so low that hon. Members opposite ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Sir E. Shepperson

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I recollect the Bill which he and his party put before the House to pay a minimum wage of 30s. to the agricultural labourers. Wages generally throughout the country are now 2S. more than that figure.

Mr. Paling

And I recollect also that 30s. per week was too high for hon. Members opposite and they tried to stop not only the 30s. but the Measure itself. I would like to ask also, What about the housing of the agricultural labourer? Subsidies have been given to farmers and landlords, but the only subsidy, I think I am right in saying, which has been given to the agricultural labourer, even indirectly, was the subsidy given to rural housing by the late Labour Government. One of the first things which the National Government did after they came into power was to take off that subsidy, and in spite of the pitiful state in which thousands of agricultural labourers are living, from a housing point of view, nothing has been clone except on general lines. Hon. Members come here and are vociferous in their demands for more and more money and in their threats to the Treasury of what they will do if they do not get it. They might have some regard to these things. If subsidies have to be given to industry, at least let hon. Members see that their professed love for the agricultural labourer is carried out in their action, as it has not been up to the present time. I hope that we defeat the intention of the Government to-night.

10.34 p.m.

Dr. Burgin

No hon. Member in any part of the House can possibly complain as to the width of the discussion. We are discussing a Bill—perhaps I might read the title of it, as we seem to have lost sight of it a little during the last few speeches. It is entitled: "The Beef and Veal Customs Duties Bill." It is a Bill of two Clauses, most of which is machinery, and which provides for raising Customs duties on a range of beef and veal meat products, the duty being in part an ad valorem duty to avoid the setting out of that range of varying products in detail. All the machinery of the Bill is common form Customs Bill machinery, so that what we are really discussing is Sub-section (1) of Clause 1, which deals with the meat products and the rates of duty. It is quite clear in this House that there is objection by some hon. Members to any tax on anything, however it works. There are those who object to subsidies and levies; there are those who object specifically to taxes on food; and there are hon. Members representing different industries who suggest that taxation on any particular commodity does not go far enough to protect that particular industry. We have had all those views put forward to-night. We have had a good deal of theory, and perhaps I may be excused in the concluding stages if I look a little more closely at the facts, become a little more realist, and discuss what is really the intention of the Government.

Hon. Members talk as if this Bill had no connection with the Bill which immediately preceded it, and as if this tax or this measure of protection were something entirely divorced from any longer plan. The facts are that since the year 1934, when the Cattle Subsidy was first granted, the proposal of the Government was that a levy should be introduced. It was announced clearly in Command Papers 4651 and 4828, and the whole basis on which the House was induced to grant to the cattle industry a subsidy was an assurance that a levy would be imposed in order that part of that contribution by the taxpayer should be collected from some other source. So far from this Bill being some new method of indirect taxation to raise some express duty of a novel kind, it is implementing an assurance and undertaking given to the House, at the time when it voted money for the cattle industry, that some part of this levy should in due course be refunded by those concerned.

What is the position? Agriculture, a great industry, a world industry, as an hon. Member very properly said, demands a very definite Government contribution, and that has been laid down from this Box by Ministers of Agriculture from time to time that the order of preference must be, first, the home producer, secondly, the Dominion producer, and, thirdly, the foreign producer. It is not easy to reconcile the interests of these three contributors to a great industry like the agricultural industry, providing the staple foods of the people of this country. Has the House a realisation of the magnitude of the trade in chilled beef alone? Millions of hundredweights of this chilled beef pass through the ports of this country. One of the most essential interests of the consumer is that that great trade should be an organised trade, that it should be a trade in which those who contribute their services should be capable of earning a reasonable reward. It would be a great disservice to the consumer if shipments from the Empire and from the Argentine were capricious. If they did not come, if they ceased altogether, if there were one moment of scarcity and another moment of over-supply, that would not be a service to the consumer at all.

The whole essence of the consumer's interest is that there should be regularity of supply, and that the interests of the home producer of fat cattle, of the Dominion producer in the same line of business, and of the great world outside, should be properly apportioned and treated as part and parcel of a great problem. That is the picture that the House must have before it when considering the magnitude of certain duties and the method of their imposition. Here we have this position. The Argentine Republic does a great trade with this country in many commodities. Negotiations with the Argentine were long and difficult. Let the House be under no misapprehension. Had there not been a successful conclusion to these negotiations, the duties asked for in this Bill would have been immeasurably higher. It is the conclusion of the Agreement with the Argentine that has permitted this scale of duty.

Having endeavoured to strike a proper balance between the needs of the industry here, it is desired to recognise the needs of the industry of the Dominions, who are entitled under Ottawa to an expanding share of our markets, and the concern of this country as the seller of manufactured goods to the entire world without restriction—having endeavoured to reconcile those various interests, a scale of duties, modest in themselves, producing about £3,000,000 in all, is submitted to the House as part of the Government's general contribution to the livestock problem. It is asked, How are these duties going to be operated and what will the effect of them be on prices? Who will pay these extra duties? The duties have been in force since 16th December. I do not know how hon. Members have made their inquiries, but I have the figures for Smithfield of these kinds of meat for every day up to the date when the duties were imposed and for every day since the duties till to-day, because I knew that some Members would be kind enough to the occupant of the Front Bench to suggest that he did not know the figures. They provide the answer to the questions that have been put by various Members in various parts of the House.

Who is it that contributes to the arrival of foreign chilled and frozen beef? Let us keep to chilled beef. Who contributes in the Argentine to the chilled beef arriving in a London warehouse? There is the actual farmer and the farm labourer, there is the one who does the processing, the factory end of it if you like so to describe it, and there is then, apart from the steamship company bringing the meat to this country, the whole range of distributors, the importer, the agent, the wholesaler and the retailer. There are all those different channels through which this meat is going to pass before you get near the possibility of the consumer buying it. What is the use of saying that the whole of the duty of ¾d. is going to be paid by the consumer? Long before it gets anywhere near the consumer, contributions to the duty will have been paid. [Interruption.] That is the result of experience. That is the view of those who are in the trade. That is the view of those who are in a position to say what is the result of this realist experiment in taxation, and those realists are worth dozens of theorists.

Hon. Members will be interested to find that on several days since the duty was imposed the price in the year 1937 has been less than in the year 1936. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was right when he said it was too early to dogmatise as to what will be the effect. I do not ask the House to take from the figures that I give them the conclusion that those figures will necessarily always remain, but it is a factor that I am entitled to put. As against the theory of what will happen, I can give the facts of what has happened from the 16th December down to date. Those figures, which are available to hon. and right hon. Members, do not carry out the assertions made that this levy will be passed on entirely to the consumer.

Sir Percy Harris


Dr. Burgin

I am eminently fair. That there is a possibility that some part ought to be contributed by the consumer, I do not for a moment deny. We are endeavouring here to make a contribution of a general average character to the salvage of the livestock industry, and it would be right that the consumer should make a contribution to that result. I have never for a moment wanted to contest that eventuality. A good deal of the time of the discussion on this Bill has been taken up by arguments as to what classes of the community consume this or that particular type of meat. That is perhaps rather a barren discussion, and I am not sure that we get very far by exploring those avenues.

Mr. Barnes

Are we to have those figures?

Dr. Burgin

I have no objection to circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT the figures for each day since the i6th December, the price of Argentine chilled beef on Smithfield Market per stone of 8 lbs. I do not see how the House can deal with them otherwise.

Mr. Jagger

Is it possible to give the average for the whole period and the average for the corresponding period?

Dr. Burgin

I will tell the hon. Member exactly what I have in my hand. It is a statement of the daily prices of Argentine chilled beef on Smithfield Market per stone of 8 lbs. for each day, and I have taken a line drawn by myself—the figures go a long way further back—from the i6th December, 1935, down to the 21st January, 1937. My figures are in two comparative columns-1935 and 1936, and, when we pass to the end of the year, 1936 and 1937. These are the figures and I should have thought that the convenient method would have been, that I should cause them to be inserted in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I will adopt whatever the House thinks is the reasonable method.

Mr. Woods

If the hon. Gentleman will give the figures for the month previous, it will help us.

Dr. Burgin

I have no objection. I will go back to the 4th November, 1935, if the hon. Member so desires. That is to say, putting the 1935 and 1936 figures side by side in a column. That is, as hon. Members wish. I do not want in the least to make any false points. I am merely taking such examples as this —that on the 8th January, 1936, for instance, a stone of 8 lbs. of Argentine chilled beef on Smithfield Market made a price of 3s. 2d., and in 1937 the price was 3s. 1d. This is after the duty has been enforced and something like three weeks have run. Take to-day's price. It is 3s. 5d., and on the corresponding date of last year it was 3s. 5d. I am not going to draw any conclusions from a set of figures running for four or five weeks. There may have been an element of forestalling, and, on the facts coming forward, an advance of ranch prices in the Argentine. These are all matters to be investigated, but for the moment, with the duty having been enforced since the 16th December, there is not the evidence of a rise in prices that hon. Members seem to assume must necessarily go hand-in-hand with the imposition of a tariff.

Mr. Alexander

Does that apply to canned beef?

Dr. Burgin

Canned beef is in a different category. The figures I am giving are expressly for Argentine chilled beef. I will have no hesitation in dealing with canned beef at any time the right hon. Gentleman wishes, but in that case there is a different proposition; because the duty has been increased by only 10 per cent. other considerations apply, and there has been a substantial increase in the price of canners. The proposition I am endeavouring to make is that this Bill is the implementing of a promise. It is putting into legislative force the system of a levy which was part and parcel of the negotiations with the meat-producing countries, and was part of the basis of the Argentine Agreement. This is the method of giving it Parliamentary sanction. The consumption of this type of beef shows that in the various areas of this country working-class people, if they can, procure home-killed beef.

It is not the case, either on aggregate or proportion, that the greater quantity of this foreign chilled beef is consumed by the working-class population. It is most interesting to find out what boroughs in the Metropolitan area consume this chilled beef. If hon. Members made the inquiry they would be surprised to find how high up Kensington comes. The main argument I am trying to give to the House is the idea that these duties, not high in themselves, form part of a main plan, and part of a general contribution; that it is right that all classes should contribute to that contribution; that the total amount these taxes will produce is something like £3,000,000 out of the £5,000,000

that is the subsidy to the livestock industry. With that explanation I hope the House will agree to the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 174; Noes, 110.

Division No. 50.] AYES. [10.55 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Palmer, G. E. H.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Ellis, Sir G. Peaks, 0.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd) Elmley, Viscount Peat, C. U.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Emrys-Evans, P. V. Petherick, M.
Apsley, Lord Everard, W. L. Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Assheton, R. Fildes, Sir H. Radford, E. A.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Fyfe, D. P. M. Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Gluckstein, L. H. Ramsbotham, H.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Ramsden, Sir E.
Balniel, Lord Gratton, Col Rt. Hon. J. Rankin, R.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Gridley, Sir A. B. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury) Grimston, R. V. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Boulton, W. W. Guy, J. C. M. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Hamilton, Sir G. C. Remer, J. R.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W. Hanbury, Sir C. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Boyce, H. Leslie Hannah, I. C. Ropner. Colonel L.
Bracken, B. Harbord, A. Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle) Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Brass, Sir W. Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Salmon, Sir I.
Brown, Brig-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Hepworth, J. Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)
Bull, B. B. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Burghley, Lord Holmes, J. S. Scott, Lord William
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Hopkin, D. Shakespeare, G. H.
Butler, R. A. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Hume, Sir G. H. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Cartland, J. R. H. James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Castlereagh, Viscount Keeling, E. H. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester) Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Kerr, J- Graham (Scottish Univs.) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Channon, H. Kimball, L. Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Spens. W. P.
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead) Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Clarry, Sir Reginald Leckie, J. A. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Clydesdale, Marquess of Leech, Dr. J. W. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Liddall, W. S. Sutcliffe, H.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J. Touche, G. C.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (Wst'r S. G'gs) Loftus, P. C. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Lovat-Fraser, J. A Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Lyons, A. M. Turton, R. H.
Craven-Ellis, W. Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Wakefield, W. W.
Crooke, J. S. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Croom-Johnson, R. P. M'Connell, Sir J. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Crowder, J. F. E. McCorquodale, M. S. Warrender, Sir V.
Davies, C. (Montgomery) Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Waterhouse, Captain C.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) McKie, J. H. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Dawson, Sir P. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Wells, S. R.
Denman, Hon. R. D. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Denville, Alfred Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop) Moreing, A. C. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Wragg, H.
Dugdale, Major T. L. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.
Duggan, H. J. Muirhead, Lt.-Col A. J. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Duncan, J. A. L. Nail, Sir J.
Eastwood, J. F. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Eckersley, P. T. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert
Ward and Captain Hope.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke Ammon, C. G. Bellenger, F. J.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Broad, F. A.
Adams, D. (Consett) Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Bromfield, W.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Banfield, J. W. Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)
Adamson, W. M. Barnes, A. J. Burke, W. A.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Batey, J. Cape, T.
Charleton, H. C. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Quibell, D. J. K.
Chater, D. Kelly, W. T. Ridley, G.
Cluse, W. S. Kirby, B. V. Riley, B.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Ritson, J.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Lathan, G. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
navies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Lawson, J. J. Rowson, G.
navies, S. O. (Merthyr) Leach, W. Salter, Dr. A.
Dobbie, W. Lee, F. Seely, Sir H. M.
Dunn, E. (Bother Valley) Leonard, W. Sexton. T. M.
Ede, J. C. Leslie, J. R. Shinwell, E.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Logan, D. G. Short, A.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Lunn, W. Silkin, L.
Frankel, D. McEntee, V. La T. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Gallacher, W. McGhee, H. G. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Gardner, B. W. MacLaren, A. Smith, E. (Stoke)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Maclean, N. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) MacMillan, M. (Western Isles) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Mainwaring, W. H. Tinker, J. J.
Grenfell, D. R. Marshall, F. Viant, S. P.
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Messer, F. Walkden, A. G.
Groves, T. E. Montague, F. Watkins, F. C.
Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Morrison, R, C. (Tottenham, N.) Watson, W. McL.
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Muff, G. Westwood, J.
Hardie, G. D. Naylor, T. E. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Harris, Sir P. A. Noel-Baker, P. J. Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Paling, W. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Parker, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Hills, A. (Pontefract) Parkinson, J. A. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Holdsworth, H. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Hollins, A. Potts, J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.-
Jlagger, J. Price, M. P. Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Mathers.
Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Pritt, D. N.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.