HC Deb 09 February 1938 vol 331 cc1046-8
50 and 52. Mr. De Chair

asked the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (1) whether, alter considering the possibilities of an expansion of the home production of food under the stimulus of guaranteed prices or otherwise, he has definitely decided not to rely on British agriculture for an increased supply of food in time of war in spite of the experience of the Great War, which showed that no rapid expansion of home agriculture is possible within two years of the outbreak of hostilities?

(2) In view of the fact that the food production of this country has increased by only 14 per cent. during the last seven years and of the Minister of Agriculture's announced decision not to adopt any emergency measures to speed up this rate of expansion, whether he can assure the House that at least two year's food supply in the event of war is already assured by advance storage at the present moment, since it would not be possible to secure an appreciable increase of home production within two years of the outbreak of hostilities?

The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's suggestions as accurate. In fact a gross increase in home agricultural production of 19 per cent. has been achieved during the last six years as a result of the measures taken by the Government, and the increase appears to be continuing. A further appreciable emergency expansion of the home output could be secured within eight to eighteen months according to the product and the season when the emergency arose. Estimates have been made by the Departments of Agriculture of the extent to which the output in home produced foodstuffs could be increased after the outbreak of hostilities, and plans with that object are being made. With regard to storage I would ask my hon. Friend to await the Debate this afternoon.

Mr. De Chair

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was no appreciable expansion of food production during the last War until the year 1918?

Mr. T. Williams

Can the Minister tell us whether the increase of 19 per cent. to which he refers is an increase in bulk or an increase in value; and in what particular commodities big increases have taken place?

Sir T. Inskip

I have not the details to enable me to answer the hon. Member's question, but if he will put it down I dare say the Minister of Agriculture will be able to give him a reply.

Mr. Williams

Will he answer the question as to whether the increase of 19 per cent. is an increase in bulk or value?

Sir T. Inskip

I think it is an increase in volume.

51. Mr. De Chair

asked the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence whether in view of the fact that only one-third of the food consumed in this country is now grown in this country, he is satisfied that the steady importation of the other two-thirds can be relied upon in time of war?

Sir T. Inskip

Food supply is only part of the larger problem of trade protection on the successful solution of which the safety of this country will depend in time of war. I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are being made for this purpose, and that the security of food supplies will always receive a high order of priority.

Mr. Davidson

May we ask the right hon. Gentleman at least to give us a detailed list of the actions and plans which have been made by his Department with regard to this important question so that hon. Members may understand clearly what plans there are?

Sir T. Inskip

I should have thought this is hardly the occasion to be asked to give such an account, but, in any case, the hon. Member will recognise the impropriety of asking me to disclose full details of all our preparations.

Mr. Maxton

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain just exactly where the impropriety occurs, when in these days it seems to be the correct thing to tell enemies what you are doing in these matters?

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