HC Deb 09 February 1938 vol 331 cc1085-153

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Parker

I beg to move, That, having regard to the experience gained in the Great War and the necessity for avoiding or minimising similar risks in any future emergency, this House is of opinion that, in addition to mailing provision for an adequate supply of essential foodstuffs in this country. His Majesty's Government should forthwith undertake the building of new or the extension of existing storage plant in suitable places immune from air-attack, and make plans for an efficient scheme of national distribution.

This Motion was drawn up in a form in which it was hoped it would receive the unanimous support of those Members who are interested in the subject. I am, therefore, rather sorry to find that Amendments have been put down to it. With regard to the first Amendment which stands on the Order Paper—in line 1, to leave out from "That," to the end, and to add: plans should be made to ensure the maintenance and efficient distribution of adequate national food supplies in time of war; and urges His Majesty's Government to take all appropriate measures for this purpose."—

I cannot see that it in any way clarifies the position. It merely repeats the terms of the Motion in an extraordinarily vague way. The second Amendment on the Paper—in line 3, to leave out from "to," to "in," in line 4, and to insert: taking whatever steps are necessary to secure a sufficiently-increased production of food."—

would convert this discussion from a Debate on Defence to a Debate on agriculture, and that is not the object of the Motion. The Amendments may be a convenient handle on which Members may be able to hang their speeches, but I hope that when it comes to the question of a decision they will not be pressed, so that it will be possible to rally all sections of opinion in the House behind my Motion.

The Motion has arisen out of the public anxiety about the question of food storage and the arrangements made to supply food to the people of this country in time of war. Before the Minister for the Coordination of Defence was appointed two years ago, there was a public outcry that there ought to be co-ordination of all the Defence Forces and interests in this country, and that included the question of the provision of food in time of war. As far as I can make out from the record of the Minister, during the two years he has been in office nothing has been done, and I think it is high time that he gave a full account of his stewardship for those two years. On 21st May, 1936, three months after his appointment the Minister said in this House that a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence had been appointed to consider the all-important question of food in war time, and everyone will recognise that the moment you begin to speak of food you are involved in questions of transport, of storage, of distribution and ultimately of production of home-grown supplies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1936; col. 1396, Vol. 312.]

Yet 14 months later, on 27th July, 1937, he said that they had experts investigating the matter, but that proposals had not yet been either rejected or accepted by the Government. It took 14 months to consider the matter, and nothing was done in that period. Between last July and the autumn public opinion on the matter grew, and in December the Government were forced to deal with that public opinion to some extent, and they appointed two sub-committees. The first was the Food Defence Plans Department of the Board of Trade, set up in that month, and the second was the Ports and Transit Committee of the Ministry of Transport, created in order to formulate plans for the possible diversion of seaborne traffic in time of war. While on that last subject, I would like to press one point home, and that is that that Committee contains no members of the trade unions which would be concerned if that Committee had to function in time of war. During the last War a similar committee did contain representatives of the trade unions concerned, who gave very valuable service to their country. The Minister of Transport was asked whether he would consider appointing members of the trade unions concerned to that Committee, but as yet he has given no definite reply, and we would like to know why.

What are the relations between these two sub-Committees, and what are their relations to the Minister for the Coordination of Defence? Further, what are the relations of the Ministry of Agriculture, as far as it is concerned with the production of food, with the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence? So far as one can see there is no co-ordination taking place at all. We on this side believe that some Minister at least should be responsible for pulling the whole thing together and for seeing that there is a co-ordination of activities. We do not ask to have details as to where food is being stored, but we have a right to know what the Government's policy is on this subject. We also have a right to know what main form of food they are proposing to store. We ought to have a general report on progress and how far they are carrying out a policy, if they have a policy. I do not believe that knowledge on this subject would in any way be a national danger. I believe that if you were to tell people that you were providing for the storage of food in the country for a year or some other period, if there was danger of an attack on the country, it would help to deter aggression, because it would help to show that the country had made certain preparations for such an emergency.

In the last two years there have been 49 questions put down in this House to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, trying to find out what his policy is. The Minister has noted suggestions that Members have made. He has not given any answer as to what the policy of the Government is, but he has very successfully stone-walled during the whole of that time. I have heard the creation of these two small departments, one at the Board of Trade and the other at the Ministry of Transport, described, in relation to the Ministry for the Coordination of Defence, as a mountain having brought forth two small mice, but I think that is rather an unfair '"ay of describing the policy, as I doupt very much whether the mountain is responsible for the parentage of even these two small bodies.

What exactly is the problem which we have to consider? I do not propose to go into the difficulties which we had to face in the last War. There are other Members in the House with practical experience and with far greater knowledge of them than I, but I should like to draw attention to one or two points. First of all, everyone knows that it was the fact that we in this country were able to make better provision for feeding our people and maintaining our morale than was possible in other countries that enabled us to win the War; secondly, we ourselves were brought very near to disaster by the submarine crisis of February, 1917; thirdly, during the War we had to get the greater part of our food supplies from North America, because we had not got the shipping tonnage to go all the way to Australia and New Zealand to fetch supplies, even when we were able to buy the supplies out there; and, fourthly, in 1918 we reached a very serious animal foodstuffs crisis, because we were not able to get foodstuffs in this country to feed our own livestock.

What is the position to-day? First of all, we have a bigger population than we had in the last War and a smaller merchant fleet; ships to-day are driven by oil rather than by coal, and the oil has to be imported, very largely; the growth of London has been phenomenal since the War; we have had a continual concentration of flour milling for food storage plants at the ports of this country; and, finally, the danger of air attack has become far greater than it was in the last War and has accentuated all the other difficulties which I have mentioned. I would like to dwell on the problem of London particularly. In London we have an enormous congestion of population, we have a river running from the East, with docks and storage plants lying along it which are extraordinarily open to air attack. Should we be at war with a Power which threatened London, it would be practically impossible to get food into the port of London, and London itself is almost entirely fed by food imported through the Port of London. About 60 per cent. of the supply of flour in this country is milled in Greater London, along the waterside. We have in London enormous centralised markets, which attract food supplies to London, and in addition to the fact that London itself is fed almost entirely through the river, a large part of England itself is also fed through the Port of London. Not only is London itself in very great danger, but I would point out that although this problem particularly affects London, it is also a national problem.

What ought to be done to meet this difficulty? I believe we have got to store food to some extent in order to meet the difficulty, and that for two purposes. Partly, there should be, I think, an emergency supply, which would last at least six weeks, to safeguard us against any sudden attack or interference with our normal supplies. Secondly, we should make arrangements for the provision of food for a long struggle. The two aspects of the question are not necessarily contradictory. I shall explain later a certain number of precautions that have to be taken for a long-distance policy, though they will not be required for a short policy. A problem that requires special attention is the storage of animal feed. A great many Members of this House, particularly those who sit for agricultural constituencies, do not realise the actual position this country is in at the moment. Since the War British agriculture has become very largely a processing industry. The result is that to-day the actual tonnage of food produced in this country is only about equal to the tonnage of raw material that is imported to produce that food.

Some figures were given in a very interesting article in the "Spectator "by Mr. Colin Clark. The total tonnage of British agricultural output in 1934 was 9,863,000 tons, and the imported raw materials used to feed the cattle and so on, in order to produce that food, were 9,875,000 tons. In other words, if war started to-morrow it would pay us to close down agriculture altogether, taking the question broadly, and to import finished food rather than import raw materials to produce that food. Of course the finished product is worth much more than the raw material. Even in the last War we were placed in considerable difficulties with regard to the importing of cattle cake and other things of that kind. The position to-day is very different from that of 1914, because, as I have said, British agriculture has now become almost entirely a processing industry.

What should we do about that? I think we should try to store up six months' feed for cattle in this country so that we would be able to carry on in the early days of an emergency before making arrangements for a change-over in agricultural production. We should store up fertilisers for at least a year. We should encourage the production of potatoes, vegetables, and milk and things of that kind which do not depend upon the imported raw material. Also we should encourage the production and use of British feeding stuffs, roots and so on. On this point we on this side of the House cannot support any food policy which is going to reduce the standard of life of the great masses of the people. There is very great danger that we may be stampeded into supporting some policy which would increase the cost of living of the ordinary citizen. We have to remember that Sir John Orr pointed out that there are approximately 13,000,000 people in this country who do not get sufficient to supply them with a reasonable standard of nutrition. We cannot possibly accept any policy which is going to reduce the standard of living.

What are the present stocks of food in this country and what is the possibility of increasing them? Of wheat there is perhaps six weeks' supply. Wheat can be stored very easily, especially as flour. Of fats, butter, lard and so on, possibly we have two or three weeks' supply. There again it is possible to build up a considerable supply. Of sugar we have very little. That is stored very easily. Of tea we have a certain amount. There is no storage of fish in ordinary times, but we could lay up a supply of dried fish. Potatoes are normally stored on the farms. In the autumn we are well supplied but in the spring there is practically none. As practically the whole crop is produced in this country we cannot do a great deal of storage in that case. Of frozen meat we have perhaps a fortnight's supply, but we could build up a very much larger supply than that. Chilled meat cannot be stored. In the case of canned goods the normal practice is for canners to carry a year's store, but they could store up quite considerable supplies. I understand that so far as canned goods are concerned the deterioration of stocks of fruit such as plums is about 1 per cent. in the first year and about 5 per cent. in the second year. That is not very large. In the case of canned vegetables the deterioration is very much less. With regard to things like peas, maize and rice, we have very small reserves. Again we could build up considerable supplies.

Storage is mostly at the ports, except in the case of home-produced foods such as potatoes. With regard to cold storage plants, at present we have 50,000,000 cubic feet available in this country, of which only 30,000,000 cubic feet are in use. I have here a statement with regard to cold storage plants in this country. It shows that a very large proportion indeed of these plants is in London; 23,140,000 cubic feet are to be found in London along the Thames. There are other large plants at Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Hull, Southampton and so on. So far as the use of this existing cold storage plant is concerned, I do not think one can recommend even the full use of the facilities available along the Thames. I believe that we must, as far as possible, remove the storage of food away from ports in the south-east or the eastern parts of the country. Stores should be established at big towns inland.

So far as London is concerned, supplies should be built up on a ring in outer London, away from the river. Supplies should be built up also at Western ports. Particularly we should make full use of existing plants at Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Cardiff, where there are already very large storage plants in existence. In addition we should need extra storage plants at ports where now there is no cold storage at all, at Penzance, Falmouth, Milford Haven, Holyhead, Workington and places of that kind. If we are to be without interference with supplies, we need storage plant in the extreme west of the country so that we can get food in easily and there store it. In the last War, during the time of the submarine crisis, convoys came into Mounts Bay and the ships there received orders where they were to go to unload. For there was no storage plant at all at Mounts Bay. On one day 14 ships reported, and of these 11 never reached their destinations because they were sunk on their way from Mounts Bay to other ports. That would have been overcome entirely even in the last War, had there been storage facilities at places like Penzance, Falmouth, Milford Haven and so on.

To guard against a similar difficulty in future we should supply these storage facilities now. That means not only the provision of storage in these ports but also the provision of satisfactory communications from those places to the centres of population in the country. That primarily means good roads, because railways can be more easily interfered with than roads by bombing planes. Good roads should be provided by the Government from these western ports to the centres of population. A Severn bridge would probably be necessary, though that could be bombed from the air; but being in the west it is not so likely to be bombed. As part of the policy of storage I think the Government should now attempt to decentralise markets in this country and see that the present markets are in convenient places near the main depots of food.

Who should own the plant that would have to be erected? Where there is existing plant and it requires extension the present firms should be asked to extend it as part of the general national plan, but where there is no plant existing and firms are not prepared to provide it, the Government themselves should build bonded warehouses, cold storage plant and so on. That would mean that in the ports in the Far West the Government would probably have to provide all the facilities required, because it would not pay any particular firm at the present time to provide them. Who should own the food put into these warehouses and storage plants? I believe that the Government would have to finance private stocks in these bonded warehouses or in the cold storage plants. They could do that quite easily by making advances on the security of the goods stored. That is done successfully in the United States now, by the Lawrence Warehousing Company, a very big concern.

There should be a continual turnover to prevent deterioration of food. That is absolutely essential. Also the Government should see that there was not any unloading of large stocks of food on the market at any particular time. They would have to allow that only with the permission of the Food Defence Plan Department. Finally, the Government would have to take full responsibility for winding up the scheme if at any time it became unnecessary. With regard to the plant in the Western ports, quite obviously that would not be used in peace time. It should be created now and kept so that it could be filled immediately an emergency arose. Plants in big industrial towns inland should be used now, and the new markets that I have mentioned should make use of these storage facilities.

What food should we store? The Government obviously have to decide on the best technical advice they can obtain. The important thing to remember is that it does not matter very much which food you store, provided you store considerable supplies of some of the foods, because, should there be an emergency, you then have your ships free to fetch more perishable foods. This question of food storage is part of the whole problem of defence. It is linked up with the import and storage of industrial raw materials, oil for ships and motor cars, and the question of the evacuation of the population in time of war from London to the West. Also, of course, it is related to the question of air-raid precautions. What we want to know is, is the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence co-ordinating food storage with all these other problems, or not?

What must be the cost of the schemes which I have been putting forward? Compared with the cost of the armaments programme in which the country is now engaged, I estimate that it would not be more than 1 or 2 per cent. of the expenditure of this year. That is a very small sum. Surely we can afford to spend it when we are spending so much on building up these supplies of arms. We on this side believe that the question of Defence should come first and that defensive weapons should come before aggressive weapons. We believe that, looking at it from a purely military point of view, and leaving humanitarian considerations out of account, the maintenance of the morale of the population is the first thing necessary in time of war, and that cannot possibly be done unless there is adequate food provided for the people. We believe the Government have neglected the whole defensive side of the programme in favour of the aggressive side. In the past the British Navy owed a great deal of its popularity to the fact that it was looked upon by the common people as a body engaged in the defence of the country to a far greater extent than the Army; it was a body that prevented invasion. We cannot look on the Navy entirely from that point of view to-day, because weapons have changed, but the people of this country still want Defence. They look upon Defence as the most important thing. We therefore ask the Government to put first things first, and to see that we have adequate food storage and take proper precautions to defend the people of this country.

4.17 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish to associate myself with the expression of anxiety to which my hon. Friend has given words. There is no doubt whatever that in this country there is a feeling of the greatest anxiety about this matter. What are the Government doing? Are they doing anything at all adequate? This anxiety was not allayed by recent experience in connection with the air-raid precautions Debates in which it was shown that this country is lamentably lagging behind other countries on the Continent of Europe. It is obvious that this country has to be prepared to act very quickly with regard to food in the event of war, because the military experts tell us that another war will be begun before it is declared. The first we shall know about it will be the air-raid warnings going off and the organisations for defence being put into operation. Let us hope that by that time it really exists. The food organisation will need to be put into operation by the pressing of a button. There must be food control, food distribution, decentralisation of markets or the substitution of existing civilian ports by ports to be used in time of war. All those plans must be working, not absolutely automatically, but very rapidly within 24 hours.

Food is probably even more vital than air-raid precautions, because while people can be killed by bombs, gas and fires, only a certain number will be killed in that way, whereas if the population is not fed all the people will be killed. I have the most vivid recollection of going to Vienna and Budapest in the months immediately succeeding the Armistice and seeing there the result, largely on the children, of our blockade. The disastrous results of the lack of food on those populations have remained engraved on my mind to the present time, and I realise that if our country does not have food we may suffer the same terrible tragedy. That must not be allowed in any circumstances to come upon us.

I should like to ask why the right hon. Gentleman has not hitherto given information on this subject, because it would appear, from indications which have appeared in the Press, that the information is ready. There appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" of 27th January an interesting and important article giving many details with regard to food storage and defence. There appeared in the "Times" of 28th and 29th January two admirably informed articles dealing with the same subject. When questioned in the House the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence disclaimed knowledge of the "Daily Telegraph" article. If in that article words mean what they generally mean, they can only mean that the person who wrote the article obtained the information from a person whom he was convinced had the exact facts of the situation. Why cannot those facts be given to the House? Why is this indirect method of giving information to the country being pursued, not only by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but by others? What is his idea of having journalistic freedom of statement and ministerial irresponsibility at the same time? Both the "Times" and the "Daily Telegraph" agree on the details of the statement. They talk about the proportions of food which were imported into this country, the calorie value of home-produced food, the division of the country into districts, the method of food control and of rationing, prices, numbers of markets and ports, in fact, the whole details of a food defence plan. Would it not be better if the Government made a statement of this kind to the House rather than through the daily papers? It would be much more to the point if we had that information before us.

We do not ask for all the details. We do not want the points on the map indicated for the convenience of anyone attacking this country, but we want to know that the Government are really tackling this question in an adequate way. My hon. Friend has dealt with the question of how long a period food would be required. I do not propose to deal with that in detail. It is often assumed that we should require food for a 12 months' period, not because an emergency would last for that period, but in order to have an adequate reserve. What is more important is how rapidly a defence plan can be put into operation. We certainly will not have a big margin. We shall want wheat, or its equivalent, fats, meat, eggs and feeding stuffs and, of course, canned goods, which are an important item. I do not propose to say anything on the question of agriculture. It is not because we on this side of the House do not want the products of agriculture in this country to increase, but because we do not think that this defence problem will be helped by the production of agriculture being stimulated at the present time. If a war suddenly breaks out, we shall not have time to grow foodstuffs, and we shall perhaps not have time to get in the harvests and use the crops which are in the fields. Professor Stapledon, who has gone into this matter exhaustively, agrees with this point of view, although he is an advocate of an increased acreage of pasturage.

In thinking of the question of storage there are one or two considerations that have not been mentioned. The storage must be safe, not only from high explosive bombardment, but from gas bombardment. The spoilage of food by mustard gas is perhaps a more important aspect of air warfare than injury to the civilian population by mustard gas. At a big depot of food mustard gas bombs could contaminate a large proportion of it, and it would be difficult for anyone to say whether any of it was safe to use. That is a special problem which has to be tackled. Then there is the question of the use of the incendiary bomb in regard to food supplies. I recently paid a visit to Paris and Berlin to get an idea of what they were doing in air-raid precautions, and I got information that both the French and the Germans were thinking that in time of war they might be attacked a long way behind their lines by incendiary bombs and gas bombs. The object of the incendiary bombs would be to burn the crops and destroy the pasturage and farmhouses, and the object of the mustard bombs would be to contaminate the crops and herds. If that kind of thing is being seriously considered by other countries, it increases the urgency for the provision of food storage and lessens the importance of agriculture during an emergency.

Then there is the question of the provision of food on the evacuation of a population. The inner city of Paris, with a population of 3,000,000, has an elaborate, accurate and well-worked-out plan, which I have seen, for the evacuation of 2,000,000 of those people. We should certainly require to evacuate from London at least 2,000,000 people, and probably more in time of war; otherwise, they would simply be targets for attack. Food for these people must be provided. There is an important food which has not yet been mentioned, known as water. If there is not an adequate water supply arrangements for the evacuation of the population will not be successful. The more one considers it the more definite it becomes that the question of air-raid precautions, of the dispersal of the population, of food storage, of food control, and all those matters which may be classified as passive defence, ought to be considered together.

I suggest that all these non-aggressive methods of passive defence might very well be grouped together under one separate Ministry dealing with the whole subject. There will be an important addition in the sense that any large numbers of the population evacuated to outside areas will require to have elaborate sanitary services provided for them. Otherwise there will be serious danger. That necessity adds to the need of co-ordinating all these services under one ministerial head. We should then have the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the passive defence services in the hands of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence as the Minister responsible for them and for organising all the defensive measures. The question of food storage is certainly one of the most vital aspects of passive defence. We do not want details, but we want the Government to give a definite and clear-cut statement of policy which will be to the whole of the people of this country—for this is no party matter—a real reassurance that something is being done, and which, because it is a reassurance to the people, will be a deterrent to any enemy who is thinking of attacking because he will know that we are prepared.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move, m line 1, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: plans should be made to ensure the maintenance and efficient distribution of adequate national food supplies in time of war; and urges His Majesty's Government to take all appropriate measures for this purpose. May I, first of all, say with what great interest, and with how wide a measure of agreement, I personally, and I believe every other Member of the House, listened to the two speeches which have just been made. I should like to assure the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) that those of us who are interested in this Amendment join with him in regarding this as no party matter, and if the Amendment may appear to suggest a rather frivolous change, I can assure him that it does not so appear to us, and that we would have put forward an Amendment in the same terms if the Motion had come from this side of the House. I should like, also, to assure both hon. Members that I am in entire agreement with them in regard to a great part of the references they made to agricultural development at home, but like them, I will not deal with that in any great detail, and will pass on to the main question of storage in time of war. It is a matter of very great satisfaction that on a subject of this kind we in this House can be united to try to take such steps as we can in order to make certain that should we be involved in a war we shall not be brought to our knees through a breakdown in the production or distribution of food.

It may seem to some Members that the Motion fittingly summarises the point of view of nearly every Member of the House, but to many of us it goes far too far, in that it puts upon the Government the obligation to undertake the building of new, or the extension of existing, storage plant, quite without regard to how the Government may view the question of food storage in relation to the general problem of national Defence as a whole. If we were certain as to the outbreak of hostilities, even more if we could name with any accuracy the date when we might be involved in war, a great many of the arguments put forward by the two hon. Members would have application; but we are living in times of peace, however chaotic the conditions of the world may be, and we have to submit now a policy which we can reconcile with the needs of peace; and that does raise a great many practical difficulties which some of us think the advocates of food storage on a large scale have scarcely fully grasped. As I think both hon. Members will agree, storage does not mean security, but storage may well be one element in security, and I personally regard this Amendment as in no sense ruling out food storage, even on an ambitious scale if need be, but leaving it to the Government of the day to consider each element of defence in relation to all the needs of defence as a whole.

We feel that if the House came to the conclusion which is implicit in the Motion it would be unnecessarily tying the hands of His Majesty's Government, and not leaving them free to consider each aspect of Defence in relation to Defence problems as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has made is perfectly plain that he, and the Government with him, would view with immense relief the existence in this country of adequate supplies of food which would enable us to surmount temporary difficulties at the start of a war, and I think we can safely say that the needs of storage and all other means of ensuring plentiful food supplies have not been forgotten in a rearmament and Defence programmee the magnitude of which has staggered the country.

I feel that there are practical difficulties which have not yet been fully explained in this House. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) has played a very distinguished part, not only during the War but since, in pressing upon the minds of his countrymen the need of preparedness in the matter of national Defence. In an article which he wrote a little time ago, and which appeared in the "Economist," he compared the situation in this country to the situation of Joseph, who had his dream of lean times and defective harvests, and said: Our problem is precisely the same. It is on that point mainly that I would join issue with him. Joseph knew with certainty—accepting the dream as an authentic revelation—that he must prepare for lean times and defective harvests. If we were certain that we are going to be involved in an international conflagration, quite naturally a number of considerations which must be uppermost in our minds to-day would cease to have very much reality. We are not in the position of Joseph in the difficulties with which we are now confronted; of course, our position is really the reverse. If war were certain we could plan accordingly. As we live in times of peace we have to reconcile safety and solvency, and there are certain considerations which ought to be brought to the attention of the House.

Mr. Kirkwood

It was Pharaoh who had the dream.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Joseph had the vision and Pharaoh dreamed the dream. The first aspect of the matter to be brought to the attention of the House is the cost. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) glided rather skilfully over the cost. He let it be thought that it would represent such a tithe of the great expenditure already incurred that it could be accepted by this House with relative indifference. I think everybody agrees that the magnitude of the defence problem has staggered and, indeed, depressed multitudes of our people, but the fact that we are involved in this heavy expenditure is no reason why we should come to the conclusion that the expenditure of £50,000,000 here and £50,000,000 there, without regard to its contribution to Defence, will not hurt us very much. Secondly, those hon. Members altogether overlooked the dislocation which storage of food on a big scale would involve to the ordinary trade and distributive channels.

Sir Arthur Salter

When the hon. Gentleman speaks of £50,000,000, I take it that he means capital expenditure and not annual expenditure?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I was referring mainly to the capital expenditure on erecting silos and granaries and purchasing the initial stocks. Secondly, neither hon. Member mentioned the dislocation of existing avenues of distribution which such an ambitious scheme would involve. The hon. Member for Romford did mention my third point, the possible effect on the cost of living; but neither he nor his colleague dealt very adequately with the fourth aspect, the need for liquidation of these immense stocks and how and when it would be accomplished. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University will, I am sure, acquit me of any impertinence, as he is my own representative, if I say that after reading his article in the "Economist" I was left completely vague as to how he imagines those stocks are going to be liquidated and how he thinks the ordinary trade of the country—should peace continue—is going to bear the competition of the Government buying and the dislocation involved.

His scheme, ambitious though it is, is not quite so ambitious as another scheme put forward in another quarter of the House in which it was suggested that two years' supply of food should be acquired and stored in this country. To agricultural Members like myself it may seem an attractive proposition to acquire—if possible mainly from our own fields—such a substantial proportion of our needs in the early days of war, but a little analysis of the figures will, I think, throw new light upon that problem. We consume in this country every year from £1,100,000,000 to £1,200,000,000 worth of foodstuffs, and of this £600,000,000 worth is imported. To put on one side two years' supply of imports would involve an expenditure of £1,200,000,000 in one year. Is it seriously suggested that the case has been made out for regarding food storage as such an essential part of the defence weapon as to justify expenditure on that scale, beside which the annual expenditure on all the defence services dwindles in comparison?

Mr. T. Williams

Is the hon. Member giving the figure paid by the ultimate consumer of the food or a figure which represents what the producer of the food receives?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The figures represent "value at port"; and when I develop my main argument I shall refer to those figures. That huge expenditure on the acquisition, and solely on the acquisition, of the commodities themselves leaves out of account altogether the cost of building the silos or the granaries and the annual cost of maintenance. It leaves out of account the diversion of men and materials to this other activity from work on the armaments programme which many of us regard as more important. If we were certain that we were going to be involved in war, no question of solvency would stand in the way. If we knew for certain that Armageddon would come again, as it would bring in its train insolvency anyhow, naturally there would be no need to worry much about great expenditure at this moment, but many of us are not satisfied that, viewing our defence needs as a whole, a case has yet been made out which would justify us in demanding of the Government that they should forthwith embark upon an ambitious policy of building granaries for food storage.

The hon. Member for Romford did refer to wheat, but not in any great detail, and I should like to give certain figures which I believe to be accurate, and on which I shall be prepared to contend with the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). Assuming that the price of wheat is £8 to £10 a ton, assuming that the annual consumption is 7,500,000 tons, the cost of the purchase of a year's supply of wheat would be in the neighbourhood of £70,000,000. I do not know what figure hon. Members who are in favour of this policy have in mind as the cost of the construction of the silos per ton, but I do not think they would regard it as unreasonable to assume that for every ton stored the silos might well cost £5. Assuming you wanted to find storage capacity for 6,000,000 tons, not an excessive requirement, you would be called upon to find a further £30,000,000 for the construction of silos in excess of the capacity existing to-day, and that would bring the total expenditure in one year—provided the buildings could be erected in a year—on the storage of wheat alone up to £100,000,000.

The hon. Member for Romford followed out his general theme of food storage by referring to the cost of living. I ask the House to consider this proposition. Assuming the Government went into the market and bought wheat on that vast scale—even if they were buying it, as suggested by the hon. Member for Oxford University two years ago, at the relatively cheaper figure then—what would be the effect on the cost of living? With the Government in the market for such immense purchases the price would immediately rise, up would go the cost of our rearmament programme, up would go the cost of living, and along would come the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) with another cost-of-living petition. In 1931 the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues joined with all those experts and other who believed that a return to the 1929 price-level was desirable, and even Sir Walter Layton, not unassociated with the Press of the right hon. Gentleman's party, made a public declaration in the columns of the "Economist" that a restoration of prices to the 1929 level was one of the prime duties of the Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman had forgotten all about those speeches when he brought the cost-of-living petition to the House last week, and many think that despite his association with the hon. Member for Oxford University and his enthusiastic adoption of the policy of food storage, though the huge increase in the cost-of-living will escape him at the time that later on, if a petition is presented, he will forget the speeches he is now making.

The dislocation of the normal avenues of distribution, the uncertainty as to the intentions of the Government, the vast amount of wheat or other commodities which might be hanging over a market, are all considerations which though they do not justify the Government ruling out food storage, or even ruling out the storage of wheat on a big scale, do raise issues with which, I think, many hon. Members are not acquainted and which do not cease to exist merely by being ignored.

On the question of wheat, I would point out to the hon. Member who supported this Motion that it might well be that the normal trader, seeing the Government interesting themselves on such a scale in the purchase and storage of wheat, might drift out of it, and that the net result might be a decline in the amount of wheat stored in England, instead of being an increase, as was the object to be brought about. I would ask the hon. Member who proposed the Motion when he would liquidate this huge supply of wheat. Assuming that the wheat would last for 12 months and must be turned over at the end of that period, does he propose, while the policy of the Government continues to keep us free, as we believe it will, of foreign entanglements and war, that this turning over process must take place every year? It is difficult enough in the case of wheat, but it is far more difficult in the case of other commodities like bacon or beef. Referring to beef, the hon. Member said that it does not very much matter because you could not store chilled beef and there was no point in building up a supply of it; but presumably beef is one of the commodities which must be stored. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Would the hon. Member store bacon instead of beef?

Dr. Guest

I merely want to ask from where the hon. Member gets his remarkable figure of £1,200,000,000. Out of consideration for other Members who wish to speak I did not mention a good many of the subjects which the hon. Member has suggested I might have mentioned. The figure which I had in my mind of the capital cost of these things was something in the nature of £100,000,000.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have studied this question in a small way, and have envisaged food storage on the scale that he has in mind. Assuming that beef and bacon are to be stored, that chilled beef would be stored and frozen beef must be stored—something life one-fifth of the beef consumed in this country is frozen—for one week's reserve we should have to carry, in a repository for the storage of beef, five times as large a supply as we are likely to need for one one week's consumption. If this policy were adopted on a big scale, the Government would gradually become more and more involved in the problems of buying and selling, and I can see no solution to that situation unless the Government became the sole buying and selling authority in foodstuffs in the land, as proposed in the Socialist policy of import boards.

Out of consideration for other Members who wish to speak I cannot deal with the question of home agriculture but I would, in passing, throw out the reminder that in 1914 we had no home sugar industry to speak of, and that to-day we have a home sugar industry which produces about one-third of all our sugar requirements. It has been bitterly opposed by many people, and not least by some of those who are active in promoting this policy of storage. We believe that it will not only be when an emergency arises in the campaign months of October, November and December, but throughout the whole year, that the great mass of the people of this country will be very grateful for the initiation of a policy of home-production of sugar. Nor will that gratitude be limited solely to employers of labour who are enabled to keep their men in employment, but will be shared by those who have secured jobs.

It seems to me that the assumption behind this proposal is that in another war we must inevitably be in a state of seige, and that we must lose control of the sea. If we lose control of the sea it will not only be foodstuffs that we shall not be able to import, but a great variety of other essential commodities. If we lose control of the sea we have virtually lost the war. I will not weary the House with a series of figures, but there is a general impression in this country that our shipping tonnage has declined. Taking the Empire tonnage as a whole, we are in the same position as we were in 1914, with the advantage of faster and bigger ships, and there are more facilities in the ships and in the harbours. We are in a position to deal with the rapid discharge of food cargoes more safely and expeditiously than we could before the War. I should like to draw attention to the point that although we are, ton by ton, in a stronger position than we were in 1914, taking the Empire as a whole, yet our relative world position has lamentably declined. The United States have increased their merchant shipping since the War four times, Japan, Italy and Germany twice and France and Holland nearly twice. It is only in this country that there is an unfavourable comparison with the figure of 1914.

At the beginning of this century, 50 per cent. of the shipping of the world flew the flag of Great Britain; to-day only 26 or 27 per cent. flies that flag. I would like to conclude with a quotation from the speech of the father of the present Prime Minister. It was made in 1903 and shows with what forethought and shrewdness he viewed the future problems of the age. He was answering an objector who said at that moment the merchant shipping of England was the best in the world. He answered: It is not what we have. The question is how long shall we keep it and how much shall we get of it. We are like a man in a race. He starts with a great advantage. He has been given 100 yards start, but in the first lap he falls 50 yards behind. Then he is seen by an observer in the Cobden Club who says, 'That is my man. He is still leading'. I am certain that the Government will take into consideration the view of a large number of their supporters that they should be free to consider defence in all its aspects, and not be tied down in a matter of this kind. They will not forget that the Mercantile Marine is a recruiting ground for the Navy and an essential means of transport in time of war. We believe that this is a problem which the Government must consider. The hon. Member who introduced this Motion would say that he would trust some Governments, but is not prepared to trust the present Administration.

Mr. Parker

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I thought he would give that reply. Three hundred years ago when Charles II was King of this country, his brother James, who was Duke of York, asked him whether he considered it safe to go about without an armed guard. King Charles replied, "My guard, brother James, is that no one would kill me to make you King." That applies very much to the situation that arises over the present Motion. The hon. Member who moved it should not think that I do not appreciate the way in which it was done, but I think we can safely trust the solution of these problems to this Administration.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Duggan

I beg to second the Amendment.

My hon. Friend has given the House in his eloquent speech the reasons why it is impossible for us to accept the original Motion. The hon. Member who moved it will appreciate that there are words in it which it is impossible for us to accept. He states in the Motion that the Government are to undertake the building of new or the extension of existing storage plant in suitable places immune from air-attack and make plans for an efficient scheme of national distribution. The proposals in that are incompatible. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that it was considered in foreign countries that the policy which we are preparing to adopt is far behind the times, and that in the future aeroplanes would be more useful in disseminating mustard gas and dropping bombs. If that is the case, how are we to find any city or great centre of distribution immune from air attack? It is well enough to talk about a place being immune from air attack, but that can only be something deep underground with no kind of physical feature on the surface indicating to an aeroplane what it was. It cannot be immune from air attack and at the same time a means of distribution from that centre. It cannot be immune from air attack and also be an efficient means of distribution. You would be bound to use railways and roads in that vicinity, and that would give to the enemy aeroplanes an opportunity of discovering the centre where your food was stored.

For that reason we are unable to accept the words suggested in the Motion, and have moved the Amendment. It should be obvious to the House that we are all in favour of the amount of food storage which is possible or desirable for this country, and that there is no division of opinion at all upon that question. Those who feel that we are in any danger of undergoing a blockade in any imminent war seem to neglect the fact that our sea power position is completely different from what it was in 1914. The next strongest naval power to ourselves in Europe was then in control of bases quite near to our own shores and in the roads which our own ships had to follow. Soon after the outbreak of war that Power was also in control of forces near our own system of communications. To-day there is no menace of that kind and there is no submarine menace comparable to that of 1914. Everybody knows that the submarine is not anything like so great a menace when faced with the system of convoys which was in operation at the end of the War as it was at that time. The menace has been studied, and to a certain extent met. I am not talking of attacks upon completely unarmed merchantmen.

Again, we have not got against us, or potentially against us, any fleet in Europe comparable to the German fleet at the outbreak of war. We might have to send our fleet far off to fight a battle in different circumstances, but, from the point of view of blockade, we are in a far stronger position than we were at that time. For that reason, unless we were faced with circumstances which at the moment do not exist, and to the extent suggested by the Motion, I see no reason why we should embark upon it. Everybody has showed admirable restraint so far in not embarking upon an agricultural Debate, and I hope that that restraint will continue. It is obvious that we cannot look to the Minister for the Coordination of Defence to assist agriculture, and that we must treat these two things as different departments and allow the agricultural Ministry to continue their policy for the revival of that branch of the industry.

It has been suggested that if we were buying stores of food we should be faced with the problem of getting rid of them. Unless there were an actual blockade, and we therefore distributed it, we should always be faced with the problem of unloading those stores of food. The Mover of the Motion said that we could do that in a small way, or very gradually, but if you have a year's supply and you have to get through that supply before it is worthless, you have to get rid of that supply, no matter how you do it, by a certain time, before you buy next year's supply. Otherwise, you will have an accumulation which you cannot use and which will be worthless. Would those who voice most ardently the grievances of the agricultural industry be glad to know that there was a year's supply of food in this country, which the Government was able, and, indeed, forced, to unload at various uncertain times, to the detriment of the prices which the agriculturist could expect to secure?

The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) questioned the figure of £1,100,000,000 or £1,200,000,000 given by my hon. Friend. That was the value at retail prices of the food consumed in this country in one year. If you are to lay in a stock of food to last a year, you have that figure to go upon. Of course it might be possible for a small buyer to secure that food at lower prices, but, if the British Government is going into the market to purchase supplies of food, it will not be found that prices will fall. On the contrary, when everyone knows that the British Government is going out to secure a year's supply of food, the figure will be, not reduced, but considerably augmented. I do not think I need pursue any further the points that have been made in the Debate, except to say that, while we welcome the idea that food should as far as practicable be stored in sufficient measure in this country, we cannot accept the suggestion of the Motion that, engaged as we are in a great defence programme, we should embark on an expenditure of this kind, which possibly would be unnecessary and almost certainly would be harmful.

5.3 p.m.

Sir A. Salter

I feel sure that Members in all parts of the House are grateful to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) for the use that he has made of his good fortune in the Ballot. By his choice of subject, by the phrasing of his Motion, and by the character of his speech, he has done a great deal to advance a subject which, as I think, is of very great national importance. I rise without hesitation to support the Motion and not the Amendment. I entirely agree with what is included in the Amendment, but I very much disagree with the exclusion of what the Amendment seeks to exclude. In effect it says, let us leave it to the Government to decide when they like and how they like, without expressing an opinion ourselves, whether there should be food storage. That is exactly what the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has been saying to us for the last 14 months, since the Food (Defence Plans) Department was established. I think the House feels that further postponement of any kind of decision, even on the main principle, with regard to food storage, is really a position that we are scarcely prepared to accept. I think a large number of Members in all parts of the House feel that it is not fair to ask us to go on giving a blank cheque to the Government, without even criticism, on this very vital matter.

Turning to the criticisms that have been made as to food storage, I do not propose to discuss the huge amount that the Mover of the Amendment suggested as the cost of a scheme, because the scheme he mentioned is altogether different from any that I have advocated, or, so far as I am aware, has been proposed by any who have taken a leading part in this matter. I have never contemplated laying up two years' supplies of all kinds of food in this country. What I suggest is that there should be a storage of food of different kinds equivalent in total to the food value of a year's wheat. That could be done gradually. As to the question of cost, I will not weary the House with a number of calculations. I will only say that, while the precise cost would depend upon the kinds of food chosen for storage, an annual charge of about £5,000,000 a year, including in that sum the annual charge with respect to any capital expenditure, would, as I work it out, be sufficient. That would represent something between I and 2 per cent. of our annual defence expenditure.

This is not just an individual guess. I say it after a good deal of consultation, and I may mention that when Lord Astor two years ago was suggesting a food storage plan, he then reckoned the cost of a year's wheat supply at £2,500,000 a year, including the annual charge in respect of capital. Prices have changed somewhat since then, and the kind of scheme I have in mind would include other types of food as well as wheat while including less wheat, so that I think the figure would be somewhat higher. I have another estimate of £3,500,000. Anyhow, if the House thinks of this problem in terms of an annual charge of something between I and 2 per cent. of our annual defence expenditure, it will have in mind the kind of scheme of which those of us who are advocating this proposal are thinking. I have never suggested, and none of my friends has ever suggested, suddenly buying supplies sufficient for a year, or even half a year. It is quite true that, if anything like that were done, it would have an effect on the cost of living. What we are asking is that plans should be made and that the Government should then watch their opportunity—and there have been very great opportunities in the past, when they could readily have purchased considerable supplies of wheat that would have been of very great value at a very low price. We suggest that they should watch for opportunities of buying supplies of food cheap, and should store them. I entreat the House to dismiss from its mind anything like the vast purchases suggested by the Mover of the Amendment, and the vast dislocation of the cost of living and the system of supply that they would involve.

It has been suggested that we need not worry very much about this matter, because the naval problem is different from what it was in 1914. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) will say a word on this subject. As far as I am concerned, I have never regarded food storage as an alternative to naval strength. I am assuming a strong Navy, but I am not assuming a more complete command of the sea than we had in the last War at the time when our food and shipping position was most serious. It was not at the beginning of the War, but only later, when our command of the sea was complete as far as surface ships were concerned, that we were in this very serious position as to food and shipping. Having regard to all the facts of the situation, and allowing for the fact that we have a somewhat greater ability, perhaps, to deal with submarines, but taking into account also the new and very great danger resulting from the development of the air arm, I venture to say that we cannot assume that we shall have a greater immunity from disturbance of our imports than we experienced last time. That is, I believe, the view of most of those who are primarily concerned with the naval situation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who was once First Lord of the Admiralty, will say something on this point. I have also had some correspondence with the President of the Navy League, who not only agrees, but ardently agrees, with the advantages from the point of view of the Navy of relieving its task by food storage.

Are we, in these circumstances, prepared, as the Amendment suggests, to leave the matter, without even an expression of opinion, to the decision of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence? I suggest that it is really time there was a decision on the main principle of this question. We have not been unreasonable. We have not asked the Government to say precisely what are their plans, what they are going to buy, and where they are going to store it. But we have been asking for 14 months, since the Food Defence Plans Department was created, whether the Government have decided upon the main principle, and we have received monotonously and invariably the answer, "Not yet." We had that answer on Tuesday of last week, when, as the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) has pointed out, I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not at least give to the House what his Department apparently gave to a newspaper. He said he was not aware of that article, and I then asked him whether he would not at least see in future that the information should be given first to this House. He said, "Most certainly." But I see that yesterday the same paper, the "Daily Telegraph"—I am not criticising it; I congratulate it—again gave an apparently inspired indication of what the right hon. Gentleman is to say to-day. No one who is aware of the phrasing by which a paper in close association with Government Departments indicates on particular occasions that the information it is giving comes from an official source will have any kind of doubt that, on 27th January certainly, and I think yesterday, there was inspiration behind these communications.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that I am responsible for, or inspired, that statement?

Sir A. Salter

No, Sir. I am not for a moment suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman either gave this information himself or was aware that it had been given. I, of course, accept his statement on Tuesday of last week. But I am bound to add that I think this confirms the impression, which is supported by a great deal of other evidence, as to the rather casual, light-hearted relation of himself to the work of his own Department. I venture to say that it is impossible to read that article without feeling that there was communication of information unknown to him. The question, however, that matters is not how well the right hon. Gentleman has treated this House, but how well he has served the country.

To return to this more important subject, I am at a disadvantage in speaking before the right hon. Gentleman announces his policy, as I take it he will this afternoon, and I must do my best to guess. I will express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not say certain things when he comes to make his announcement. I hope he will not suggest, as the "Daily Telegraph" did, that it is really unnecessary to raise the bogey of starvation. The situation is very serious. I do not propose to argue it, but I would like to call the attention of the House to the fact that all those outside Government Departments—which cannot express themselves—who can speak with the greatest authority on this subject are agreed as to the extreme gravity of the situation. They include people like Lord Astor, who has spoken on the subject in another place; Sir William Beveridge, who was at the centre of the food supply control during the last War; and those who know most about the shipping position in the last War. I see that the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Anderson) is here, and I think the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir C. Barrie) was here a short time ago. I wish the son of the Shipping Controller—the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay)—were here. All of us who were in that control know that the situation is serious. So do those who were concerned mainly with food production. Hon. Members will have seen the correspondence in the "Times" by Mr. Christopher Turnor, Mr. Macdougall and Prof. Stapledon in the last few days.

It may be that here and there, in detail, the right hon. Gentleman has better information than we have, but I hope he will not try to allege that our main picture is wrong. We are not wrong. I have always, where possible, taken official statements, and where I have had to choose between official statements which did not agree I have taken the one least favourable to myself. When a statement was made by the present Home Secretary, who was at the time First Lord of the Admiralty, in which he said there was only six weeks' supply of food in the country, I said that that overstated the gravity of the situation, and chose instead the more moderate statement made by the Lord Chancellor and the present Lord Runciman. If the Government has information that throws a different light on the position, I can only say, in view of the public statements which have been made by Ministers in the past, that it must be information that, not only we, but they, did not then possess.

In the second place I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he does refer to the question of expense, will put a completely different light on the whole situation from that suggested by the Mover of the Amendment.

I hope next the right hon. Gentleman will not say that the storage of perishable food will mean complete dislocation of the trade of the country. What is he going to do about less perishable food? Is he storing canned goods, oils and fats, and is he storing sugar, which stores well? I agree that he will have to store some foods which will not keep indefinitely, but is it unreasonable to suggest that with wheat, which will store for a year or two, we could simultaneously take some of it out, and put an equal quantity in, without dislocating the market? The difficulties are certainly not insuperable, or even very great. At the same time, I agree that the relative non-perishability of particular commodities is a good reason for storing more of some things than of others. If you have plenty of one commodity, you can easily utilise that sufficiency to remedy quickly an insufficiency of more perishable commodities, by concentrating your shipping upon them in the emergency.

Lastly, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not say, "Look at my scheme for food control throughout the country; that is enough." I agree that it is a good thing to prepare a system for controlling the distribution of food should the necessity arise, but, while you can, in case of necessity, improvise a system for distributing the food you have, what you cannot improvise is a method of getting the food you have not. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be like those ingenious builders of Laputa, satirised by Jonathan Swift, who built the roofs of the houses and forgot to build the foundations.

The essential thing is to secure that the food is here, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not suggest, what the people primarily concerned in the production of food do not themselves suggest, that he can increase home production on a scale which will make food storage unnecessary. I do not want to argue the whole question of our food production policy. Let me refer again to the letters which have appeared in the "Times." No responsible authority is likely to rate the possibilities of food production higher than Mr. Turnor, Mr. Macdougall and Professor Stapledon. I am authorised by each of them to say that he does not regard increased food production as removing the necessity for food storage.

I suggest, therefore, that the authority behind the case for food storage on a considerable scale is really overwhelming. Whether you look to people who had experience in the War in regard to food, or to shipping, or to those who are primarily concerned in agriculture and the production of food, or whether you look to those concerned with the structure and strength of the Navy, the opinion on this is unanimous. I have in the last year been consulting authorities in all these fields. They are utterly unable to understand the attitude of the Government. They are bewildered that the Government has left this for 14 months without doing something. Why is it?

Let me suggest my own answer to this question. In the first place, I think that this subject has not had its proper attention because of the circumstances and conditions under which the Food (Defence Plans) Department was created; secondly, because it has not behind it great trade interests and a great trade organisation ready to take on the work; and, thirdly, because the right hon. Gentleman, because of his other duties, and because of his personal outlook and other qualities, has not faced this as an important executive task to get on with, and get on with quickly. The House will remember that, after a long period of procrastination, the Food (Defence Plans) Department was brought into being, apparently not so much because the Government wanted it, but as a defence against critics. In the first place, it has not a good name, "Defence Plans." I am always in favour of planning before action, but on condition that there is also an executive department with the power and ability and will to act as well as plan. Then this Department was then allotted, partly to the President of the Board of Trade, and partly to the right hon. Gentleman. You had, therefore, this late-born, unwillingly-conceived, miserable child handed over for a niggardly alimony to one Minister and to the step-fatherly neglect of another. Unhappily endowed and unhappily baptised, its prospects in life were poor, and these poor expectations have been abundantly realised.

This question of food storage is moreover different from almost every other branch of Defence in this respect. Almost everything else has the support of a trade interest and a trade organisation which will take on the job. That is not the case with food storage. This is eminently, therefore, a task which has to be done by the Minister with his Department. If it is found to be necessary, the work has to be taken in hand, an organisation built up, and the work put through by his executive authority. We all admire the qualities of the right hon. Gentleman. His legal talents, his judicial temperament, his ability to interpose between the most legitimate and current criticism and the Department criticised, an imperturbable and impassive defence, have evoked the admiration of all of us. I should think he is the greatest Parliamentary stone-waller of all time.

But this task for providing food storage requires a man who is predominantly executive in character, knows what he wants, and pushes it through. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not predominantly a man with those qualities, and that he is not the most suitable person for this particular task, which is to find out what is wanted and then drive the thing through. His main job, after all, is not that of Minister of Defence, but Co-ordinator of Defence. He is dealing with three great fighting services, each with a thrusting energy of its own. What chance is there against these of a fourth branch, where there is no Department and no Minister other than himself? This is a job which wants pre-eminently a Minister who will say, "What the situation needs, I will get on with." With great respect, I suggest that if we were choosing from this House a Minister with that particular quality, it is not the right hon. Gentleman that we would choose. If I have gone a little beyond the mark in these concluding remarks I apologise.

Those of us who advocate food storage do so because we are gravely anxious. The vivid memory of my experiences at the centre of the shipping and supply control in the last War makes me anxious. I know how grave was our danger then, through the absence of adequate food stocks, though we had full command of the sea. I know how invaluable would then have been the provision of such stocks as we are now advocating. I see no reason to believe that, if war came again now, we should—taking all factors into account.—be in a better position now. I know how greatly the whole situation could be relieved by some such relatively modest preparation as we are now proposing. I have never wanted to make this a matter of political controversy. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I went to him in the earliest stages, and that correspondence and interviews took place between us, and nobody would have been happier than I if it had never become a matter of public controversy. But if the matter is allowed to drift on and on our danger of defeat in war will be much greater than it need be; more than that since vulnerability is a temptation to the aggressor not only our danger in war, but our danger of war, will be much greater than it need be if we now provide reserves of food.

5.30 p.m.

Sir T. Inskip

It may be convenient—at least I hope the House will think so—if I say what I have to say at this stage, especially while I have fresh in my mind the observations of the hon. Member who has just spoken, and what he hopes I shall say and what he hopes I shall not say. I am obliged to him for his kind personal references to myself, and he will fully understand that I do not object at all to criticism. Indeed, I am criticised on all these occasions, but there is a certain amount of misconception, I think, as to the attitude both of myself and of the Government, which has been expressed in the speech of the hon. Member and in the speeches of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) and the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). I think it was in reply to the hon. Member for Romford, who a little while ago asked me a question as to whether I had any statement to make, that I said in the most explicit terms that I had no statement to make. He charged me, I think a little unkindly, with inability to give a straight answer to a straight question. I should have thought that that was about the straightest answer that anybody could give. I will not retaliate upon the hon. Gentleman except to say that he made, from his point of view, a very interesting and, indeed, suggestive series of observations as to the necessity for food storage. Before I sit down—and I do not propose to make a long and elaborate statement—I hope to show that I realise the advantages of storage as much as any of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, or any of those hon. Gentlemen who are waiting to pounce upon me as soon as I sit down.

The attractions of food storage, as I have already said in this House many times, are obvious. We have all been brought up to admire the thrifty, prudent habits of those humble insects the ant and the bee, and in view of the typical illustration which the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) has given in this House, as well as in the country, we should all be impressed at first sight with the advantages of food storage. But it really is not quite so simple a problem, when you begin to deal with it and examine the possible methods of food storage, as first suggests itself to those who recommend the policy, but have not the responsibility of carrying it out. I want to make it perfectly plain at the beginning of my observations that if in some respect I seem to criticise the way in which the proposals for food storage have been presented in this House and outside, it is because they have been, I think, pitched too high. I must not be understood for a single moment to suggest that a policy of food storage within proper limits is not right and probably necessary, provided it can be carried out with due regard to other considerations which I am sure the hon. Member opposite would be bound to recognise.

I am not sure that it was not the hon. Member for North Islington who said that this is part of the whole question of Defence, and it is only part of the question of Defence. I think that I shall be able to show a little later on, that it is partly because it is part of the whole question of Defence that there has been what the hon. Member for Oxford University seemed to think was undue delay. He has asked me—and indeed hon. Members have asked me on more than one occasion—for a decision on what is called the question of principle. I respectfully suggest to the House that this is not one of those matters which can be determined once for all by a simple decision, aye or no, in favour of food storage. The Government cannot, nor can anybody be acquitted for having discharged their duty by saying, "We are in favour of food storage." The whole question really then arises as to the scope or scale of food storage envisaged, and the way in which it shall be carried out.

The hon. Member for Oxford University criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) for the figures he gave as to the capital cost of food storage on a large scale. I think the reaction of the hon. Member for Oxford University to that statement was really that the figures are fantastic, because the proposals upon which they are based are fantastic. He said, quite rightly, that he himself has never suggested the storage of two years' supply of food, but he has perhaps overlooked the fact that to-day in a Parliamentary Question I was asked by one of my hon. Friends as to whether I would not give an assurance to the House of the storage of two years' supplies, not of wheat or the equivalent of wheat, but of the total food supply of the nation. I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford to be referring to that proposal when he calculated the cost as being in the neighbourhood of £600,000,000 or £700,000,000 for overseas supply of food.

Sir A. Salter

The Amendment is presumably addressed to the Motion, and I do not understand that the Mover of the Motion or anyone associated with it had ever had in his mind anything like a scheme of this character.

Sir T. Inskip

I am very glad indeed, and, of course, I expected to hear the hon. Gentleman say that, but I think that I am justified, in passing, if only to clear the decks for consideration of this question, to say that fantastic suggestions of that sort are really not in the picture at all.

Sir A. Salter

Hear, hear.

Sir T. Inskip

We are all agreed upon that point, and I think we have made a good start. The next consideration that must occur to anybody is that, if a particular proposal for food storage is wrong and has vices because it is conceived upon too large a scale, the only question that then has to be determined, or the next question that has to be determined, is as to the scale upon which food storage should be adopted. As I said a moment ago, suppose the Government decided in favour of food storage, they immediately would be faced with the question as to the particular measures they must take in pursuance of their decision. That, as I think the hon. Gentleman opposite recognises, would not mean that they could possibly be expected to go out into the market, to Mincing Lane or the Baltic or anywhere else, and make a large number of purchases, but that they must from time to time, as opportunity presented itself, and if possible, secretly, make the purchases which best accorded with their conception as to the needs of the occasion. I hope that that statement corresponds to the sort of conception which the hon. Member for Oxford University has in his mind of the Government's duty. Would he be surprised to hear that that is exactly the way in which I see this question?

He is inclined to complain of the delay which has taken place. I do not know whether hon. Members are inclined to take this from me or not, but the time that has passed has been—I will not say absolutely—necessary for the survey that has been made. I plead guilty—and I hope the House will accept this from me for not always being able to drive a particular matter forward at the earliest possible moment, but in the 14 months which have passed since the setting up of the Food (Defence Plans) Department there has not been very much more than the necessary time for a complete survey of the stores of food in this country, as to the circumstances in which they might be purchased, as to the places where they might be stored, of the capital expenditure involved and generally of the measures that would be necessary to make them an asset without any items on the debit side which would largely destroy their value. The time has not been wasted.

The hon. Member for Oxford University criticised us for seeming to dwell too much on the plans which the Food (Defence Plans) Department have made and exhorted me not to spend much time upon that. I will accept his exhortation for the very good reason that, within a very short time a full report will be published of the work of that Department! Answers to Parliamentary questions have shown from time to time what has been going on, and I think that I am entitled to lay a little emphasis upon this, because the Motion which hon. Members opposite commend to the House concludes with a reference to the importance of making plans for the distribution of food. I can assure the House that, whether this is the roof or the foundation, these plans have been, I will not say completed, but substantially brought to a stage where little more remains than to carry out in detail the arrangements at the various ports, and so forth, for making the scheme effective.

Let me say one more word upon the question of cost of food storage upon a large or a considerable scale. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford is entitled to point out that you cannot quite dismiss it by saying that it would involve only an annual cost. You have to consider the capital cost. To tell the truth I am a little surprised at an economist of the eminence of the hon. Gentleman opposite treating this as a matter that can be dealt with on the basis only of annual cost. I have learnt painfully in the course of this armaments programme that the capital cost—the money that has to be raised and spent on capital expenditure—is a formidable item in the total Bill.

Sir A. Salter

Is there anything in the whole defence programme which is so properly, on the strictest financial grounds, applicable to the £80,000,000 a year which has been treated as for capital expenditure, as the first provision of food and of the accommodation in which to store it? I think that on the strictest terms there is nothing that could exceed, and hardly anything that could equal that in the whole of the programme.

Sir T. Inskip

I am not at the moment arguing the question of priority at all, but whether it is possible to dismiss the matter of the question of expense by a summary observation that it would only cost £3,000,000, £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year. That overlooks the fact which hon. Gentlemen who are moving the Motion surely recognise that you have to raise a considerable capital sum. The hon. Member for North Islington put it as high as £100,000,000. Even on the scale suggested by the hon. Member for Oxford University of one year's wheat or its equivalent, that figure is below the mark when you take into consideration the capital cost of the commodity and the capital cost of the building of silos. An optimistic person might hope and expect that, when that scheme came to be liquidated, he would get back the capital cost of the commodity, whether of wheat or sugar, on realisation, but that is a very doubtful proposition in the circumstances which may arise where the supplies coming in, and the amount stored would both have to be liquidated in one year. That is a very doubtful proposition.

As far as silos are concerned—and they will cost, as my hon. Friend said, something like £30,000,000 to store the quantity which the hon. Member has in mind—the money will be wholly lost, because after the scheme comes to an end, these silos will be wholly surplus for the storage and accommodation required by the commercial life of this country. The existing stores at the docks and in our great cities are about 50 per cent. vacant at the present time. That is partly due to the practice of the millers of creating their own stores instead of using the sheds, warehouses and elevators of the great dock authorities. Therefore expenditure upon new stores would be spent for good and all, and lost. That is a large item in the bill that the country has to meet.

Mr. Sandys

Why does the right hon. Gentleman expect the scheme to come to an end at a certain period? Surely, this is no more a loss than dockyards for the Navy or barracks for the troops.

Sir T. Inskip

It is true I was contemplating that the scheme would come to an end, sooner or later. If the hon. Member differs from me on that point, I suppose I had better say a few words about it. I understood that this was a war measure. I did not know that anybody has ever suggested that as a permanent addition to the industrial life of the nation the Government shall store Government-owned food.

Sir A. Salter

I think there is a little misunderstanding. Of course, it will not be permanent when we get to a period when there is no danger of war and no need for defence preparations of any kind, but so long as there is danger of war and conditions such as we are faced with now, this provision is just as much a permanent thing as dockyard accommodation.

Sir T. Inskip

That was what I thought when my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) interrupted me and asked why I thought that the scheme was ever going to come to an end. I said that I hoped that the time would come when it could come to an end.

Mr. Sandys

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that it could come to an end sooner than the need for the Navy or the Air Force?

Sir T. Inskip

It would come to an end as soon as the extraordinary measures which have to be taken in the present disturbed state of the world were no longer necessary. I hope that every hon. and right hon. Member will join with me in thinking that we are going to live in less disturbed and less anxious years in some part of the rest of our lives than those we are passing through at the present time. However, the point is not of great importance, for the reason that we may regard this £30,000,000 as something which is likely to be finally lost, whether the scheme comes to an end or not. We have to provide the £30,000,000. It would be a charge upon the resources of the country. The sum of £1,500,000,000 to be spent on Defence is very much in the mind of the House, and this £30,000,000 is only one of the items.

I am afraid that if I dwell too much on these objections hon. Members in all parts of the House will begin to say: "He is setting up difficulties and putting up a number of bogies, and his conclusion, which he feels in his heart and mind, is that food storage is an unnecessary and a ridiculous proposition." Let me say at once that that is not my state of mind, and let me follow up that assertion by saying that I do not think we do any good to the country or assist this policy of food storage by magnifying the difficulties or the dangers to which we are exposed. I am fully conscious of the dangers. No one has more occasion than I to remember the weeks in which the submarine losses were piling up at the rate of 10, 12 or 15 ships a day. I can recall the feelings of all of us about those daily lists of losses. I hope and believe that we start in a much better position to resist and defeat any attack of that sort from submarines. We shall start with the advantage of defence based upon the experience of the War, as well as defence organised and devised in the period since the War. I agree that there are substantial dangers in the destruction of ships, but I do not agree that there is at the moment any shortage of ships, because ton for ton and ship for ship substantially we are in as good a position to-day to get cargo space as we were in 1914.

Sir John Withers

What about the air?

Sir T. Inskip

I am well aware that the danger from the air is considerable and that it may have an effect in the destruction of shipping, the dislocation of the ports or the destruction of granaries at the ports. For that reason I do not think that anyone would suggest that it is desirable to put large quantities of additional food stores in the ports, which are open to attack. Having stated what the dangers are, of which I am perfectly conscious, let me say that we make a great mistake in doing what the hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White) did, when he stated, in a report which is summarised, that: In some respects the situation is worse than in 1918. The danger from air attack is much more serious than before. We have a larger population to feed and fewer ships. An aggressor would be much less likely to risk an attack if he knew in advance that we could not be starved out. That may be true, but to tell the world that we are in a much worse state than in 1918 is a serious exaggeration of the position, and does no good to this question.

Let me come more closely to the Motion. The hon. Member who moved it regretted that an Amendment has been put down. I agree with the supporters of the Amendment who think that the Motion cannot be accepted, for the reason that has been given by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford. Is it right that this House should instruct the Government to carry out a vast programme of construction of stores, silos and granaries? If I asked the House to accept the Motion I should have to carry out the instructions to which I had given my assent. I, therefore, say quite plainly that at present although I am not shutting the door to any decisions that may be taken in the future if and when food storage may be necessary on a much greater scale I see no necessity for building, as suggested. Indeed, if it were necessary to start building at the present moment I very much doubt whether it would be possible, having regard to the other building necessities for the Defence programme. One of the difficulties in the past has been the supply of steel necessary. Steel would be required on a large scale for such a programme as hon. Members opposite have envisaged. They may say, "Put it off," but, unfortunately, their Motion says, "Forthwith." For this reason, I welcome the Amendment, because insistence upon a large construction programme "forthwith" is putting the matter in the wrong perspective.

What is going to be done about the maintenance of food supplies? The first thing to be done, certainly, is Defence—Defence in its most elementary and primary sense. In spite of my so-called lack of drive, I am glad that I have hitherto placed greater emphasis upon the necessity for the erection of aerodromes, factories and buildings connected with our Defence Departments. It is not because the Food Department has been the Cinderella of the Departments, but because of the fact that whatever we stored would not have made us safe unless we were in a position to defend ourselves from the air and to keep the seas open. The hon. Member opposite has pointed out very forcibly that food is not the only article that it is desirable to store. Nor is it the only article that has to come overseas. We have to keep the seas open and we have to defend the ports, which involve the creation of a considerable Air Force. We have to defend the ports and keep the seas open not only for the bringing of our food but for bringing the raw materials from which we make our steel, and the armaments we require.

Seeing that we have to keep the seas open to bring here the raw materials that this country requires, the hon. Member will agree with me in recognising the fact that all the storage in the world would not avail if we failed in the elementary duty of keeping the seas open, which comes first. The fact is that last year, although the position I am glad to say has improved now, the supplies of constructional steel were not sufficient for the purposes of Defence for which we required them. If we were to attempt construction of granaries on a large scale it would be fantastic, seeing that with the greatest difficulty we are making our production of steel equal to the demand.

Sir A. Salter

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the limitation upon the importation of steel from other countries has been removed?

Sir T. Inskip

I must not go into questions involving matters of that sort. It is not because I should be unwilling to discuss the matter. We are doing everything possible to increase supplies of steel to meet the demand, with the help of everybody concerned. It is a fact that our primary duty has been to improve our Defences. The next thing is to maintain supplies, and to do that my agricultural friends have so often insisted upon an increase in home production. I have seen an inclination on the part of the hon. Member for Oxford University to disparage home production. Again, going back to his friend, Joseph, he said that Joseph did not devote himself to fattening the kine. What he did was to collect corn and to store it in granaries. If that was Joseph's view of the situation, I do not think it was altogether the right view. Obviously there were better methods of forestalling famine than storing wheat.

Sir A. Salter

The whole of my argument was that, purely from the point of view of war danger, which turns upon the difficulty of importing, it is little use to increase production at home if you have to import as great a quantity of additional fertilisers and feeding stuffs to obtain that increase.

Sir T. Inskip

My point was that the hon. Member had rather disparaged concentration upon home production, whereas I regard home production as of very great importance. If anyone studies the figures he will see that we are in substantially a better position by the recent increases in home production than we were in 1914. Take the case of sugar. We had no home grown sugar in 1914, and now 30 per cent. of our sugar is home grown. Surely, that is an advantage, both from the point of view of food supplies and also from the point of view that sugar beet provides a valuable new feeding stuff for cattle. So far as wheat is concerned, the production is now 1,500,000 tons, or 50 per cent. more than six years ago. This year there are 100,000 more acres of winter-sown wheat than in 1937, the highest acreage under wheat since 1922. Moreover, a significant feature is that agriculture has succeeded in producing a higher yield per acre in the last four years than in the years before 1914, when the production was 17 cwts. per acre as compared with 18 cwts. per acre in the last four years. I could multiply these figures in respect of other commodities which the agricultural industry produces, and I regard this as a real contribution to the question of the food supplies of the country.

However you may organise your storage you must, in the nature of things, largely concentrate it in a few main centres. The hon. Member suggested Penzance. I should not have thought Penzance was a good place in wartime, as the facilities for transport would be likely to be strained, quite apart from the fact that nothing but small ships can get into Penzance. The advantage of home food production is this, that you have it scattered and dispersed over the whole country in the most convenient places. As far as storage is concerned, I agree with the Motion that it should be as far as possible in places immune from attack, but that requires a great deal of consideration. Two years ago there were places on the west coast which one would have said were reasonably immune from air attack. I am not at all sure that they are immune to-day with the increasing range of aircraft. It would be difficult to say that Liverpool is immune from air attack, although a few years ago most people thought that it was relatively immune.

Home production has a great advantage. It has the advantage of dispersal and, also, if you are on the right lines, you can increase the production of any article, some of which may take eight months, some a year and some 18 months. There has been an increase in home production, and in time of emergency this increase could be accelerated, and to that extent the amount of what I may call artificial storage will be less than it otherwise would be.

Mr. Parker

Surely the feeding stuffs for the production of beef, bacon and eggs take up a far greater amount of accommodation on board ship than the finished products?

Sir T. Inskip

I agree that the animal on which we rely is in that sense uneconomic in that the volume of the stuffs which we have to import to feed the beast is greater than the volume of the beast when he is dead. That is one of the baffling facts, but I do not think anyone suggests that we should kill off every beast. That would be a policy of despair. I regard Defence as our primary duty, home production as our next duty, and then the problem of what is to be stored can be arrived at by a consideration of the factors already ascertained. How much will be stored? That is a question of degree. Who is to settle the question of degree? Does the House expect me to mention every week that a decision has been taken to store wheat or cheese, or something else? The essence of the success of a policy of food storage is reticence, of which the hon. Member has so bitterly complained on my part. He was good enough to describe me as the champion stone-waller.

Sir A. Salter

The reticence I complained of was the failure of the Government to say that they had decided on a policy of storage. I never asked or expected the Government to say just what they are going to store.

Sir T. Inskip

I hope that in future I shall not be accused of being less informative than the hon. Member would like me to be. I have stated in the plainest terms that I recognise food storage as an important part of the plans which are necessary for the maintenance of an adequate national food supply, but I am not going to admit for a moment that that means that we must immediately go out into the market for food commodities and purchase something representing so many weeks' or so many months' supply. The hon. Member for Oxford University indicates his assent to that and therefore I hope the House will allow me to leave the matter there. I do not propose to inform the House of the details of the plans which are being considered by the Government in connection with food storage. I propose to say no more about it. Whatever hon. Members may say about the cost of living they can be certain that any announcement to purchase this or that commodity would send prices up sky high. About 18 months ago, when I first took on this office, there was a certain amount of wheat, not very much, on the other side of the Atlantic. If an announcement had been made that the Government were in the market for wheat everybody knows what would have happened.

I differ from the hon. Member when he says "Let the Government buy as and when they can." That would be fatal to the maintenance of prices consistent with not increasing the cost of living. If the Government went into the grain market and made a purchase of 5,000 tons of wheat everybody would be waiting to know when they were going to make the next purchase. They would always be on the jump and prices would sag and rise in accordance with the position of the market once it was known that the Government were in the market. I favour a policy which will result in food storage with the assistance of those engaged in the industry. That is most congenial to the interests of the nation as well as to the organisations which provide our food. It also has the advantage that it entails less expense on the Government. Whatever hon. Members may say about giving us a blank cheque, I think the party opposite, even against their will, will be obliged to agree with me that the Government must be allowed to carry out the details in their own way, and largely in silence. The time will come when the House will have to be acquainted with the facts, when it becomes necessary to pay for the expenditure for the purchase of food or these other arrangements, but for the time being all that is necessary for me to do is to assure the House that we are not unmindful of the advantages of this policy, that the Government are aware of the duty which falls upon them to maintain the supplies of food as a reasonable insurance against the dangers to which all Members have referred, but the form of the insurance is a matter which the Government must decide.

I hope that this may be regarded as a non-party question, because in substance I do not disagree with the general statements which have been made. Where I do disagree is with the suggestion as to the time and method in which this work should be done. I think the Debate, if I may say so even after I have spoken, has been of some value in that it has concentrated attention on what of course gives all hon. Members some anxiety, but I think I may also say that the Debate has had this interesting result; that it has drawn from hon. Members opposite two of the best appreciations of the dangers of war against which we have to make adequate Defence arrangements. We get these two advantages. I hope the House will accept the Amendment which was moved in such an admirable speech, and which I think represents the view of the whole House.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Clynes

I hope we shall have an opportunity of hearing the views of hon. Members on the speech we have just heard. For my part, I listened to it with amazement, and I am utterly disappointed at the complete absence of any hint of a definite policy on the part of the Government on this urgent matter of food storage. I am all the more disappointed because it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman really believes in the wisdom of what he has said. That will not do. The Motion gave him an opportunity of reassuring the public that the Government look on food supplies not as a secondary consideration in respect of war preparations but as a primary duty on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has lost this special opportunity, and has referred us to some later occasion when again he will address the House, and probably again earn the mixed and qualified compliments which were uttered in his praise by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). The right hon. Gentleman has been so indefinite as to be quite alarming. He fails to see this problem in its true proportion.

Let me draw his attention to the three points stated in the most definite language in the Motion—an adequate supply of essential foodstuffs, an extension of existing storage plant, and an efficient scheme of national distribution. On those points the right hon. Gentleman has staled some pious opinions and certain views, but he has said nothing in terms of a policy that would commit the Government to any definite action or that could in any sense be taken as reassuring the public mind and relieving it of its present apprehensions. From the beginning there has been in this matter undue secrecy, which has in no way been lessened by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. On the question of food supplies there has been an elaborate effort to conceal facts and to keep the public in ignorance on this vital matter. Is the right hon. Gentleman afraid of any potential enemy becoming aware of our intentions? Is he afraid that a potential enemy would be encouraged to attack us if he knew of our plans? I rather think it is likely that an enemy might be deterred by such knowledge from making an attack. Are we not exchanging Ministers and paying visits to countries which may become enemy countries, and exhibiting the preparations which we are making for defence in time of war? Ministers go to find out what is happening in Germany—and, of course, are deceived—and the representatives of other countries come here to see our manoeuvres and inspect the preparations we are making for our national defence.

There is one respect in which the speech of the right hon. Gentleman may be at least fairly judged. It is that he regards, as I imagine, food preparations, the storage of food and food provision of every kind, as part of the general duty of Defence. I ask him, then, to treat it on precisely the same basis as he treats other features and factors of our Defence. Why are we working overtime in munitions factories and preparing a stronger Navy and Army? It is out of fear of attack by some dreaded enemy. Recently, at Weymouth, the Minister of Agriculture said: What fools we should all look if we built up an artificial system of food growing to guard against a war that never happened. If one applies that to food and to the general obligation of being ready to feed the people, one must apply it to other features of Defence. Was that statement of the Minister of Agriculture a Cabinet document? If so, rearmament of any kind cannot be justified on any ground. The right hon. Gentleman cannot depend entirely upon the slight increase which has occurred in the output of home-produced food, and we must not rely upon improvising an organisation after an outbreak of war has occurred. Great quantities of food are obtainable now without in any sense shattering the basis of food prices as they may exist throughout the world. We can get from our Dominions great quantities of meat, wheat and many kinds of nutritious foods. Are we to take it from the right hon. Gentleman that if the British Government wanted great supplies of these foods, our fellow subjects in Canada and Australia would run up the prices and make us pay what would be exorbitant rates? Surely, he does not put the patriotism of Canadians and Australians down as low as that. I refuse to believe that, if properly approached by the Mother Country, our fellow-subjects in these vast British Empire possessions would not be equal to a patriotic act, and would seek to exploit us in an hour of difficulty.

What was the cause of the victory of the Allies in 1918? The Central Powers, in 1918, were broken because the whole of their civilian population, essential to the support of the troops, was broken by food shortage. The political upheavals of a semi-starved nation in war can produce results more decisive than those produced by high explosives. In 1916 and 1917 we in this country were reaching the peak of our greatest difficulties and distress. A state of alarm was growing up which might soon have passed into a conscious fear of defeat. Hon Members do not need to take my word for that, for they can see in the Official History a revelation of the facts as they were at that time. If the House will allow me to mention it, I can recall a night at the Food Ministry across Westminster Bridge when Lord Rhondda, whose deputy I was at that time, said to me: "Clynes, it may well be that you and I stand between this country and revolution." That was not vanity, but a knowledge of the increasing fears and dangers following in the wake of the food queues that were then forming, and of the increasing disturbance of mind of men in the workshops whose wives had to wait for hours in order to get the barest necessities of life.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman now not to be deterred, even by the formidable question of prices, from making the necessary preparations. Nobody has argued that that which we suggest in the Motion would amount to more than 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of the total expenditure on the preparations that we are making for National Defence. But supposing it were twice that amount, supposing it were 10 per cent., that would be but a trifle, an infinitesimal amount, in relation to that valued sense of security which the Government ought to provide for the people. Prices are not the factor which must shape policy in this question. Immense subsidies have been provided to support British agriculture. I have seen a figure reaching the total of about £30,000,000 a year, although I will take the amount as less if it can be so proved. Have we, in exchange for that expenditure on all manner of subsidies, got anything on the credit side in relation to food reserves in the event of an outbreak of war? Home-produced food at best, even with the increase referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, can provide us with only a little more than one quarter of the total, so that we still have to depend for the greater part of our food supplies, I fear as much in war time as in peace time, upon provisions from overseas.

I regard the minimum provisions in regard to Government policy, apprehending a war at the very least, as coming under three headings: Arms sufficient for the fighting forces, sailors and soldiers; food sufficient for the civilian population; and plans made accordingly to provide those essentials. I invite hon. Members to-morrow to read the speech made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, a speech to which they listened for the greater part in silence and without giving any evidence of approval, and to search for a word of comfort in that utterance.

There are those who think that we shall come out of this all right because the next war is certain to be a short one. There is one condition on which I am certain the war will be short; it is that we should endure a continuance of the attitude revealed by the Minister this afternoon. Given a food shortage, the war will be the shorter. Upon that we may depend. But nobody can give a guarantee as to the duration of a war, its extent, or whether it will be vast or narrow; it is a plunge into the unknown. In this uncertain world, in relation to war policy, the great thing is not to think you will enjoy the best, but to be ready for the worst, to prepare for what probably will happen and for what possibly may happen, and not to console yourself with the comforting words of the Minister, who refers to something that may be said To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow. The truth is that this country now offers to any potential enemy a finer target for a direct hit than has ever been the case in any war in the past. Our population is so concentrated, it is so immense for such a small island, and the weapons of war are so altered that we can be attacked, as it were, from beneath the water and from the air in conditions which have never existed previously. In the early months of the last War, steps were taken to establish a wheat commission and a sugar commission, and we did it. There was no serious food trouble until the middle period of the War. But let it be remembered that in that middle period of the War, the air attacks were trivial, and nothing compared with the possibilities of future air attacks which we may have to endure. The enemy now would be more formidable than ever and the task of conveying food to these shores would be enormously greater. I hope that before the Debate closes we shall hear the views of some seamen on the increased dangers to the possibility of imports to this country on account of this dreaded addition to the weapons of war. The supply of material and food in wartime will be much more difficult than it has ever been.

During the last War, we succeeded in raising very substantially the production of food at home. Things have changed very much during the last 20 years. Today, hundreds of thousands of acres which were formerly used for agriculture or allotments have been built up. We have greatly reduced the acreage of land suitable for the purpose of food production within these shores. There is in the Motion an alternative to these limitations. Our cold storage and refrigeration plants have been greatly increased, more elevators have been erected and remarkable progress has been made in food preservation, especially in canning. Scores of thousands of tons of good food of all varieties can now be stored up in tins, and the old prejudice against tinned food has very nearly passed away.

Any attack, then, will be different and the preparations must be different. Food storage must be regarded from many points of view, particularly because of the risk of attack from the air. If we cannot have general storage on a very large scale, we can at least have substantial stocks distributed through many parts of the country. These would be available without any great internal transport difficulties, and would be ready to meet a state of local famine if such were produced. I decline to turn with any reliance to the one bit of comfort which is to be found in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, namely, his reference to increased home production. In the production of food, unlike other forms of production, you can travel only at nature's pace. You cannot, to any great extent, artificially produce food, and as regards the production of food from the sea, we know that in the last War the difficulty of lifting fish was enormously increased by the danger of enemy attacks. We cannot speed up food production after war has started. A farmer will tell you that it takes nine months to grow a crop of wheat, about 2½ years to produce beef, and the same time to produce a milking cow, and it takes fixe or six months for the little piglet to get from the piggery to the table. We cannot, therefore, place reliance upon the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion or find any comfort in it.

On behalf of my hon. Friends, I say that the question of food supplies ought not to be placed in a secondary position as something to which we can return when we have more leisure. There are great difficulties in every big undertaking, and when the right hon. Gentleman, with great courage and at much personal self-sacrifice, accepted one of the most difficult posts which any Minister could fill, I am sure he did not envisage the length of time that would be taken in making what, I imagine, is no more than a verbal skeleton, if such a thing be possible. I doubt whether anything has been put down properly on paper so that even he and his colleagues can understand it, but these great undertakings must be faced by Ministers. The ordinary Member of the House may be in a position to ignore them. He may look the trouble in the face and pass on, but not so the Minister. The responsibility is his, and he must not seek to evade it on the ground of the risk of great losses, or high costs. Those facts will not prevail in a crisis. If food is not in store in war-time, then the war for us is lost and Ministers will incur a terrible responsibility for any precaution which they now ignore. Ignoring precautions they clearly are, and, if an opportunity could be given for it by our procedure, it is not the mild terms of such a Motion as this on which we should divide, but a vote of the severest censure on Ministers for failing to do their duty.

6.35 p.m.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

I wish in the first place to associate myself with the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) in the congratulations which he offered to the hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Motion and the expression of our thanks to them for bringing it before the House and providing us with this opportunity for a useful discussion on a vital topic of public interest. I listened also with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). He said that this was no party issue and that he was not going to make a party speech, but later a number of reflections crept into his remarks, connected with the Cobden Club and other matters which seemed to have a closer relation to party polemics than to any aspect of national defence. I wish, however, to confine my remarks to the narrowest limits possible, and, therefore, do not propose to follow the hon. Member into that field.

I would only observe that he started by doing his best to demolish the plan of food storage put forward by the hon. Member for Oxford University, but after a few sentences he sheered off that plan altogether and proceeded to discuss, at much greater length, a plan of which personally I had never heard and of which I think few Members had ever heard, for storing two years' supply. The hon. Member declared that I was an enthusiastic supporter of that plan—of which I had never even heard. Far from being an enthusiastic advocate of it, I repudiate it. Indeed I have never approached this question as an enthusiastic advocate of any plan. I regard it as a question which demands careful and earnest thought. From the Government, it demands more than careful and earnest thought. Now, 14 months after the Food Plans Department was set up what is demanded from the Government is a decision. But the subject is not one in regard to which I have light-heartedly or enthusiastically advocated a particular course. I did not know from where this monstrous plan referred to by the hon. Member had emerged, but it turned out to be a plan which had been suggested in a Parliamentary question by one of his hon. Friends on the other side of the House. I think it was a pity that, possibly on the inspiration of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, the hon. Member devoted so much of his speech not to the case made by the Mover of the Motion but to a Parliamentary question asked by one of his political friends.

The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence found another object of criticism. He singled out a speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White), who does not happen to be in his place to-day. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend that he intended to bring up the question of that speech. I could see that the right hon. Gentleman had in his hand a little cutting, about an inch long, obviously an extremely abbreviated account of my hon. Friend's speech, and I think that was a very small peg on which to hang his criticism of the speech of my hon. Friend or of the proposals of the hon. Member for Oxford University. But on that small peg he hung not only such criticism but also an injunction to us not to magnify the difficulties with which we are faced. I agree that we ought not to magnify those difficulties, but they are very great, and we ought not to hush them up.

Ministers are a little too anxious to recommend caution to their critics. They are a little too anxious to stifle criticism. I think that criticism does good and, if there are deficiencies in our military and civilian arrangements for meeting a national emergency, they should be discussed on the Floor of the House. If they do not exist, the Minister can tell us so. If they do exist, it is better that they should be faced frankly. We may be sure that if we know of deficiencies in our civilian and military arrangements for meeting the emergency of war, foreign Powers who are interested also know. They have plenty of sources of information besides the Debates in this House—sources to which I imagine they attach even more value—and it is just as well that we should have frank discussion of these questions.

I think the situation is serious. Before the last War we started from the very clear-cut proposition that either we should have command of the sea or that we should not. If we had command of the sea, then no difficulties of supplies of either food or raw material would arise. If we had not command of the sea, we should starve if we had no food stored, and similarly, if we had stored even two years' supply of food, we should still have lost the War because we could not have imported the raw materials required for our industries. But it did not quite work out like that. We did hold unchallenged command of the surface of the sea and to that fact more than any other, we owe the successful result of the war. I associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for Oxford University that this proposal is no substitute for command of the sea. Command of the sea is essential and fundamental. This proposal is merely to assist the Navy in its main task of commanding the surface of the sea. They performed that task with complete success during the last War, yet, owing to the emergence of a new and unforeseen peril, we were reduced at one time to 17 days' supply of wheat and a week's supply of sugar. That is what happened in the last War, and I think we are not better situated to-day. In fact in some respects we are worse situated to-day than we were in 1914.

I do not propose to discus the strategic situation, though I join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in the hope that some of the hon. and gallant Members opposite will take part in this Debate and discuss the effect of the emergence of large numbers of submarines on the one hand as against counter-balancing factors like the greater efficiency of protective devices on the other; but we know that there is, under present conditions, a terrible new peril to our food supplies. Our docks and harbours and quays and inland communications and the whole of our present system of food storage is liable to attack from the air. We also know that the tonnage of our Mercantile Marine has fallen. Not only are there fewer ships but there is great difficulty in manning those ships. Anybody here who belongs to the shipping industry knows the difficulty which is experienced in obtaining men like boatswains and junior engineers at the present time. Yet in the event of war, the Admiralty would at once take 6,000 men from the Mercantile Marine. Moreover, there are 4,000,000 more mouths to be fed in this country now than there were in 1914.

As against all those counts on the debit side the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned one on the asset side. He says that our agricultural production has increased. It is true that we have more dairy cattle and more livestock of other kinds. We have many more pigs and we have doubled the number of fowls that we had in 1914, but from the point of view of saving shipping space in time of war, those factors are quite irrelevant because to feed that livestock it is necessary to import supplies of feeding stuffs which occupy more shipping space than would their equivalent in dead meat. Indeed, the position is even worse than that bald statement represents it to be, because we are not producing in this country as much of the feeding stuffs required for these animals as we were producing in 1914. There has been a decline in the home production of oats and barley, a decline which is still continuing. I did not at all like that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he seemed to regard as a partial solution of this problem the possibility of rapidly increasing agricultural production at the outbreak of war, because it takes at least 9 to 12 months to increase the production of cereals, and it takes, according to the particular livestock you are raising, anything up to three years to increase your production of livestock. We have to remember, too, that our agricultural population has fallen from over 1,000,000 men and women, including casual workers, in 1914, to fewer than 750,000 at the present time.

Considering that in all these respects our food position is definitely worse than it was in 1914, it is no wonder that Lord Baldwin, when he was Prime Minister, announced at the beginning of last year the appointment of a committee of three to make plans for increasing home-grown food supplies "as a matter of national emergency"; but as far as this House knows nothing has happened, no decisions have been taken, and indeed the truth is that you cannot hurry the processes of agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman spoke well when, referring, I think, to an interruption from these benches, about the necessity of importing the equivalent, at least, in shipping space of foodstuffs to feed our livestock, he said, "Yes, that is a baffling fact." I am afraid it is a baffling fact and that the increase of agricultural production, important as it is from a long-range point of view for social and economic reasons, cannot be regarded as an immediate and direct contribution to the particular problem of saving shipping space and ensuring the food supplies of the nation in time of war which this House is considering this afternoon. Therefore, to meet the emergency, to relieve the country from the pressure which it would throw on our Navy and mercantile marine, we must have something more certain and immediate in its operation, and hence the vital importance of this question of food storage.

I am not here to say that a decision in favour of food storage or of a particular form of food storage is an easy matter. I am not here to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us details of the exact amount of food that he proposes to buy and store and where he is going to put it. Obviously a great many factors have to be considered. But this question is one which affects the safety of the country, and I am here to complain that even to-day the right hon. Gentleman has given us no clear statement that this need of food storage is going to be met on an adequate scale. There are two respects in which, it seems to me, his statement was unsatisfactory from the standpoint of those of us who are anxious about the question of food storage. First of all, he did not give us any indication of the scale on which the storage was going to be undertaken. I do not want the details, I do not want to know exactly how much of each particular kind of food is going to be stored, but the House would feel more comfortable if he would say that roughly the scale which the Government were contemplating was not the absurd scale of two years' food supply, but the kind of scale which the hon. Member for Oxford University has in his mind. The second point on which his statement seemed to me to be profoundly unsatisfactory was that he did not indicate that the Government had realised the importance of the question of the dispersion of the storage of supplies. On the contrary, he said that they were relying upon the trade keeping rather larger stocks than usual.

Sir T. Inskip

No, the right hon. Gentleman must not say that. I specially referred to the value of the dispersal of stocks as contrasted with concentration in areas, none of which were very easy to describe as safe.

Sir A. Sinclair

There was a passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he referred to the encouragement which he hoped would be given to the trade to increase their supplies.

Sir T. Inskip

I am sure it was my fault if I was not sufficiently clear. The other passage was unconnected with dispersal. It was a reference to the possibility of getting the trade in particular food commodities to increase their stocks, which would have the advantage of not imposing so large an expenditure upon the Government. That was an alternative policy to the Government buying stocks of food. It was not to exclude that policy, but an alternative.

Sir A. Sinclair

I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman realises that the connection between those two passages of his speech and the importance of the policy of dispersion arises from the fact that in the case of wheat and other commodities, but certainly in the case of wheat, the trade keep their supplies in the most exposed places, at the ports round our coasts, and especially in London and on the East coast; and when the right hon. Gentleman therefore speaks of reliance on the trade to increase their stocks, we feel that that means that the stocks are going to be increased in the most exposed places in the country instead of being dispersed.

Sir T. Inskip

I am sorry to interrupt again. I certainly did not contemplate in what I said adding to the stocks of food in the places which are so liable to attack and possibly damage or destruction. I fully share the right hon. Gentleman's preference for as wide a dispersal as possible, and even in the case of food stocks which are increased with the help of the traders in the business, I do not agree that the tendency of that would be to put them in the big centres at the ports. Take wheat and flour, for instance. It would go into a great variety of holders and bakers and small millers throughout the length and breadth of the land, and that is one of the advantages of the plan that I propose.

Sir A. Sinclair

In so far as those advantages accrue to the right hon. Gentleman, we, of course, shall be very glad, but if you are going to avoid this concentration of wheat supplies at the ports which the trade itself is now using for the purposes of importation, which in large measure are in some of the most exposed ports in the country, then I think the right hon. Gentleman will have to disregard some of those arguments which he was using against the proposal of the hon. Gentleman on the ground of the expense of putting up new silos, and instead of these storehouses in the most exposed and vulnerable places, he will have to have several storehouses dispersed about the country where they will not be exposed to concentrated air attack.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that I was unfair in suggesting that he was vague, but in no part of his speech did he say that he accepted, even in general outline—and we would not ask him to do more than that—the plan of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University. He begged us not to suppose that his speech meant that he does not think that food storage is an unnecessary proposition, but he did not tell us that he thought it was a necessary proposition on the scale which my hon. Friend advocated. What I gathered was his principal objection to the speech of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) was the use of the word "forthwith." I rather gathered that the right hon. Gentleman wished us to understand that he was generally benevolent towards the proposition of the hon. Member for Romford, but that what he objected to was the suggestion of action which is contained in the word "forthwith." I cannot help thinking that it is action, an assurance of action, which this House would most greatly have welcomed from the right hon. Gentleman. After all, this matter has been under public discussion for some 18 months. The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford University in the Debate in July last. He may perhaps permit me to remind him of this passage from his own speech: I am only in a position to say this, that the Government have had the assistance of one of our greatest public servants, a civil servant, on this question for months. He reviewed the position in all the detail which was necessary to enable the Government to come to a decision on the question of food storage. And he went on to say: It is now … in a state in which the Government can take a decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1937; cols. 2960–1, Vol. 326.] Really we had hoped that a decision in no uncertain terms would have been given to the House of Commons this afternoon.

The Food Department plans which have been the subject of two important articles in the "Times," seem good, so far as they go, but they are merely plans for putting up machinery, and what we want to know and to be assured about is that we shall not only have the machinery for distributing the food, organising its collection, and buying during the time of war, but that we shall have a sufficient supply of food to distribute to the people. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulty of liquidating supplies and suggested that a great deal of the money would be lost when the time comes, that we need no longer make these preparations for a national emergency, but, of course, so will the money which we are spending on the Army, the Navy, the docks, the barracks, and all that be lost too, and this is only a very small fraction. If we are spending £1,500,000,000 on Defence, surely we can spend £1,530,000,000, and by the addition of that £30,000,000 get this very great additional security which the proposals of the hon. Member for Oxford University would give us.

These plans of the Food Plans Department, good as they are, are not sufficient. They include, it is true, arrangements for co-operation with the food trade, accurate information on stocks and sources of supply, arrangements for purchases and supplies from abroad both in bulk on advance contracts and by instalments through buying commissions, plans for the diversion of shipping and the pooling of transport, and, of course, the vital question of rationing, but I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is going to prove to be the Old Mother Hubbard of this Government. The House will remember that the dog looked up hungrily at Old Mother Hubbard as she advanced to the cupboard, and we are entitled, to assume that there was no obstacle in her way, that she went unimpeded through the room to the cupboard, that there was a good key, which worked well in the lock, and the door swung open smoothly and easily on its hinges; and the right hon. Gentleman has taken pains to see that we shall have machinery in war time for food distribution which will work as easily. But unfortunately, when Old Mother Hubbard opened the cupboard there was no food inside it, and that is exactly the position which we wish the right hon. Gentleman to guard against. If he would accept this Motion even now, the House would feel happier at the conclusion of the Debate.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

In common with many other Members I have been for two years past asking the Government for a clear statement of their position on this matter of foodstuffs. We have had the statement this afternoon, and I must say frankly that I am disappointed. My right hon. Friend said he did not, at any rate for the time being, see any necessity for increased construction of storage accommodation. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party referred to Old Mother Hubbard. It is a question of whether Old Mother Hubbard is going to have a cupboard at all, for many of us feel that if there is to be any food storage policy on a considerable scale at all, there must be some measure of increased construction.

It is not necessary for me in this House to say more than a very few words about the importance to this country of sure supplies of food in the event of war. There can be no two views on that question. It is a matter of fact, and not one of opinion. We cannot ignore the experience and lessons of the last War. When this country entered the Great War in 1914 we had seven months' supply of food in reserve. Nevertheless, by 1917 we were within a very few weeks of exhaustion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to our position to-day compared with 1914. How does it compare with 1914? In June, 1936, the Home Secretary, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, declared that we had only six weeks' supply in this country. More recent estimates, I think, suggest that at the most we may have enough for three months. Thus our present supplies of food are less than half what they were in 1914. There are, however, other circumstances which further increase the gravity of our situation.

Sir John Haslam

The hon. Member refers to seven months' food supply. Does he mean wheat only?

Mr. Sandys

I mean all foods. The Leader of the Liberal party referred to the fact that we had 4,000,000 more mouths to feed. At the same time we have 3,000,000 acres less under cultivation to-day than in 1914. On the top of that there has been a very serious decline in the strength of our Mercantile Marine. My right hon. Friend said that the position of the merchant navy was as good to-day as it was in 1914. But not only have we 2,000,000 tons less merchant shipping than we had in 1914, but the average size of our individual ships is greater. This, of course, means that every torpedo or aerial bomb which finds its mark inflicts a proportionately greater loss.

Sir T. Inskip

I should not like the hon. Member's statement to go out uncontradicted. He said our shipping is 2,000,000 tons less—I suppose he means gross tonnage—than in 1914. That is not the fact. The total British shipping in 1914 was 20,524,000 gross tons; to-day it is 20,398,000.

Mr. Sandys

Does my right hon. Friend maintain his statement that the position of the Mercantile Marine is as good to-day as it was in 1914?

Sir T. Inskip

I do. The comparatively small difference between the gross tonnage of 1937 and 1914 is more than compensated for by the greater cargo-carrying space in the ships, by their extra speed, by their improved facilities for turning round, and by the improved arrangements at the ports. Therefore, as a cargo-carrying machine the Mercantile Marine to-day is as effective as it was in 1914.

Mr. Sandys

I submit to my right hon. Friend that the fact that the ships are bigger is in itself an added danger in time of war, and does not by any means make up for the deficiency. In general, I think if my right hon. Friend looks into the position he will see that our merchant navy is considerably weaker in almost every respect, and considerably less able to meet the demands for supplying foods, than it was in 1914. As to the Navy, all our Defence plans are based, and are rightly based, upon the assumption that we are going to maintain our naval supremacy; but that assumption, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) said, does not in any way suggest that we might not in another war, as we did in the last, when we never lost our naval superiority, go through a period in which our merchant shipping might suffer crippling losses through the attacks of enemy submarines or aircraft. In the last 20 years the methods of defence against submarines have undoubtedly made great strides, but from the point of view of our food supply the advantage has, I think, been more than offset by the increase in range and power of the air-bomber. Not only can the bomber intercept our food supplies before they reach our shores, but it can destroy or contaminate the stores which we already have in the great silos and granaries at most of our ports.

What can be done in the face of these many and varied dangers to ensure the nation's food supplies in the event of another war? The Minister referred to the importance of increased home production. Personally, I think there is room for a further considerable increase in our home production, but it is of course a question of degree. The Government's agricultural policy in regard to Defence is, as I understand it, by increasing the fertility of the soil and by other methods, to put British agriculture in a position in which it can quickly expand its output in the event of an emergency. The steps which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is taking in that direction are necessary and desirable, but, of course, they do not in any way constitute an alternative to a policy of food storage. Apart from all other considerations, there is the factor which was alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition—the question of the time-lag. The Minister of Agriculture himself explained only the other day that in a policy of agricultural expansion a considerable period must elapse before any tangible results in the form of increased food supplies can be obtained. To increase the output of wheat, he said, would take nine months. In the case of bacon the period is one year, mutton two years, and beef three years. From that I think it is evident that it would be quite hopeless to rely upon any sudden or rapid expansion of our home production during the early stages of a war.

I do not propose at this time to go into any details about the technical aspect of food storage. Practical difficulties undoubtedly exist. But the fact that Germany has in the last few years increased her food storage capacity by as much as 50 per cent. shows that these difficulties are by no means insuperable. Incidentally, it shows also the importance which Germany attaches to this aspect of Defence. Food storage will have to be achieved through the combination of a number of different methods. The farmers, the millers, the bakers, the caterers, and other trading interests, who already possess considerable storage accommodation, would no doubt have to receive some financial inducement from the Government to maintain increased stocks of grain and other non-perishable foodstuffs. But in addition to this it would, I think, undoubtedly be necessary for the Government to construct increased storage accommodation on a considerable scale, dispersed for safety's sake in different parts of the country. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence referred to the difficulties of buying grain for storage without upsetting the market. Provided these purchases are made discreeting and gradually, and at propitious moments when the price of grain is low, I cannot see that it presents any greater difficulties than do the very similar transactions of the Government's Exchange Equalisation Fund, which has worked so successfully and so smoothly.

In conclusion, let me emphasise that food storage, like air-raid precautions, is one of those aspects of passive defence which, if neglected, can easily undo all the effects of spending hundreds of millions of pounds upon the expansion and re-equipment of our fighting Forces. The advantages of a policy of food storage are, I trunk, many and important. It would relieve the Royal Navy of some of the strain of its convoying duties. It would, to some extent, make up for the present weakness, as I maintain, of our Mercantile Marine. It would give farmers a breathing space in which to increase our home production. It would be a source of strength to the Government, and a source of security to the people. In time of peace, moreover, it would be a definite advantage both to the farmers and to the consumers, in that it would tend to reduce the fluctuations in food prices between good and bad years. The cost, considering everything, would be comparatively small, and the advantages are, I submit, enormous. Therefore, I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Coordination of Defence will in the course of the next few months seriously reconsider what must be regarded by many hon. Members as the very disappointing attitude which he has adopted this afternoon.

7.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

I listened with great attention and admiration to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). I differed from him in only one respect. He said that the speech of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence had caused him astonishment and surprise. It caused me nothing of the sort. It was exactly the turgid, viscid and anodyne sort of speech which I anticipated. It certainly profoundly disappointed the House, and it will equally disappoint the country tomorrow. One passage in the speech was, I thought, alarming. That was the complete misapprehension which the Minister showed when he referred to the subject we are discussing as only a preparatory war measure, the necessity for which might soon pass away. That shows one of those fundamental misapprehensions on matters of defence which make some of us entertain such grave apprehension that the Minister has anything to do with such matters. I wish to deal with only one or two points affecting defence in regard to food supply.

In the matter of shipping, I have on previous occasions pointed out that the tonnage available for carrying food is down by nearly 1,500,000 tons as compared with 1914. In spite of what the Minister said on that subject, I still think that this is an extremely serious situation, as we cannot now depend on having available the tonnage of two countries which were then with us. In any case, the risks nowadays from submarines and aeroplanes are so great that neutral shipping may be found reluctant to come to our assistance. With such a shortage of tonnage it would be most valuable to have a year's food stored, leaving such tonnage as we have for the import of vital raw materials. Moreover, if we are not hard pressed in the matter of food supplies, thanks to having some stored away, we would be able to route our shipping by the safest routes instead of by the most dangerous routes in order to save time.

I will come more directly to the question of Defence. During the War it took us a long time to find the antidote to the submarine. Twelve months' supply of food in store would give us time in which to find the antidote to those new forms of attack upon our food ships which we shall certainly have to face. We are prone to speak as if the submarine menace had been mastered, but in another war there will be many hundreds more foreign submarines afloat than there were in 1914–18. They will be much more powerful and efficient, able to carry more torpedoes, and with a much greater range of endurance. The arrival of food convoys must remain mainly the responsibility of the Navy. But the Navy, even the strong Navy spoken of this afternoon, can no longer by its own efforts guarantee the safe arrival of our food ships. Aircraft may co-operate, but they cannot undertake continuous convoy. They can operate in support of food convoys only in narrow waters. It is not merely a question of bringing food to these shores in the food ships. The problem is more what happens after the food ships arrive. Docks, wharves, warehouses, trains and lorries will all be subject to air attack. The Royal Air Force will have to deal with that menace. The effect of the air weapon in future will be enormously to increase the possibility of dislocation of our food supplies both in the process of arriving here and of distribution after arrival, with the consequent possibility of starvation of the civilian population.

We have to contemplate totalitarian war, with the whole nation, as well as the Army, marching on its stomach. It is a theory now that the power of the defence has enormously increased, but empty stomachs will break down any defensive. All the money being spent on rearmament will be money thrown away if our food supplies cannot be guaranteed. There is a great deal of talk about the theory of the knock-out blow in war. The knock-out blow in the last War was delivered on the home front in Germany, which collapsed through the food shortage, although the German armed forces were never defeated in the field. Lord Baldwin said that if threatened the people of this country would spring to arms as one man. They may, but you will not be able to feed them on one man's rations. Is the Government while spending £1,500,000,000 on re-armament going to take us into a war without our food supplies guaranteed.

It is very probable that the enemy in another war will concentrate far more on bombing our docks than on submarining our food ships at sea. What will happen if we have to divert the food ships from our eastern to our western ports? We had some experience of it during the War. There were six ships diverted from London to Plymouth. They took three weeks instead of one to discharge 27,000 tons. The transport to take this food from Plymouth to London was practically non-existent and only 7,000 tons got there. Cargoes rotted in harbour for lack of transport facilities. There was a scandal in 1918 when great quantities of bacon accumulated in Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow. Thousands of tons went bad while it lay on the quays and in warehouses because there was no transport to take it away.

In face of these considerations what is being done? The Food Defence Plans Department, appointed in September, 1936, gave its first sign of life in November, 1937, when it appointed 15 food supply officers for England and Wales. We are told that these officers are in due course to be approached by a chief-divisional officer. I suppose that they will sit in the twilight and have a nice talk in suitably low tones about the creation of a "shadow" organisation to control the supply and distribution of food in war time. Nothing so low as the provision or storage of the food these shadowy officers are to control and distribute will be mentioned. At the present moment we have shadow aeroplane factories, from which the shadow of an aeroplane never emerges. Now we have a shadow organisation for controlling food supplies and prices in time of war, and we have shadow local food committees. This Government seems to live amongst shadows, but even if they were all as substantial as the shadow of the right hon. Gentleman, shadows are no good. The enemy is not going to indulge in shadow boxing. Let the public have some substance and be told frankly what are the war time arrangements for food supply and distribution. Why all the secrecy—this secrecy which is always the fetish of little unconstructive minds? Is everything so secret because nothing but brave words exist?

The Food Defence Plans Committee has sat since December, 1936. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence sits in the next nest, and a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence sits in the next nest to him. Before all this Sir William Beveridge sat on a sub-committee on rationing. They all sit and sit. They have all been broody for over a year, but where are the chickens? Perhaps I have paid them a compliment. Perhaps they are not broody. There are some hens that cannot or will not try. There are other hens which are egg-bound. There are representatives of the Merchant Service, the Navy, the Air Force, the railways, the road carriers, the dock authorities, the provision merchants—all sitting. There are numbers of subcommittees sitting. There is a committee sitting on the diversion of shipping, another on the control of ports, another on rationing for war purposes, and another on the extension of the canning industry to meat. I think the Government must have given them addled eggs or nest eggs, what we call pot eggs in the north, to sit on.

When the emergency arises action will have to be swift. We are told that there is most valuable information left to us from the work of Lord Rhondda's Ministry. The most valuable lesson left behind by that Ministry is that it did not start work until two-and-a-half years after the War began and when prices had risen by 78 per cent., and it was not effectively at work until nearly a year later. The lesson of the work of Lord Rhondda is that this matter brooks no delay and that action must be swift.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. De Chair

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has really allayed the anxieties of the House on this subject of food supplies in time of war. We expected something better of him. He is our all-highest war lord, and we expected that he would be able to assure the House that this vital aspect of Defence had been taken into consideration and that something had been done about it. Now we learn that after the two years during which the right hon. Gentleman has held office, the Government have only

surveyed the ground and that plans are not even ready. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman threw out a sympathetic note to agriculture, and I only wish that he had carried it a little further, because he rather took the attitude that that is the job of the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture is doing his best. He keeps chugging along on one cylinder, but it is for the right hon. Gentleman to step on the gas and apply the accelerator. I believe he could do that if he wished.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 130; Noes, 193.

Division No. 90.] AYES. [7.30 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Grenfell, D. R. Nathan, Colonel H. L.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Naylor, T. E.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Noel-Baker, P. J.
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Oliver, G. H.
Ammon, C. G. Groves, T. E. Parkinson, J. A.
Aske, Sir R. W. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Perkins, W. R. D.
Banfield, J. W. Harris, Sir P. A. Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Barnes, A. J. Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Pritt, D. N.
Barr, J Hayday, A. Ridley, G.
Bellenger, F. J. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Ritson, J.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Bevan, A. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Holdsworth, H. Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)
Buchanan, G. Hollins, A. Sanders, W. S.
Burke, W. A. Hopkin, D. Sandys, E. D.
Cape, T. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Seely, Sir H. M.
Cassells, T. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Sexton, T. M.
Charleton, H. C. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Shinwell, E.
Chater, D. Jones, Sir H. Hayan (Merioneth) Simpson, F. B.
Cluse, W. S. Jones, J. J. (Silvertown) Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cocks, F. S. Kelly, W. T. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Cove, W. G. Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)
Daggar, G. Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Kirby, B. V. Sorensen, R. W.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) Kirkwood, D. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Day, H. Lathan, G. Tate, Mavis C.
Dobbie, W. Leach, W. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Leonard, W. Thorne, W.
Ede, J. C. Leslie, J. R. Thurtle, E.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Logan, D. G. Tinker, J. J.
Elliston, Capt. G. S. Lunn, W. Viant, S. P.
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Walkden, A. G.
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales) McEntee, V. La T. Walker, J.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Maclean, N. Watkins, F. C.
Foot, D. M. Mander, G. le M. Watson, W. McL.
Frankel, D. Marklew, E. Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Gardner, B. W. Marshall, F. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mathers, G. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Maxton, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral) Milner, Major J. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Parker and Dr. Haden Guest.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Balfour, G. (Hampstead) Beechman, N. A.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Bennett, Sir E. N.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.) Balniel, Lord Bernays, R. H.
Apsley, Lord Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Birchall, Sir J. D.
Assheton, R. Barrie, Sir C. C. Bird, Sir R. B.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Blair, Sir R.
Boothby, R. J. G. Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Procter, Major H. A.
Boulton, W. W. Guinness, T. L. E. B. Radford, E. A.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Hambro, A. V. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Harbord, A. Ramsbotham, H.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Harvey, Sir G. Ramsden, Sir E.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Bull, B. B. Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Rayner, Major R. H.
Burghley, Lord Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Butcher, H. W. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Cartland, J. R. H. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Ropner, Colonel L.
Carver, Major W. H. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Higgs, W. F. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Hopkinson, A. Rowlands, G.
Channon, H. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Chapman, A. (Ruthergten) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Christie, J. A. Hulbert, N. J. Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Clarke, F. E. (Dartford) Hume, Sir G. H. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Clarry, Sir Reginald Hunter, T. Salmon, Sir I.
Clydesdale, Marquess of Hurd, Sir P. A. Samuel, M. R. A.
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Hutchinson, G. C. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H. Savery, Sir Servington
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Keeling, E. H. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Craven-Ellis, W. Lambert. Rt. Hon. G. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Leech, Sir J. W. Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Cross, R. H. Lewis, O. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Crowder, J. F. E. Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Cruddas, Col. B. Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Spens, W. P.
Culverwell, C. T. MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil) McCorquodale, M. S. Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
De Chair, S. S. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross) Storey, S.
Denman, Hon. R. D. MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Drewe, C. McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury) McKie, J. H. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side) Maclay, Hon. J. P. Sutcliffe, H.
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Duncan, J. A. L. Magnay, T. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Eastwood, J. F. Maitland, A. Titchfield, Marquess of
Eckersley, P. T. Makins, Brig-Gen. E. Train, Sir J.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Manningham-Buller, Sir M. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Turton, R. H.
Ellis, Sir G. Marsden, Commander A. Wakefield, W. W.
Elmley, Viscount Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Emery, J. F. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Emmott, C. E. G. C. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.) Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Warrender, Sir V.
Everard, W. L. Mitcheson, Sir G. G. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Findlay, Sir E. Morgan, R. H. Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Fox, Sir G. W. G. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Furness, S. N. Munro, P. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Gluckstein, L. H. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Gower, Sir R. V. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Wood, Hon. C. I. C.
Grant-Ferris, R. O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Peake, O.
Gridley, Sir A. B. Pickthorn, K. W. M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grimston R. V. Pilkington, R. Mr. Duggan and Lord Willoughby
Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake) Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton de Eresby.

Question proposed, "That the proposed words be there added."

Mr. Tinker


It being after Half-Past Seven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.