Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment [14th November] to Question [8th November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Hely-Hutchinson.]
Which Amendment was, at the end of the Question, to add the words:
But regret the absence of any reference to the serious problem of unemployment as represented by nearly two million men and women who cannot find work, and the failure of Your Majesty's advisers to recognise that the real strength and prosperity of the people depend upon the full use of the resources of the country, human and material, and upon an equitable distribution of wealth, thus ensuring the maintenance and improvement of the standard of life for active and retired workers and the development of the social services."—[Mr. Pethick-Lawrence.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
During the last few weeks and months we have had many Debates on foreign affairs, and since I have been in this House I do not ever recall the Government's supporters looking so demoralised as they have been in the past few weeks, and yesterday, while listening to the Minister of Labour, they seemed to me to be equally hopeless and helpless in the domestic sphere. The Minister of Health appears to regard himself as the chief of the social ambulance brigade, but he did not pay a moment's attention to the grave human problems that are contronting the poorer classes in this country. He not only seemed happy and contented, but rather suggested that we ought all to be merry and cast our cares away. He told the House, referring to free meals in schools, that the number of children receiving them has doubled during the past 10 years. I 720 should like to ask him whether we are to assume from that statement that after seven years of National Government there are twice as many children suffering from malnutrition to-day as there were 10 years ago. That is a fairly reasonable deduction. The right hon. Gentleman claimed full credit for having initiated the milk-in-schools scheme, which is now accepted by all members as not only a desirable scheme in itself but a desirable scheme from the point of view of nutrition and agriculture. In point of fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) was the first to initiate experiments for cheap or free milk for school children in 1929. While we have no complaints about its expansion by the present Government or their predecessors, we want to point out that we were thinking of this problem before Members of the National Government.
The Minister of Labour on this occasion did not mess about with unemployment figures, and try to lose the problem of the unemployed. He chose to ignore it for 33 minutes out of the 35 minutes of his speech. For 33 minutes he bellowed like a bull, not only at hon. Members sitting on this bench, but at his hon. Friends who had attempted to make constructive proposals whereby the unemployed army might be reduced. In the last two minutes of his speech he said something about the unemployed army and made a claim that, although there are 1,750,000 people out of work, the problem was not nearly as bad as it might be if looked at through his spectacles. Indeed, he said that while of the 2,000,000 unemployed a few years ago, 933,000 had been out of work for three months, at this moment only 610,000 of the 1,750,000 had been out of work for three months. That is all to the good, but the right hon. Gentleman ought to know that a new technique has been adopted by the Employment Exchanges throughout the country. If a person has been out of work for seven, eight or nine months, and within that period has secured one or two jobs of a week at a time, he is not regarded as having been out of work for three months. I had a typical example at my house last week. This poor fellow had been out of work since February this year, but he has had three periods of from three to five days' work during that time. His last period having been within the past three months, 721 he is one of those unemployed who, according to the Minister, has not been out of work for three months.
The Minister of Labour is claiming credit for having considerably improved the position. That is no real contribution to the unemployment problem, and the only deduction one can get from the right hon. Gentleman's speech is this. He certainly has no idea of a remedy. He did not utter a word about the mal-distribution of wealth, and he made no reference in 35 minutes to the problem of poverty amidst plenty. Rather did he play with the word "rabbits," which he regarded as something very humorous, because in 1924 a Labour Government, with 192 Members out of 615, did not solve in six weeks an unemployment problem of about 2,000,000 which had been bequeathed by the Tory Government of 1923. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about rabbits and quotes that as an example of the inefficiency of the Labour Government, may I remind him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I think at that moment would be much more sympathetic to the Labour Government than the Minister of Labour was, that the present Minister for Air, who finds it so difficult to get aeroplanes out of a hat, moved a Motion of Censure six weeks after the Labour Government came into office because the Labour Government had not solved the problem of unemployment in six short weeks. We have had a National Government, not for six weeks, but for seven years. The Minister of Labour has held office for 3½ years, and, as far as I can see, the only person thriving on the unemployment problem is the Minister of Labour himself.
The simple truth of the matter is that the speeches we heard yesterday were from two Ministers who both support the system that creates unemployment, and we could not expect them to make a real, constructive contribution to the solution of that problem. They know that they support a system which means large profits for a few and small incomes for the many, surplus stocks, depression, unemployment and occasionally a jolly old war to get rid of the surplus. So instead of arguing about the real question of unemployment, the Minister of Labour bellowed, boomed and banged, but there was not a single word of hope in his speech for the unemployed. The President 722 of the Board of Trade, speaking from that bench a few days ago, said there was no hope of solving or even partially solving the problem of unemployment by means of rearmament. Lloyds Bank Monthly Review, dealing with this problem recently, said:On the other hand, there has been no recovery. Business has done no more than stabilise itself at the lower level of six months ago.Therefore, as far as we can see from the speeches of the two Ministers yesterday, unemployment is now stabilised between 1,750,000 and 2,000,000, and the Government have no sort of remedy, or even suggestion, as to how to minimise that problem. So we have 10 per cent. of our people living below the poverty line, and, according to Sir John Orr, whom the Minister of Health complimented yesterday for his help to the Government, 13,500,000 people have only 4s. to 6s. each weekly for food. Millions of our people are compelled to buy cheap imported food because they cannot afford to buy British. We shall be hearing something from agricultural Members this afternoon as to what they think should be done so that agriculture can be brought into a state of prosperity. The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Hely-Hutchinson), when moving the Address, said that we ought to mind our own business. If we did mind our own business the hon. Gentleman would be without a job and the Tory party would be without a job, too, because if we had minded our own business we would not be in the position in which we are to-day. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in his place, and I know he would be seriously worried if I did not make some observations about the apparently one bright spot in the Gracious Speech. Here we read:My Ministers recognise the important place which home agriculture must occupy in the national economy and defence.It is as well that that appears in the King's Speech because nobody had noticed it, least of all the farmers' representatives in this House and the farmers outside. Yesterday, despite the statement in the King's Speech, there were 23 questions on the Order Paper demanding assistance for stock feeders, sheep farmers, potato growers, and barley growers. This morning there is a Motion on the Order Paper from the official 723 spokesmen of the National Farmers' Union demanding price insurance or stabilised prices for barley, oats and sheep. All this despite the promise in the King's Speech that three Measures, for milk, poultry and wheat, are to be introduced this Session. So that if the Government really do recognise the important place that agriculture should occupy in national economy and Defence, I would like to know when they are going to apply that policy consistently, with their knowledge of national requirements.
It is true that we have had numerous expedients, temporary palliatives and permanent measures. Some of them have been good, some less good and some definitely bad, but apparently there is no one happy about this agricultural problem except the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister. Certainly the farmers of the country are not very happy, and the Minister from time to time is called upon to reply to criticisms. Speaking to a body of farmers a short time ago he said he was like a badger—when he was attacked he had to defend himself. I know none who is better capable of defending himself than the Minister of Agriculture. I knew that a badger was some sort of animal, and I went to the Oxford Dictionary to ascertain exactly what it was. This appears to be the badger, or the Minister of Agriculture:It is a grey-coated, strong-jawed, nocturnal, hibernating, plantigrade quadruped, somewhere between a weasel and a bear.There is, of course, another form of badger, and perhaps it is a happier representation of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government than the former one. The other form of badger is the one which insists on worrying or teasing other people. I think that the Government and the Minister have been teasing agriculture for a very long time. However, that is the right hon. Gentleman's own interpretion of himself, and I noticed that in the speech to which I have referred he actually did fight back. The right hon. Gentleman put a series of rhetorical questions to his critics. He asked, does it mean nothing that wheat growers are getting double the world price; does it mean nothing that the beef man is getting a subsidy and is enjoying tariffs; does it mean nothing that imports are regulated; does it mean nothing that the potato grower is getting a virtual monopoly, 724 that the pig man has a guaranteed price for bacon pigs, and that the Government are spending large sums of money for drainage, lime and other things? I should imagine that the farmers who listened were mesmerised temporarily. What they felt when the Minister had left the meeting, I do not know, but he obviously did his best to tease them into silence during the time he was with them.
I am prepared to grant the right lion. Gentleman all this: that no fewer than 33 Measures have been passed since 1931. But what is the right hon. Gentleman's maximum claim even now? What was his claim on 13th July of this year? Merely that, although there has been a change-over from one commodity to another, a greater production, for instance, of human food, a serious reduction in cattle foods, approximately we have just maintained our 1913 productivity. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman claims much more than that. We have maintained the nominal output of 1913. Since 1913 there have been increases here and there, but also decreases. In any case we do not doubt that there has been a change-over, and we think it is in the right direction, yet on the whole the output is not materially in excess of the output of 1913. Since 1913 great changes have taken place in the industry. There has been the introduction of machinery of all kinds. The right hon. Gentleman told us that to-day there were 50,000 tractors in the fields where none was known in 1913. We have artificial fertilisers; we have had 25 years of scientific research. There are 5,000,000 more people in the country than there were in 1913.
To be fair and reasonable to the Minister and to the Government, and applying any and every test possible, there is nothing to write home about with regard to the agricultural situation. Having regard to our natural advantages of soil and climate, our nearness to markets, war possibilities and unemployment, we might look for increased production, particularly if we were making better use of the land. But we know that the Government policy is conditioned by how much we can afford to produce, having regard to three or four different factors—export trade, Dominion imports, standards of the producer and purchasing power of the people. Judged by actual results the conclusions seem to be a limited use of the 725 land, limited output, inefficiency in both production and distribution and unnecessarily high prices, and we are largely dependent upon imported food. The policy may be good or bad according to the view that one takes of it, but that is the Government policy and there does not seem to be any doubt about it. The Kettering speech of the Prime Minister well known to every hon. Member, is on record, so is the Minister's speech of 13th July, and they seem to be satisfied with these periodic and comparatively small Measures dealing with this commodity or that, but fundamentally they have not taken one step that would lead to a really increased productivity without in any way affecting adversely the producer or the consumer of these commodities.
Our view is this: If output can be increased, maintaining and improving the standards of the farmer and the agricultural labourer, and the consumer is called upon to pay only the price that an efficient marketing system should call for, our aim should be increased productivity. The question that every hon. Member has quite rightly put to himself is, can this be done? I think it can be, but I do not think it either can or will be done as long as the present land system remains. Therefore, if and until we decide to change a system that restricts the best use of our land, we shall pass all these agricultural Measures, some very useful and some less useful, and we are not going to make the progress that we wish to see, the progress that every farmer in the country is anxious to see. If we are to make the best use of the land it is perfectly obvious that there must be modern buildings, up-to-date equipment, appropriate agricultural machinery, decent cottages for the workers to live in, and such other things as are necessary, but in existing circumstances those buildings, those cottages, those machines and the rest depend upon what? A great multiplicity of farmers who have not the means with which to provide them; a landlord who in many cases is unable or unwilling to provide them. Therefore, it is utterly impossible, in tens of thousands of cases, for farmers to make the best use of their land. I doubt whether, even if they had the wherewithal to provide themselves with the appropriate equipment, with the present subdivision of land they could make the best use of it.
726 It is well known that drainage problems have been held up for generations because of the multiplicity of landowners who will not undertake the job. The State has stepped in at the last moment and something is being done now. We know that water supply for man and beast is not available in large areas of the country. We have preferred for generations to suffer from floods to-day and drought to-morrow, and the net result is that there are tens of thousands of acres that are only half cultivated. We know also that every farm depends on some form of private transport for the conveyance of its produce to and from market, whereas under a really decent system the farmer might, save many pounds over the period of a year. But so long as a large number of individuals are determining factors we shall not get the system for which we are entitled to hope. To that extent it is fair to assume that tens of thousands of farmers are not pulling their weight either with regard to helping agriculture to play its part in national economy or as a fourth line of defence.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on 13th July railed at the Minister of Agriculture because millions of acres of land were being defertilised; farmers were taking everything out of the land and putting nothing back. The land is privately owned and apparently the owner does as he likes with his own and the Minister can do nothing with it. Here is a case, perhaps one of very many that could be quoted by every agricultural representative in this House, a case where, because the right type of man is not the farmer or the right set of conditions is not available, whether it be buildings, machinery or equipment—whether the farm is too small or too large I cannot say—but in 10 years we have had no fewer than five different owners, four different tenants, three times everything has been taken out and nothing has been left except weeds and hedges, and four times during that period it has been in the hands of mortgagees. That is a typical example of very many farms up and down the country.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Member wants many more examples I can give them, and the name of the farm I have referred to. He knows that I am not a practical farmer. There are many thousands of cases similar to the one that 727 I have mentioned, and they are due to one or more of the factors I have mentioned, coupled with private ownership of the land. When we suggest that the time has come for agricultural land to be nationally owned we are in very good company. Lord Astor, no mean unit in the agricultural universe these days, and Mr. Rowntree, have been responsible for the important volume I have in my hand. I hope that many hon. Members will read it. What do they say about the ownership of agricultural land, not without having examined the question meticulously, with all the finest agricultural experts of the country, over a period of three years? What do they say about the ownership of land? First, they say:To an ever-increasing extent public money is being used for tasks which in former times the landlords themselves would have accomplished. Moreover, the State during the last few years has given to agriculture substantial assistance which for the most part has done little directly to maintain long-term investment in the land and its equipment, but it is becoming increasingly clear that agriculture will benefit more if the assistance were re-orientated to meet this deficiency. Taken together those considerations provide a powerful argument in favour of national ownership of land. The State as landlord will not suffer the disabilities of the private landowner. It would be in a position to consider investment in the land from the point of view of the public interest and it would be able to initiate comprehensive land improvement schemes which cannot easily be carried through under present conditions.They wind up:In principle, therefore, the arguments in favour of national ownership of agricultural land are overwhelmingly strong.Not only Lord Astor, Mr. Rowntree and Sir Daniel Hall but, I make bold to say, an ever-increasing number of farmers are becoming advocates of nationalised agricultural land. Hon. Members opposite, in particular, are always anxious to help agriculture in one form or another, and I ask them what better means there could be than assuming ownership of the land, providing proper buildings and equipment and such cheap credits as only the State itself can furnish for the further equipment of the farm? There would have to be a revision in the acreage of many farms, because existing sub-divisions prevent the farmer from securing the maximum value from modern agricultural machinery. All this would require some element of control, of course, but no good cultivator would mind the 728 State assuming ownership of the land. It would be the less good cultivator who would be worried, if anybody were worried at all. The right hon. Gentleman reminded us when last he spoke upon agriculture that it is no small industry, its output being worth £250,000,000 per annum. His Majesty's Ministers, says His Majesty, are aware of the importance of the industry in the national economy and for the purposes of defence. If we owned the land, then properly to equip it and make it possible for farmers to make the maximum use of it without depreciating their standards or the standards of consumers would certainly be in the national interest. If the State owned the land we could have large and small demonstration farms, we could set a tone and pace for private agriculture, and we should have a basis for a costings system which the right hon. Gentleman has not got even now, although circumstances have driven him to make crude guesses at certain prices when subsidies or guarantees have been given to agriculture. I have a letter from a farmer, and no mean farmer at that—I will not mention the county, because I would not have the poor fellow disturbed—in which he says:As chairman of the National Farmers' Union branch allow me to congratulate you on a point you made in the House during the Debate on the extension of the cattle subsidy. If the Minister would only get the agricultural colleges and the statistical department at Oxford University to ascertain what would be reasonable prices farmers would settle down to their problem of production. It would become a non-party propositionHe is certain that we should get proper farming, and more of it in future, if we had a real costings system. If there were large and small State experimental farms they could act as the basis of a costings system.
This brings me to my second constructive suggestion. The first essential for successful agriculture is to provide decent standards for the cultivator. Even Conservative agriculturists would agree with that proposition. With few exceptions farmers do not know what they will get for their commodities next week, next month or next year. It depends upon the higgling of the market, weather conditions and other variable factors. There is no business about it. It is a pure speculation, a pure gamble. I want to get decent standards for the cultivator, and to see also that the consumer is not exploited after the commodities have left 729 the farm. In many cases to-day what the consumer pays bears no relation to what the producer gets. The policy in the past has always been to pay the producer as little as you can and charge the consumer as much as you can. That is good business according to Tory economics but it is a wicked system for agriculture.
In 1934 we provided a subsidy of £3,750,000 per annum for beef. I think the price of beef at that time was round about 35s. to 36s. per cwt. Later the price was 48s. per cwt. This year it was 38s. plus what the Government give out of their —5,000,000 direct subsidy. It is the up and down of the agricultural price wheel that is the disturbing element within the industry. What do the Government propose in order to smooth out these variations in prices? They give a direct subsidy for this thing, an indirect subsidy for that and what they call price insurance in respect of some other commodity. I suggest that they are not moving in the right direction, are not keeping their eyes upon the central goal of agriculture. If the housewife has to pay more than an efficient marketing system really calls for she buys less English food or she transfers her purchases to imported food, which is no good to British agriculture, and since there are some 13,500,000 people who have only between 4s. and 6s. per head per week to spend upon food it is a temptation to make that change.
To secure decent prices for producers without imposing upon consumers will involve some gigantic organisation, but this is a big industry and it calls for gigantic organisation. The problem, either in time of peace or in time of war, is one which we cannot afford to neglect. A commission which went into the matter said the spread between the farm and the consumer amounted to £300,000,000, which was more than society would permanently continue to bear. If trusts and combines can set up organisations to fix their profits there is no reason why the nation should not provide a similar organisation in the interest of food producers, food consumers and the State. The job can be done if we are willing to do it. The farmer should ask not for price insurance schemes, which apparently mean a duty on imports—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—well, a levy on imports—and for direct subsidies upon this or 730 that commodity, but should go straight out for a price-fixing organisation under Government control. It would not be the first ad hoc commission which the National Government have set up, and it would not be the first big organisation outside the bounds of this House.
I do not say that this could be done in 12 months, I am not sure that it could be done in two years, but I am certain that if we started to work in that direction the time would come when the price-fixing organisation would have a far greater stabilising effect in agriculture than anything the National Government have done since 1931. Moreover, such an organisation would provide not for scarcity but for abundance, and give the people more home-grown food than they get at the moment. In 1932 the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor made a guess at the cost of producing wheat and fixed a subsidy upon that guess. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in 1934 made a guess at the cost of producing beef and fixed a subsidy upon that guess. The right hon. Gentleman made a further guess this year and has increased the subsidy to £5,000,000 per annum. He has been driven by some formula to give a price insurance for oats, barley and bacon, although he has never given the House the basis of the calculation of the figures. We do not think it is good business to make these hit-or-miss guesses. I suggest that all these small Measures are merely side issues, what, for want of a better term, I should call fiddling with one of the big major problems of this country. The milk proposal, the poultry proposal and the wheat proposal may all be good, or less than good, but they are not satisfying agricultural Members of this House, for already they are asking for something for barley, something for sheep and the rest. There will be no end to their requests until the Government make up their minds.
Without big bold measures such as I have described, however crudely—taking over the agricultural land as and when it is convenient so to do, helping the farmers to provide themselves with buildings, modem machinery and equipment, providing them with a real price-fixing system affecting all commodities and not one here and there—we shall not reach the agricultural goal for which we are all supposed to be striving. We shall con- 731 tinue with the old Liberal policy, the old Conservative policy, of limited use of the land, limited output, comparatively high prices and more dependence upon imported food. We shall find ourselves with a further dwindling of agricultural labour; and, lastly, I hope, if this policy continues, a vanishing National Government.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise
I found myself in agreement with some parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). Especially did I agree with him when he made a plea that some process might be evolved for smoothing out violent fluctuations in the price level of agricultural produce. That is very necessary indeed. I further agreed with him that it should be possible that a larger proportion of the foodstuffs consumed by our people should be home-grown rather than imported. On the major proposition which the hon. Member put forward as a panacea for all the ills of agriculture he will not be surprised if I disagree with him in toto. He has drawn a pleasant picture of the beneficent State. The State is to take over the land and nationalise it, and the farmer will then find the State only too ready and willing to provide the land with new and up-to-date buildings, equipment, machinery, implements, credit—I suppose—and every other kind of thing which might be thought desirable from the farmers' point of view. If there are any who are likely to be entrapped by the painting of that pleasant picture may I remind them that to help agriculture is not the main purpose of the Labour party, as I shall show in a moment. The main purpose of the Labour party is to nationalise the land. I have here one or two sayings from those who are entitled to speak for the Labour party as to the object behind nationalisation. For instance, may I quote Mr. G. D. H. Cole?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
He is a Socialist, and he said, on page 6 of "Socialist control of industry":No Socialist can recognise any claim by private owners to receive back in some other form the value of their property when the public takes it over. Our object is expropriation …. Socialism means expropriation, not the mere changing over from private to public management"—732 which is what the hon. Member has attempted to put before the House to-day.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Perhaps I might inform the hon. and gallant Member that that is not the policy of the Labour party, and that it is the nationalisation of agricultural land, with fair compensation.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Now I will quote from a speech made by Mr. George Dallas, chairman of the Labour party executive—
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
He said:You cannot go into a question like that"—meaning compensation for nationalisation—to-day. The best way is to issue them"—that is, the owners—landowners' bonds, and then, if you afterwards want to relieve them of the money we have given them it is the simplest thing in the world. You can get it back by Income Tax or Supertax.Please let the country and everybody be fully aware of what is really behind the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley when he preaches the gospel of nationalisation.
I find myself in agreement with one phrase which occurs in the Opposition Amendment where they urge the Government to recognise that the real strength and prosperity of the people depend upon the full use of the resources of the country. I do not think any hon. Member will be in disagreement with that proposition.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Perhaps the hon. Member will make his own speech later on. The phrase occurs in the Gracious Speech that the National Governmentrecognise the important place which home agriculture must occupy in the national economy and defence.733 I believe it is the first time, at least, in peace, that any phrase of that kind referring to the agricultural industry has ever occurred in the King's Speech. That phrase ought to be welcomed warmly not only by those engaged in the industry, but by many town dwellers who recognise the interdependence of agriculture with other industries and the value of the purchasing power of a prosperous agricultural industry; who recognise, also, the immense added strength to the national economy in peace and the vital contribution in the necessity of war capable of being made by a vigorous agriculture. Many of us are not too old to have forgotten that the peak point of peril in the Great War was not when we suffered reverses by land, sea or air, but when our food supply was at its lowest ebb. As regards the contribution to defence, I have often been surprised at an argument which is put forward. I have heard it said that the Navy and the Air Force confidently assert that as long as they are able to maintain supremacy in their respective spheres they will be able to guarantee safe passage to all the necessary imports of food and safe storage of that food after it has arrived here. This argument goes on:There is no need, therefore, to trouble overmuch about home food supply.The argument finishes like this:If those two fighting Services lose their supremacy and are unable to implement their guarantees in regard to the import of foodstuffs, then the war is lost anyhow, and home food supplies will not make much difference, anyway.I regard that argument as one of defeatism and despair, and I submit that it should not be tolerated for one moment. Just as agriculture was able, by its contribution, to help through the time of acute food shortage in the last War so, I believe, will agriculture be able to help us if there should be a next war—which God forbid.
I ask the House to consider that, should there be a war, it might well be that we shall suffer reverses of a serious nature by sea or air without necessarily incurring complete defeat; but why add the horrors of hunger to our difficulties in a situation such as that? What should we think of ourselves if we had not seen to it before the war that agriculture had been put in a position in which it should be able to make its full contribution in the war? After all, it was hunger that brought Ger- 734 many down in the last War. I had first-hand experience of it in Germany immediately after the Armistice, when it was open for all to see. Is it not significant that to-day, in the great process of rearmament going on in Europe, every Continental Power is looking to the primary production of food in its own country as equally important with the production and the priming of guns? It is true that an army marches on its stomach; it is true, also, that a nation must work and exist on its stomach, and the next war is going to be, as we know, a war of nations even more than it will be a war of armies.
As the hon. Member for Don Valley said, we possess in this country, in our soil and climate, potentialities for growing many major necessary foods to support life. I am not aware that any agricultural authority has ever declared that we could provide for all our needs, and still less that we can consider ourselves completely self-sufficient in feeding, for an unlimited time, our 44,000,000 odd mouths, in view of the restricted geographical size of our land. But I believe that every agricultural authority will agree that we could grow much more food in this country than we do now if only it were an economic proposition to do so. As the hon. Member said, there has been a change-over from one product to another since before the War, but the fact, the terrible fact, remains that in this country to-day there are dwindling acres. Fewer of those acres come under the plough and fewer men are employed on the land. There are lessened village populations and the countryside is being deserted by its own county-folk and inhabited largely by pensioners in retirement from the towns. Meanwhile, the true-bred countryman only too often marches the streets of our cities unemployed and increases the queues at the Employment Exchanges.
Now a word as regards our national fitness campaign. This should have its roots in the countryside, with a people born to fresh air and sunshine, and enjoying the fresh food which home agriculture alone can provide, but there must be some prosperity if the industry is to continue. There can be no prosperity if agriculture is neglected. It is almost impossible to put one's finger on any branch of agriculture and to say that it is flourishing and prosperous. We know that the world price of wheat has fallen, 735 and that in spite of the Wheat Act, that farmers will have to wait for the balance of their payments for wheat for a very long time indeed. If we turn to barley we find the position deplorable, and the sheep position is so bad. In many regions the milk position is far from satisfactory, while the growers of potatoes find it difficult to obtain a price commensurate with their costs of production. We are hopeful—in agriculture we have to live on hope—about the way in which the new pigs contract will work out. Poultry is living on hope at this moment, while beef barely holds its own.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
Will the hon. And gallant Gentleman tell us what the Government have been doing for the last seven years?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I think the hon. Member will understand when I have developed my argument a little further. I will give him the fundamental reason, as I believe, why the whole position is as unhappy as it is to-day.
In the Amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the names of some of my hon. Friends and myself, six particular branches of the industry are mentioned, all of them requiring urgent attention, and the list is not exhaustive. We know that three of them are due to be dealt with, as we learned from the Gracious Speech, within the present Session of Parliament. I only hope that success will attend the efforts of my right hon. Friend in seeing that, when he has dealt with these three branches, at least some greater measure of prosperity will come to them. I do not propose to deal in detail with any particular branches of agriculture, but I intend to deal, as I said just now to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown), with the whole subject from a much wider point of view.
I commence by saying that the National Government is the first since the repeal of the Corn Laws, nearly 100 years ago, which has addressed itself in any degree at all to agricultural legislation. It has a long record of Acts of Parliament on the Statute Book, and we have spent a considerable amount of Parliamentary time in our endeavours to ameliorate the agricultural situation. I believe that the agricultural community are not unmindful of or ungrateful for those measures; 736 but the unhappy fact remains that the industry is still not merely in the doldrums, but is passing through a phase of acute crisis. It is true that, in an industry with so many branches, as the hon. Member for Don Valley has reminded us, the Government must of necessity deal piecemeal with various sections of the industry, but the mistake to my mind has always been this, that there has been a complete absence of any really comprehensive agricultural policy; there has been no framework into which to fit the pieces, and fundamentals have never been tackled either by this Government or by any other Government in the whole of our history. It is for this reason that I particularly welcome the passage in the Gracious Speech which has reference to agriculture's place in the national economy and defence. There has been hitherto no national policy for agriculture; there has only been a policy of laissez faire, with occasional sops thrown to a sagging industry. It is a curious fact that, if one looks at the history of British agriculture over the last century, one finds that the only time when the industry has enjoyed a reasonable measure of prosperity has been when there has been either a war or the prospect of war somewhere in Europe. Agriculture, therefore, for the past century has had to depend for its prosperity or otherwise on the the accident of war. What a basis on which to found what should be the most peaceful of all industries.
There has, however, been a policy of quite another kind, which may be summed up in one short phrase. There has been in this country the policy of cheap food for the people. That policy has been persistently pursued by Governments of all shades of political complexion for the last 100 years. Let me say at once that, if this policy has been proved to be the best policy in the past, or if it can be shown that it is the best policy for to-day, or if it can be shown that it is likely to be the best policy for tomorrow for the country as a whole, then I would let that policy stand; but let us be perfectly clear as to what are the implications and the results of such a policy. There must be a corollary to it. Let us face up to the fact squarely that a cheap food policy, however desirable, must of necessity be in direct conflict with the interests of the primary producers of food. It is not possible to escape from that 737 obvious fact. We have here in our country the greatest and richest food consuming market in the world at our very door, and yet the producers of food are finding the greatest difficulty in making a living, and that is not only the case to-day, but it has been the case for a very long period. We have in this country a standard of living which is higher than that of any other country in the world, with he possible exception of the United States of America. [Interruption.] I think I made the matter quite clear when I said that the cheap food policy was in direct conflict with the primary producers of food, and I am addressing myself to that argument.
Our food market is the Mecca of all food exporting countries—so much so that some nations have become parasites on our food market, while others use it as a sump and dump for their food surpluses. If they have anything over, they say, "Send it to Britain, and sell it there at any price, or at some price. At least the Englishman always pays." It may be an admirable policy from the consumer's point of view, but obviously it must be disastrous from the point of view of British agriculture. When the competition is too fierce, and the price level too low, so desirable is the outlet which our food market affords to other countries that they will resort to any device in order to maintain their foothold within it. They will, as we all know, raise prices to their own nationals at home in order to be able to to sell in our market at cut prices, or they will give export subsidies, or they will subsidise shipping in order that the freight rates on agricultural produce may be low. We know quite well that they will even go so far as deliberately to depreciate their currency in order to maintain their footing in our food market. The effect of these devices must be to lower the price level in our home market here, with the result that the consumer here is getting his food for less than the cost of production to the primary producer, whether that food is grown at home, or whether it is grown in Empire countries, or even in foreign countries. In other words, under the cheap food policy it is the consumer who is subsidised at the expense of the producer. It is no wonder, then, that British agriculture is being strangled, and is dying the death 738 that it is dying to-day in spite of the many efforts to help it.
The problem resolves itself into this: If the cheap food policy is to be continued, and the consumer is to have his food subsidised, and if, as the Government declare, there is a place for British agriculture in the economy of the nation and defence—if agriculture is worth preserving from the national fitness point of view, for its potential purchasing power and as a producer of fresh food—the home producer will still have to sell his produce in competition in the open world market at the world's lowest price, often artificially lowered by the devices I have mentioned. But what of his costs of production? The costs of agricultural production in this country are high, often artificially high. I need only mention one or two instances. If the farmer has to buy agricultural machinery or implements, and if he has to buy imported articles because they are not obtainable home-made, he has to pay a duty on them, and, therefore, to that extent the prices he has to pay are higher. Again, take the cost of labour, which of course is one of the chief items in the profit and loss account of the farmer. We all know that agricultural wages are not fixed on an economic basis, according to the value of the produce of the labour, but are fixed on a social basis. I am not going to argue for a moment as to whether they are fixed too high or too low from the social point of view. All that I say is, and it is a known fact, that the wage rate is fixed, not on an economic, but on a social basis. I am not going any further into that question. Between the low world price level on the one hand and the high cost of production in this country on the other, there exists a ruinous gap. Both the high cost of production and the low level of prices are to a great extent artificial, and I do not believe that that gap can be closed except by artificial means, just as the consumer is artificially subsidised.
Two essentials must be borne in mind. In the first place, the home producer is entitled to, and should be assured of, first place in his home food market. How familiar those words sound, but how small is the extent to which that place has been provided. There must be much more strict and correct regulation of imports than anything that we have hitherto experienced. Secondly, the home producer 739 must be assured a standard price level adjusted to the cost of production. No other standard will be of any value at all. Putting a bottom into the market when the bottom is somewhere below the bargain basement is worse than useless. Once the National Government has decided where the industry of agriculture is to stand in the national economy and defence, it must decide how best to assure both the place in the market and the standard price to the home producer if agriculture is to survive.
I would only say this about the standard price. We have already, as the hon. Member for Don Valley has reminded us, had some experience of various measures for assuring some kind of price. We have had a levy subsidy; we have before us a price insurance scheme fortified by the proposal for commodity councils made at the Sydney Conference. Some people favour a price insurance scheme, some a straight tariff, and some a direct subsidy. I, myself, believe that, of all these measures, the most scientific is the levy subsidy. We have had experience of its successful working under the Wheat Act, and we were promised by the National Government that the levy subsidy would be one of the instruments which would be used; but for some reason, of which we have had no adequate explanation, the levy subsidy policy has been abandoned.
I should like to say one word here about the direct subsidy. All subsidies, of course, are very objectionable from the Exchequer point of view, but if an industry, or a branch of an industry, is put back on its feet again, surely the Exchequer will at least gain something on the roundabouts of what it has lost on the swings; and not only so, but, as a result of the increased purchasing power of that industry or branch of that industry, there must be a reaction on other industries in the country, and something at least will flow back to the Exchequer. I would beg of Ministers to drop the line of argument that the agricultural community may become addicts to the drug of subsidies. Let them give the industry a square deal by any other means if they prefer it, but why should farmers be singled out for opprobrium any more than motor manufacturers or any other industrial section who enjoy full protection and are able to build up great busi- 740 nesses, give a great amount of employment, and possibly make great profits? Why should the farmer alone be left out? Take the tariff away from some of those prosperous businesses, and see what would happen. It would not be long before every one of them had to come to this House and say they found themselves in exactly the same position as agriculture. The National Government, or, rather, I would say the nation, must make up its mind as to the agricultural industry, whether it wants it or not; and it is up to the National Government to give the nation a lead, and to give it now.
The question is, is British agriculture worth preserving at all or is it not? Is its potential purchasing power to be thrown away, when our much-extolled export trade is dwindling and when the home market becomes daily more important? Is its employment-giving agency to be destroyed, when there are still 1,500,000 unemployed? Is the one industry capable of supporting human life, the one vital industry in the true and literal sense of that word, to be discarded, whether in the economy of peace or the emergency of war. Let us remember that on our peace-time policy depends the potential of our food output in case of war. Is the countryside and all that it stands for in England just to go? It is going. If the words in the Gracious Speech mean anything at all, surely they must mean action. In calling on the Government for a declaration of policy on the whole question of the agricultural industry, and for the necessary action to implement that policy, I believe that I have behind me the support and voice of every hon. Member who sits for an agricultural constituency, and also the support of many who sit for urban constituencies.
§ 5.3 P.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
The hon. and gallant Member has just drawn a picture of the acute crisis which is confronting agriculture at the present time, and has said that he is satisfied that the inclusion of a phrase in the Gracious Speech shows that the Government recognise the importance of agriculture. From the rest of his speech there is only the one conclusion that can be drawn. It is that the seven years of the National Government's attempts to assist agriculture—because we can give them credit for attempting to do so—have been a complete failure, and agriculture 741 is in as bad a condition now as it has ever been in. Apparently that is due to the policy of cheap food. But may I draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Member to the fact that there is no food coming into the country from foreign sources which is not subject to a tax? There are quotas against Imperial produce as well as foreign produce. What has, in fact, happened at last is what we from these Benches have always declared would happen: it has been discovered that protection as a method of assisting agriculture is a failure.
It is not that prices are especially low in England. After all, the producers overseas who are supplying this market are in many cases enjoying a standard of living as high as, if not higher than, that enjoyed by the producers here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] My information is that in New Zealand the standard of life is very much higher in the country districts than here. [Interruption.] If that is not so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me later on. I know it is a complicated matter, but that is my information. I have studied the position in Denmark—a country which also supplies this market to a great extent—and I believe the standard of living of farmers and farm workers there is fully as high as the t of the members of the agricultural community of this country, if not higher. Those are two perfectly clear examples to show that the market can be supplied at the prices ruling in this country, and can, in given circumstances, give a standard of living higher than that prevailing in this country.
§ Sir J. Lamb
But should that be done, when it means imposing on the industry conditions which are not comparable with those in other industries? It is unfair to compare conditions in agriculture throughout the world unless you take into consideration conditions in other industries.
§ Mr. Roberts
That is a very difficult question; but some of the conditions here are very much more favourable than elsewhere. Our climate and soil are more favourable than those of Scandinavia, and our proximity to the market is a very great advantage. I cannot enter into detail, but food is being produced there End making a profit at the present time. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) spoke of the rise in the cost of production in this 742 country. That is, at any rate, partly due to the action of right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench. The speech to which we have just listened was really somewhat out of date. It cannot be contended that the trouble with oats at the present time is that there is no tariff on oats. There is a high tariff on oats. There is the subsidy on oats and on barley as well. I suggest that there are some other reasons for the difficulties of farmers to which I will refer later. I would like first to refer to what the hon. and gallant Member said in his opening remarks about the importance of agriculture in relation to defence. I hope the Minister will tell us a little more about the plans which he told us in July were prepared for putting into operation in case of war. The Farmers' Union recently issued a most interesting statement, in which this passage occurs:Not a single farmer throughout the length and breadth of England and Wales knows what would be expected of him if war broke out to-morrow.That is absolutely true. The farming community are ready to co-operate if they know what the Government want them to do. But do the Government know themselves what they want the farming community to do? Would it be a policy of ploughing up, as in the last War? If so, is that to be applied to old pasture or only to temporary leas? Where are the instruments? Are there a sufficient number of tractors, or are we to depend, with a possible shortage of oil, on horses? If so, is the Minister sure that the horse population of the country is adequate for war-time needs? Does he consider that there is an adequate supply of skilled labour? Above all, what are we expected to grow? Are we to plough up our grassland? Are we to grow cereals? Is it to be a pigs and potato policy, as Lord Bledisloe advocated at the end of the last War? Is there a plan at all? If so, can we have some details, because it is certain that, even if the Government have a plan, no one has any information as to what it may be?
My plan is that a policy be adopted for British agriculture which maintains the land at its maximum fertility. That can be arrived at best, I believe, in present circumstances by a policy which will develop livestock farming and temporary grass. That is the common system in the north of England; and, with Professor 743 Stapledon's discoveries and other improvements in the manuring of grass, and so on, we in the north of England and in Scotland know well enough that you can plough out that temporary grass and produce large crops from the fertility which the livestock have left on the land. In that connection, one welcomes the lime and slag grant. I would ask for some information about that, because that is one of the few subsidies given which may create some permanent improvement in agriculture. The rest has gone into the farmers' pockets—much as they need it, I know—and nothing is left: that is, if they have got the subsidy, which they have not always. One welcomes that policy. But is there any estimate as to how much of the land is now limed; and how long is the scheme to be carried on before all the land needing lime will be limed?
It is high time that there was a survey of British agriculture. The Government and the nation should know what British agriculture is capable of doing in varying circumstances—and one of those circumstances is production in war-time. I do not think the policy of encouraging the fertility of land by Government action has yet scratched the surface of the problem. The policy, as the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out, has been a higgledy-piggledy patchwork of giving subsidies and stopping gaps when they appear. The Government should consider whether the time has not come for a real survey of the possibilities of British agriculture in producing food, both in normal times and in time of war. I am convinced that the fundamental basis of British agriculture is livestock and good grass; and, in that connection, if I may turn to an article which appeared in the Liberal National Magazine" the other day, I will quote these phrases:… There remains the difficult problem of those soils only fitted for cereal growing. East Anglia is predominantly such. Liberal Nationals have a special responsibility for this, for from its broad acres we send back seven Members of Parliament to support the National Government.I am not quite clear whether East Anglia is important because it grows cereals or because it sends back Liberal National Members of Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: "For both."] May I draw the attention of National Liberal Members of Parliament who may be present to an economic 744 survey which was carried out a year or two ago in East Anglia by the best economists from Cambridge? The striking fact about that is that even in East Anglia livestock and livestock products are two-thirds of the output of the farms. Of the crops that are grown, half are consumed on the farms and sold in the form of livestock and livestock products. I believe that the money that has been poured out in trying to make cereal production profitable has been misdirected, and that the experiment in sugar-beet will never be a permanent success in this country. I see that we are to have another amendment of the Wheat Subsidy Act, and I ask Members of all parties to consider the effect of this patchwork and pouring out of subsidies or price insurance schemes. I notice on the Order Paper that we are asked to extend the price insurance scheme, specifically mentioning two products which already have a price insurance scheme—barley and oats. There is the suggestion that the barley grower should have a further subsidy. He has already got what we were told from the Treasury Bench was a price insurance scheme.
§ Mr. Turton
Is the hon. Gentleman against the extension of the price insurance plan to barley and oats? Is that his policy?
§ Mr. Roberts
If I may, I will develop my remarks in my own way. The point that I am trying to make now is that even in the Eastern Counties livestock is the vital basis of British agriculture, and unless the Government will attend to the really difficult problem of livestock production, British farming will never be put on to a sound basis whatever temporary subsidies are given to cereal or sugar beet growers and to that side of the industry.
§ Major Braithwaite
Does the hon. Gentleman believe you can possibly keep livestock without the growing of cereals on a substantial scale?
§ Mr. Roberts
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman a question? I grow a lot of oats on my farm, but I feed them to my livestock and sell the products, milk, mutton and beef, and eggs. Therefore, why I should get the subsidy for growing oats, which I feed to my livestock, which I sell, beats me, speaking as an ordinary citizen. I quite like 745 getting that subsidy, but there is no sense in it when one is feeding those cereals to livestock which are to be offered for sale. Farmers have been widely disillusioned throughout the country by the acute position which has arisen, and I am sure that Conservative Members representing agricultural constituencies are fully as well aware of that as I am. As the Farmers' Union have stated, the majority of farmers are concerned with results and not with the precise methods adopted. There is a widespread lack of confidence in farming, and I would go so far as to say that the position of some farmers at the present time is worse than it was during the great slump. The reason is that the cost of production has risen enormously since those years as a result of Government action. I might quote the speech which the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir R. Dorman-Smith) made some time ago when he produced a very long list of all the tariffs which the farmer had to pay on his requirements. To quote his own words:We have to buy a tremendous amount of goods which are taxed, taxes which are borne by this farming industry alone. Taxes on our fertilisers range from £4 to £1 a ton"—I spoke against that particular tax, and I do not remember being assisted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman at the time—Implements and machinery, 30 per cent.; shovels, spades, scythes, forks, 15 per cent.; hay and grass mowers, the humble plough, 15 per cent.; wire, 33 per cent.; barbed wire, nails and staples, and nearly everything we buy is taxed in some way or another.The costs of production of agriculture have gone up. The price of feeding-stuffs has gone up, and that is the main difficulty facing, for instance, the poultry farmer at the present time. The price of eggs and other products has not been too bad, but the price of the whole of his raw materials has been seriously raised. Unless some comprehensive plan is adopted by the Government, and they will make up their minds what British agriculture is really encouraged to produce, and how it is to do it, we shall have a patchwork of schemes, some of which help one section of agriculture, while they damage another section.
The Conservative Party Agricultural Committee have had a number of disappointments. I have observed the number of different slogans. Up till Ottawa their constituents were led to believe that 746 Protection would solve the agricultural problem, but after Ottawa the farmers began to be a little more doubtful. Then there was a long period in which the Conservative Party Agricultural Committee were pressing the levy subsidy scheme, and that was turned down by the orthodoxy of the Prime Minister in financial matters, if not in foreign affairs. Now the slogan is to be "Price insurance." Of course, if one could get back to stable prices, nothing would be more valuable to the farming community. I am told by farmers of the halcyon days before the War under the Liberal Government when prices were stable and the increasing prosperity of British industry created an expanding market for British agricultural produce.
If we could get any system by which prices could be stabilised, it would be an immense benefit to the farmer. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Don-Valley who referred to the beef subsidy. I believe that it would have helped the store producer immensely if the beef subsidy had been on a sliding scale. It would have even assisted the store breeder more than the fattener, because he has to look to a much longer period. It takes some 18 months, two years or three years to produce store cattle, and it is even more important to the store breeder than to the fattener to have a stabilised price. If we are to have a system of price insurance, let it not be a subsidy called price insurance, but something on a sliding scale which will give that greater stability.
There is one country which claims to have introduced a system of guaranteed prices, which gives the farmer some stability, and I have been taking a little pains to see how the system works for the dairy farmer of New Zealand. There the striking factor is that the guaranteed price is only possible because the marketing of the product is controlled, partly by the producers and partly by the Government, right up to the London wholesale market. A subsidy is given by the Government. I suggest to the Minister that a subsidy is really only justified if it goes towards making a permanent improvement either of the land itself or in the efficiency of the methods of producing and marketing the product.
The commodity which has slumped as conspicuously as any recently is sheep. I think that a subsidy would be justified 747 on sheep if it were used permanently to improve the marketing of English mutton and lamb, and only if that were so. I will examine the position with regard to sheep. There has been a fall up to 40 per cent. in the value of sheep on British farms. The wholesale price has fallen about 27 points, and the retail price of mutton and lamb in the shops has fallen nine or 10 points. That is what always happens. The retail price comes down after the wholesale price. The result is that by the butchers maintaining the retail price, the wholesale price is further depressed, because the surplus which is temporarily on the market is not taken off by increased consumption. The figures which are published to-day of New Zealand imports into this country show that the imports of mutton are down by 69,000 cwts. over the 10 months, and so the fall in the price of British mutton and lamb is not due to increased imports. I am informed that the value of imported New Zealand lamb is higher this year by a farthing a pound, and we have the amazing situation that while British lamb has slumped by anything up to 40 per cent., New Zealand has increased in value by at least a farthing per pound. I believe that can only be explained by the better marketing methods of the New Zealand producers. They give an article which does not altogether compete with British lamb, but it is very well marketed. At the present time Smithfield is flooded with English mutton and lamb, and I am not sure that that is justified. I doubt whether it is necessary to flood the market at the present time and I question whether sheep will not after Christmas probably rise again. It is a weakness of our marketing schemes that there is no control over the ordinary marketing of British produce.
There is another side of British agriculture to which I should like to draw attention. One of the difficulties with which the British farmer is contending is that he is surrounded on all sides by vested interests. In regard to sheep and beef you have only to go to any market to realise that there are such things as rings of butchers. Wholesale milk sales are in the hands of a few big combines. I do not know what the Government are going to do in the Milk Bill, but I hope they will not create monopolies in milk distribution all over Engand, because I 748 do not believe that it will benefit either the consumer or the producer, in the end. A question was asked yesterday about the price of milling ofials. Offals are largely in the hands of the Millers' Federation, and the price is fixed by that federation. It is the same in regard to fertilisers. There is a stable price for fertilisers, but it is stable because it is fixed by a ring. The same thing is true of iron and steel prices. The growing tendency of the hire purchase system for farmers means that credit is becoming largely a matter of a few large concerns. The monopoly tendency is growing in all parts of industry, and it especially hits the farmer, who is a small man and has not the power to stand up to these vast monopolistic interests.
I read with great interest the report of the British and Argentine Governments' Commission in regard to the Argentine beef trade. I do not know whether hon. Members realise that because of the monopoly position which a few of these companies have they actually doubled their profits during the depression years, making anything up to 18 or 20 per cent. profit during the time when the Argentine farmer and the British farmer were on the verge of bankruptcy. Why? Because the policy of the quota creates an ideal condition in which a few monopolistic companies can buy cheap and sell dear. I only mention that in order to point out the way in which the Argentine Government dealt with the problem. The way they dealt with it was by stimulating a co-operative organisation which could Compete with the monopoly.
It may be noted that the Commission was not able to report fully on the position of the companies, because the major ones absolutely refused to divulge their accounts, in spite of the Board of Trade's request that they should do so. It is clear that in all branches of agriculture at the present time there are monopolistic organisations, against which the individual farmer is powerless. Unfortunately, the policy of the British Government has tended towards the creation of these monopolies. They have sprung up all around the marketing schemes. There is a monopoly behind every marketing scheme, so that the farmer does not obtain the advantages of the better marketing system which the Marketing Boards were intended to introduce.
749 I should like to say a few words on the question raised by the hon. Member for the Don Valley with regard to the nationalisation of the land. He quoted from the book of Lord Astor and Mr. Seebohm Rowntree. My reading of that book is that really the recommendation in it is in regard to a great deal of land, which, to my mind, is an eyesore, badly farmed, badly drained, badly equipped; such land can be equipped to play its part in producing the food which this country needs both in normal times and for the defence of the country, not by nationalising it in the ordinary sense but by establishing public utility companies, with a limited rate of interest on the capital, something more or less on the lines of the London Passenger Transport Board. Such companies could buy up land. It need not be a vast bureaucratic monopoly, but it could operate whatever would be a convenient estate unit. It would take the place of the old landlord, who did something to keep up the long-term capital investment in the land, but which he is quite unable to do at the present time. I recommend that suggestion to hon. Members of all parties, for it seems to me that it might operate to solve many problems.
I live very near to a Special Area. Much of the land in my neighbourhood needs productive work put into it and it could be immensely improved. We have nearly 1,750,000 unemployed. We say in my part of the world, "Get the men off the roadside and get them into the fields." That is one way of dealing with the problem, but you cannot do that in order to improve private property; it must be public property. The reason why certain hedges and sides of the road are trimmed so frequently is because they happen to belong to the public. Land which is wasted at the present time and making no contribution to the national wealth can be improved only at the public expense if it is under public control. Therefore, without nationalising the whole of the land and trying to control it from Whitehall, there is a method, that of the public utility society, which could be developed. The public ownership of land is not a revolutionary idea. In Scotland the State is the largest landowner, and no very desperate consequences have come because of that.
An essential consideration in regard to British agriculture is that it can serve 750 two purposes. One purpose is Defence. If land is maintained in a fertile condition it is a safeguard against the emergency of war. The policy of the Government has not provided that safeguard up to now. Not only on that ground but on the ground of the widespread malnutrition which exists in this country, surely we could begin to found a policy, on which large sections of the British public could agree, to increase the production of that food, which is most needed. The Minister of Health yesterday spoke of the scandal of the teeth of the people of this country. That is very largely due, scientists tell us, to the lack of protective foods. We can produce those protective foods in this country. I am confident that British agriculture, if the fundamental problems were faced, could produce far more food, and thereby reduce to a great extent the widespread malnutrition that exists.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert
The speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) always interest me, because they show how widely he has read agricultural subjects. I must confess that his knowledge of agriculture, considering that he was not brought up to it, strikes me as being wide. He made one remark with which I did not agree, when he said that the supporters of the Government were demoralised by the foreign policy of the Government. It seems to me that for the first time in 20 years the Government have taken a grip of foreign policy. We have got rid of that collective hypocrisy so long prevailing at Geneva. I pass from that matter to my hon. Friend's agricultural suggestion. He wants the present land system to be abolished. What would he put in its place? National ownership. We have an example of national ownership on a small scale in the smallholdings of the county councils. Can any one point out where those smallholders are in a better position than are the owners or tenants under private ownership? We have Crown land. Are the tenants on the Crown lands better off than the tenants under private ownership? The Crown land tenants in Regent Street have been squeezed to an unlimited extent. That is an example of Government ownership. Government ownership extracts the last farthing from the tenant.
751 My hon. Friend said that he would give fair compensation. The land problem has entirely changed. The large landowners have gone. The large country house has been shut up. Whether that is good or bad, it is a fact. [Interruption.] At any rate, they are not occupied by the owners of the land. They may be occupied by rich manufacturers or by some opulent co-operator.
§ Mr. Lambert
There is not a bad representative before me now. It is not a question of rent, because there is no rent for purely agricultural land. There is interest payable for improvements, but if you take any farm in the country and value the buildings, houses, fences, drainage and cultivation, there will not be a single penny for the prairie value of the land. The hon. Member said that there must be some measure of control. Who will do the controlling? The hon. Member may be Minister of Agriculture some day and he will have to control the farms in this country with regard to cultivation. The thing will not work. Control from Whitehall up to now has been disastrous.
§ Mr. T. Williams
When I said that there must be some measure of control it was in regard to the division of existing farms so that farmers could get the maximum advantage of modern machinery, and I also made it clear that if the land was taken over the State could provide easier credit for agriculture than any private company, and that to that extent farmers would not complain of some measure of control.
§ Mr. Lambert
I accept what the hon. Member says, but if you are going to break up the farms you will have a terrific amount of opposition. In the old days when you wanted land for an allotment for a man there was a considerable amount of agitation on the part of the farmer. If the hon. Member and his friends think that a system of public ownership of land can bring prosperity, why do not the co-operative societies try it? They have plenty of capital; they are intelligently directed and they have a wonderful outlet for their produce. Is there any co-operative farm which is succeeding?
§ Mr. Lambert
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us something about them when he speaks. The hon. Member for Don Valley did not complain of subsidies. That comes very close home, because the coal industry is receiving the largest subsidy of any industry in the country. [Interruption.] Yes, there are restriction of production, and if full production was allowed the price of coal would drop by anything from 2s. 6d. to 3s. a ton. I wish the coal miners all success, because when the coal miners in South, Wales are doing well we in North Devon can sell good beef to them. Agriculture to-day is in a decaying condition—there is not the smallest doubt about it. We have been fed with promises; patches have been put on here and there but the foundations of agriculture to-day are crumbling and it has to be underpinned. Certain promises were made by Lord Baldwin 10 years ago and by the Labour party in 1929—farming must be made to pay; but I would ask the House to consider the figures which have been brought out by the admirable staff at the Ministry of Agriculture. Take labour. Labour on the land to-day is disappearing; it is a very serious state of affairs.
In 1921 when the first records were made there were 996,000 agricultural workers in England, Wales and Scotland. In 1938 that number had dwindled to 694,000, a 30 per cent. decrease. There must be something wrong for that to happen. I maintain that the interest of the country demands that you should bring back men to the land. Take the younger men, those under 21 years of age. In 1921 there were 209,650, in 1938 116,200, a 40 per cent. drop. The younger men are leaving the land. I went to a village in North Devon the other day and there was pointed out the only man in the village remaining on the land. That is a state of affairs which the country cannot tolerate if it is to prosper. The Amendment speaks of 2,000,000 people out of work. Where will you put these men to work except on the land; and you cannot get them on the land unless the price of the products justifies the cost of production? When the hon. Member talks about control, I would remind him that we have had the control from Whitehall for the last few 753 years. There must be some joker at the Ministry of Agriculture. We have been given unemployment insurance in order to restore prosperity. But there are no unemployed; you cannot get a man for love or money. That is one of the jokes of the Ministry of Agriculture. If the right hon. Gentleman would get half a dozen Cirencester farmers instead of some of the officials we have in Whitehall he would be doing far better. They are excellent fellows in Gloucestershire and they know their business.
The Labour party have their solution in marketing. The present Government took on the marketing schemes passed by Lord Addison. I have never believed, and do not believe to-day, that this is the proper approach to the question. The milk marketing scheme has been in operation for five years, and I ask, has it reduced the disparity between the producer's price and the consumer's price? I cannot find that it has. The Milk Marketing Board have enormous powers. They can divert supplies from one consumer to another. I have an example in my own constituency, where 2,500 gallons of milk were diverted from one factory to another by the mere fiat of the Milk Marketing Board. That seems to me to be very strong. Another feature to which I want to draw the attention of the Minister is the price of milk in the villages in Devonshire. You cannot buy milk at less than 6d. a quart. It is a ridiculous price. There are people who would be glad to supply it at 4d. a quart. In the old days when my mother looked after the farm, she used to supply milk at 4d. a quart in the winter and 3d. in the summer. I am not allowed to do it. I do not want to do it, but I am not allowed to sell milk unless I am a registered producer, and then I can sell it only at a certain price. But a price of 6d. a quart for milk in the country villages is not the way to increase the consumption of milk. It is too high altogether. Lord Runciman, who is a very level-headed man, expressed his opinion about marketing schemes with some point. In the "Sunday Times" on 26th December, 1937, he said:I deplore and detest things like marketing boards and other Socialist contrivances.I know that the Minister of Agriculture has very generously come to the aid of the farmers with his lime and slag proposals. The Government have been 754 in office for seven years, and they have helped agriculturists; otherwise agriculture would be in a far worse position than it is to-day. I am grateful for what they have done, but they have not done enough. Take lime and slag. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said that we must plough up grassland and grow cereals. That is a mistake. If you plough up grassland you will have some difficulty in getting a crop the first year. The slag and lime policy will, of course, help. Let me give my own experience. It is a small farm of about 200 acres in which I take great interest. My land fertility cheque was about £12. We rear about 100 lambs a year, but the price of those lambs has gone down by anything from £60 to £70. I know what I am talking about because I have been at the auction sales. It is no good asking the farmer to go on fertilising his land when the animals which are reared on the land will not pay the cost of the fertilisers. It is essential, if you are to have really up-to-date farming and make the land produce the most it can, that you should have alternate arable and pasture. We have tried it in Devonshire. I speak with due humility about the Eastern Counties, but I do know Devonshire, and I know that farming systems change. The type of farming carried on in Devonshire would not do in Norfolk. In Devonshire, if we want to get the utmost fertility of the soil, there must be arable and grass land, and then we can get the straw and the manure which are so valuable in maintaining the fertility of the soil. At the present time, there is in the country an enormous amount of impoverished land and grassland which needs draining, but there is no capital either for clearing away the weeds or for draining the land, and the prices of the products will not justify its being done. It is to that point that I return all the time. We are drifting along very dangerously. We are not developing our whole estate. We could develop agriculture to a very much greater degree.
In the old Free Trade days before the War, the trade balance was £140,000,000 or £150,000,000 in our favour, but last year the trade balance was £52,000,000 against us. We imported £52,000,000 worth of produce more than we exported. We are living on our capital. Where could we increase our production more than 755 on the land? I am sometimes amazed at the state of things in our country districts. For instance, I asked a local postmaster how much he was paying out in pensions, and he said that it amounted to £20 a week. Each year £1,000 is paid out in that way, but in the village grocer's shop, nearly all the foodstuffs are foreign-produced. One does not find home-produced butter and bacon there. How long can this continue? I feel that the country cannot allow this great industry to remain indefinitely as it is to-day.
I think it is an almost general view that what the farmers want is stable prices. I observe that in a pamphlet issued by the Labour party, which has been reprinted two or three times, entitled "Labour's Policy for our Countryside," one of the principles is guaranteed prices for products. It is that for which I am asking. Then, I want to know what prices are to be guaranteed. That is the crux of the whole thing. In my judgment, guaranteed prices are a necessity. Take the Wheat Act, for instance. I understand that that Act was very largely due to the inspiration of my hon. Friend the Member for Malden (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). The Ministry of Agriculture were not right in their first version of the Act, which did not find approval. The Wheat Act is a good Act. It gives a stable price to the farmers. Wheat can come in from all over the world; other countries can send their wheat here as cheaply as they like, for our consumers will benefit; the producer here knows what he will get. That is the policy which ought to be pursued in the case of other agricultural products. I do not agree with these quotas and import restrictions. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote an authority which may appeal to the Prime Minister. Last year, the butchers had a conference at Buxton, and I will quote what the Birmingham butchers said about quotas and import restrictions:The delegates carried, by a large majority, a motion tabled by the Birmingham and District Butchers' Association asking for the removal of the restrictions placed on the import of meat by the Government, as they had the effect of increasing wholesale prices and raising the cost of living. The resolution also called for an adequate tariff to be substituted and to be used as a subsidy for British products.I do not know whether that will have 756 any effect on the Prime Minister. I believe it would be a more profitable way of pursuing agricultural prosperity than these quotas and import restrictions. I want now, briefly, to deal with the subject of Dominion competition. Up to now Australia has apparently regarded Great Britain as an appanage of Australia, and her imports are allowed to come in free. The Prime Minister told us that the foreign producer would not be able to buy our exports unless he was able to send his imports here. That is all very well, but if we buy 100 sheep from Australia and send our manufactured goods to Australia, those goods are taxed when they go in to Australia; but if we buy 100 sheep from British farmers, the goods that the farmers will buy are not taxed when they go to their farms. I have never been able to understand why Australia and the Dominions should enjoy free imports into this country when they tax our goods going into their countries.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend, but I would remind him that the figures of British manufactured goods going to Australia were very satisfactory recently.
§ Mr. Lambert
That may be so, but my hon. and gallant Friend will permit me to remind him that the great drop in sheep prices has been due to New Zealand and Australian imports. I assure him that if the farmers in this country are to be prejudiced against the Empire, it will not be a good thing for the Empire.
§ Sir H. Croft
I would remind my right hon. Friend that Australia is about our best customer in the world, alter New Zealand.
§ Mr. Lambert
I agree, but Australian and New Zealand competition to-day is ruining British sheep farming. Therefore, I ask that we should have this levy on imported products. That was the policy a few years ago. It was the policy of Lord Baldwin and of the present Minister of Health. I have quotations which, if necessary, I will read. As the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said, we farmers to-day are taxed in our necessities. Our ploughs, churns and manures are taxed. Therefore, why should the farmers be denied 757 this protection which other industries get? I will not deal further with these matters, as other hon. Members wish to speak. I could, for instance, say a great deal about storage in this country. Of course, far and away the best food storage is in the stackyards of the farm. There is competition against us, we are being hampered by competition which is fostered by governments, by depreciated currencies and by every kind of subsidy; and I ask the Government whether they will attempt a real and permanent agricultural policy which will give the producers of home food commodities prices that are reasonable and commensurate with the costs of production.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
The Amendment before the House deals with a much wider range of subjects than that which has occupied our attention since the commencement of this Debate. Perhaps it would be convenient to the House if, at this stage, I offered a few observations on the speeches that have been made on this particular department of the Government's activities. We have heard many speeches of a very varied character, and I think they have supplied a very good example of the diversity of the views that are expressed at the present time with regard to agriculture and its many troubles.
There was, first, the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who, in his usual kindly and facetious manner, twitted me with the self-applied appellation of badger. He said that his researches into the dictionary had taught him that a badger was in some way a cross between a weasel and a bear. I hope that, in replying to his remarks, I shall not display that surliness of temper which is usually associated with the latter quadruped, and the hon. Member must not be disappointed if I do not go pop quite as easily as the former. As is commonly the case in agricultural Debates, the hon. Member was sweeping in his statements and criticisms, and he accused the Government in good round terms of having done nothing to improve the efficiency of agriculture either on its productive or distributive side. I am willing to make all allowances for the natural exaggeration of Debate, but I think that remark does not represent a true picture of what has been done by the Govern- 758 ment on this important side of agricultural policy.
For example, the whole policy of last year's Agriculture Act, the improvement of land fertility and the war on disease, was a very comprehensive contribution towards the efficiency of production. The whole of the marketing organisation which has been created since 1932 is an endeavour to improve marketing. That all these endeavours may not have had complete success is only to be expected of any mortal endeavours in any sphere of activity, but to say that they do not represent great endeavours in that direction would be beside the mark. There have been schemes of drainage involving millions of pounds, and we are spending annually some £800,000 on research and education. These are vital factors in agricultural efficiency and if an accurate account is rendered, it will be seen how unjust it is to say that we have not endeavoured to help, as regards efficiency in production. On the distributive side, I have spoken of the marketing boards, and to mention only those Measures which have been passed in my own time, I would refer to the Livestock Industry Act and the Bacon Industry Act. In them the motive of improving the efficiency of distribution stands out very clearly, and in the forthcoming legislation dealing with milk and poultry I hope it will be found that efficiency of distribution is again given its proper emphasis in our policy.
The hon. Member did paint, per contra, a glowing picture of what would be the happy state of our agriculturists under the sway of the policy which he is advocating. That is a remarkable policy in that it manages to combine, on sheets of paper rendered tactfully remote from each other, high prices to producers and low prices to consumers. When it is asked where the money to produce this remarkable result is to be obtained then we are told, as far as one can gather from the hon. Member's speech this afternoon, that it can be done by improvements in distribution on a very large scale. I am the last person to assert that there is no room for improvements in distribution in this country. I think that in the case of several commodities the gap which exists between consumers' prices and producers' prices deserves examination. That is a view from which I would not dissent, but I would not like the House or the hon. 759 Member to exaggerate unduly what can be hoped for from reforms in distribution. In the case of many of the commodities concerned, the great economies which would be necessary to bridge the gap could not be obtained merely by a reform of distribution. There is this fact always to be borne in mind. A great number of people earn an honest livelihood in distribution. A certain part of the cost of distribution is involved in wages and when these matters are taken into account the House will see that, great though the scope may be for improvement in distribution in certain commodities, it is not a panacea which can of itself create the vast conduit of wealth required to reconcile the conflicting elements in the hon. Member's policy.
The hon. Member in the closing part of his speech dealt chiefly with the question of the nationalisation of land and seemed to suggest that in some way a change of ownership would miraculously transform the position in agriculture from one of modified prosperity to one of abounding prosperity, and change loss into gain. We have had some discussion on this important topic before and various aspects of it have been raised in Debate. The question of compensation has been brought up and the contradistinction between compensation and confiscation has already been sufficiently aired. I am interested in it purely from the point of view of agriculture in this country, and I am bound to say, speaking without bias, that I cannot see how the mere transfer of ownership can effect anything like the results which have been claimed for it. Indeed, I think it probable that such a transfer of ownership from private hands, large and small—because there are a great many small landowners—to some form of nationalised control, might lead to a great increase in the cost of production and administration.
There are many landlords to-day who look after their lands closely and administer them to the best of their ability, for a very small return in cash. They get a return in the form of social amenities and in the dignity of their position which is, in their minds, sufficient, but I think if the same services were to be paid for in cash to servants of the State, a great deal of work which is now done efficiently and, from the money point of view, cheaply, would be found a very ex- 760 pensive item. I am bound also to say that I am troubled by this feeling: I say nothing against public administration on general principles. I confine myself to this particular problem when I say that I feel that in the administration of estates by the State, we would run great danger of importing into the management of lands a rigidity and lack of elasticity which would be incompatible with agricultural development.
I put it on this ground: The private landlord to-day varies, like other cross-sections of the human race, from good to bad, but at least the good among them, and I am glad to say they are very numerous, who take an interest in the land either for hereditary or other reasons, have it in their power, since they are dealing with their own property, to make remissions and disbursements which could not be made by a civil servant or a Minister who was bound by Statute to extract the best return he could from the land. Everyone of us who have had the experience of dealing with matters, say, of pension administration, must have come across the inevitable "hard case" which is refused, not because those in charge are hard of heart, but because the money with which they are dealing is not their own. Consequently they have not the power or opportunity enjoyed by the private landlord in the case of the land. I fully admit the problem of capital in agriculture. I think it is very important.
§ Mr. Alexander
Is the Minister trying to show that in time of depression it is the landlord and not the farmer who goes bankrupt; and can he say whether that elasticity to which he refers prevents the ejection by the landowner of the tenant farmer in time of difficulty?
§ Mr. Morrison
I fail to see the relevance of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. I would make only this response that, speaking from my own personal knowledge, during the time of the depression, which raged unchecked until the measures taken by this Government, there was many a man who would have gone bankrupt had he not been carried by his landlord over a difficult time. I was dealing with the question of capital and I was attempting to show what is, I think, obvious to anyone who studies the affairs of this great industry, that, owing to a number of causes which had their origin long before any of us here came 761 into Parliament, there has been less capital in agricultural land. But I would not advise that we should rush into State ownership merely on that account.
Let us not exaggerate the difficulties. It is true that in many of the forms of cultivation which were prevalent when arable and not livestock farming was the order of the day, you get a lack of capital, mainly evident in such things as the lack of proper drainage and so on. But in arriving at a true balance on this question you must put on the credit side the immense sums of capital they have been expended in recent years, as, for instance, in improved dairy sheds to meet new standards of milk production, in improved pig houses, in extensions of glasshouses, not for people to throw stones at, but for people to grow the early vegetables now protected by the tariff. In all those ways, and many others, the new branches of agriculture which are more prosperous under modern conditions, are attracting a certain amount of capital. Again, there is this to be remembered. During recent years We have invested a great deal of national capital in the land itself, on drainage, on lime and slag, on combating disease, on encouraging quality production, on research and education. All that can be considered as a capital investment in the land itself. This question of nationalisation has been dealt with by many speakers and I will say no more about it to-day.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) went into the question of Defence, which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech as one of the concerns of the Government in relation to agriculture. The policy of the Government on that head was stated in the announcement that preceded the Agriculture Act, namely, that it is possible always to encourage, in peace time, a war-time agriculture, and to "cash in" in advance on the fertility of the soil by a ruthless campaign of ploughing up in war time. But that has not been the policy of the Government. We have tried instead by various Measures, with which the House is familiar, to improve the fertility of the soil in times of peace, thus aiding economic production in times of peace and at the same time making certain of a reserve of fertility in the soil. Let me not leave this branch of the subject without referring to the important part which livestock must play in a 762 policy of creating a reserve of fertility. Lime and slag alone will not do. We must have the livestock population on the soil.
We heard to-day from the hon. Member opposite the general complaint that there was no comprehensive policy. That criticism is frequently heard and I should like to examine what it means. By a comprehensive policy you may mean a policy which, in fact, comprehends all the various items in the agricultural budget. That is the meaning which I attach to it, and if that meaning is attached to it I think there is practically no important branch of the agricultural industry for which something has not been done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sheep!"] I will deal with the question of sheep presently. It is a pressing problem at the present time. I was about to say that I have a suspicion sometimes that those who urge upon us a comprehensive policy are not thinking of a policy which is comprehensive in its area and extent, as covering all the varied activities of agriculture. I have a suspicion that they are seeking for some formula or slogan which is sufficiently comprehensive to include all ideas of agriculture. If that be the search on which my hon. Friends are engaged, I am afraid they are chasing the impossible. The various branches of agriculture differ one from another in their needs. My definition of a comprehensive policy would be that of a policy which did affect all the various activities of agriculture, each with measures appropriate to its own necessities, the sum total of those measures being comprehensive in its effect. I do not believe there is one single slogan which you can apply with success to every branch of agriculture.
We have had from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) just now a demand for a levy subsidy policy. Can it be supposed for a moment that any policy can be comprehensive in the sense that it would solve the problems of every branch of agricultural production? Surely not. Take potatoes, a very important item, in which commodity we are by now 95 per cent. self-sufficient, but where the imports are but a tiny fraction of the total consumed, the yield of an import levy is bound to be so insufficient as to be of no use to anybody. I could go through a great list of agricultural commodities to which that touch- 763 stone of my right hon. Friend's is quite inapplicable. There are parts of agricultural production where you have a very large importation and a very small amount of home production over which to spread a levy. I give that as an instance of what I mean by a comprehensive policy, and I believe that if the view that I take of such a policy is accepted by the House, we shall see at least that the long list of measures, covering every branch of agricultural production, does merit that title of comprehensive.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked about the plans for defence, and he and other hon. Members have frequently repeated the criticism that there is an undue secrecy about them and that we should do well to publish in advance these plans for wartime production, so that farmers might know what they have to do. The truth is this, that in regard to agriculture in relation to a nation at war, you have to regard it, not from the point of view of agriculture, but from the point of view of the nation. The industry, like other activities of the nation, must take its place alongside the others, and in framing in advance a policy for wartime production one has to remember that there are a great many different hypotheses on which one has to work. In the first place, it depends on the season of the year when war breaks out, whether you are in the ploughing-up season, or in the sowing season, or in between the two, but that clearly means that a different set of plans for each of these hypothetical dates must be in existence. It also means that you have to take into account the sort of hypotheses that may arise from the very nature of the struggle in which you are engaged. There is the question of co-ordinating agricultural production to the total available food supply, and that may vary according to what theatre of war you are engaged in and what forces you have to contend with.
There are many other hypotheses which I could mention to the House, but I can assure them that there are so many that to declare in advance of the emergency arising what we should do, would be very often misleading, and, further, to advertise them would not be in the public interest. There is also the question that it is interrelated and interlocked, as it must be, with other means of national defence, 764 and for all these reasons the plans have not been published. The farmers may ask, "Then what are we to do?" The answer is that we should expect them, in time of peace, to do the best they can to see that the land is well farmed, and to build up the nation's resources, so far as they are able to do it, in soil fertility; and when war came, if that were done, there would be no difficulty in creating the necessary machinery to give more precise directions. The hon. Member for North Cumberland also asked me various other points about defence matters, and he instanced labour, tractors, and so on. Beyond giving the general assurance that these matters have all been taken into consideration, I will say no more about them at the moment. The hon. Member asked about certain figures in regard to lime and slag. I could get them for him if he gave me notice, but I can say now that over £1,000,000 has already been spent, since the Act was put into operation, on assistance for lime and slag, and that money has gone into the soil to improve fertility.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton began his jeremiad by the familiar statement that the foundations of agriculture were crumbling and that there was no hope. I am not one who would ever discourage a healthy pessimism on the part of all those engaged in agriculture. At the same time, I think it wise to remind the House that there is an increase of productivity in agriculture, and though I, and other hon. Members will too, lament the fact that there is not such a large population of workers as there was in this process—which is not singular to this country but is the experience of every country in the world at the present time—and that it should be denuding our villages of their manhood, to deduce from that single fact the melancholy picture as to the state of agriculture which my right hon. Friend did, with other people in other parts of the country, is to miss one essential fact, and that is that there has been a change in the very nature of agricultural operations since the day when a large proportion of labour was employed in daily cereal cultivation on the land.
If you compare the exodus of labour from a constituency such as that of my right hon. Friend in the West country with what has happened to labour in East Anglia, where arable cultivation is 765 still a very important item, you will find that in the same period, while from the areas that are now producing livestock products there has been a decline in the labour employed, in East Anglia as a whole the loss of labour has been small, because there the plough is still the instrument of agriculture. It is not that I do not desire—I think every hon. Member in every part of the House would like—to see a larger proportion of men in our rural villages, but they are not there, and the reason for that is not entirely economic. But we have a feeling that if there is an undue disbalance between urban and rural communities in our country, something that has been vital to us in the past may be in danger of perishing and that that element in the national character which has been so valuable may be in danger of eclipse.
There is one thing that I am sure of in this labour question, and that is that we must do what we can to improve the conditions of agricultural labour, and I would draw attention to the provisions for better housing which were passed by this House last Session and to the unemployment insurance for agricultural workers. Though my right hon. Friend who bemoaned the fact that workers were leaving the land, did not deal with that aspect, it does a good deal to give them the feeling that they are no longer in a condition where the town worker was in some measure superior to them, and it does something to even up the state of affairs. I should like to see this excellent class of skilled worker—I believe the agricultural worker is in many cases the most highly individually skilled man working over a large portion of country—have his conditions of labour put on a comparable basis with labour in other parts of industry.
My right hon. Friend also fired a broadside at the Milk Marketing Board. The Marketing Boards came into existence under the Act of 1931, which I think was opposed, though I am not sure, by Members of the Conservative party and carried by the Labour party of that day, with the assistance of the Liberal party. The Milk Marketing Board, like the other boards, depends entirely upon the votes of its constituent members for its continued existence, and every time these members have voted on the subject, they have declared 766 by an overwhelming majority that they have preferred the board to remain in existence. What has the board done? It has, on the productive side at least, increased, during the first four years of its existence, the consumption of liquid milk in this country by 55,500,000 gallons and in the last year by a further 38,750,000 gallons, and that contribution to the national well-being is in itself, in my view, sufficient justification for its continuation.
Further, my right hon. Friend made some strictures upon the position of the Dominions as exporters to this country, but we are proceeding on a policy of Imperial preference, and we regard the Dominions as being in a privileged position as compared with foreign importers to this country. I do hope the idea will not gain ground—we have had one expression of it by one hon. Member—that exporting nations are regarded as being parasites in our markets and so on. It is a fact that we are an Imperial nation, and those who wish to see a future for the Dominions must give them in this market such a place as can be given them without sacrificing the interests of our own producers. I hope that will always be our policy, but on this very difficult matter of importations from the Dominions, I would heartily commend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the proceedings of the Empire Producers Conference at Sydney, where they themselves gave a general backing to the idea, held also by His Majesty's Government, that the best way of dealing with this matter was for the producers in Empire countries to form themselves together on the lines of the work of the Empire Beef Council and the International Beef Conference, to regulate a steady supply of produce to this market, our home producers being represented there, of course, so as to avoid dislocation of supplies and similar evils.
I notice that some of my hon. Friends have put down an Amendment to the Address, and I must say that I welcome, in the terms of that Amendment, the recognition of what is proposed for agriculture in the present Gracious Speech. As the Amendment points out, the value and the importance of the home agricultural industry is explicitly recognised, and I think an impartial survey of the effort made by the Government to assist agri- 767 culture, an effort unparalleled by any preceding Government, will make it clear that that recognition has been implicit in the Measures which have hitherto been enacted and in those which are projected. Apart from this general statement, the Gracious Speech, as is customary on these occasions, gives the specific proposals for legislation which we contemplate being able to pass in the ensuing Session, and no one imagines that this is a complete catalogue of agricultural legislation for all time. It is merely a customary forecast of what is indicated this Session.
The Amendment proceeds to draw attention to two other matters in the way of criticism and then deals with price insurance. I will not at this moment enter upon any general or abstract argument upon that question. I have before me certain proposals of an important character to which I am giving sympathetic consideration, and I should not like to say anything more now. I will point out, however, that in two out of the three Measures that are mentioned in the Gracious Speech the element of price insurance figures prominently. In the Milk Bill, as the White Paper stated, there will be an element of what I would call a true price insurance, that is to say, a guarantee against undue loss on milk produced for manufacture by means of an Exchequer grant. This varies in kind from previous assistance of this character in that what was previously done for the industry was on the basis of a repayable advance, the Board paying back to the Treasury when the price rose above a certain amount, whereas in this projected legislation it will be a direct grant. One of the purposes of the Wheat Bill to be introduced is to remedy a defect in the original Act whereby provision was not made for a periodical review of what the standard price of wheat ought to be in view of the costs prevailing at the time. That again is a matter which impinges upon those principles which hon. Members who put down the Amendment consider desirable. There will also be in the milk legislation opportunities for review.
§ Mr. Alexander
In seeking a change of that power, do the Government contemplate raising the standard price under the Wheat Scheme?
§ Mr. Morrison
It is intended that in 1939 and every three years afterwards the 768 question of what shall be the standard price shall be reviewed in the light of the circumstances prevailing. It will depend upon that review whether any alteration is made in the price, either up or down.
The Amendment also draws attention to the depressed condition of the sheep industry and of the growers of barley and oats. It is a fact, and an unfortunate one, that whereas other sections of the agricultural industry are not devoid of grounds of comfort, this section has suffered a bad experience during the past year. The matter is made worse by the fact that it is precisely on the same land where barley is grown that we have the rearing of sheep as an integral part of farming operations. The fact that these two commodities have together suffered a recession in price means that it is the same land and the same men in the agricultural population who are bearing the brunt of it. I would like to say a word on the sheep situation as it stands at the moment. There has been a marked increase since the spring of this year in the number of sheep offered for sale at representative markets in England and Wales. This increase may be, as I suggested earlier, due in great measure to the fact that there was a heavy fall of lambs owing to a favourable lambing season, and that these newcomers found themselves confronted with land that was parched by drought and a lack of keep fodder. Consequently, there was heavier and earlier marketing of sheep than normal.
This increased marketing is still in evidence. In the past six weeks the number of sheep at representative markets in England and Wales was 288,300, as compared with 235,800 in the corresponding weeks of 1937—an increase of 22 per cent. The comparative steadiness of prices in spite of this substantial rise in marketing as compared with this time last year, is an encouraging factor in the situation. The June returns indicate that there has been an increase of over 1,000,000 head, or 4.2 per cent. as compared with 1937, of sheep in this country. As regards supplies of mutton and lamb from overseas, it will be familiar to the House that supplies from foreign countries are regulated by Order to 65 per cent. of the quantities imported in the Ottawa standard year. As regards the large volume of supplies that come from Australia and New Zealand, discussions have been going on, and it is expected that imports from 769 these two Dominions during 1938 will not exceed 5,500,000 cwt., which is about the same as the imports in 1937, when prices were on the whole very good. It is possible that this figure will not be reached.
§ Mr. Lambert
Is there any explanation why British prices of mutton have dropped while the New Zealand and Australia prices have maintained their previous levels?
§ Mr. Turton
My right hon. Friend has given the figure of 5,500,000 cwts., which is the same figure that he gave on 13th July, when he said he expected imports from New Zealand to drop by 400,000 cwts. this year. Do I understand that there is not to be that drop?
§ Mr. Morrison
On that occasion I was comparing allocations. There are agreed amounts, which are settled by negotiation between the Governments, of what shall be imported. The allocations were down but the actual figures of what is expected to be imported are just what I have said.
§ Mr. Morrison
The imports from foreign countries remain stationary at 65 per cent. of the Ottawa standard year. In October imports were 174,000 cwts. less than in October, 1937. For the first 10 months of the year the total imports of frozen mutton and lamb were 110,000 cwts. less than in the corresponding period of 1937. My right hon. Friend asks me to what the fall in the English prices was due. He will remember I suggested that one reason was the heavy marketings because of the big lamb crop and the drought. The truth is to some extent the two markets are not closely competitive. They have undoubtedly an influence upon each other, and undue marketings of Dominion or other frozen lamb in this country would in certain circumstances have an effect upon prices.
Various other things, however, have gone wrong with the price of sheep, which is not only composed of the price of mutton. The prices of wool, pelts and other by-products, which are world prices, 770 have fallen considerably, and these have tended to depress the price of sheep apart from the price of mutton. As regards the prospects, it looks as if the decline in values has been checked. To the extent that the decline is due to temporary factors such as the drought, it should correct itself. To the extent that it is due to a decline in demand, possibly owing to the high prices of 1937 and to the temporary recession in trade, the economic policy of the Government as it develops will put it right and correct these temporary falls. We cannot expect wool to have the same price in the world markets that it has had when we get some self-sufficient countries, or countries which hope to be self sufficient, manufacturing fabric out of such strange commodities as milk and using wool substitutes of one sort and another; with a large consumer of wool, like Japan, engaged on a costly war; and with the depression in America, all of which are factors in the price of wool. They all go to show how important from the point of view of the sheep producers in this country is the policy of economic appeasement which the Government are trying to get through the nations of the world in order that we may get a better state of trade in other countries and a steadier market at home.
The question of barley has also been raised. The trouble is that this is a substance which is in reality two commodities. There is malting barley, which normally demands a relatively higher price, and feeding barley, which normally demands a relatively lower price. They are the same article apart from differences in quality. Malting barley is generally grown on good land which also grows wheat, and feeding barley grows on land which is less fertile. A plentiful supply of feeding barley at low prices is, of course, in the interests of those farmers who deal with livestock, and it is responsible for about 70 per cent. of the total output. There is a duty on foreign barley of 10 per cent. ad valorem. Under the Agriculture Act land where wheat is not grown comes in for the barley subsidy. I am informed that various calculations based on the price of oats make it likely that this subsidy will be in the neighbourhood of 10s. an acre this year, which will be of assistance to those men who grow only barley and cannot grow wheat.
771 Malting barley is an entirely different commodity as far as price goes. The present position is that the brewers made an arrangement, which is supervised by the Import Duties Advisory Committee, that they would buy not less than 70 per cent. of their requirements from home sources. The demand for barley for brewing purposes is largely static, and when, as this year, there is an abundant harvest and a great deal of barley of malting quality, there is a decline in price and a temporary overtaking of demand by supply. To some extent the lower price is offset by the higher yield. It is estimated that in 1938 the average yield is about 17 cwt. an acre, as against 14 cwt. in 1937, and this to a certain extent offsets the lower price. I am bound to say that the situation of barley growers in this country is one of great difficulty.
I have made these remarks about the situation for the purpose only of putting the House in possession of the facts as they are known to me, and not from any lack of sympathy with the sufferers from this decline in prices. With regard to oats, the position is that we are 97 per cent. self-sufficient and assistance is given under the Agriculture Act. Though this assistance is not available for those who also grow wheat—the grower of wheat has the advantage of the Wheat Act—it has been of great help, particularly in those areas where oats are grown as a cash crop. I will continue to give consideration to the difficulties of every section of the industry, with full sympathy for their needs and an earnest desire to help them. I will not discuss the question of a duty on malting barley or deal with the difficulty of distinguishing whether barley coming in is destined for malting or for feeding and the objections to the schemes that have been put forward for treating the barley in some way so that it cannot be used for malting purposes. The fundamental difficulty is that the feeding barley is largely used in various forms of agricultural production. If it were less used perhaps it would be easier for the other barley growers to get decent prices.
I have tried to cover the matters that have been raised both on the Paper and in the course of the discussion, and I have given my interpretation of what is a comprehensive policy, that is to say, the policy that the Government will try in time to 772 deal on permanent lines with each of the staple commodities produced by our agriculturists. The principles on which we shall attempt to deal with them are, in the first place, the principle of permanence. When I view some of the proposals contained in the publication to which my attention has been drawn by the hon. Member for Don Valley I wonder, even supposing they could be put into operation, how long they would last. It is very attractive to talk of guaranteed prices, but I hope we shall know the level at which they are to be guaranteed before people are asked to decide upon them. When we are promised good prices for the farmer and low prices for the consumer, the doubling of the amount of production, and so on, I have a fear that, if that policy were put into operation, it would not last even the six months that the Corn Production Act did, and we should find the same distressing symptoms following from that sort of policy. Agriculture, with its long-range operations, requires to feel solid ground under its feet, and one of our aims is a definite policy which we can recommend to Parliament and the industry, founded on lines which can be steadily carried out by the country as a whole, with benefit to a progressive and developing agriculture.
The second point in our policy is that of protection to the agricultural industry from undue competition from abroad. It is a principle that may be applied according to the circumstances of each case. In one case it may be that a tariff is best. It certainly has worked very well with regard to fruit and vegetables. In other cases it may be that we should proceed by way of the principle of quantitative regulation, which has worked very well with regard to bacon. In regard to other commodities it may be that other methods can be used. I wonder what is the attitude of hon. Members opposite on the problem of giving effective protection to agriculture. It was only last summer that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) moved an Amendment to the Finance Bill asking for the abolition of all duties on foodstuffs that were then imposed in connection with agricultural protection. When we come to import regulation, I do not recollect that on any occasion when I have proposed to take any powers of qualitative regulation the proposal has been regarded with enthusiasm by hon. 773 Members opposite. My recollection is that they have divided against it.
The third principle, about which we have not heard much in the Debate, is that of efficiency in production and marketing. I do not speak from any feeling that farmers are not farming their land well. On the whole the standard of skill and application is high, but I feel that although you can create by Statute a screen of protection for this great industry, its existence depends on the Statute Book and upon the will of Parliament for the time being. But if you can, by measures of efficiency in production and marketing, vitalise and stimulate the native competitive power of British agriculture in its own market you may endow the industry with an imperishable position which no change of political fortunes can take from you. We should concern ourselves to use every endeavour in our power to see that efficiency in production and marketing is carried on as a constant effort. We have in fact, as the House will have seen from the King's Speech, a heavy programme of legislation in front of us in the agricultural field. I should not like the House to enter upon this task with any feeling that the priorities are wrong, that is to say, that because now the hardships of the poultry industry are relatively insignificant in comparison with those of sheep, because the troubles of the barley grower at present overshadow those of the milk producer, we should therefore abandon our carefully-thought-out programme and turn aside in the interests solely of sheep and barley.
The task of rehabilitating agriculture is a very great one. It will not be finished in this Session. I have found, when faced with a great deal of work, so great that you wonder if you will ever get through it, that by adopting the simple plan of seeking something that you can do and getting on with it, and then taking the next steps gradually, the task assumes more manageable proportions. I am convinced that the three Bills mentioned in the Speech, affecting the milk, wheat and poultry industries, are conceived in the best interests of the industries concerned and I invite the co-operation and collaboration of Members in all parts of the House in the coming Session in bringing them to a satisfactory conclusion.
Mr. De la Bère
What steps, if any, do the Government propose to take to prevent the manoeuvres of the milling combine in keeping up the price of wheat offals?
§ Mr. Morrison
I could not accept the sort of insinuation that I gather my hon. Friend makes that there are some discreditable manoeuvres in the matter.
§ Mr. Morrison
I hope that in discussing the matter my hon. Friend will support his definite accusation with some material on which I can take up the matter. If he does, I shall be only too happy to look into it.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I regret that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) suggested that the short quotations that he read represented the Labour party's policy regarding agriculture. I am certain that he does not desire to misrepresent the party, and it would have been fairer and juster if he had taken the trouble to quote from some of the literature that has been published by the Labour party itself. It is a travesty to say that the two small quotations that he read represent, if they ever did represent, what the Labour party stands for, particularly as to the method of taking over the land in any socialised State. I am certain that no member representing an agricultural seat is at all satisfied that the place of agriculture in the Gracious Speech is at all adequate to its importance. If the House analyses the speech it will find that every part of it which deals with rearmament means speeding up. That, clearly, is a reflection of the crisis through which we passed in September. When we come to the part dealing with agriculture we find that the paragraph is precisely the same as would have been written if the Gracious Speech had been written, say, in July. But since July the world, particularly as regards this country and its defences, has totally changed. I am not at all convinced when I hear speakers argue that it will be quite an easy matter, in fact as easy a matter now as during the last War for food ships to come to this country. In any case and in any circumstances, agriculture must play a very great, and possibly a 775 deciding part in any future war, and it is for that reason that I was not at all convinced by what the Minister said that he has in any way collaborated with the farmers and let them know what they are expected to do in the next war.
I agree with previous speakers that the present state of agriculture is not at all encouraging. I think it is common ground that the drift from the land continues, that there is less land being cultivated, that rural housing is a scandal, and lastly—and this, too, is common ground—the wages paid to agricultural workers are so low that they fail entirely to attract men to the land. I believe this can partly be explained by the following facts. In Carmarthen market last week prime beef was sold at 35s. per cwt., average, making, with an average subsidy of 6s., 41s. in all. Similar beef was being sold in the same market only three or four months ago for 47s. or 48s. When beef is sold at, say, 35s. the subsidy is 5s., and if beef goes up to 50s. the subsidy is still 5s. I respectfully suggest to the House that the subsidy of 5s. is either ridiculously low when the price of beef is 35s. or stupidly high when the price of beef is 50s., and I ask the Minister whether it is not possible to join up this policy of subsidy with a policy of price insurance, so that the farmer can feel that the gap between the cost of production and the price he gets for his animal will in some way be filled.
I am certain that those Members who represent agricultural constituencies in which there are a large number of sheep farmers will have nothing of hope from the Minister to bring to those sheep farmers. It seems to me that all that the Minister has said in the House means nothing at all to the sheep farmers. What earthly good is it for us to go to our sheep farmers and say, "The Minister has now told us that prices have reached rock bottom and that very shortly they will be better" when those farmers have to sell their sheep now in order to pay their rents? It is no comfort to the hill farmers of Carmarthenshire to know that in the Spring of next year the prices they will get for their sheep will be better than now.
The present prices for lamb have been the prices which farmers have been receiving for the past five or six months. Lamb has been sold this week in the town of Carmarthen at 3½ per lb. live 776 weight, and that means 7d. per lb. dead weight. Lambs have actually been sold for 7s. 6d.—small lambs weighing about 30 lb.—and that works out at 3d. per lb. Ewes have actually been sold in the open market at the rate of 2d. per lb. The whole position is a desperate one, because ewes have lost in price, on the average, more than £1 a head. In addition to that, in the part of the country which I represent the horse trade also has been desperately bad. I understand that yearlings are being sold to-day at prices which this time last year were given for foals. At Gloucester the Minister said, "Just look at what we have done for beef, wheat and milk," but that is very poor comfort for the sheep farmer who is experiencing such very bad times. The policy of dealing with one commodity at a time has the worst possible effect. The one bright spot for the farmer is the safe price which he gets for milk, and the result will be that sheep farmers will rush into milk production, only, later, to rush back into sheep farming.
It is my criticism of the Minister that he is afraid to do the big thing, and that even when he has a chance to do something smaller but of a universal character he will not do it. We know that the Wisbech experiment with potatoes has been a very great success. Why does not the Minister get behind that scheme with push and vigour and set up not one factory but a dozen factories all over the country, saying to the farmers, "We will take all the potatoes you can grow"? The Minister knows that he would be able to make good use of the potatoes at a fair price. Over and over again Professor Stapleton has told the Government that grass land can be improved, but the Minister has done nothing, or very nearly nothing, on those lines. It is not good putting lime fertilisers on some of those old "leys''—not a bit of good. The Minister has suggested that there should be more tractors. If only he would put his energy behind a scheme for each county more tractors might be made available.
The big thing now is the question of price insurance, and the import of that policy was best put in the B.B.C. broadcast by Mr. Anthony Hurd:The key to the thousands of acres lying more or less derelict, of little use to the farmer or the nation, is the market price the farmer should expect to get for the produce of the land if he cultivated it to the full advantage.777 I am certain that the National Farmers' Union, anyhow, will not be pleased with the way in which the Minister has dealt with the question of price insurance today. He has said nothing to show that he will adopt it fully in the Bills which he is bringing in, but I notice this statement in the "Times" to-day:There are, indeed, grounds for believing that the Government, in developing their agricultural policy to full effect, will find that further price insurance schemes on similar lines to the Wheat Act and the Bacon Industry Act will provide the most satisfactory means of giving British agriculture the opportunities of development which it seeks, and which within reasonable bounds are in the interests of the nation at large.The subject of price insurance was dealt with in the excellent speech we had today from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), and I believe that there is in the House almost a universal demand that the farmer shall have a better opportunity of knowing for certain what he is going to "cash in" after he takes the produce off the land. I believe the two policies are so near together that I hope the Minister will make some declaration which will encourage those of us who want to see a fair deal for the farmer. There are many hundreds, if not thousands, of farmers who are bitterly disappointed that no reference to a Rabbit Bill was made in the Gracious Speech. West Wales particularly, and the western parts of England, are suffering a plague of rabbits to-day, they are a perfect pest.
I make no apology for standing in my place to ask the Government to give fair play to the farmer, because in the county of Carmarthen there are thousands of holdings of 50 acres or less. It is perfectly true to say that those farmers and their wives are working people in every sense of the word, and there is no reason why they should not have a fair return for the tremendous amount of work which they do. For them it is a seven days week of 16 or 17 hours a day. There is no reason at all why an appeal should not be made to the Government from these benches to see that those people have a fair show when their produce goes into the market. I feel that the Minister's speech to-day will make deeper the keen disappointment and the keen depression of the farmers of this country. It is words, all words. No Member can stand up and say that the Minister mentioned any one specific case in which he could 778 help. He has no policy which will mean that agriculture in this country shall live. I believe that all farmers, irrespective of politics, will be profoundly disappointed with the Minister's speech to-day.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey
I do not often echo with agreement words which come from the other side of the House, but what the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) said at the close of his speech about the disappointment which will be felt with the Minister's statement certainly finds an echo in my heart. I listened for an hour to the Minister—may I say, in passing, that in 4½ hours we have had only five speeches—and with growing gloom, and when he came to speak about the subject which most interests my part of the world I felt that he was positively incomprehensible. I am not in the least unmindful of what this Government has done for the agricultural industry. I believe that if it had not been for the steps taken during the last seven years the agricultural industry would by this time have been dead altogether. The truth is that by the oxygen which the Government have given it the body has been kept alive, but nobody can say that parts of that body are thoroughly healthy at the present time. Not only has there been a catastrophic fall in sheep prices, but cattle prices have been sagging very badly. I got figures from a skilled and well-known farmer in the North-East of Scotland who declares that it costs something like 52s. 6d. per cwt. to produce beef at the present time, and who can pretend that any except the very best beef is making that price—even with the subsidy—at the present time? As regards oats, which are the principal concern in the North-East of Scotland at the present moment, prices have fallen not quite to the lowest level they have ever reached, but to a deplorably low level, and when the Minister stated that the barley grower is to get a subsidy of 10s. an acre, I could not help wondering what was to come to the unfortunate oats grower. I believe it ought to be more than that. The point is that we are facing a really serious situation in the North-East of Scotland, for while prices are lower we have no chance of making up the deficiency, because the harvest has been so disastrous that much of the crop has been destroyed and will be of no use to anybody.
779 I put in the strongest plea that the Government should reconsider the Act which was passed last year and which did give some assistance to the growers of oats and barley. They are grateful for that assistance, but at the present moment it is not enough. I would stress the reasons why the oat crop is of vital importance at the present moment. We heard from the Minister of the benefits which have come to agriculture as a result of cheap fertilisers. I entirely agree with him, but if you want to keep the soil of Scotland in proper heart you have to plough. If you want to lay a sure foundation for a good agriculture in peace and in war you must plough the land, and for that you must have your white crops. Farmers will not go to that expense if they cannot be assured of a reasonable return for their efforts. They are really not getting that, at the present moment.
The second reason is that if you are not keeping the land under the plough you are letting it go down to grass, as indeed it has been going down in the last few years, with the natural results that you put more and more people off the land and that the condition of the land, from the national point of view, gets worse and worse. That process is already going on. I looked up the figures just now and I found that between 1935 and 1937 there has been a decrease in the acreage of oats in Great Britain of something like 750,000 acres, of which 260,000 acres were in Scotland. Therefore, if this process goes on much longer, it will be disastrous. I ask the Government to give the oat growers a subsidy or a deficiency payment—call it what you will, or a larger grant than they are receiving at the present time. The price which the oat growers should receive should be more comparable to what the wheat grower is getting.
The oat grower is faced with competition from the heavily subsidised wheat grower. Much of the wheat is only nominally of millable quality and is not used for making bread or human food. It goes into the market as animal foodstuffs, and is therefore in competition with the oat grower's product. This poor man finds his price reduced by the heavily subsidised article, while he gets a very small subsidy for the only crop which he can grow. We are getting two results: 780 Land which ought to be kept under the plough is being put down to grass, and a feeling of great bitterness is growing up about what is felt to be a great injustice between one man and another. I believe that feeling is justified, and I hope that the Government will take more steps than were outlined by the Minister of Agriculture just now to put right that injustice and to look after the land of Scotland.
Only one feature about the agricultural situation gives ground for hope, and that is the pig situation. I believe that the new bacon contracts are giving a certain amount of satisfaction. The reason is that the price given to the farmers in those contracts is based upon the cost of production. Until we get some form of price guarantee or price insurance based upon the cost of production, and not some assistance on what basis one knows not, and until the British farmer is guaranteed first place in his own market—even if that means allowing him to increase the output—we shall not see an improvement. It was suggested just now that part of the reason for the fall in the price of mutton was the increased number of lambs, but we want to see an increase, from the British farmers' point of view. We should do what we can to encourage the farmer to increase his output. There is no doubt that he can do so.
The cost of production has to include either a rent, an interest or a fund out of which the farmer can maintain his own land, keep his own buildings, his house, his ditches and everything else in proper order. A good many farms in Scotland and in England are in a deplorable state, for the simple reason that there is not enough money coming into the industry to enable owners of land to put them into a proper state. The second thing, more important than the first, is that you should enable the farmer to pay his farm servants a wage comparable with that which people receive who are working in the town, at no more important work than is to be found on the farm. This is important for the reason that it would be an act of justice between one man and another, just as between the oat grower and the wheat grower. It is unjust that one man should be able to work in the town for high wages—although nobody begrudges them to him—while another man should have to work long hours and often have bad housing conditions, while 781 getting a wage not nearly as good as that of his brother who has gone to the town.
If something is not done to improve the conditions on the land we shall not have a man left upon it. It is already becoming extremely difficult to find men for the land. We all know that two great difficulties are present in the north-east, both of them signs of decline in agriculture. An enormous number of farms exist for which you can get no tenant. The second difficulty is that you cannot get men to work on the land because they are leaving the land, particularly the young men, as has already been pointed out. Therefore, any cost of production which is to be satisfactory must include a proper wage. No farmer would be unwilling to pay a decent wage if his income were sufficient to enable him to do so.
I do not propose to go into the ways and means of perfecting the scheme of price insurance. I believe it can be done in many ways. You might be able to do it through a series of boards set up with the object of purchasing from abroad and calculating the price to the home consumer, but I am sure that the only way in which you can put the home agriculture on a proper basis is by doing something on the lines which I have mentioned. If you do so you will once again make a prosperous countryside, to the infinite advantage of every man, woman and child in this country. If you do not do it, and if you do not do it quickly, agriculture will die, and ruined farmsteads and derelict fields will be a festering sore in the side of the body politic from which it will never recover.
§ 7.39 P.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell
I am sure that the House listened with the greatest interest and admiration to the speech of my hon. Friend, and I associate myself with him in his disappointment at the statement of the Minister this afternoon. In the course of his speech the Minister said that he would not like to discourage a healthy pessimism among the farmers; I can assure him that he would be well satisfied about the amount of pessimism among my farming constituents at the moment. They are suffering very heavily indeed because of the fall in the price of barley and I wish to speak chiefly this evening about the barley position as it affects my constituents and barley growers generally.
782 The situation in Norfolk and other barley-growing counties is disastrous. There is a general feeling that East Anglian farmers are always grumbling, but I assure the House that I am not one of those who always think that everything should be sacrificed to the interests of agriculture. This is a genuine grievance. You have only to study the difference in the price of barley this year and last. It has fallen as low as 20S. per quarter, whereas last year similar barley might have been sold for 60s. A serious situation exists, and something will very soon have to be done about it. I imagine that hon. Members realise perfectly well that to barley growers in our part of the world the selling of their barley is their only means of receiving cash to pay their outgoings. In many cases not only has the price been so low as to cause very heavy loss, but in many cases it has not been possible for the farmers to sell their barley at all. The result has been that no cash receipts have been forthcoming. That situation has unfortunately coincided with a very bad crop of sugar-beet. This is no fault of the Government, but the combination of the two has had a disastrous effect. Not only has the cash crop of barley proved a disappointment but the cash crop of sugar-beet as well.
It would not be an overstatement to say that there is a loss of anything from £2 an acre upwards, at the present price of barley. It is all very well for the Minister to say that there is a possibility of 10s. an acre being received under the barley subsidy, but in point of fact the malting-barley producer receives no subsidy at all, because in many cases he is a wheat producer as well. The 10s. in any case would hardly make up the enormous loss of £2 an acre which is being suffered. This situation is much more than a hardship for a few farmers. It is a disaster to the productivity of the land of this country, which is of vital national importance at the present time. I am certain that if something is not done to alleviate the present distress, more land will go out of cultivation and less food will be produced, while more men will drift from the land. It is all very well for the Minister to say that in East Anglia there are not fewer people employed on the land; I can assure him that the young people are not going on to the land as they were. There is very little to encourage them to do so at the moment. Another thing is that 783 labour has been much more casualised in the last few years than it used to be, so that it is no longer the desirable employment that it was.
The Minister should remember that he is as much a Defence Minister as he is a civil Minister. If other Defence Ministers, who have been criticised lately, had been failing to supply some means for the production of war material, we should all consider it natural that they should be criticised. How much more is it natural to criticise a Defence Minister who has the capacity for producing the material but is allowing that capacity to waste away.
I have the utmost respect for the Minister, and those who heard his speech this afternoon will admit with me that it was a great peace of advocacy. If he had been as effective in promoting his own case as he was in destroying the case for the Labour party's agricultural policy, I feel that we should all have been happier. Surely, while it is possible for such disasters as this to occur, and for such serious losses to be suffered by farmers, they cannot be expected to have sufficient confidence to continue their farming in the way that they should, to spend the money which is necessary in order to farm their land properly, and, most important of all, to employ the labour which is really necessary for good farming. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have not got any."] To a certain extent that is true, but I know quite a number of farmers who say that, as a result of the present circumstances, they will have to employ still less labour than they do now, and that is a state of affairs which everyone in this House seriously deplores. I feel—and I think that this may appeal to hon. Members opposite—that, although agricultural wages still compare much less favourably than they should with wages in other industries, great difficulty may be found in maintaining even the present standard if the situation in my district is allowed to continue. The Government, quite rightly, as I think, have endeavoured to put an end to violent fluctuations in prices, and fluctuations between extreme prosperity in one year and extreme poverty in another, in our agricultural industry. Marketing schemes and the rest have played their part. But, if the farmer is not to be 784 allowed ever to make much money in any one year and has serious losses in others, he will get to the stage of realising that it is a question of having no "ups" and very frequent "downs," and he cannot be expected under such conditions to continue to produce the food which is vitally necessary for our national defence, and, indeed, for our peace-time economy.
I hope very much that the Minister will consider the question of price insurance with regard to barley. We have heard a great deal about price insurance this afternoon, but I feel certain, after the many suggestions which have been made for alleviating the barley situation, that the idea of price insurance and a deficiency payment is the one which is most likely to find favour with barley growers, and it seems to me to be the most practical. It has been said that there are too many different standards of barley to make this possible, but I have here a scheme which has been worked out by the Rutland and Stamford Branch of the National Farmers' Union, and I would like to give it to the Minister to study, if he has not already seen it. It provides for three different grades of barley, and for deficiency payments based on a different price for each of the three grades. I feel that it would work, and I hope that the Minister will give it his most earnest consideration.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
Would the hon. Member like to call for the Minister in order that he may receive it?
§ Mr. Maxwell
I have no doubt that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will tell the Minister what I have said. I know that he is not able to be here at the moment, because he has an important engagement.
The Minister said he could not consider introducing further legislation because the programme was so full already, but I wonder whether he would not be able to introduce into the Wheat Bill which he proposes to bring forward some provision to include barley, and make the Wheat Commission into a Cereal Commission embracing barley and oats as well. In that way he might be able to get over the difficulty. The immediate position will not, however, be remedied by this, and I hope the Minister will show that he is 785 not only sympathetic, but is alive to the fact that he ought, if possible, to do something to mitigate the disastrous situation for barley growers which exists at the present moment. It might be possible, in the case of those people who, though they cannot get their cash, could carry on on credit, for the Government to do something to help them in the matter of credit. It might even be possible, with the assistance of the brewers, to give some subsidy to those people who have sold their barley already. It might be possible, on a merchant's certificate, to give, say, 10s. a quarter, with a top limit of £2 a quarter, on barley which has been sold already. The brewers this year have been able to get their barley very much more cheaply than they did last year, indeed, much more cheaply than it was possible for the farmer to produce it. I do not believe that the brewers are really villains. Brewers have often told me that they are prepared to give for their barley a reasonable price at which the farmer can grow it. If that is true, let us take them at their word, and see if they cannot give us some assistance in getting out of this difficulty. I hope that the Minister will see if something can be done on these lines, and that he is really alive to the importance of the matter.
I want to express the real disappointment one feels that a comprehensive policy, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) called it, is not forthcoming. It is all very well for the Minister to give us his interpretation of a comprehensive policy. I agree with his interpretation. But he immediately proceeded to read out a list of articles, including barley, oats, and other things, which were not satisfactorily dealt with by the Government's policy, so that the end at which I know the Government are aiming has not been achieved. It is no use our going telling the people of this country and telling each other the wonderful things that the Government have done for agriculture—all perfectly true; the Government have given tremendous assistance to agriculture—when at the same time they have not finally attained their objective, which is to make it an economic proposition for farmers. I think that a little more energy might be shown in ensuring that every possible opportunity is taken of 786 remedying the admitted difficulties in agriculture. We have heard a great deal lately in other spheres about its not being possible to get peace by sitting and waiting for it. We have heard from the Prime Minister that this country should be a go-getter for peace. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will show himself to be a go-getter for the benefit of agriculture.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
One hon. Member opposite said a moment or two ago that in his opinion every farmer in the country would pay adequate wages provided that he were in such circumstances that he was able to do so. I wish I could believe that to be the case. Our experience is that it is not. One sees reports of many cases in the courts where pressure has to be exercised on farmers to compel them to pay reasonable wages. I agree with the main principle that has been stated from this side with regard to agriculture, but one thing that is of very great importance is that an economic price should be made possible for any agricultural product. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) gave us the figures, which were very startling, of the departure of men from the land. From 1921 down to the present time, I think he said, 30 per cent. of those above 21 years of age have gone elsewhere, and 40 per cent. of those below the age of 21. There is undoubtedly a depopulation of the countryside. I am not going to argue about agriculture; I am going to try to bring the Debate back a little nearer to the Amendment; but I should be surprised if any hon. Member gets any satisfaction from the Minister's speech. Towards the end of his speech, I wrote down these words as being what I thought was a fair summary of it:If the bounty of Nature fails, if the war in China ceases, and if the American depression rolls away, there is a possibility of the English farmer getting some prosperity.That seems to me to convey a fairly accurate impression of what the Minister said in his speech. If hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent agricultural districts can find any satisfaction in that speech, they are entitled to do so. We know that millions of pounds are being poured into agriculture without the necessary organisation for putting that great industry on a proper basis.
787 I want to bring the Debate back to the basis set by the Mover of the Amendment. I do not think anybody can deny that an appalling amount of poverty exists in this country, while at the same time nobody can deny that this is one of the richest countries in the world. Sir John Orr, who has been complimented by one of the Ministers in the course of this Debate, said in Edinburgh as recently as last week:There is nothing like the poverty we have in Scotland to be found in the Scandinavian countries, or in Belgium or in Holland. The infantile mortality in those countries, too, is only half what it is in Scotland.Those countries are not nearly as rich as this country, but they have the joy and satisfaction of knowing that their infantile mortality rate is just about half that of Scotland. He goes on to talk about the housing conditions in these countries. It is appalling that we should have those things continuing here. I do not think either that anybody will deny the gross inequalities of wealth we have in this country. Indeed, apart from America, the distribution of wealth in this country is the worst in the world. And it is significant—very significant indeed—that during the past 30 years, according to the best information we can get, there has been little or no improvement in the distribution of wealth in this country. Bearing that in mind, one is driven to this conclusion, despite what is said by Ministers from time to time, that the whole of the expansion in our social services has been paid for by the poor people and not by the rich. The fact that there has been no improvement in the distribution of wealth in the last 30 years indicates that very clearly.
Our social services, proud as we are of them, are in fact only half measures; and, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery)—and it was referred to in the report of the Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance Board—there are thousands of people in this country whose wages are not adequate for proper maintenance. There are wages paid which are not on a sufficiently high level for people to be able to live reasonable lives. There must be a consensus of opinion amongst everybody—it has been admitted on both sides of the House during this Debate—that there are serious deficiencies in our 788 social services. Many Members of the Tory party have admitted it during this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook and the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), who made an admirable speech last night admitted it, and every hon. Member knows it well. The Minister of Labour, replying to the Debate last night, was said by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), to have bellowed like a bull. There is a good deal of truth in that statement. In any case, it was obvious that the Minister of Labour was very annoyed with those Tory Members who dared to say what they did about the attitude of the Government concerning the condition of people in this country.
The hon. Member for King's Norton asked a very important question. He said to the Minister, "Do you really think you can go on with the old system, with this tinkering here and there," or with this pottering about, as some other hon. Member described it. He made another significant statement further on in his speech. He compared the increase of wages from what he called the bottom year with the increase of profits from the bottom year. From 1932 to last year, profits, he said, had increased by no less than 70 per cent., whereas wages had increased by only 13 per cent. How hon. Members opposite can expect purchasing power to be maintained, how they can expect to have good trade, when we have so many of our people quite incapable of purchasing the barest necessities of life, I do not know.
At the present time we have the Tories contending that these social services cannot be expanded now because of the expenditure on armaments. But was that not the attitude of hon. Members opposite and the present Government to the expansion of social services prior to the time we began to spend so much on armaments? Was not the means test imposed in 1931? And it has never been taken off. The Minister of Labour last night attempted to justify himself by making the most extraordinary statements that I have heard. I am delighted with some of the speeches that have been made opposite during this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington stated, referring to other 789 countries, that they could not solve their problem until they had dealt with the problem of unemployment. He went on to say:In this country we have two tasks of overwhelming importance, the security and well-being of our people, the strengthening of our home defences and the creation of a condition of life that is tolerable for all, a life that will give work and interest to every section of our community. These problems, I believe, are being obscured.Then he went on:Rearmament is not a matter of arms alone. It affects every sphere of the life of the nation. We have to rearm and to rebuild at one and the same time, and that at top speed. The drive for munitions and the drive for housing must go side by side. Health is man-power and man-power is health."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1938; col.376, Vol. 341.]He said, quite definitely, that the 1,750,000 unemployed in this country constitute a terrible indictment of this Government. There is no doubt about that. He said that the problem of the Special Areas persists, and that there are other parts of the country nearly as bad that are not described as Special Areas. That is true.
We have had during this Debate and last week some amazing confessions. We have had the confessions of the Secretary for War and other Ministers. They were extraordinary. Now we have these confessions by a large number of hon. Members in the Tory party with regard to our social services. I am asking myself what is going to happen to these hon. Members, who have spoken thus, at 11 o'clock to-night, when we go into the Lobby. It will not be enough for them to remain neutral. The issues to-night are nourishment, housing, sunlight, health and the better distribution of wealth in this country, and the need for a real effort to abolish poverty and the evils which poverty produce. I want to see those hon. Members stand up to what they have said by coming into the Lobby. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends behind me think I am too optimistic. I hope that those hon. Members opposite, having made those speeches, will not let it rest at that.
Some few weeks ago a deputation from South Wales was received by the Minister of Labour and the Chairman of the Unemployment Assistance Board. That deputation did its best to prevail on the Minister and the Chairman of the 790 Board to try to do something to relieve the crushing burden of poverty that the people are bearing in those areas. They have since received a letter from the Chairman of the Board in which he says:The scales of unemployment assistance were designed to be full maintenance.Those are his words. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington was a member of this Government when those scales were designed, and he was partly responsible. I agree that he was fully occupied, perhaps, in the work of his own Department, dealing with the matters which resulted in his resignation; but I should have thought, judging from the speech he delivered last week, that there was ample reason for his resignation on social grounds, as well as on questions of foreign affairs. That letter means that this Government designedly fixed 24s. a week as the amount upon which a man and wife could live, and 2s. for a child. I challenge any hon. Member opposite to prove to me that it is possible for those people to live upon those meagre pittances.
§ Sir Robert Tasker
I had to live on £1 a week when the War ended, and I had a wife and three children.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I express my greatest sympathy with the hon. Member. It may be that that is responsible for the attitude he adopts on some questions. I hope, however, that neither he nor any other person will have to put up with that in future. It is an appalling standard, a standard far below what is stated, on scientific grounds, to be absolutely necessary for bare maintenance. What is the good of talking about physical fitness when you have so many people in this position?
I want to say a word or two on behalf of the old-age pensioners and the widows. I stated earlier on that our social services were only half measures. I repeat that. We have large numbers of old-age pensioners in this country dependent on a paltry 10s. per week. Again, the Government know perfectly well that no person can live on 10s. a week. Large numbers of widows are expected to live upon it. It is the payment to old-age pensioners who have given service to their country, by a very ungrateful country. No country other than a very ungrateful one would keep pensions as low as 10s. a week. The Government are well aware 791 that these people cannot live on it, and that consequently they have to have recourse to the Poor Law. In Monmouthshire we have 4,354 pensioners of 65 and upwards whose weekly pension has to be supplemented from public assistance, and we have in that same county 962 widows. That involves that county, a distressed area, in a cost of over £100,000 a year, or the equivalent of a 2s. 2d. rate. But in the neighbouring county the position is still worse. In Glamorgan the number of pensioners above 65 years of age is 9,684, and the number of widows 5,479, and the rate liability is equivalent to 2s. 6d. in the These two counties constitute virtually the Special Area of South Wales, with a liability in respect of pensions that should be borne by the State approximating 500,000 sterling per annum.
That is the amount of money taken out of the ratepayers of those two counties merely to supplement the pensions that are provided by the State, nearly as much money as was put into the Treforest Trading Estate. What is the use of talking about the relief you give us under the Special Areas Acts, when you take it out of the ratepayers in that way. It is high time that the Government took action in order to save those old age pensioners from trudging their weary way week after week. In these two counties there are more than 20,000 people who have pensions and are dependent on public assistance. Try and picture the procession every week, 20,000 of them, almost like the crowd we get in Whitehall on Armistice Day, trudging their weary way every week to the public assistance officer in order to get something to supplement their pension. That is an appalling state of things and no Government can justify it, and steps should immediately be taken. I am glad that this Amendment has been put down in order to call attention to the condition of our people generally.
We heard the Minister of Labour, in the speech which he made yesterday, talk about unemployment as if it did not exist. I live in a Special Area, but because the location' was suitable and not due to my efforts at all, I am fortunate in having three very substantial factories established in the district. What has happened? I took out the figures to-day. There are three Employment Exchanges in my 792 area covering the whole constituency. As compared with last year, in Pontypool the percentage increase of unemployment is no less than 10.7, and in Pontnewydd it is 10.6. Fortunately at Blaenavon there is a slight reduction of 1.0, but with all the efforts that are being made, we are in the position of not being any better off. I hope that the Government will take early steps in order to see that some of the industries which are now locating themselves in more vulnerable districts or parts of the country will be brought into these depressed areas, not only because of their invulnerability, but because of the unemployment that has been so prolonged there, and for the purpose of giving them a better opportunity than they have had for many years past.
I want to depart from the social services in order to talk about the South Wales seaports and to call special attention to those ports, because they have been treated, I am afraid, during the whole period of the depression in very much the same way as other parts of the depressed districts, and nothing has been done. The ship-repairing business has been badly damaged, because there has been no development in dry docks, which are a vital necessity to the ship-repairing business. I have gone into this matter in some detail, and I think that the figures I am about to give are accurate. I know that the Admiralty have conducted an inquiry into those ports with a view to looking at the facilities there. I do not know the nature of their report, but I think that these figures will be likely to correspond with the figures of the Admiralty. There are 19 dry docks from Swansea on the West to Newport on the East. Of those 19 dry docks only seven of them are capable of taking modern vessels, and in the post-war period the tendency has been to build a vessel with a broader beam. She is a bigger vessel altogether. The usual colliers that were used to convey coal from the South Wales coast to the North were small and narrow, and they were able to use these smaller dry docks, but we have only seven that are now capable of taking the modern boats, and of these, five of them are in tidal waters.
Many of the owners of ships will not agree to allow their ships to be taken into narrow rivers or put into difficult positions in trying to manoeuvre them into 793 any particular dry dock. The result is that a good deal of the ship repairing that should have been located in those areas arid would have probably provided employment for people in the distressed areas has gone elsewhere. Only last week-end a fairly substantial piece of repairing business was taken elsewhere because there was no accommodation. That is a bad thing from the point of view of providing employment in ordinary peace time. I say without hesitation that there is not proper accommodation there to meet the requirements of commerce as it exists in peace time. That is of very considerable importance to those areas, and should be taken into consideration by the Government when they are considering what is required to attract trade to those areas. Let us look at the strategical point of view. On the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel are to be found probably the most important and safest ports of this country from the point of view of shipping, but if an emergency arose there are obviously no facilities there to enable them to meet the demands that would be made upon them. During the last War, from 1914 to 1918, there was very substantial congestion in those ports. There will be even more congestion, without a shadow of doubt, in the future unless some provision is made. I notice that the Shipping Correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph," writing about this matter on the 4th of this month, said:In view of the Government's plans for diverting a considerable portion of the shipping trade from London and other East Coast ports in an emergency, the question of dry-docking facilities in the south and west assumes great importance. The South Coast is fairly well equipped. In the Bristol Channel, however, where the situation is far less satisfactory, ship owners consider there is a case for prompt Government action.After explaining that most of the dry-docks in other ports have, during the last 10 or 20 years, been greatly improved and made capable of taking the bigger modern vessel, he goes on to say:The point is that unless adequate dry-docking facilities are provided beforehand the plan for diverting traffic from east to west in time of war may prove impossible to carry out on the scale intended.I am glad to see the Civil Lord of the Admiralty present. I took the precaution of mentioning this matter to the Admiralty on Friday last, and they were good enough to look into it. I do not know whether the Civil Lord will have an 794 opportunity of replying on this matter or not, but if he does not, I want to say this. It is of great importance that dry-docking facilities in these ports should be brought up to a standard which will meet the requirements of modern vessels. That is of very great importance from the commercial point of view of that area. It would be of great importance if we should be so unfortunate as to get into war, but I hope we shall never do that. Meanwhile, I hope the Admiralty will take steps to have a survey made of the whole district, taking the facts into consideration and arriving at their conclusion. It may be that some time later we shall be able to raise the question again. I think the Admiralty have some idea of what is required, but I should like to stress the importance of it and to say that the point of view that I have expressed represents the views of the trades unionists of the whole of that area—I took the precaution of consulting them last week—and it also represents the views of a large number of ship-repairing people and the shipping people generally. They desire to see an improvement in the trade of the district, and so do we. This is an opportunity for the Government to bring more trade to the area, doing excellent work, giving employment, and so to some extent relieving the crushing burden of unemployment from which this area has suffered so long.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Government to-day have been asked to organise, subsidise and control industry after industry and category after category of people. During two days of this Debate every speaker on both sides of the House has been asking the Government to organise, control and subsidise the export trade, the import trade, bacon, oats, the unemployed, the employed, housing, and so on. In fact, the Debate has resolved itself into a universal invitation to the Government to do something—for Heaven's sake, do something. Some time ago somebody said that England had no faith, but a double dose of conscience. I begin to doubt the conscience. I think the Government have killed the conscience of Great Britain. Otherwise, we could not be unmindful of the fact that the women and children of Spain are slowly starving to death through British Government action, and we could not be unmindful of the fact that at this moment there are 20,000 exiles from Germany starving 795 of hunger and cold between the German and the Polish lines without an English hand raised to help. Therefore, I think we need not speak about conscience.
But whatever they may say about England having no faith, I still have faith. I have faith not in Government action but in freedom. I believe freedom not only to be good in itself, but to be the only atmosphere in which the human being can develop from the beast to the Divine; and I see at the present time the very gravest dangers to that freedom in which I have faith. I am not the only person in this House who believes in freedom. Those who have been advocating and begging the Government to do things to-day have a faith which is firm as mine. Just as the ancient mariner once every lo years begged anyone whom he could buttonhole to listen to his tale, so I beg my colleagues on these benches to reflect occasionally that without liberty all is lost, and that we are the only people who can be relied on to preserve not only our liberty but what liberty has given us. We are now on the defensive position and no longer attackers—and the danger is very great.
Up to a few months ago I could not have believed that the Government of Great Britain would be a Government in favour of Fascism, but I am driven to believe that. On the benches opposite we have the friends of Hitler, the friends of Mussolini, and the friends of the system which those people have inflicted upon the world. There is danger also from our own people in this country. One of the most effective speeches we have had during this two days Debate was that delivered by a Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Harold Macmillan). It was a most effective plea for humanity, for organisation, for subsidies and for control. There must be many people on these benches who can remember precisely the same speech being made with precisely the same effect by Oswald Mosley, from the corner seat, when he resigned from the Labour Government. Speeches of that sort begging for Government control and regimentation are, I believe, grave dangers to all that we stand for in this civilisation of ours, firmly grounded on liberty, and on what Labour ultimately stands for.
I remember Robert Blatchford, in the "Clarion," saying that when the Social- 796 ists took power there would be two parties in that Socialist Government. He said there would be the constructive element, the conservative element in the Socialist party, and on the other side there would be the left wing, the anarchist element, and to that element he would adhere. We must realise that that which Robert Blatchford said is true to-day. We have to see that those two wings work together, lest this country is betrayed. The position has been put admirably in a parable by Leo Tolstoi, in his pamphlet "To the Working Classes of all Nations." He said: "I see mankind as a herd of cattle, inside a fenced enclosure. Outside the fence are green pastures and plenty for the cattle to eat, while inside the fence there is not quite grass enough for the cattle. Consequently, the cattle are trampling underfoot what little grass there is and goring each other to death in their struggle for existence. I saw the owner of the herd come to them, and when he saw their pitiable condition he was filled with compassion for them and thought of all he could to improve their lot. So he called his friends together and asked them to assist him in cutting grass from outside the fence and throwing it over the fence to the cattle. And that, they called charity. Then because the calves were dying off and not growing up into serviceable cattle he arranged that they should each have a pint of milk every morning for breakfast." That is feeding the school children. "Because they were dying off in the cold nights, he put up beautiful, well-drained and well-ventilated cow sheds for the cattle. Because they were goring each other in the struggle for existence, he put corks on the horns of the cattle so that the wounds they gave each other might not be so serious." That is factory legislation. "Then he reserved a part of the enclosure for the old bulls and the old cows over 70 years of age. In fact, he did everything he could think of to improve the condition of the cattle, and when I asked him why he did not do the one obvious thing, break down the fence and let the cattle out, he answered 'If I let the cattle out I should no longer be able to milk them.' I end up by saying 'You are the cattle, how much longer are you going to allow yourselves to be milked when you Might break down the fence and secure economic freedom.'"
797 All that has been talked about and complained of to-day is due to poverty. I do not mind poverty, I am not against poverty. But what I object to is compulsory poverty. To what is poverty due? It is due to unemployment and to nothing else—compulsory unemployment. There was once a man called Karl Marx who laid down what he called "the iron law of wages," and according to him it is this; that so long as there are two men after one job and those two men have no alternative between getting that job or starving on the dole, so long as these two men all unwittingly are engaged in undercutting each other's wages, and wages will inevitably tend to sink to subsistence level. In spite of Acts of Parliament bad trade brings low wages, and trade unions, which have saved the working classes during the last 100 years are smashed in those circumstances; only the most solid of trade unions can keep wages above subsistence level. That is "the iron law of wages." All that we are complaining of comes from poverty, and poverty comes inevitably from unemployment. All round your labour market you have masses of unemployed, and, half-employed men and women; and so long those who are in work lose their bargaining powers. The curse of unemployment is not what you see—the men and women going downhill mentally, morally arid physically, month after month, but the effect of the unemployed upon the employed.
Can we break this iron law? I would not be in politics if I did not believe that the iron law could be broken. It cannot be broken by Acts of Parliament. As long as you have two men for one job wages sink to subsistence level; that is the natural law. But why must there be always two men for one job?
Let me give an experience of my own. In a previous incarnation I was a governor of men. It was after that picnic in South Africa which we used to call a war before we appreciated what a war really was. I stopped on in that country as Resident Magistrate of a district in the Transvaal about the size of Yorkshire or perhaps the size and population of Ross and Cromarty. I was the absolute ruler of that district. I was Hitler and Mussolini rolled into one. What I said went; and nobody was allowed to argue. I was head of the judiciary, head of the execu- 798 tive, head of the police, and I was even head of the Church. I was faced there with the old familiar unemployment problem. Men took their discharge, particularly from the irregular corps after the war, thinking that South Africa would be a better country to stop in than England. And they came into my town of Ermelo looking for work. There was no Poor Law in South Africa and there was no dole either. If you cannot get work in South Africa you go to gaol. By the mercy of Providence I ruled in a province where they had blown up the gaol.
Fortunately all round this town in South Africa—the early Boers having more sense than our ancestors—there were large areas of public lands. Around the town of Ermelo there were 7,000 acres of town land, public land, and on this town land there was an open coal seam—you did not have to go down a shaft, you picked it out of the hill side—and also a disused brick-field. I said to these ex-service men: "As long as I rule here you can have an acre each of this town land; you can get coal out of the coal seam and make bricks in the brick-field, and nobody will charge you any nonsense in the way of rents, rates or royalties. Carry on the good work." They soon got barbed wire from the block house line and erected fences, and they solved their housing problem for themselves by biscuit tins and corrugated iron, and they borrowed picks and shovels, after dark. You know what ex-service men are.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will connect this story with the Amendment now before the House.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Amendment deals with poverty and all the evils which arise out of poverty. When I have finished my example as to how I dealt with poverty perhaps the House will see all clearly. I did not allow ex-service men only to go on to the town land. I said, "The more the merrier. Let them all come." Anybody in Ermelo could go and work on the town land for himself and get for himself the full reward of his labour. He was not robbed by anyone. That was not the end of it. Shortly afterwards I had a deputation from the builders and manufacturers in the town of Ermelo, who came with long faces and said, "Captain Wedgwood, 799 how can you expect us to make this a land fit for heroes to live in; how can you expect us to reconstruct civilisation here in Ermelo when the wages of unskilled labour are £1 a day and the rascals will not do anything for it." What had happened? Every working man in that town could look his employer between the eyes and say, "If you do not like to pay me the wages I want for the job I will go and work for myself on the town land and I will not work for less for you than I can get working for myself in freedom." That was a long time ago, but it is a small example which everyone might apply to-day.
What is it we want to put an end to? Compulsory unemployment. Let us be quite certain that what we want is useful, not useless work. I do not believe in digging up fields with spades instead of ploughing them. We want useful productive work, and opportunities for useful productive work. What is useful productive work? It consists always in the conversion of land and raw materials into finished articles. There is no form of useful productive work that does not take some part in the conversion of land and raw materials into what we want to use—goods; and if the primary trades, such as building, agriculture, mining and quarrying trades, are allowed to get their raw materials and start the job, they will pass on the job, after they have done their bit, to all other trades in the community to complete the processes of manufacture and to distribute the goods; but if the primary trades which deal with the land and nature are robbed of their opportunity of starting work, then all the other trades in the community will suffer from unemployment in due course. Unemployment, as I have always maintained, is essentially a land question. Break down the land monopoly. See that land which is not used is made available for the use of all. If land is not used to its best capacity and if somebody else will make it more productive, see that he has a chance of doing so.
I wish I could make the House see the position as clearly as I see it. On one side of a wall are men able, anxious and willing to work and to employ others, and on the other side of the wall is the raw material with which alone they can start work. Between them is this wall, a wall built up during the centuries by 800 landlord and capitalist rule, a wall built up in order to keep people idle, because the more people there are compulsorily unemployed, the lower will be the wages they need pay to those whom they employ. Compulsory unemployment is the key of the capitalist power to exploit the workers. What I ask the House to do—it is no good asking the Government—what I ask my colleagues to agree with me is the right thing to do, is to break down that wall, to make land cheaper, to break down the price of land and to see that land which is not used shall be open to all men to use, as it was in Ermelo.
This can be done simply, either by a general tax on all land values or by allowing the local authorities to levy rates on land values. One of the things which the London County Council are bringing before the House at this time is the permission to allow them to levy their rates on the basis of land value without taking into account in the least the house on the land or the use to which the land is put. Tackle the problem in that way and what will happen? People holding land idle will not hold it so against the pressure of rates. They will be bound to throw it on to the market, and so the market in land everywhere will fall. If you want the unemployed to get work, if you want that wall to be lowered, you must face the fact that the only way of doing it is by making the land cheap so that the people who want to use it can get on with the job.
§ 8.5o p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Samuel
I have read the Amendment carefully, and if one is to believe what it states—of course, I do not—one would gather that we are living in a country of heartless stagnation, instead of in a land in which, for over a century, there have been enormous improvements in social services, including building and every other public activity. In formulating their Amendment, our Socialist friends, in their haste to find a peg on which to hang their complaints about His Majesty's advisers, have forgotten that those advisers advise His Majesty on what they propose to do during the coming Session, and not during the coming century. The Gracious Speech is not a Socialist election address—[An HON. MEMBER: "It might be a better Speech if it were."]—but a recital of what may be considered practical and 801 possible with the means at our disposal. What the Opposition have done has been to express regrets that there seems to be no prospect of a merciful Providence bringing about perfection during one Session. One hon. Member talked about the dictators. I do not wish to be too hard on hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I would mention that we have dictators, or would-be dictators, in this House. They are on the benches opposite, facing me. Of course, they do not put their beliefs in words in the House; they talk in this way only outside the House. But listen to the words of the Lord High Execrationer of the party opposite, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) spoken at Finchley just before the last General Election:If any people impede the path, whoever they are, when the Labour party has got into office with a mandate from the people, they have got to be destroyed.Those words were spoken by the Deputy-Leader of the party opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is also inclined to talk in that way. In what way do such statements differ from those that we have been accustomed to hear from the German, Italian and Russian dictators? Right the way through, one finds this similarity between the potential dictators at home and the virtual dictators abroad. Nazism endeavours to justify its theory of racial warfare, which we all hate, by propagating far-fetched wicked lies about the Jews. Socialism tries to justify its theory of class war by equally far-fetched wicked untruths about capitalists. As an example of such provocative perversions, I will quote a statement of the Leader of the Opposition:The callousness and ruthlessness of the governing classes is immeasurably greater than in the half century which preceded the Great War.Some hon. Members may not remember that. They may not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is capable of going back to 1864—and before—a good example of Karl Marx at his best. That quotation is taken from page 120 of the right hon. Gentleman's book. Having discharged some of my heavy artillery, I will now come back to the Amendment. The Amendment reads:But regret the abence of any reference to the serious problem of unemployment as represented by nearly two million men and 802 women who cannot find work, and the failure of Your Majesty's advisers to recognise that the real strength and prosperity of the people depend upon the full use of the resources of the country, human and material, and upon an equitable distribution of wealth, thus ensuring the maintenance and improvement of the standard of life for active and retired workers and the development of the social services.How can these desiderata be obtained? Certainly, not merely by taxation, but only as heretofore by means of increased production and increased sales, which alone will give a safe basis for an increasing yield of taxation. So far the working of the capitalist system has continually improved the standard of living. We have been able to develop social services in this country which are second to none in the world. It has only been possible by steady progress through the years, as and when production increased. We have heard much about the Popular Front. In France, the Socialists, in advance of economic conditions to warrant them, introduced the 40-hour week, without reduction of wages, and all sorts of reforms simultaneously, but without any organisation or any guarantee of delivering the goods in the form of increased production. As a result of this hurry we see what has happened. France has been very nearly ruined and it has been compelled to modify its extravagance.
One may now turn from the extravagances of the French Popular Front to those of the would-be Popular Front which we see before us. I have had a considerable amount of experience in discounting Socialist promissory notes for votes—promissory notes which they know they will never redeem. They seldom have the pluck to produce figures. The late Lord Snowden after he left them or rather, after they left him and ran away, estimated that their 1931 programme would cost an extra £1,000,000,000 a year to be raised by taxation, and of course they have never reduced their promises. About 10 years ago they did produce a figure of £100,000,000 to be raised by a new Surtax and they made a terrible to-do about what they would do with it when they got it. At the time I went to a lot of trouble to see what would happen and I showed that, apart from the over-estimate of the yield of the tax, the direct benefit to the working man would be 2½d. per head—twopenny halfpenny Socialism—in the form of a "free breakfast table." When I wrote an 803 article in "John Bull" explaining this, Mr. Snowden as he then was replied saying:I entirely agree with Mr. Marcus Samuel that the leaflet from which he quotes as to the yield of the Surtax, and the numerous and costly social reforms its proceeds will finance, is fantastic.Now comes another opportunity for me to show how ridiculous the ideas of the Socialists proved to be when translated into practice. Earlier in the year we were faced with a very simple proposition in the discussion on the Budget, namely, to charge all the extra required for Defence purposes on to people of great wealth. We have the same sort of thing in this Amendment. It is a sort of political "charge of the loot brigade." I will now illustrate the levity and danger of such a proposal, whether for armaments or for social services. The question is at what point does wealth become "great wealth." Let us suppose that it means incomes of £2,000 a year or over, the rate at which Super-tax applies. It is probably not sufficienlty realised how heavy is the existing burden of taxation on those incomes. Take the average-sized family of husband, wife and two children with the husband earning £2,000 a year. At present they pay, in Income Tax and Surtax, 3s. 7d. in the £ or nearly£7 a week, in direct taxation alone. Of course, when we come to the larger incomes the rate of taxation mounts up steeply to 13s. 1½d. in the £ not counting National Defence Contribution.
I am trying to show hon. Gentlemen opposite the impossibility of their proposals. Even without any increase in the Surtax, the Chancellor this year is raising nearly £5,000,000 extra from Surtax payers, but in addition these same people will be paying about £12,000,000 of the extra £26,000,000 resulting from the alteration in ordinary Income Tax in a full year: Now the Chancellor was faced with the shortage of £120,000,000 which he proposed to meet by borrowing £90,000,000 and raising £30,000,000 by taxation. The Socialist suggestion, as I understood it, was that the whole of this £120,000,000 should be met from what was euphemistically called "the taxation of great wealth" which, for the purpose of my argument, I have assumed to mean incomes of over £2,000 a year. Now 804 people with those incomes are already expected to pay nearly £200,000,000 a year in Income Tax and Surtax and if they were to be called upon to pay an extra £120,000,000 that would mean an increase of over 60 per cent. in the rate of Income Tax and Surtax.
It is generally recognised that even a sixpence on the Income Tax means a certain number of people out of work. It may be remembered that when you come to these higher ranges of income the incidence of taxation is already 13s. 1½d. in the £ and it is, therefore, mathematically impossible to increase that rate by 60 per cent., because it would bring the figure to over 20s. in the £. Again, if you want to raise the amount by Surtax alone, you find that Surtax already yields about £60,000,000 and to enable it to bring in £120,000,000 more you would have to multiply it by three. Hon. Members can see the impossibility of that sort of thing. The same considerations apply to the Death Duties which would have to be, on the highest fortunes, about 25s. in the £. The total paid at present by people of this class is £265,000,000 which our Socialist friends proposed to increase to £385,000,000. The income of Surtax payers is supposed to be about £500,000,000. These are the people upon whom we depend, very largely, to provide the bulk of the £500,000,000 which is required every year in industry.
I have attempted to show how absolutely useless are proposals of the sort made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and I would conclude by saying that we on this side of the House would be humbugs if we were to submit an Address to His Majesty in the form which hon. Members opposite have adumbrated. I have had copies of the two last Addresses which hon. Members opposite presented to His Majesty when they were in office. I can assure the House that there is nothing of this sort in either of those Addresses. I pay hon. Members opposite the compliment of saying that they are not fools enough to put such things into an Address for which they are responsible in this House. They may write such things as "Labour and the Nation," but when it comes to presenting an Address themselves, in which they have to advise His Majesty, that is quite a different thing. It is, therefore, simply ridiculous for them to come here this evening and tell us that 805 His Majesty should be advised by the Government on the lines of proposals involving a programme, which for Socialists or anybody else, would occupy at least 100 years.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
In rising to support the Amendment, I desire to say that, while I recognise the imperative need for many discussions on foreign affairs, I also recognise the need for the discussion of home affairs, of questions such as unemployment, social services, and the general conditions of our people, because while there is a place called Munich in Germany, there are also places called Special Areas in this country. The former will, obviously, be renowned for its beer and bluff, and the others for privation and poverty. I anticipate being told of the extent to which financial assistance has been given to these areas. The latest figures that can serve such a purpose show that £16,500,000 is the total commitment up to June of this year, but this is small compared with the assistance which has been given to other areas. One instance, I submit, should be sufficient. It is a statement contained in an article in the "Times" of 8th July, 1935, to the effect that something like two-thirds of the sugar subsidy and a large share also of the wheat levy, which together exceed £11,000,000 a year, fell to the four Eastern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincoln, and Cambridge. The commitments of the Special Areas over a period of three to four years are not preferable to that of a subsidy of £10,000,000 a year over a period of perhaps 12 years or more.
According to the annual statement issued by the Board of Trade, the number of new factories established last year in Great Britain was 541 and in Wales and Monmouthshire the small number of 13. That is not much of an achievement on the part of the Government for the Special Areas in Wales and Monmouthshire. We are now supplied with figures which relate to the number of new factories during a period of five years, and we find that during the period 1933–37 there were no fewer than 2,580 new factories established in Great Britain and a miserable aggregate of 25 in Wales and Monmouthshire. I submit that it is time that work was provided for our people instead of paying them to be idle. Have 806 we not spent enough in such a silly manner? Sir Gwilym Gibbon, in a recent paper read before the Royal Statistical Society, said that from November, 1920, to March, 1936, nearly £1,000,000,000 was paid out in unemployment benefit and in uninsured payments to the unemployed under various designations. Some of those payments are subject to conditions which, in my opinion, constitute a scandal. Our people desire work, but the Government still believe that it is more economical to pay the dole than to provide employment, and they are to-day in precisely the same position as the Minister of Health in 1931. In an article which appeared in the Monthly Review of Lloyds Bank that year, he stated:It is often said, Why not pay men for doing something instead of for doing nothing? The answer is, briefly, that through the machinery of unemployment insurance the expenditure of £4,750,000 carries 100,000 persons for a year. On work schemes the expenditure of 4,750,000 carries some 10,000 persons directly and 10,000 indirectly, a total of 20,000 for one year.The only solution they have given us is the establishment of trading estates. Before dealing with them I want to make one or two observations in reply to the statement made by the Minister of Health. A person who uses such an argument always ignores another important consideration, that is, the enormous increase in wealth if the unemployed were engaged in its production. The average annual value of a workman's work is £200. If 1,000,000 men are put to work there is an increase in the wealth of the county of something like £200,000,000. Therefore, if we assume that we have had in this country an annual average of 1,500,000 unemployed since 1920, it means that we have lost in wealth production expressed in money no less than £4,800,000,000, in addition to spending, as Sir Gwilym Gibbon stated, £1,000,000,000 on unemployment insurance benefit of some kind or another. Surely that is not a method upon which improvement is impossible, because it means spending £1,000,000,000 in order to lose another £4,800,000,000. This country cannot afford to pursue that policy.
This subject is related to our public social services, the fund from which these are paid being one of them, The Prime Minister recently referred to the difficulty of financing the rearmament programme 807 and extending the social services at the same time. We need not be told of the utter impossibility of spending the same pound twice. We know that if a pound is spent on the means to destroy life it cannot be spent again in order to provide the means to maintain life. I would again remind Members of what Sir Gwilym Gibbon also stated. When dealing with national income and expenditure on these services, he made this observation:Not more than a broad comparison is necessary for my present purpose. From estimates which have been made, I shall assume that the average national income per head was £47 in 1910–11, £79 in 1924–25, and £83 in 1934–35. On these figures the percentages of the national income spent on the public social services from public funds were respectively just over 3, about 7⅓, and just over 9. The last figure can scarcely be said to be exorbitant. The figures serve to emphasise the abiding fact that production is the first concern, and that ability to provide services must depend primarily on the wealth this is produced.What is true of these services cannot be untrue of any other kind of expenditure. If that be accepted, it is childish to take the attitude that it is cheaper to pay men to remain idle than it would be to pay them to work. I am not going to assert that the trading estates have brought no good to the areas in which they have been established. In relation to the Government's policy it is, nevertheless, interesting to examine their cost. The one at Treforest has cost £800,000. For that expenditure, according to the statement of the Minister of Labour in the House the week before last, there were on 31st October 26 factories on the estate, and the number of workpeople employed was the miserable number of 720. What an achievement in relation to the problem of unemployment! I suppose the Government consider it a good investment, but the Minister of Labour believes in this method and I am going to ask him to consider an extension of this policy. He will agree that a trading estate at Treforest will not assist many of the distressed areas of South Wales. It is no use to the unemployed in my division. That being true, why not erect upon similar lines factories in every Special Area? Instead of centralisation, why not adopt the method of decentralisation? Take my own division as an example. Were there a number of small factories erected in that area I have been assured 808 of undertakings coming there. The Minister would probably meet with opposition from the Commissioners, but surely they are not too old to learn or past any kind of reform. In any event, I would like to have the Minister's observations. One of the local authorities in my area passed this resolution:That the Commissioner for the Special Areas present policy of setting up Trading Estates should now be changed as the Treforest Trading Estate has been fully developed and that a new policy should be adopted in the districts of the Special Areas by the clearance of sites for the establishment of factories and the erection of standard factories by the Commissioner for the Special Areas.All that they suggest is that there should be an extension of the principle in such a manner that there should be factories erected in each of the Special Areas instead of spending approximately —1,000,000 on an estate which cannot benefit areas similar to my own.
I wish the Government would appreciate this fact, that in South Wales and Monmouthshire the mining industry, the industry in that district, is, because of its improved methods of production, putting more men on the road than the other industries, even the new ones, can absorb. Let me give one example of what I mean. In 1931 in South Wales and Monmouthshire there were 37,084,000 tons of saleable coal produced by 158,162 miners; last year the amount of coal produced was 37,773,000 tons, and that was produced by 135,901 miners. To take a comparison with the year 1931; that means that 689,000 more tons of coal were produced in 1937 by 22,161 fewer mine workers, and you can compare that with the establishment of a trading estate in the same period which only gives employment to 720 men. That is the problem, or a part of it, as we see it in South Wales and Monmouthshire. It is the Government's business to provide a solution of that problem, and no amount of bluff, bluster, or bending the knee to big business will solve that problem.
While that is being considered by the Government, the House can realise the burden that is now carried by the county councils of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire with regard to public assistance. I think it will be agreed as a sound proposition that the poverty and unemployment which increase the need for public assistance also lessen the ability of the 809 authorities to provide it. That proposition being true, is it not time that the Government came to the assistance of those authorities which are obliged to carry such an enormous burden? Let me give two examples. The Monmouthshire County Council have spent on this service in seven years no less than £2,383,000, and the Glamorgan County Council during the same period have spent no less than 7,015,529. The Monmouthshire County Council rate for that service alone in 1931 was a little over 5s. 8d. in the £, but last year they were called upon to levy a rate of no less than 9s. 4d. in the £. The Glamorgan County Council in 1931 had a rate for this public assistance service of over 7s. 9d. in the £, but this year it is in the region of 10s. 4d., and that is comparable with an average rate in the £ for England and Wales of only 2s. 11d. and of only 2s. 8d. in the year 1936.
We shall probably be told about the increased Exchequer grants to relieve the burden. I do not deny the relief given for this purpose, but to me such methods are very unsatisfactory. I much prefer to have regard to the terms of a resolution proposed by a member of the Select Committee on Local Taxation which sat in 1870. That resolution was as follows:That it seems to your Committee that the system of grants from the Imperial Exchequer, is aid of certain local rates, is capricious, and requires revision upon a sounder principle than hitherto recognised.I would like once again to recall the words of the Special Commissioner in his last report, where he says:It is probably hardly realised how great the strain on a community is when the majority of the workers are unemployed, as it is not alone the straitened circumstances of the home that have to be remembered. The local authorities, with reduced incomes and increased liabilities, are compelled to let some services suffer … It is imperative that the standard of municipal services should be kept up, and the amenities of the districts improved.Finally, I want to know what the Government intend to do with the Special Areas, having regard to the character of the resolution passed by the Abertillery District Council. These areas have been so described for as long as ten years and still they exist and conditions have not improved. I am living in a division which has lost no fewer than 10,000 people during the last seven years, and that ought not to be permitted. With few exceptions 810 the dreariness and drabness of these areas are as real to-day as they were ten years ago. They are still occupied by forgotten men, women and children. The test of the Government's policy should be the measure of assistance, regard and relief that it has given to these people, who have made their contribution both to the industrial and commercial prosperity of the country.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Cook
I feel that I must endorse the criticism and disappointment that have been expressed by previous speakers with regard to the present situation in British agriculture. As I represent a district which is entirely dependent, directly or indirectly, upon the success or failure of agriculture, I feel that I should not be putting the case in a fair light were I to fail to ignore the many Measures that have been placed upon the Statute Book by the National Government since 1931, which took up many hours of debate and resulted in many millions of pounds being placed at the disposal of the industry. But, despite the unprecedented support which agriculture has received since 1931, it is quite obvious, from speeches that have been made in this Debate, that this basic industry of ours is at present in a slough of despond. It ill becomes the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to criticise the Government for lack of policy, for, although it is true that there was mention of agriculture in the Speech from the Throne nine years ago, speaking as a landowner, I am not likely to forget the situation which existed in East Anglia under the Labour Government. I feel that it is thanks to the recognition that agriculture is receiving in all quarters of the House that those who live in rural areas enjoy more sympathy for their cause than ever before.
I, therefore, consider it the bounden duty of each and all of us to strike whilst the iron is hot. I suppose every industry is imbued with a sense of its own importance, but surely it is a fact that, in times of peace or of war, the best stock of our race is always to be found among those who earn their living on the land, and therefore we should make it our best endeavour to curb the present trek of the rising generation from the agricultural districts into the large towns and villages. At present practically every branch of the industry which finds itself in difficulties is in that position, owing to the fact that 811 it is endeavouring to compete with conditions existing abroad. Anxiety is shared equally by the landowner, the farmer and the agricultural labourer, for all three partners are in the same boat. They have a dreadful fear that their craft may sink in waters too deep for salvage. I believe that agriculture has been free from industrial unrest owing to a large extent to the fact that the question of wages has been lifted out of the atmosphere of public wrangle and, while we have to admit that the basic principle of the Wages Board is to provide protection for remuneration, I feel that it is only fair that equal protection should be given to the means of providing the money whereby the farmer is expected to meet his obligations under the Wages Board.
Agriculture does not ask for charity. It merely asks to be permitted to pursue its lawful trade, to grow the maximum amount of food on British soil for British people and, at the same time, to be sheltered from the devastating conditions existing on the Continent in respect of hours of labour, conditions of employment and so forth. I represent a constituency which is renowned for its barley. Unhappily, owing to foreign importation, the market has been smashed and home growers are paying the penalty. It is noteworthy that, so far as the price of barley is concerned, when there are fluctuations in that product they are not reflected in the price of beer. Reference is made in the Gracious Speech to amendments of the Wheat Act, and I feel that they would be welcomed by those in my constituency. There are two points that I am anxious to press home. The first is that there should be reconsideration of the present method of payment. The farmer gets one instalment about November and has to wait for the ultimate amount until the following September. There is also to be considered the anomaly whereby the farmer who grows wheat is debarred from applying for a subsidy for barley and oats. I should have desired an assurance that every effort is being made to supply the Defence forces with the maximum of home-grown food. I consider that a blunder has been committed in not advising the agricultural community as to the part they should play in national preparedness. Now is not the time for fiddling. I consider that 812 drastic action is necessary, and I appeal to the Minister to rectify the position.
§ 9.34 P.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
It is really an ironic state of affairs to which we have now been brought that the question of the production of food should be discussed chiefly as a means of defence in connection with preparations for some future war. The only other comment I would make is that the Government itself seems to have come to a pretty pass when, in a Debate which has run the whole afternoon—I have listened to almost every word of it—a great deal of it upon a subject which the Government party has always regarded as its pet subject, there has not been a single speech in support of the Government except one, which I think was hardly expected to be taken seriously. I should like to ask one or two definite questions and I urgently hope that I shall get a reply.
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) referred to Lancashire and the cotton industry. That industry shares with unemployment the distinction of not getting even a passing mention in the Gracious Speech, but none the less it presents a most urgent problem, and we are entitled to ask what is the attitude of the Government towards it. The Minister for Labour claimed in his speech last night that he had always endeavoured, when a case was proved to him, to meet that case. I would remind the House of a case put to the Minister which he has repeatedly admitted to have been proved to him, but about which nothing whatever has so far been done. I am referring to what they call underemployment in the cotton industry.
My hon. Friends on these Benches have talked about the inadequate incomes of those who depend upon pensions, unemployment assistance, unemployment pay and wages in the distressed areas, and they have made out an excellent case. Those for whom I am speaking are employed for 48 hours a week. They are weavers with four looms who are compelled by the terms of their employment to be present in the factories for 48 hours every week, so that technically they are fully employed; but owing to the organisation of the industry and the method of payment not all their four looms are always employed, though they are compelled to stand by them. Even 813 in the few and exceptionally lucky cases in which the four looms are fully employed for the 48 hours these men, most highly skilled men in one of the most highly skilled trades in the world, go home at the end of the week with an average wage of about 30s.—7s. 6d. per loom. The great majority of them—90 per cent. of them—cannot earn that. One of their looms may be fully employed for 48 hours—or two looms—or sometimes three—but never four; but the wages they take home depend upon the looms that are working and not upon the hours they themselves are employed, and we have men standing by their looms for 48 hours and going home at the end of the week with 10s. or 12s. in their pay envelopes, sometimes as little as 8s.
What follows? Because they are employed for 48 hours they cannot register at the employment exchanges and they cannot qualify for unemployment benefit of any kind, and because they are working a 48-hour week and are paid wages for it they cannot go to the unemployment assistance committees in order to eke out their wages, because unemployment assistance committees are not entitled by law to render them any assistance of any kind, as that would be to subsidise wages. Those people are in the anomalous position of working a full 48-hour week and going home at the end of the week with far less—not merely a little less—than they would obtain from the employment exchanges or from the public assistance committees if they had not done a stroke of work. I do not think I need to argue that case; it is so manifestly unjust as to have become a public scandal. I do not want to use too strong language, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who has a sympathetic imagination when he cares to use it, how he would feel if at the end of a 48-hour week he went home with only 10s. or 12s. with which to discharge his responsibilities to his family, while knowing that his unemployed neighbour was getting 30s. This is having its effect in other industries in other parts of the country, but I have not time to go into them.
I have heard the Minister of Labour say in this House that the case has been made out, that this state of affairs is unjust and that something ought to be done about it, and that he is inquiring into it to see what may be done. He has been inquiring into it now for two years. 814 What is the position? Is it the case that he is not willing to do anything? If that is the position, let him say so frankly, and not try to keep up the courage and spirit of these people by continually holding out illusive hopes which he does not intend to fulfil. If the position is that he has not yet found a remedy, that would be a confession of incompetence which I very much expect that he would hardly like to make. I do not believe that the resources of his Department are so poor that it is unable to devise some machinery for meeting so obvious an injustice as that, and I should have thought that two years gave ample time in which to furnish a remedy.
These are the people—they and their parents—upon whom has depended an industry which for long had a monopoly in the world, an industry which almost more than any other was the backbone of such prosperity as this country once had. Even in those days they got little out of the industry. Those were the days when they worked 10, 12 or 15 hours a day in the mill, when their children worked in the mill from tender years. The half-time system in the mills in Lancashire was abolished only in the years following the War. Even in the days when the industry was prosperous and was earning large fortunes for those who owned and ran it, these workers got little enough out of it. Anyone who looks at the stunted, bent figures of the older people in the Lancashire towns knows how they paid for what they got not merely in the conditions under which they lived but in their health and growth.
In spite of that these people are the salt of the earth. No one who has worked and lived among Lancashire workers in these cotton towns will have anything for them but the most intense admiration and the most acute sympathy, and when they find themselves in conditions such as I have described they are entitled to come to the Government and say, "What can you do about this? Is is not time that something was done." I have left myself no time to deal with the general question of the cotton industry, but I shall be satisfied if I can have some promise from the right hon. Gentleman that this travesty of justice in Lancashire will at last be removed. You have in Lancashire a dying industry. No one can look at the figures for the last 15 or 20 years—or even less than that 815 —and see how the industry is contracting year by year, without realising that the old days of Lancashire's monopoly in the markets of the world are over and that they will never return.
What are the Government going to do about it? Have they made up their minds to attempt to revive the industry? Have they made up their minds to do anything for the industry in the markets of the world? When the industry complains of unfair competition from Japan and other places do the Government want to remove that unfair competition? If so, will they cease to side with the Japanese employers at Geneva in preventing international conventions for the reduction of hours; if they are not content to see the industry continually contracting and if they have made up their minds that never again can the cotton industry provide work for all the workers who used to be employed by it in Lancashire, what will they do for those who will be thrown out?
Nay, take my life and all, pardon not that:…You take my life,When you do take the means whereby I live.I can see from the figures how the towns which I represent are becoming more and more towns of old people because the younger ones are going away. There is no future and no prospect for the people in that industry, and they say that they are as entitled to consideration as any other section of workers in this country, that Lancashire is entitled to as much consideration as any other part of the country. They say, too, that it has become a growing scandal and an offence to the public conscience that the Government should, year after year, continue promising, or not promising, benefits to the cotton industry, none of which promises they have ever performed. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman tonight, if he thinks that the Government can confer any blessings or benefits upon anybody, to tell us what Lancashire may expect at their hands.
§ THE CLERK at the TABLE informed the House of the unavoidable absence of MR. SPEAKER from the remainder of this day's Sitting.816
§ Whereupon Sir DENNIS HERBERT, THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, took the Chair as DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
I would first say a word to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and the Colne (Mr. Silverman) has just raised. I had the advantage of visiting Lancashire with the hon. Member on Saturday and I can assure the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the criticisms which have come from him about the omission of any executive action by the Government in regard to the Lancashire cotton industry are widely shared in Lancashire. My hon. Friend has just given an account of the labour position, and with regard to men and women having to stand by looms for 48 hours and earning about 25 per cent., and sometimes less, of the full week's rate of pay. This situation is having a serious effect upon other aspects of labour remuneration in Lancashire, and the Government really ought to give some attention to this matter.
I see the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir A. Anderson) in his place. No doubt he will recollect that he served with me on a Cabinet committee of inquiry into conditions in the cotton industry as far back as 1930, and that he was a joint signatory with me of the recommendations then made to deal, if necessary by compulsion, with the Lancashire cotton industry. Yet here we are in 1938, and whether or not the main fault has been with the constituent parts of the Lancashire cotton industry or not, the fact is that the workers are suffering to-day, and that something urgent and effective to ease the situation is required from the Government. I hope somebody will take a note for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I see that he is having to consult his officials at the moment.
The account of the problem which has been given to-night by my hon. Friend shows that it has a widening circle of effect upon the workers' wages. Take, for example, the dispute which is now in progress about wages and conditions in the Leicester area of the hosiery industry, where there is a considerable con centration of skilled labour which, for a 817 number of years, has been dependent upon a very detailed knowledge of up-to-date and modern plant. Because of the depression in wages in Lancashire, there has been a turn from cotton occupation to hosiery employment. The number of workers in the hosiery industry in Lancashire has increased from 2,000 to 11,000 during the last five years. There is such a lower standard of wages paid to the people in depressed Lancashire that there is a widespread demand in Leicester area for a reduction in wages of the skilled workers in order to bring them down to the Lancashire level. That is the kind of vicious circle caused by the depressed conditions and we upon the labour side are continuously urging against it, because we feel that it is a great pity that the Government, in the new programme which they have just issued for the Session, cannot hold out hope that something will be done for the Lancashire cotton industry. I wanted to get that off my mind because I felt some responsibility, in view of what my hon. Friend had said.
It has not generally been recognised that in the last two days His Majesty's Opposition have rendered a service in putting down to the Address of His Majesty, an Amendment dealing with home questions. The general response to that Amendment could not be said to be entirely favourable in all parts of the House, but the Debate—if I may say this for the further delectation of the Secretary for Mines, who is so much amused—has revealed a concern in all parts of the House about the condition of the people in relation to the great and outstanding problems which this nation undoubtedly is now being called upon to face. I am sure that my hon. Friends welcome the contributions which were made to the Debate yesterday by such Members of the House as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Harold Macmillan), the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr). However much they may differ from us in their political allegiance and in the final remedies to deal with the matters which are raised in our Amendment, we are glad to feel that some of them at last recognise that the problem of unemployment and that of malnutrition, which always follows the problem 818 of unemployment, are not only a great handicap which we have to take into account in facing the task which lies ahead of this nation, but that the feeling engendered among our workers by the existence of those problems goes far to prevent that unity which is now being regularly asked for by hon. Members of different sections of the parties that support the National Government—unity of purpose in preparation for the great defensive programme which, it is said, is to defend us for the purpose of democracy and freedom.
I would, however, say to our hon. Friends on the other side that I should have preferred their contributions to have been made years ago, and made for the achievement of social justice rather than for the sole object of having a temporary unity behind a Defence programme. The fact is that the overtures which are being made to some of us at the present time with regard to unity have to be examined very carefully as to the purposes its advocates have in mind, and whether the social programme about which we now hear so much from hon. Members on the other side is only to be used as a bait to lead to ultimate compulsion, or whether this is indeed, as we hope it may be, a recognition that a plea for social justice in the world can only be adequately supported from this country if you first give social justice at home.
We had speeches yesterday from the Ministers of Health and Labour. I listened very carefully to the speech of the Minister of Health, and I have read very carefully the speech of the Minister of Labour. In the case of the Minister of Health, I felt that he certainly made no real attempt to deal with the case which is put by my hon. Friends in the Amendment on the Paper. He was occupied principally in dealing with quite a long official brief, which gave long lists of figures of undoubted achievements by this country in the social services. No one wants to under-estimate for a moment the advantages which this country has obtained in the application of the social services up to date, although I think it is only fair to my hon. Friends on this side to say that probably more than half, if not a larger proportion, of the social services which people enjoy to-day is the result of continuous agitation and pressure from the working classes themselves. The Minister of Health, however, except 819 for a little irritable answer now and again to some interrupter from my side, made no attempt at all to put before the House a policy of the Government for attacking the fundamental problem of the residue of unemployment in this country, covering nearly 2,000,000 persons; nor did he make any attempt to deal at all adequately with the accompanying problem of malnutrition and under-nourishment, which was assessed, not necessarily by Members on our side, but by such Members as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, who actually told the House his view that not less than 25 per cent. of the children in this country to-day are under-nourished.
The Minister of Labour, on the other hand, in a speech of the kind which we expect from him, and which I read with great care—a speech mixed with chaff, satire, and I should imagine, although I was not here to look at him, a good deal of jauntiness, with a few figures thrown in—made only one important pronouncement. I want to say at once that I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends, were grateful for that announcement. It was the announcement, right at the end of the speech, that, in response to the pressure of many of my hon. Friends, and particularly of my hon. Friend who wound up the Debate last night, the Government were actually going to continue the Special Areas legislation by means of the operation of the Expiring Laws Continuance procedure. I should have thought that, in view of the very great tributes which have been paid in all quarters of the House to some parts at any rate of the work in the Special Areas, and in view of the urgent necessity for spreading it, it would have been wiser if the Government had told us in the Gracious Speech itself their intentions with regard to that legislation. We might then have been spared the time that was necessary to state a case for that being done, and might have been able to proceed to other constructive aspects of the Debate. But I say at once that we are grateful that the Government are going to continue that piece of legislation, and we shall no doubt have an opportunity of debating some additions to and expansions of the powers under the present legislation for Special Areas when the Bill comes before the House.
820 I turn now to the Debate as a whole in relation to the official Amendment of the Opposition. What strikes me about the Debate so far is that there has been no real reply whatsoever to the gravamen of the Opposition's indictment of the Government, which is to be found in the central wording of the Amendment. I cannot, of course, believe that the experienced and trained advocate who is going to reply to me to-night would dream of overlooking those central words, but I think that perhaps, as we have had no reply yet, it is just as well that I should direct attention to what it is to which we want a reply. In the Amendment we speak of:The failure of Your Majesty's advisers to recognise that the real strength and prosperity of the people depend upon the full use of the resources of the country, human and material, and upon an equitable distribution of wealth.It is not because our case has not been stated that we have not had a reply. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. PethickLawrence), especially, put the case amply on that point, and in regard to the proper use of the land our case was put to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I should like, however, to reinforce the cases they have put by a couple of questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, if he will allow me to follow what I believe is sometimes the legal practice, although I am no lawyer, I should like, as I put the questions, to make some submissions.
I would ask him, first of all: Do the Government consider that the resources of the country, human and material, are in fact, in this hour of national need and stress, in full use? We should like an answer to that question. My submission to him is that his answer, to be entirely correct, must be in the negative, and that, if he is honest with himself, as I am sure he will desire to be, the Government's policy, or lack of it, must be held to be very considerably responsible for the fact that all these things are not in full use. What are the resources which the Opposition had in mind in putting down their Amendment? I am going to put them in four groups, which are well known to every one of my Socialist colleagues in this House, who have had to study these questions and speak on them many a time. Those resources are land; men; plant, and finance capital. Those are the 821 four things as to which we are asking the Government to-night, in this time of urgency and stress, whether they are in full use.
We had a very long and detailed speech, lasting over an hour, from the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon, but not even the Minister of Agriculture, whose personality we so much admire and who continues to see workers removed from the land, as was put to him by his own side, at the rate of thousands a year, could possibly say that our land is fully occupied from the agricultural point of view. On the contrary, the facts are that thousands of acres continue to go out of cultivation. Nor do I think that the Minister of Labour could argue—and, to be fair to him, he does not—that our human material is being fully utilised. However he may have tried last night to explain the differences he saw between the number of registered unemployed and actual unmployment, he knows as well as I do that, when we take into account the adjustments which have been made in the basis of publication of unemployment assistance figures since 1921 on three separate occasions, the figures as published to-day mean just that on any day of the week which is a working day you will find nearly 2,000,000 people divorced from their right to follow their normal occupations. That is the only basis on which we can assess the actual volume of the problem of unemployment.
I would submit next to the Chancellor that no industrialist member of the House, even in the middle of this great drive for rearmament, will stand up and argue that the whole of the existing industrial plant used for machine production in this country is fully utilised. Indeed, the story we have heard to-night in the speech of one hon. Member is a very patent illustration of the way in which the plant of a particular industry is lying idle. Only ten days ago, in Sheffield, one of the leading capitalists in the light steel industry told me that for a long time past they had never been able to make a start with their machinery until Wednesday mornings; it was closed down on Mondays and Tuesdays. I do not think much of the organisation of the Government, at a time when they want to make the country united on their gnat rearmament programme, if that is the best they can do in Sheffield. There is a very great deal that can be done to put that plant into operation. Look at 822 our shipbuilding yards: how empty they are, and how much idle plant and space there is at present.
Let us turn to the fourth point, finance capital. Is there any doubt, at the end of years of depression and of only partial use of national resources, that in those years of depression the system of the distribution of the product of capital and labour—I see the hon. Member for the Putney Division of Wandsworth (Mr. M. Samuel) has come back, and I want him to listen to this—has been such that there lies at the disposal of a limited class only in the community an enormous surplus of finance capital? The Government take credit for their influence in fixing a cheap money rate; but the Government cannot deny the fact of the tremendous volume of capitalist-owned credit which surges through to them every time they make a Treasury Bill issue, at a rate on an average of not more than 10s. to 11s. per cent., because the investors have no better use to which they can put their capital for the time being. Or take, not the Government issues on Treasury Bills, but the more recent industrial issues. Take three in the last few weeks. Take the new issue in relation to Beechams; take the last new issue a few days ago of James Rank's Milling Combine; take the recent issue caused by the new transfer of shares in Woolworth's. In each case there were millions asked for, and in a few minutes 10, 12 and even 20 times the amount of capital asked for was subscribed. There is no question at all of the volume of finance capital available.
The real point we are putting to the House, therefore, is this: In face of unemployment, of malnutrition and of the need for a united effort for national strength, is it beyond the wit of man to bring together the resources of idle land, idle men, idle plant and idle finance capital? The Chancellor should answer that question. We do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man; but we do believe that it is beyond the power of any Government which binds itself to a system enthroning private profit as its first objective, and, secondly, the maintenance of a system which distributes that profit inequitably among the various classes of the community. I apply that to the four classes.
Take land, first of all. There is not much need for me to spend much time on land after the speech of my right hon. 823 and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood); but can there be any doubt that the principal reason why land is not fully utilised, not merely for agriculture but for industrial and social purposes, is the grip in which it is held by private ownership? Ask any members of local authorities sitting on the Labour benches who have had to acquire land for social purposes to get up in the House, as they have done, and give their testimony as to the toll they have had to pay. I notice that the only cheer the Minister of Agriculture got to-day was when he defended the landowners. I would ask the heads of the Service Departments just to let the Chancellor see the actual figures which have been paid in the last three years for de-rated agricultural land for the purpose of the nation's rearmament: for building aerodromes, new barracks and such objects. These people have no patriotism. These people who call now for unity on the Defence programme have been bleeding the country on this question for the last three years without any cessation. In my view, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pre-eminently above all the Ministers in this Cabinet, with his knowledge and his pre-war experience of the land campaign—it is a long time ago, but he was well in it—will be bound to admit that the nation, in this day of our need, both for food supplies and rearmament, is being bled.
Take the question of the employment of surplus labour, or rather labour which is regarded as surplus to present requirements. Is there any question that that labour is not surplus to present requirements, if the people are to be adequately provided for and the nation's rearmament needs met? The hon. Member for Putney to-night was the only Member really, although we smiled at him, who had the pluck to get up and talk about this subject. Let me say, if hon. Members do not like this aspect of the question, that it was the Prime Minister himself who set this standard in the rearmament programme with regard to profit, because, in reply to a question of mine on 4th March last year he said that, when it was suggested that we ought to take all profit out of the supply of materials he wondered how hon. Members thought we were going to have any 824 armaments made at all? Do not let there be any doubt about the profits.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am delighted to answer that question. I do not want to take up too much of the Chancellor's time, but let me say, in reply to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer), who knows a great deal more about it than his innocent question seems to imply, that the co-operative societies do not work for profit. They in fact create for their members a surplus between what they pay for their goods and what is the ultimate net cost of those goods, and that is returned to them. I do not want to be taken off this point, because we want to see where the Prime Minister's theory in relation to how you can produce armaments has brought them with regard to profits. I could quote firm after firm in the iron and steel trade, but let me take aviation. I see that during the last two years the profits of the firm of Handley Page have been £100,000 and £210,000, and that, according to the note in one of the research organs which I have here, their capital has been so increased by issue of bonus shares during the course of this rearmament programme that for every pound in ordinary shares held in 1935, the shareholder now holds approximately £22 instead of the pound he originally held. This year a final dividend of 20 per cent. is to be paid upon that inflated capital, and approximately, therefore, if I apply it to the year 1935, they will pay out £365 on every £100 which was originally held. In other words, a rate of distribution in 1938 of 365 per cent. on the capital of 1935. How any Government can justify calling upon workers for sacrifices in the face of this I do not know. I could go on and quote other figures. [Interruption.] I should be glad to know, in face of these interruptions, whether hon. Members opposite really support me. I will gladly give way to any hon. Member. I am asking whether any Member on the Government side of the House will really support that wicked and vile profiteering out of the need of the nation.
I come to other figures. The Bristol Aeroplane Company, with their profits going up year after year, from £ 237,000 to £344,000 a year ago, now has £1 of 825 reserves for every £1 of the capital held. Anybody who understands a company balance-sheet knows that they are preparing for the largest share bonus ever yet issued. Yet the Government are complacent and quiescent about this wicked exploitation at a time of the community's need. A question was raised last week by one of my hon. Friends about profiteering at the time of the crisis, when in a few days, or less, sand-bags which cost about 1½d. rose in price to 10½d. each—a wicked increase of price. Wicked increases were also taking place in the cost of the timber needed for the special Defence measures that were then taken. The Government cannot possibly justify that position to the House to-night.
Last night the Minister of Health kept on blandly informing us about the amount of capital now held in working-class investments. He meant the deposit banks and the building societies. When he deals with such items as the money invested in building societies and national savings certificates, I know of hundreds upon hundreds of the wealthier people of this country who regularly, in order to have a large block of income free of Income Tax, invest not in one but in a dozen of the great building societies. They take every single block of £500 certificates that they can get in national saving certificates for every member of their family, free of Income Tax. Therefore, when figures are trotted out to try and justify the argument that there is such a large volume of savings of the working classes in these investments, they require a great deal of analysis and examination. In face of the present system of distribution, the right hon. Gentleman cannot justify the argument that there is a real and proper distribution of the national income.
I intended to say a great deal more, but I want to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer time to reply to the Debate of the last two days. All that I can say further is that if the Government persist in their policy, then I believe that no truer word has yet been spoken than that spoken by the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) last night, when he made a prophecy—and he was absolutely right—that if this kind of thing is pressed it will be the poor, the poorest of the poor, who will 826 pay the price. We are facing the Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to face the Budget, which will come in a few months' time, a Budget which already commits this country to an expenditure of £1,040,000,000 for the year. That amount does not include the revised Air Estimate, which I gather is to be about £200,000,000. When we talk about the distribution of the taxation burden and the distribution of income, let us not forget that the amount we are now spending on armaments in a year exceeds—I hope the hon. Member for Putney will remember this—the total yield from the direct Income Tax payers. The whole of the receipts from Income Tax, Super-tax and a large part of the Death Duties will be gone in one year's expenditure on the present programme of the Government's rearmament. Therefore I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether we have not a case to put to him to-night in support of our Amendment? Can the maintenance by the Government of their present outlook on industry and finance do anything but accentuate the unequal distribution and its consequent incipient attack upon human standards?
The real problem which faces a number of hon. Members opposite is this: I believe that a large number of them, at any rate, wish to see preserved in the world the only thing which makes human life ultimately worth living, and I believe that they wish as much as we do the maintenance of freedom and justice. I believe that they recognise that at this moment these two great human principles are threatened with a concentration and ruthlessness never surpassed, if ever equalled, in world history. But in the organisation of our great nation, which has won for itself the enjoyment of these principles by centuries of sacrifice, many hon. Members opposite who appeal to us for unity are not willing at the same time to see removed in the interests of freedom and liberty that most powerful of all class weapons, the exploitation of labour for unfair profit and the maldistribution of the national income. When hon. Members opposite make speeches about democracy and freedom I should like to remind them of a few lines which thrilled the nineteenth century, and which we have heard on some thousands of socialist platforms: 827Is true freedom but to break,Fetters for our own dear sake;And with leathern hearts forget;That we owe mankind a debt.No, true freedom is to shareAll the bonds our brothers wear;And with heart and hand to be,Earnest to make others free.So far in this Debate we have not had a single word from an official spokesman of the Government to indicate that they have departed from the policy with which we charge them in our Amendment. They have been in office for over seven years with a majority the most powerful on average in parliamentary history, and they have pursued a policy which has contributed very largely to the present national as well as world dangers. They appear before us in that worst of all aspects of government inepitude, in the form of a decaying coalition. We have yet to learn, either from their handling of foreign affairs or from the efficiency of their preparations for Defence, or above all from their dealing with the social cancer from which profit and exploitation exist in the body politic to-day, that this is a Government which can lead us anywhere but to disaster.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
I share the view which has been expressed by several hon. Members during these two days of Debate that it is useful and appropriate, after the repeated discussions we have had on foreign affairs, to have this Amendment, on which we can discuss the condition of the people. That view was expressed by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) this afternoon, and the same claim has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). I agree that it is well that we should concentrate on these domestic issues before the Debate on the Address is disposed of. The strength of Britain does not depend solely on her armed forces, the prosperity of Britain is not to be secured merely by conducting our foreign relations; and when we come to the topics with which we are dealing to-day—the standard of life, the social services, the extent of employment or unemployment—I do not think that in any quarter of the House there will be any disposition to deny that these things are an essential part of national welfare.
828 I have a great deal of ground to cover and not very long in which to do it, but I will do my best. On looking at the Opposition Amendment, I think the first thing that strikes me about it is that it is in much milder terms than usual. In fact, the nearer we get to a General Election the milder the Socialists are. I have been comparing the Amendment with the corresponding Amendment last year and the year before. Last year, I find that we were invited to lament thelack of any constructive and fundamental proposals for raising the standard of life of the people or for establishing economic prosperity upon a just and enduring basis.''That, no doubt, was intended to refer to Socialism without using the word. But if I go back one year further, two years ago, there was no doubt about it, for in the corresponding Opposition Amendment we were asked to regret the absence ofproposals for making the fundamental changes in the basis of society which are necessary in order to create a Socialist commonwealth.The further back we go, the clearer it gets. The perspective adds enchantment to the view. And as we have been obligingly informed by more than one right hon. Gentleman opposite that these things cannot be brought about without producing an immediate crisis, then it is easy to understand why the present Amendment is much more mildly drawn up. At the same time, it raises very big issues which I do not wish to shirk.
First of all, there is unemployment. I do not think it is accurate to say that there is no reference to the problem of unemployment in the King's Speech. The Speech, in fact, expressly refers to such topics as the restoration of confidence—which has a great deal to do with employment, as I think the former Labour Ministry has good reason to remember—to the development of overseas markets, to improving conditions in the Special Areas, and to a number of other matters which bear on the wider aspect of the state of employment.
Let me say, in passing, that I was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman opposite that he and his friends approve of the proposal to continue the Special Areas Act. I think that is one of the cases where actual acquaintance with the working of legislation has caused hon. Gentlemen opposite to be rather more enthusiastic than they were at first. At 829 any rate, I am glad that they take the view, as we take the view, that the Act should be continued. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who opened the Debate to-day, made a good-humoured reference to the experience of the Labour Government in 1929 and was good enough to say about myself, what I think I can claim to be entirely justified —that I have never taken the view that the whole blame for increasing unemployment at the time of the Labour Government, was a charge to be thrown upon that Government's responsibility. I have never said so in public or in private or at any meeting which I have addressed. It is perfectly clear, I think, to anyone who tries to look at it fairly, that the problem which the last Labour Government had to face was to a very large extent brought upon them by world conditions for which they could not, in fairness, be held responsible. I may be open to rebuke upon many other things, but not upon that and I have never changed my mind.
The hon. Member also referred to that famous remark about rabbits and hats. All I would say about it to-day is that it so much impressed my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that last night, like Silas Wegg, he dropped into poetry. The criticism I must point out that was made, and I think fairly made, of the late Labour Government on the subject of unemployment, is not that they failed to get rid of it, because events were too strong for them. The criticism is that they had previously offered to the electors confident assurances of their ability to deal with it which as soon as they came to have responsibility were exposed as ridiculous nonsense. They appointed a committee which consisted, if I remember rightly, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), Mr. J. H. Thomas and Mr. Oswald Mosley, as he then was—a strangely assorted trinity.
I am going to make a modest suggestion. Would it not be a good thing if on all sides we recognised and admitted that whether the figures for unemployment, last month or next month, go up or go down, the major influence that operates on the figures of unemployment is an international or world influence; that a world depression such as existed in 1931 is a major influence not easily to be overcome by any Parliamentary effort; that 830 world prosperity can, in fact, produce a greater improvement in employment than some of the specifics suggested; that, if the figures gradually improve then that is not entirely to the credit of the Government of the day and that if the figures grow worse, it is the merest claptrap to lay that wholly to the charge of the Government of the day. It would be, I think, a considerable gain if both sides were willing to take that more reasonable view. The truth is that there is no single remedy for unemployment. But the claim which the Government make, and are entitled to make, is that our policy is to attack it from a number of directions. There is the external policy, the financial policy, and the encouragement of trade. They are all of them in fact contributions in the right direction, but I would like to remind the House of one or two of the trade statistics.
There has been, no doubt, a general recession of trade in part of last year, but it must be borne in mind that if you take 1937, the value of both our imports and our exports was higher than in any previous year since 1930, and the measure of that achievement in the field of overseas trade is to be found in a comparison with the figures, say, of 1931 or 1932. Here are two or three figures which I ask the House to consider. We embarked in 1932 on a policy of stimulating our export trade by means of trade agreements both with Empire countries and with foreign countries. Now what is the value of that effort? In 1937 the total value of our exports exceeded the figures for 1932 by £181,000,000, and of that £181,000,000, £125,000,000, more than two-thirds, was in respect of exports to the Ottawa countries or to those foreign countries with which trade agreements had been made. But even more striking is the fact that when the recession occurred, our exports to those countries were comparatively little affected as compared with the falling-off in the rest of the field. Their value during the first six months of 1938 fell by only £5,000,000 as compared with the first six months of last year, whereas the fall in the total value of our exports in those six months was about 26,000,000. I really think we are entitled on this side to claim that that portion of our policy has been shown by results to have had a really material bearing as a contribution to our trade figures.
831 I come for a moment, and only for a moment, to the part of the Amendment which suggests that, owing to failure to secure the equitable distribution of wealth, the Government have hampered the development of the social services. Let us look into that for a minute. I do not suppose there will ever be final agreement as to what constitutes an equitable distribution of wealth. What certainly cannot be disputed is that a very great part of the national burden for social services, as well as for armaments and other expenditure, is thrown nowadays on the rich, and the very rich. The highest zone of Income Tax and Surtax takes 13s. 9d. in the £of his income from the taxpayer, and that takes no account at all of other forms of direct taxation, such as National Defence Contribution, Death Duties, and so on, and I think it is not reasonable to suggest that we are living in a society in which tremendous adjustments are not made by the instrument of taxation between the rich and poor for the purpose of raising our public income.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the well-known figures about the increase in savings, and though I agree that we must remember that included in those figures are the saving operations of people of substance as well as of people of small substance, I do not think he will challenge the proposition, because it is not really capable of accurate challenge, that there has been an enormous growth in small savings. One of the reflections which I have seen more than once put on record by hon. Gentlemen opposite is that, unfortunately, in modern days there is a terrible lot of small capitalists.
I should like to say a few words on that part of the Amendment which deals with the standard of life. There is little doubt about this—I think no serious student will deny it—the standard of life in this country, thanks, I am very willing to admit, to the efforts of all parties in turn, has undoubtedly been continuously improved. It is a mistake, of course, which we shall all wish to avoid, to confuse the standard of life with index numbers either as to the cost of living or as to anything else. The standard of life in this country is not to be measured by working out an index figure of the cost of living, for, in order to arrive at the fair view of the standard of life, you must, of course, add 832 all the health, the amenities, the comforts and the conveniences which are provided through the social services in present-day society. I was looking the other day at a very interesting book written by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) called "My Life of Revolt," and I came across a passage in which, with his usual fairness, he recognises what I have been saying. We must not imagine that there has not been a great improvement in the standard of life regarded as I have stated it. At the end of his book, in a chapter called "Looking backwards," he gives a moving account of his memories of early days, of the terribly hard life, more particularly of the women who lived under his eye in his part of Scotland. He goes on to explain the improvement that has taken place, and he says this:Beyond their cash wages is a social wage represented by health and unemployment insurance, maternity benefit, dental treatment, a more humane and therefore a more scientific public assistance, old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, and a dozen other material benefits.Of course, that is true, and it is a thing we all recognise whatever our political attachments may be. It is a very important fact to bear in mind. To that improvement these last seven years have really made striking contributions. Take the new social services which have been started or specially fostered since 1931. First of all, the chance of being born in a slum is greatly diminished and in four years' time it will have disappeared. Before 1933 the average rate at which people were being moved out of slums into decent dwellings was 10,000 a year. Not more than 200,000 such cases had been moved by a plan of slum clearance into decent houses in 60 years. But since this crusade of the last four years, in which local authorities have acted just as firmly and energetically as the central Government, we find that over 1,200,000 people, formerly living in insanitary hovels, have actually moved into decent houses.
Secondly, when a child is born to-day the Midwives Act of two years ago provides for the mother the attention of a skilled midwife. There is extra milk to-day for the pregnant woman and for the nursing mother. When the child goes to school it can have a supply of fresh milk at a greatly reduced price or, in necessitous cases, free. Very soon the day will come when provision is made 833 for him to stay at school till 15 and, when he leaves school, as the result of a change made in the last year, to take up employment, he will now come under medical care through the extension of the insurance system, whereas previously there was a gap until he reached the age of 16. For the increase of opportunities for physical recreation, £2,000,000 has been made available in capital grants to local authorities for playing fields, swimming baths and camping sites. Insurance against unemployment is now extended to 15,000,000 people, including agricultural labourers and those in domestic service. Previously the figure was 12,500,000. If a young man works in a shop under the age of 18, his hours of work to-day are restricted to 48, including meal times. Before the recent Shops Act the working hours of the juvenile could extend up to 74 a week. If he is a black-coated worker, he is now helped to make provision for his old age and for his wife and children, and 2,000,000 people are eligible to come within those benefits. If he is a blind person he receives his pension at 40 instead of 50. If he lives in the country the boon of running water laid on is becoming increasingly available. The State contribution for the purpose amounts to £1,000,000 and 3,000 parishes now enjoy the benefit of a pipe supply. If he is a factory worker he is enjoying the benefits of an improved Factory Act.
I do not say that this will make any of us cease from our labours or be content, but no fair, honest, impartial survey of the situation can be made without reaching the conclusion that in these last seven years the standard of life has been immensely raised, and all these things have been brought to completion at the same time that we have been making a gigantic effort in rearmament. When the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends ask questions about the redistribution of wealth, these social services operate as a redistribution of wealth on an enormous scale. I say, with all respect to those who may take a different view, that that is a far more effective way of doing it than to do what the late Lord Snowden once referred to as talking the usual claptrap about taxing the rich. I quite understand the view of hon. Members opposite who are Socialists and who believe that they have a theory which, if put into practice, would do all these things a great deal better, but that is the point at which 834 we part company. We believe that these things are best accomplished by practical and progressive action, and not by pursuing what we believe to be a will o' the wisp.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the full use of the resources of this country. There would not be much use in the resources of this country if confidence were destroyed. Instead of taking the view which hon. Members opposite do that private enterprise is really an unmitigated evil which they or other people can sweep away without disastrous consequences, we think that the application of that Socialist theory could only be brought about by a revolution in the course of which confidence and stability would be destroyed.
§ Mr. Alexander
May I ask specifically upon that whether the Chancellor is going to defend the kind of profiteering which is going on out of the Government expenditure at a time when we cannot get the full resources of the country properly applied?
§ Sir J. Simon
The right hon. Gentleman produced some figures in the course of his argument which I am unable to check. I am as much opposed to the making of excessive profits as anybody else can be. What I know is that if, indeed, a profit is made of the sort which he described, it will be the subject of the heaviest taxation. But it is no argument to say, "I produce this or that instance, and now I have proved that my specific would be a good one." I do not take that view. I believe that the attempt to work out in practice the theory which the Socialists sincerely hold would do such injury to this country as would make her soon forget those instances to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I have some reason to say so, because although this Amendment is couched in very smooth language and we have had a very pleasant Debate, with not too much controversy, at the same time I do not forget, and of course right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not forget, that really their remedy is a remedy that is going to produce a crisis. I remember being challenged last year when I made that observation, and I had not then got the quotation handy, but as I have two minutes I will give it now. In the book "Problems of a Socialist Government" 835 I find that the Leader of the Opposition wrote:I am envisaging the period of the first Socialist Government in power as one of crisis. Indeed, the whole transitional period must be viewed from this angle. The atmosphere will be comparable to that existing in this country at the beginning of the Great War.The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), in the same book, has been good enough to explain what his anticipations are and he provides his remedy. He says:It would probably be better and more conducive to the general peace and welfare of
§ the country for the Socialist Government to make itself temporarily into a dictatorship, until the matter could again be put to the test at the polls."
§ The right hon. Gentleman opposite ended with some eloquent words about liberty. I am on the side of liberty. My hon. Friends and I will continue to be utterly opposed to dictatorships either of the Right or of the Left.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 151; Noes, 341.839
|DivisionNo. 1.]||AYES.||[11. 0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hayday, A.||Pearson, A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Poole, C. C.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Price, M. P.|
|Barr, J.||Hicks, E. G.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Batey, J.||Hollins, A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hopkin, D.||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Benson, G.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Riley, B.|
|Bevan, A.||John, W.||Ritson, J.|
|Broad, F. A.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Sir H, Haydn (Merioneth)||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Burke, W. A.||Kelly, W. T||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)|
|Cape, T.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kirby, B. V.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Chater, D.||Kirkwood, D.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Shinwell, E.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lathan, G.||Silkin, L.|
|Collindridge, F.||Lawson, J. J.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cove, W. G.||Leach, W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Daggar, G.||Lee, F.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhitha)|
|Dalton, H.||Leonard, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees-(K'ly)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhougton)||Logan, D. G.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lunn, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Stephen, C.|
|Ede, J. C.||McEntee, V. La T.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McGhee, H. G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||McGovern, J.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||MacLaren, A.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Maclean, N.||Thorne, W.|
|Foot, D. M.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Thurtle, E.|
|Frankel, D.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Mander, G. le M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Marshall, F.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Maxton, J.||Walker, J.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Messer, F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gibbins, J.||Milner, Major J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Montague, F.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Westwood, J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Muff, G.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Windsor, W, (Hull, C.)|
|Groves, T. E.||Oliver, G. H.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Owen, Major G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hardie, Agnes||Paling, W.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Parker, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Mathers and Mr. Adamson.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Apsley, Lord||Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Aske, Sir R. W.||Balniel, Lord|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Barrie, Sir C. C.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Baxter, A. Beverley|
|Anderson, Sir A, Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Beauchamp, Sir B. C.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Erskine-Hill. A. G.||Looker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Loftus, P. C.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Everard, W. L.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Bannett, Sir E. N.||Findlay, Sir E.||M'Connell, Sir J.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Fleming, E. L.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Macdonald, Capt. T. (Isle of Wight)|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||McKie, J. H.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Gledhill, G.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Gluokstein, L. H.||Macnamara, Major J. R. J.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Goldie, N. B.||Maitland, A.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Gower, Sir R. V.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Granville, E. L.||Markham, S. F.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Marsden, Commander A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Maxwell, Hon. S. A.|
|Bull, B. B.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Grimston, R. V.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)|
|Butler, R. A.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hambro, A. V.||Moreing, A. C.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Hammersley, S. S.||Morgan, R. H.|
|Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Hannah, I. C.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)|
|Channon, H.||Harbord, A.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Harvey, Sir G.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)|
|Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Munro, P.|
|Christie, J. A.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Nall, Sir J.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H H.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Higgs, W. F.||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs)||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Patrick. C. M.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Holdsworth, H.||Peake, O.|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Holmes, J. S.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Cox, Trevor||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hopkinson, A.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Pilkington, R.|
|Critchley, A.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen, Sir H. Page||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Hulbert, N. J.||Purbrick, R.|
|Cross, R. H.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Radford, E. A.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hunloke, H. P.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Hunter, T.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Hurd, Sir P. A.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Hutchinson, G. C.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Joel, D. J. B.||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|De Chair, S. S.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|De la Bère, R.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Danville, Alfred||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Reid Captain A. Cunningham|
|Despencer-Robertson. Major J.A.F.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Doland, G. F.||Kimball, L.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R.H.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Remer, J. R.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Rickards, G.W. (Skipton)|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Latham, Sir P.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Rosbotham, Sir T.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lees-Jones, J.||Ross, Major Sir R.D. (Londonderry)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Leigh, Sir J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rowlands, G.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lennox-Boyd, A.T.L.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Levy, T.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Lewis, O.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Liddall, W. S.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Emery, J. F.||Lindsay, K. M.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Lipson, D. L.||Salt, E. W.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Errington, E.||Lloyd, G. W.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Storey, S.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Scott, Lord William||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Selley, H. R.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Shakespeare, G. H.||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M.F.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Sutcliffe, H.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Tasker, Sir R. I.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Sinclair, Col. T, (Queen's U. B'lf'st)||Thomas, J. P. L.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)||Titchfield, Marquess of||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Smith, Sir R.W. (Aberdeen)||Touche, G. C.||Wise, A. R.|
|Smithers, Sir W.||Train, Sir J.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Somerset, T.||Tree, A. R. L. F.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Somerville, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.||Wragg, H.|
|Somerville, A.A, (Windsor)||Tufnell, Lieut. -Commander R. L.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.||Turton, R. H.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Spens, W. P.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'la)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan||Captain Margesson and Mr.|
|Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Ward, Lieut -Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||James Stuart.|
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Sir Percy Harris rose—
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.