§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
It is rather a descent from high war policy to the low or intermediate grades of milk. I rather regret that we should have to begin a Debate on the subject of agriculture, at least from the point of view of one commodity, at such a late hour. We have such a short time in which to debate the subject that, although there are many questions one would like to raise which are of vital importance to the well-being of the country, we are compelled, from the nature of the case, to confine ourselves to a very narrow limit. I am among the many people in this country who think that at this time food is perhaps just as important as shells, munitions, and shipping; it is a pity we are not in a position adequately to discuss this question. I will confine myself exclusively to the question of milk. I need hardly stress the importance of milk as a food. Doctors, scientists and nutrition experts have been unanimous, not for a day, a week, or a year, but for very many years, on the absolute necessity of an adequate supply of milk if the health and the well-being of our people are to be maintained. The other day I saw a concise statement which sums up all that I would care to say on that side of the milk question:Milk has come more and more in recent years to be recognised as a commodity vital to the nation's health. Almost with one voice, doctors and scientists urge us to increase our milk consumption, and point out the inadequacy of present consumption in relation even to the lowest estimates of national needs. It is common knowledge that milk, in its liquid form, enters hardly at all into the households of the very poor, and quite insufficiently into the great majority of working class households.There is such a relationship between the price of milk and the consumption of milk that any variation in price is apt in a very short space of time to reflect itself in either a higher or a lower consumption. Therefore, it is the duty of every Member of the House to be ever vigilant when there is a danger of an unnecessary increase in the price of the most important foodstuff in the country. We have learned recently from the wireless and from the Press that there is to be an application for an increase in the price of liquid milk. I understand that 1351 the Milk Marketing Board has made certain proposals to the Central Milk Committee and has asked that body to agree to an increase, and that the figure of 4d. a gallon has been mentioned. In existing circumstances, all that the Milk Marketing Board need do is to have a meeting with the Central Milk Committee, and if those two bodies agree between themselves on what the increase is to be, all that follows is that the consumer has to pay. Unless and until the Ministry of Food plays a part in directing the milk policy of this country, not only may consumers suffer an increase of price, but there may be a large reduction in the consumption of this important food. As such an increase must, inevitably, reduce consumption, the working classes will be the first to suffer. That is indicated by every investigation that has been made, and it is therefore our duty, even at this late hour before the Recess, to examine carefully any proposal such as that of the Milk Marketing Board.
I do not make any attack on the board. Rather do I pay it a very great compliment. It has an efficient organisation. It has organised the wholesale distribution effectively. Since 1933 it has put millions of pounds into the pockets of milk producers. I think that the difference between the receipts in 1939 and those in 1933, the year in which the board commenced, is about £15,000,000. From that point of view, the board has conducted the business of the milk producers very efficiently. It has carried out a successful advertising campaign. It has undertaken and financed experiments. The report published by the board on its five years' work is a very fine document on which it is entitled to be complimented. Therefore, I wish it to be clear that there is no intended or implied attack on the Milk Marketing Board in what I say. What we have to remember, however, is that this is a producers' board, behind which there is a compelling force all the time to increase the price of liquid milk—sometimes of necessity, but on other occasions unnecessarily. I shall have something to say later about the figures, to which, perhaps, the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) will try to make some reply, although I doubt whether he can reply effectively. I suggest that this is a classic example of a producers' board 1352 looking after the interests of its members, regardless of the consequences to the rest of the community.
If one looks at the history of this matter, one can see what the Board has accomplished in terms of money provided for the producers of milk. In the first year of the Board's operations the price of liquid milk was 14.01d. per gallon. After five years of organising the marketing of milk, during which savings ought to have been effected and a price reduction to the consumer might have been expected we discover, in 1939, that the price of liquid milk is 16.26d. per gallon. The Board has organised so effectively and has "cut out the dead wood" to such an extent, that it has increased the price by 21d. per gallon. The distribution margin in 1933 was Io.82d. per gallon. Now it is 11.22d. per gallon, making a total increase in the price of liquid milk in 1939, as compared with 1933, of 2.65d. per gallon.
Our general understanding of the milk marketing scheme in 1931 and succeeding years was that it would not only improve the marketing of the commodity, but would, as a result of economies, bring about a decrease in the price of the commodity. All that the Milk Marketing Board has done so far has been, not to effect economy in distribution, not to bring about a reduction in the price of the commodity, but to increase both the price paid to the producer of the commodity and the price paid to the retailer of the commodity. In 1934, there were 46,800 producer retailers. In 1939, there were 63,300. So, instead of organising the marketing of the commodity and removing a great deal of waste and unnecessary expense in distribution, the Board has brought about an increase in the cost of distribution since 1933. I ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Food, or both, to say whether there is any justification for the present demand for an increase in the price of milk.
If a case can be made out, neither I nor my hon. Friends will stand in the way. If circumstances arising out of the war, or any other cause can be shown to have increased the cost of production to such a point that some agency must be brought in to remunerate the producer, then, obviously, the producer is entitled to relief. But I ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Food or both—and 1353 they have opportunities for consultation as they sit there together—to say whether this proposal to increase the price of liquid milk is based upon an increase in the cost of feeding-stuffs, an increase in the cost of replacements, an increase in wages, or on a decrease in yield, due to the feeding-stuffs now available, not being as good as those which were available before the war. We are entitled to figures in justification of any increase which may be allowed, either through the agency of the two bargaining committees, or by the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Food. The only figures that I have been able to find are those of Mr. J. H. Heap, one of the most critical of agricultural writers who is always urging the Milk Marketing Board to do more for the producers than they have done so far. In the December issue of the "Daily Farmer" we find a statement on these lines:Assuming these prices (referring to prewar costs of production) to have been approximately the same just before war Has declared, we can calculate the effect of rises in the succeeding eight weeks. Purchased foods went up by one-seventh, that is equal to 0.5d. per gallon; paid labour by one-twelfth, that is 0.2d. per gallon; herd replacement by one-fourth, that is o.4d. per gallon. So there is a total increase on those three items of over rd. per gallon.If we accept the figures of this ardent supporter of the milk producers, a case can be made out for an increase of rd. per gallon, assuming that those were the only effects of the war. But, since the war started certain other things have happened, apart from those mentioned by this correspondent. The Milk Marketing Board find themselves in a position in which all milk sold for manufacturing purposes can be increased in price. I will give the price variations since just before the war. Perhaps if I quote the Milk Marketing Board there will be less agitation than if I give my own figures. In this month's "Home Farmer," the monthly document of the Milk Marketing Board, the editor, on behalf of the Board, makes this statement:Prompt action which covers, but which is not related solely to lost 'liquid' trade, has resulted in increased prices being prescribed by the Board for all manufacturing milk supplied after October 31 last.Milk sold in the higher categories (condensed milk, milk powder, fresh cream, bottled cream, tinned cream, etc.) now realises 2½ d. a gallon more, and the old 1354 formula prices for milk converted into butter and cheese are dispensed with in fvavour of a fixed price which will give a higher net return to the pool."There the Board admit that since 31st October almost all milk sold for manufacturing purposes has been increased in price by an average of 2½. per gallon. They go on to say:It does not imply, however, that the Board are blinding themselves to the fact that circumstances may compel an adjustment of 'liquid' prices as an ultimate means of maintaining supplies.It is of vital importance at this time that milk production shall not fall below normal requirements.And if rising costs of production necessitate an increase in liquid milk prices, the Board will not hesitate to apply it.That quotation, as hon. Members will observe, involves three things. It states, first, in effect that manufacturing prices have been inreased all round; secondly, that there is no immediate demand for an increase in liquid milk prices—for, remember, it is the "Home Farmer" just sent out by the Milk Marketing Board which gives this story, and not myself—and the third thing is a warning that we must maintain supplies. There are many ways of maintaining supplies or losing supplies. It has been said that the action of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food a fortnight ago in releasing all control of meat prices has so increased the price of less than fat meat that many milk producers will be changing over to the more profitable side of meat production. I do not know how far that is true. I have a letter this morning from one who is, I believe, the chairman of the National Farmers Union Milk Section in Yorkshire, who sends me along an advertisement showing that one farmer, due to his failure to obtain appropriate foodstuffs, is selling off his herd of 60 cattle. I entirely agree with this warning of the "Home Farmer," that we must maintain supplies of milk, but to those three statements of the Milk Marketing Board I would add a fourth: Neither can we afford so to raise prices to the consumer as to result in diminished consumption, for once liquid milk consumption starts to decline, not only will it hit the farmer as such, but it will also hit the health of the nation.
I concede at once that the farmer is entitled to an economic price, but on the figures so far made available to us, if 1355 the all-round cost of production has increased by rd. per gallon and the all-round price of manufacturing milk has gone up by 2½ a gallon, clearly those items ought to balance themselves in the account, and so far no case appears to have been made out for this increase in price of something like 4d.a gallon. I know how ready farmers are to swing over from one commodity to another if they feel that the one is going to be more profitable than the other, but this House cannot afford to allow our milk production to decline to a point where it endangers supplies to the people, and I, with my colleagues and, I am sure, hon. Members in all parts of the House, not only want to see the people of this country educated into the value of milk as a food, but we want to see the school schemes go on and the local authority schemes extended. We want to see the farmer have a square deal, but we should not be doing our duty if we sat here and allowed increases to be superimposed by the Milk Marketing Board and the Central Milk Committee without rhyme or reason and without submitting facts and data which would justify any such increases.
Therefore, I want to sum up as follows: We are anxious to maintain and even to increase the consumption of milk in this country; we want to see the school schemes continued and extended; we want to see the local authority schemes extended—and we understand that they are not nearly so broad at the moment as they ought to be—we want to see ceaseless propaganda on the virtues of milk as a food, but we insist that the Government must use their machinery, and their finance, if necessary, to keep the price within the purchasing power of the people, and I hope the Minister of Food or the Minister of Agriculture will tell us to-day that there will be no increase in price beyond what can be justified on the basis of ascertained facts and that there will be no increase in prices charged to the liquid milk consumer in this country.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I apologise for intervening at this early stage, and I would not have done so if I had not thought that it was for the general convenience of the House, because I think a reply to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) may pre- 1356 vent the discussion wasting itself in hammering at an open door. I am grateful to the hon. Member for having raised this point, and I think there is agreement in all parts of the House as to the necessity for this country, in war as in peace—perhaps in war even more than in peace—securing an adequate supply of milk at reasonable prices.
Perhaps it would clear things up if I said in a word what are the present relations between the Milk Marketing Board and the Government. The Milk Marketing Board is at present in precisely the same statutory position as that in which it was before the war commenced, and it has not had the experience, as has been the case with other marketing boards, such as the Bacon Marketing Board and the Potato Marketing Board, of being absorbed in the Ministry of Food. It is operating under the scheme approved by this House, and it is, as the hon. Member said, a producers' organisation, framed in peace time to secure the position of producers and to assist in the marketing of milk. The Milk Marketing Board is at present a separate legal entity, and I could not let this occasion pass without paying a special tribute to the work which the Board has done in the national interest since the war commenced. I will only mention one instance. The problem of evacuation confronted the Board and the Government with the removal into distant and unfamiliar places of the Board's best customers, namely, the children, and advance arrangements were made, in co-operation with the Board, for securing that where these children went there would be supplies of milk for them. I am bound to say that that work which was done by the Milk Marketing Board was very well done—[Interruption]—with help from the trade it is true, but in so far as the important contribution which the Milk Marketing Board made to that scheme is concerned, it would be wrong for me to pass it over without a word of thanks on behalf of the public.
As regards the future, I am in agreement with the general tenour of the hon. Member's remarks. For the future, if war conditions are superimposed upon normal peace-time commercial practice, it will be necessary, as I conceive it, for the Government to assume responsibility for milk policy as a whole during war time as regards both production, price and distribution. I should deprecate any un- 1357 due disturbance of the actual machinery which the Board have built up in the past for performing its duties. I think it will be agreed that it must be subject during the war to general direction. That is the policy when the national interest demands it.
Before I come to the question of costs of production, to which the hon. Gentleman addressed himself, I would say that the war has made many problems in milk policy which are different from those of peace time. The milk-in-schools scheme has been gravely dislocated because of the removal of schools, which are the normal channels of distribution. The work of providing local authorities with means whereby supplies of milk at cheap prices might be made to certain necessitous persons has been hampered and hindered by the great calls made upon local authorities in other directions since the war started. I am anxious that these beneficent schemes should be stimulated during the war to the utmost possible practical extent. These things must be examined anew in the light of war conditions and in the light of the dispersal of the population. I am sure the House will be anxious that there should be no flagging in pressing on with that work.
Our immediate problem is that of price. Then- has been since the war no rise in the price of liquid milk for ordinary consumption, in spite of many factors which work towards increased costs of production. This is normally the season of the year when the cost of producing milk is above normal because grass has to be replaced by feeding-stuffs. Over and above that seasonal rise the war has brought upon milk producers certain unknown costs. Feeding-stuffs are subject to a Maximum Prices Order, but in many cases the short supply of feeding-stuffs has led to the maximum price becoming the normal price. Whereas the maximum price itself as fixed was higher than was paid in some districts before the war, we find that the maximum price has now been reached. The feeding-stuffs which are not controlled, namely, home-produced ones, have also risen sharply in price.
§ Mr. John Morgan
Is there any evidence that there has also been a deterioration in the quality of the feeding-stuffs?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a matter to which I was addressing myself. The hon. Member for Don Valley said there was an element of cost, which it is hard accurately to estimate, which arises from the fact that the substitution of one feeding-stuff for another which is in short supply has an adverse effect on the milk yield. The cow is a somewhat temperamental lady and resents having the habits of a lifetime disturbed even by the war. She is consequently inclined to react and to show her annoyance if one feeding-stuff is substituted for another by yielding less milk. There has been also an increase in the transport charges for delivering feeding-stuffs to which farms were previously subject. Another element is the decline in liquid milk consumption due, among other factors, to the milk-in schools scheme being so gravely dislocated. There is a large amount of milk which under peace-time conditions would have been sold for the milk-in-schools scheme at prices bringing to the pool something like is. a gallon, but which has been diverted at butter at 7d. a gallon. This has meant a loss to the pool that ought to be taken account of. There have also been increases in the cost of labour, and they are inevitable.
The history of the matter is that the Milk Board inform us that they were proposing under their statutory powers to negotiate with the Central Committee for a rise for liquid milk of 4d. a gallon. That has confronted the Ministry of Food with a difficult problem which has two facets. The one is that we are anxious that this most valuable food should be available at reasonable prices which will not check its consumption. We are equally anxious that the price returned to the producers of milk will not be such as to discourage its production. The two factors must balance one against the other—an adequate consumption, and a reward to the producer to make sure, as far as we can, that there is an ample supply. We have had under consideration the position arising from the decline in sales of liquid milk since the war and the prospective increases in the costs of production, because we have to look ahead.
We have decided that some increase in the producers' returns is justified. We are, however, anxious that a general rise in the retail price of liquid milk at the present time should be avoided. In 1359 order to permit a full examination of the position and a review of the future level of prices for liquid and manufacturing milk, the Ministry of Food will make a temporary grant to the Milk Marketing Board of an amount sufficient to raise producers' returns by 3d. per gallon in January and February, and 2½. per gallon in March, above those realised in the corresponding months of 1939. Steps will be taken to ensure that these increases are passed on to producers. The arrangement is conditional on the maintenance for the present of the existing level of retail prices of liquid milk.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I tried in my observations to show that the Milk Marketing Board themselves were not attempting to put up figures and to provide any facts on which to base calculations. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether any figures are available?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not familiar with the particular publications from which the hon. Member quoted, but, of course, the Milk Marketing Board did furnish us with figures justifying their proposed request for 4d. a gallon increase. They are voluminous figures and difficult to deal with in a sort compass. In effect the calculation was that for purchased goods the increase would be an amount of 1.52d. per gallon—for home-grown foods id. per gallon; labour,.32d. per gallon; miscellaneous items,.26d.; depreciation,.10d.; the total being 3.20d. In respect of that they asked for 4d. One reason why we in the Ministry of Food were anxious to avoid the bargaining process which normally goes on when the Milk Marketing Board have a case for an increase is that the distributors, if there is to be an increase in the retail price, generally attempt to secure an increase in the distributive margin as well. I think it would be in the national interest that this temporary assistance should be given to the Milk Marketing Board in order to secure that there is no decline in production over this season and to give the opportunity for the milk question as a whole to be considered under war conditions, so that any future plans for the supply and distribution of this important food can be worked out in sufficient time to make them a success.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Has the Minister stated all the factors in coming to his decision? 1360 Is he trying to provide for a surplus supply to keep the condensed milk factories going, because there is another factor.
§ Mr. Morrison
I did not want to make it too long a story, but of course that was one of the factors in my mind. The armed Forces are naturally making a very heavy demand upon the supplies of condensed milk. While it is always possible to divert milk from manufacture into liquid sales one has to have regard to limiting factors. First, one must always have a surplus of milk in order to secure an adequate supply, and, secondly, when there is an abnormal demand, as there is at present, for condensed milk and other forms of processed milk, it is necessary to make provision for that at prices which are economic.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Am I to understand that the 3d. per gallon increase is to be given for all milk produced, or only for the milk sold for liquid consumption?
§ Mr. Morrison
For liquid consumption. It will be worked through the pool price. It will be an increase of 3d. per gallon in the pool price. The price is arrived at by the board when it has received all its revenue, both from liquid milk and manufactured milk.
§ Mr. Williams
The pool price includes the money received for the sale of liquid milk as well as the milk sold for manufacturing purposes. What I am anxious to know is whether, seeing that the board have already, from 31st October, increased the price of almost all the milk sold for manufacturing purposes by 21d. per gallon, they are giving an increase of 3d. on top of the 2½d.?
§ Mr. Morrison
The amount of money which will be given to the board will be sufficient to raise producers' returns by 3d. gallon, taken generally, over what producers' returns were in January and February last year. It covers the whole field.
§ Mr. Williams
Then we are perfectly clear now that although the Milk Marketing board have made out a case for an increase of 3.2d. per gallon—the right hon. Gentleman has conceded them 30 points out of the 32 they asked for—he is going to give them not 3d. per gallon but 3d. plus 2½d. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The right hon. Gentleman is 1361 not, of course, going to give the 2½d. They are making the right hon. Gentleman pay that in the excess price they are charging for milk used for making condensed milk, which is sold to the troops and paid for by the Government. My simple point is that it is one thing for the right hon. Gentleman to increase the price of milk sold for liquid consumption by 3d., since there has been no increase from the beginning of the war, but quite another thing to give the 3d. in the case of milk for manufacture, which has been increased by 2½,d. since the war.
§ Mr. Morrison
The comparisons I made were all on exactly the same basis when I enumerated the figures given to us by the Milk Marketing Board, which added up to 3.20d. That was the additional cost, as reflected in the additional requirements, over the whole return, exactly the same as the proposed grant is. All the sources of revenue of the Milk Marketing Board have been taken into consideration both in estimating the increased demand and in the Ministry of Food making their decision, so that the two things exactly pari passu.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I am glad to have heard the Minister announce a milk policy which at least has the effect, apparently, of not raising the price of liquid milk to the consumer, a matter which I am concerned about- very seriously, especially in view of the fall in milk consumption recently, which the right hon. Gentleman knows has been very severe. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman really meant it when he said that he was not familiar with the publications quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), because what he quoted from was "The Home Farmer, "which is described as the official journal of the Milk Marketing Board.
§ Mr. Morrison
What I meant was that I was not familiar with that particular issue of it. I have read the publication.
I hardly thought it was possible that the right hon. Gentleman was so remote from current controversies and current literature, but I decided to ask him because I frankly did not understand what he meant. But although I am grateful, as I am sure every hon. Member on this side is grateful 1362 for the fact that the price of liquid milk to the consumer is not to be raised, I do not feel that the Minister's statement goes far enough, not from the standpoint of agricultural policy but from the standpoint of the importance of nutrition in national policy. I want to make a very high claim for it, and to say that nutrition policy ought to be considered as carefully and gone into in as great detail as is policy for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We all realise that the nation is in a period of lull as far as war operations are concerned, and that in the near future there is likely to be a very much greater strain on the nation's resources, on the nation's manpower and on the civilians in the nation.
Further, the Minister did not mention to-day what, perhaps, it was difficult to bring into the Debate, the questions of how we are to feed our dairy cattle in the future, if there is to be a similar difficulty about importing foodstuffs from overseas as there is now, and how agriculture is to be reoriented to provide the foodstuffs which were previously grown in this country for the feeding of dairy cows. We ought to have, not only a programme such as the Minister has outlined now for the months of January, February and March—I think I am correct in that—but also a carefully-thought-out programme of milk production, with a view to milk consumption, over the next three years.
This is a very important matter from the standpoint of nutrition. Milk consumption is important for all purposes, and the highest medical authorities, whom I shall quote in a moment, lay down that the average consumption for all adult persons should be half a pint a day. Unfortunately that is much nearer to the average consumption of the nation as a whole. Consumption of milk, while desirable for adults, is the keystone to the nutritional structure with regard to infants. It is essential, too, for the expectant and the nursing mothers, who are bringing up the new citizens who are to replace those w ho, in too great a number I am afraid, will be leaving us. Upon our milk policy will depend our reserve of child life, a matter which is most important from every point of view.
I do not want to go into too great detail at this moment with regard to the place of the science of nutrition at the present 1363 day, but I want to make plain to the House, and I hope to an even wider audience, that this claim for the irreplaceable value of milk is not based alone on the opinions of the medical and nutritional experts of this country, but on the opinion arrived at by nutritional experts who have studied this matter all over the world. The matter has been very carefully considered by the Health Committee of the League of Nations for more than 10 years. In the view of those who are best qualified to speak, the consumption of milk should not remain at its present level but should be very greatly increased. It is implied, in what the Minister has been pointing out, that there is difficulty in maintaining the consumption of liquid milk at its present level.
I want to underline the weight of world-wide scientific and medical authority which is behind the case for the increased consumption of milk. In 1919, when I first went to Vienna and Budapest, I had the interesting experience on the journey out of meeting a lady who is very well known to-day in nutrition circles, Dr. Harriette Chick. She was taking out to Vienna a short and somewhat hurriedly-printed leaflet giving the latest results of the researches on vitamins, especially with regard to milk, which at that time had been completed in the Lister Institute. I emphasise that it was in 1919 because our knowledge of vitamins and of their importance in milk and in protective foods generally dated—not scientifically but in practical application—from that time. Dr. Chick was able to help the unfortunate victims of the other war, as they call it in France, in Vienna in 1919. She gave me a copy of that particularly small leaflet—it was only four pages, like a little pamphlet—and I took it with me to Budapest. I presented it there to the Minister of Health and it was printed and circulated all over the schools in Hungary. It was applied in Hungary before it was actually applied in this country.
From that date an increasing amount of attention has been given to this subject. In 1925, the Assembly of the League of Nations requested their Health Committee to study the subject of the regulation, manufacture and sale of food products. In 1926–27, investigation in regard to milk extended to Japan. In 1927, there was a tremendous campaign 1364 of information lecture in the United States and a great scientist came from Japan to this country to study with Professor Mellanby, one of the great experts on this subject, and also to the continent. In 1928, the French Government asked for nutrition to be placed on the programme of work of the committee. In 1931, the Health Committee of the League of Nations carried out a collective tour in the United States to study the milk supply in that country. In 1932, there were studies in Chile. In 1933, there was a study by Dr. Mackenzies of the nutrition of the poorer classes of the United Kingdom. In 1934, there were inquiries in the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the U.S.S.R. leading to the production of what is known as the Burnett-Ackroyd Report. I mention all these things because they show that there has been a constantly increasing volume of evidence of the value and importance of the study of nutrition and of food, and that all of it comes down very much to a greater understanding of the importance of milk.
In a report which I have in my hand upon the physiological bases of nutrition there is a quotation from the Burnett-Ackroyd Report to the League and it Says:Nutrition is put forward not only as a physiological problem, but also as an economic, agricultural, industrial and commercial problem. Health workers are appealing to the economists for the realisation of their plans. Economists are beginning to be guided by the lofty aims of preventive medicine.Further, it says:Production, distribution and consumption have hitherto been considered mainly as economic problems, without sufficient regard to their effects on public health, but the effect of the economic depression"—that was written in 1931–32—has directed attention to the gap which almost everywhere exists between dietary needs, as determined by physiology, and the means of satisfying them under existing conditions. The general problem of nutrition as it presents itself to-day is that of harmonising economic and public health development.There is a further quotation I should like to mention because it has particular reference to what the Minister of Food—that is, in fact, what he is—said earlier. In a discussion in the Second Committee of the Assembly, introduced by Mr. Stanley Bruce, the Australian delegate, 1365 he stressed the necessity for marrying agriculture and public health, and said that was desirable to take, as a remedy for malnutrition in the agricultural crisis, the necessity ofchanging the incidence of State protective subsidies so that they should serve to increase consumption lather than to restrict production.It is rather interesting that, consciously or not, the right hon. Gentleman is imitating the procedure laid down as described by Mr. Stanley Bruce at the League of Nations in 1935. I mention these things because I think it should be clearly understood that the weight of opinion behind this scheme for the consideration of nutrition as one of the most important considerations before the Government at the present time is not one made without world-wide authority and the backing from scientific people all over the world, assembled sometimes at the League of Nations, but sometimes in their own countries.
In 1935, at the 19th Meeting of the LL.D. Conference, the matter was brought up in regard to the health of the workers. As the result of these inquiries the Health Committee of the League appointed an expert committee, and I will venture to read to the House the names of the expert committee; I think they ought to be on record in the proceedings of the House, as they have produced this "Report on the physiological bases of nutrition,"whicI7 is, in fact, the distilled essence of the researches of scientific workers all over the habitable and civilised world over a period of years. The technical commission was represented as far as Austria is concerned by Professor During, Professor of Physiology at Vienna University; the United Kingdom was represented by Professor Cathcart, Professor Mellanby, Sir John Boyd Orr; France by M. M. J. Alquier, Professor Andre Mayer, and Professor L. Lapicque; Italy by Professor Filippo Bottazzi; Scandinavia by Professor Wilier, Professor SchiÕtz, and Professor Fridericia; the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics by Professor Sbarsky. The scientists of different countries, fortunately, have a scientific international of their own which is not necessarily connected with political beliefs. The United States of America was represented by Professor McCollum, Dr. Mary Swartz Rose, and Dr. Sebrell, the Secretary being Dr. Harriette Chick, a lady whom 1366 I had the pleasure of meeting in 1919 and whose name I have mentioned before.
I do not know whether there is anything sinister about meeting Dr. Harriette Chick in the train, but I. can assure the House that we had a very interesting scientific conversation. As a result of the first report of this very important committee, the names of which I have given, there have been studies carried out in practically all the medical, scientific and nutritional academies in the world. The main idea underlying this nutrition report is the expression of the new science of nutrition in regard to protective foods and supplementary energy-yielding foods, special requirements during maternity and growth; and the adoption not of the indispensable minimum, but the optimum diet as the standard now held to be necessary has met with general approval.
The final result is the present report which I have in my hands, the "Report on the physiological bases of nutrition." This is a very technical document in detail, and I desire to refer to it only in so far as it establishes the importance of the science of nutrition, and as it establishes the question of the quantities of milk which should be drunk. There is no doubt that in the opinion of this authoritative committee, whose authority cannot be questioned—in fact, it is recognised by the Government—they say that the amount of milk which should be consumed by children and by nursing and expectant mothers is not half a pint, which is something like the quantity used at present, but something over two pints; two and a quarter pints is given in this report, being 1,000 grammes in weight. That is a very different story from half a pint. It is not enough to maintain the consumption at the level of half a pint, or even if it could be raised to maintain the consumption at the level of a pint, because that is not enough in ordinary times, and certainly not enough in times when the nation is likely to be subjected to more and more severe strains as the period of the war continues.
There has been recently published a very interesting report—and I understand it was also financed—by the Milk Marketing Board, called "Milk and Nutrition." Those who desire to study the matter in 1367 detail could not do better than refer to that Milk Marketing Board experiment for evidence of the immense value to be derived by giving children a larger amount of milk than is normally consumed at the present time. It was an experiment completely carried out on 6,097 children in five different places, some in Scotland and some in England, and it shows the immensely great improvement in health by giving them extra quantities of milk. This is a valuable publication, and one of the most recent publications they have brought out, and, as I have said, it is financed by the Milk Marketing Board.
There is a further publication to which I wish to refer, which I am sure will recommend itself to the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because the two latest signatures to the appointments made to the Advisory Committee on Nutrition are Kingsley Wood and Walter E. Elliot—names not unknown to the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite. This is the report of the Advisory Committee on Nutrition which was published in 1937 and which summarises the position up to date as far as this country is concerned. I will not weary the House with too many details, but I must read one or two of the expressions of opinion culled from this report because they are so very definite and they go so very far beyond what the announced policy of the Government to-day has been. The committee recommend that:The desirable amount of milk for children is from one to two pints per day, for expectant or nursing mothers about two pints per day, and for other adult members of the community half a pint of milk daily. If these quantities were consumed, the present consumption of liquid milk would be at least doubled.That is very important and I hope it can be done. I desire to take one further quotation from this report which is in the summary. It says:From the health standpoint, there is no other single measure which would do more to improve the health, development and resistance to disease of the rising generation than a largely increased consumption of safe milk, especially by mothers, children and adolescents, and we hope that in dealing with the problem of milk now and in the future, the primary objective of the State will be to ensure that a supply of safe milk, to the 1368 amount we have recommended above, is brought within the purchasing power of the poorest.As far as the Minister's policy announced to-day goes, it will help in that direction but it does not deal with the enormously important question which will have to be faced very soon, not only of maintaining the existing supply of milk, but actually of increasing it. As is well known, our milk consumption is very low in comparison with that in Scandinavia and in the United States of America, and I put it to the House that the scientific case for the increase of milk consumption is irresistible. I have no doubt that, from the scientific point of view, the Minister will himself agree. I want to put it further, that it is out of this kind of knowledge of nutrition that civilisation can be built, and it is the business of the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to implement this policy, not only to maintain the existing supply, but to increase it. The evidence is irrefutable and irresistible, and I hope the Government will not remain content with the policy they have to-day announced, but will go forward to a bolder and more far-reaching policy, looking forward to an increase in dairy herds in this country with any necessary changes in agricultural practices that may involve, and an increase in liquid milk consumption, partly for war purposes, and partly because at this time there could be no greater contribution to the future of the civilisation of this country than to secure that all children have, not only good, but optimum nutrition.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I welcome very much the announcement which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has made today with regard to milk, because I believe that it will be found, as it was in the last war, that the right way to deal with agricultural produce is to fix, not a maximum or a minimum price, but a definite price which the farmer is to get. At the same time, I am very glad that the Government are not to allow an increase in price to the consumer. Although I do do want to dwell long on this question of milk, I might remind the House of one factor—it has not been mentioned today—as it affects producers. Actually, the price the farmer got in October was very nearly a penny below that which he got in October last year. As a result 1369 of the very mysterious calculations which the Milk Marketing Board always does, that would have continued to be the case, in all probability, throughout November and subsequent months.
The only other observation I would like to make on this subject is one which was not referred to by the Minister or by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I would like a very rigorous examination made into the costs of distribution to-day. The milkman who calls at my house in North London frequently comes now at 2.30 p.m. He used to come before breakfast. When asked what the difficulty was, he explained that there was now only one delivery of milk each day—that is general, I believe, throughout the country—that he had a very much larger round, and that it was not his fault, as he was working far longer hours than previously, but the fault of the Government. The Government are long suffering, no doubt. In that case, I think he was blaming those who are easy to blame but who are perhaps not to blame on this occasion. That economy in distribution: the increase in the size of the rounds and the decrease in the number of milkmen, must have reduced considerably the cost of distributing milk. That is a matter which deserves consideration.
The question with which I want to deal now is the more general one of agricultural production during the war. When we decided to raise this question to-day it was because we thought it a pity that the House should disperse for Christmas without having an opportunity to discuss what may become an increasingly important question—that of food production generally in this country, and the steps which are being taken to increase and intensify in every way possible the amount of food produced in Great Britain. We welcome what seemingly has been the main occupation of the Ministry of Agriculture since the war started, namely, the ploughing-out campaign, which is to add 1,500,000 acres to the arable acreage of the country. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some report on how that is going. My information is that it is going well, that farmers are anxious to co-operate; but there are, of course, certain difficulties. The main difficulty that I see about this policy is that it is not sufficient to concentrate all our energies on ploughing out to per cent. of the grassland without intensifying production over 1370 the whole of our agriculture. I wonder whether there are not means by which all agricultural production, whether from land which has been arable in the past or from grassland which will remain grassland after this ploughing-out, cannot be the subject of an even more energetic campaign.
I realise that the 1,500,000 acres which will be ploughed constitute a big undertaking—rather more, I believe, than the whole acreage that was ploughed out during the last war. But do not let us be too sanguine about that, because even then we shall still have approximately 2,000,000 acres below the 1918 figure. That increase, I suppose, would give us something like £30,000,000 more in wholesale prices of cereal products. We should not be satisfied that that represents the whole of the effort that the agricultural community is to be expected to make in this war. One of the overriding difficulties of farming at present, one of which I hear from all corners of this country, is that the farmer is anxious to produce more, but that increased production means increased capital. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food have agreed to price increases for various commodities. Some of these increases have taken place under control, and some by themselves. These increases, undoubtedly, will put more money into the pockets of the farmers, but that does not solve the whole problem.
It is an unequal way, and an extravagant way in some cases, to finance new production by increasing prices. It does not always reach the people who need it most. There are plenty of people who are going to grow wheat this year and who have never done so before, and the increased price for the first crop of wheat will not help them. Therefore, I ask whether this question of credit, of getting new money into the industry, cannot be the subject of a much more energetic approach by the Government? I would quote one letter that I have received from a very successful Gloucestershire farmer, who refers to this matter and mentions as an instance a farm that he knows in his neighbourhood,a 700-acre farm, which once, with the aid of folded sheep, grew good crops of corn, now run as a ranch by the owner and his two or three sheepdogs. The cottages are right out of repair and there is no village near.I will not quote further, but there are 1371 farmers who have got so low that it needs something much more energetic than what the Government are now doing to get from them the production which it is possible to get. I know that the authorities have power to turn out an existing tenant and let the farm again. That is a very drastic procedure in many cases. The man who is there may not be the best of farmers. If he were, perhaps he would be better off at the present time, but you have to deal with the whole agricultural community. It is no use saying that good farmers can get credit. It is the rather less good farmers who are still responsible for many thousands of acres, and it is they who have to be enabled to produce as well as the more successful ones, who can get credit, perhaps, quite easily from the bank.
There are some long-term improvements, such as drainage, which must and ought to be carried out at the present time. The present cumbersome procedure of catchment boards and drainage boards is an exceedingly slow process. I have had an example brought to my attention of a drainage board which applied for permission to do a job of work last February, and it has just received provisional sanction for the work to be done, and there has to be a local inquiry before the drainage board can act. There will not be any land drained during the next six months under procedure of that sort. The question of drainage should be speeded up. There are a great number of detailed points to be dealt with. There is the continual anomaly that "because I live on the wrong side of the Scottish border I cannot get the advantages that the Scotsman has managed to get. "It is the old story. There are grants for drainage in Scotland which there are not in England, and there are other anomalies, such as that in which drainage grants are given if they help a group of farmers but not if they help one farmer. These are all matters with which hon. Members who are interested are familiar, and I ask the Minister to cut out these anomalies. There is idle labour at the present time, and later on, if the war goes on a year or two years, it may be that there will be a shortage of labour and there will be no chance of carrying out relatively long-term improvements. Surely now, and not next summer, is the time to drain land which would grow 1372 crops immediately if only it had that improvement.
The other point I want to raise is the difficulty in which many farmers find themselves in regard to labour at the present time. The Minister said that the calls of the Army on the agricultural community represents only some 3 per cent. of the agricultural working population. That seems to be a reasonable call to make upon agriculturists. I am convinced, as I think are many hon. Members, that we shall need to grow all the food that we can in this country, and whether agriculture ought to make a 3 per cent, contribution to that call is a little beside the point. One should look at the question of where would a particular man serve his country best? If he is a key-man on the farm, he will be better employed on the farm than in the Army. That is the approach that I would like to see. Many farmers, if they lose a worker, experience no hardship, but there are cases where, say, a man of 20, the son of the farmer, for instance, on a small farm where his is the only additional labour, it may be a very great hardship if the man is called up. He may not be more skilled than any other agricultural worker, but if he is on a mixed farm and he knows a little about shepherding, the milking of cows, is a bit of a herdsman and can plough, it is a great hardship if the occupier of the farm has to lose such a man. To offer the occupier a woman land worker is no solution whatever. I do not want to say anything against the Women's Land Army—I hope that it will be very useful—but such women cannot take the place of a man of that sort.
I hope that farmers will take a broad view of the question of wages at the present time. I feel that to be a little mean in regard to wages might result in the failure to grow all the food which we shall very badly need in the future. The time has come when the agricultural worker should have the full recognition of his valuable work. There is the problem of drafting new labour into agriculture, and if we could at once settle the question of what is a reasonable standard for the agricultural worker, I believe the time would come when we should have to draft a lot of new labour and we should need a men's land army as well as a women's land army. But that, perhaps, is looking a little further ahead than to-day.
1373 The last point I want to make is that I would like to see the fullest possible use made of all our agricultural land, whether ploughed up or arable, or grass land which will continue as grass land. Very much the largest part of our land is still, and will be, after the ploughing out campaign, under grass. British farming is, and will remain, predominantly livestock farming, in spite of this year's ploughing out campaign. One cannot repeat too often that even in East Anglia two-thirds of the income of the farmer comes to him In the sale of livestock, and grass is the basis of livestock farming. We recognise at the present time that there is a shortage of important feeding-stuffs. I do not want to raise the point now except to say that it will, no doubt, continue. It continued throughout the whole of the last war; it was one of the imports which was always short during that war. Therefore, we have to look toward the ploughing up campaign for providing some of it.
There is another way of providing foodstuffs for the livestock, which is the basis of agriculture, and that is by improving crops. There have been revolutionary improvements, which are not fully understood by farmers, in the methods and technique of improving grass. The work of Sir George Stapleton has quite revolutionised our ideas with regard to grass, but the average farmer does not understand that method yet, and I ask that the Minister should do something more than merely permit the war agricultural executives to approve the ploughing out, and the reseeding back again to grass of inferior grass land. I would like to see him pushing that with real energy. I impress upon him the need for this in areas where it would be most valuable, namely, in the hill farms in the north and west of England, in Scotland, and in Wales, which are the places where very frequently the farmers know less about this technique, and a really energetic campaign should be undertaken. Why not have films showing what Sir George Stapleton has succeeded in doing? Farmers like to go to film shows. Let us tackle the problem and put over that idea.
§ Mr. Roberts
They would be glad during the winter to come and see what other farmers were doing to improve their land. The farmers are very ready to do 1374 that. This is the time to do it, during the winter, not when they are busier in the summer. The whole policy of improving grassland is of vital importance. In my part of the world during the last war when ploughing up was proceeding, the hill farms were overstocked with cattle during the summer. Those hill farms to-day could keep four or five times the amount of stock if farmers would plough them up and re-seed them.
There has been some confusion and uncertainty in the minds of farmers caused by the action of some Government Department in regard to the livestock guarantee. I suggest that the farmers would respond to leadership at the present time. They have confidence that the Minister of Agriculture understands their problem, and I would ask him to go ahead and ask them to produce more. They are confident that he is prepared to help them. Let him tell them the truth about the feeding-stuffs position, go ahead and give them leadership. If he will get amongst them and tell them more about what he wants them to do, we shall have a real response from the agricultural community.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
It is a piece of good fortune that we have been able to discuss agricultural questions to-day, and the House will be grateful to the Opposition Liberals for having initiated the Debate. I understand that the Minister of Agriculture is going to speak; therefore I shall try to confine my remarks to the minimum, but there are two or three points of first class importance to agriculture, particularly in Scotland, although they do not apply only to Scotland, which I feel bound to raise. We have been talking about milk. We are all agreed with the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that if you are to have a product produced in sufficient quantities in this country you must pay an adequate price for it. The same is true of labour and also of those highly skilled industrial mechanics of whom we spoke yesterday, but to whom I must not further refer. If it is right for the machine-tool maker to demand the maximum wage, otherwise he will not work, it is equally right for the farmer to demand an economic price for his goods.
I wish to refer to an important question which particularly affects my con- 1375 stituency, and that is sugar beet. Sugar is of vital importance to the country at the present time. There is nothing of which I am more proud than the fact that I supported the Government in recent years in their sugar beet policy, while other parties opposed it. Whatever I may have done while I have been a Member of this House I am glad that I supported the Government in that policy, because it has proved to be a national service of high value. In Fife we have the only sugar beet factory in Scotland. For all practical purposes it now belongs to the Government and is State property. It is run by the Beet Sugar Corporation. The overhead expenditure is met out of State funds, and yet that factory is only working at half capacity. It might easily produce double the amount it is producing to-day. The reason for this state of affairs is that the producers of sugar beet in Scotland have not been given a sufficiently high price to induce them to grow that, rather than other things. During the last few days I have had communications from leading farmers and officials in Fife on this point. We are growing in that constituency I4,000 acres of turnips, at least half of which might be turned over to the growing of sugar beet if some slight arrangement were made.
The fixed price for sugar beet is 48s. 9d. per ton. The Sugar Beet Corporation also offers a grant for rail charges up to 10s a ton. Therefore, those in the furthest away places may get 55s. 9d. a ton for their sugar beet but we in Fife, because we are close to the factory, only get 48s. 9d., with but a penny or two more for carriage. There are farmers in Northumberland, Cumberland and other distant places who are growing sugar beet and having it carted all the way to Fife, the cartage costs being paid by the Government, and yet the men of Fife who could grow it just as well and much more economically from the point of view of transport are given only the minimum price. Those whom I represent have put to me a very simple proposition. The beet sugar contract today is 48s. 9d. a ton free on rail, with a further payment up to 10s. a ton for carriage. They suggest that there should be an alternative contract, which would not cost the Government much more than a few pence per ton more, spread over the 1376 whole sugar beet industry. The suggestion is that there should be a delivered price for beet of 55s. 9d., which is the free on rail price of 48s. 9d., plus freight of 7s. per ton. I do not think that alternative contract, if it were taken up by farmers in Fife and surrounding districts, would cost more than a few pence per ton over the whole crop additional to what the Government is paying. What would be the result?
Last week the Minister of Food announced that every shopkeeper must curtail the sales of sugar to one pound per person per week. Why? Because, apparently, there is a very grave shortage of sugar. Yet we in Scotland could double our production of sugar. I do not know how our sugar beet production compares with the total sugar production, but we could double the output at a cost very much less than we are now meeting. I know that the Minister of Agriculture is not able to reply now, because the question of price is a matter for the Minister of Food, whose deputy is here. I have spoken to the Minister of Food on the matter, and I beg him, in the national interest, quite apart from the interests that I represent, to give the alternative proposal his very serious consideration.
Turning to other subjects, let me say that it is no use asking sheep producers to go on producing sheep in order to give you wool, unless you give them an adequate price for their wool. The price offered for black face wool in Scotland is—well it is not an offer at all. The Wool Control have offered no fixed price. It was only yesterday that we learned from the Minister of Supply that something is to be announced to-morrow. I hope the price is to be adequate. I am very glad that there was an announcement yesterday about potatoes, in regard to which there is to be no longer a maximum but a fixed price.
With regard to meat, an announcement was made yesterday by the Minister of Food which gave some idea of the plans for the future when his meat control scheme comes into operation. My hop. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) asked a question which I have frequently asked, namely, whether in fixing the price for cattle the Minister would bear in mind the desirability of encouraging the production of 1377 high quality cattle. The Minister made a reply which I have heard many times. He said that he would give due weight to the consideration which the hon. Member for East Aberdeen had mentioned. It is not good enough to repeat the formula "giving due weight." What the producers of high quality cattle want is an announcement that they will be recompensed by some higher price. This House has for many years past spent great sums of money in encouraging the production of high quality cattle; they have asked Scottish farmers to do so, and they have responded. Is it suggested that all that work is to be wasted? As it is, now that control has been temporarily lifted, buyers of beef, co-operative societies themselves, pay more for high quality cattle, and if that is the economic situation I cannot understand Low the Government refuse to face it.
There is another matter of the greatest importance to agriculture. It is all very well to give an adequate price and to encourage agriculture here and there, but it is foolish to do that if you take from agriculture the labour which is essential to the work of the farm. What is happening? I have many cases here, some of them most distressing cases. I have the case of a farm in Fife where the only son has been taken and the mother left. Once there were three ploughmen on the farm. She has advertised and applied to the local war committee but has received no response, and this farm with three pairs of horses is now lying utterly idle. I have the evidence of a member of the war executive in Fife who has made full inquiries, and he tells me that there are upwards of 50 pairs of horses now standing idle in the stables because men have been taken from the farms. Where is the sense of a policy which drags men forcibly from the farms, or refuses to allow them to go back, when at the same time another set of officials begs farmers to grow more food and plough up more land? The truth is that in some parts of the country the Government's increased ploughing policy is doomed to failure because the labour is not available to carry it out. I asked the Minister of War a question as to how many keymen on the farms he was going to release from the Army, and he told me that there had been released 140 men and that 360 wore to be temporarily released. There are hundreds of ploughmen in the 1378 armed Forces about whom each of us knows, and when the need for labour on the farm is urgent the only response which the Minister of Agriculture gets from the War Office is 140 men from the whole of the British Army.
I have no criticism to make of the Minister of Agriculture, but I have the most direct criticism to make of the War Office for a policy which seems to me completely blind and against the public interest. I think the House should let the Minister of Agriculture know that he has the support of the whole House in demanding from the War Office a much greater volume of men released for essential agricultural purposes. Production of food is as essential a part of national Defence as is the military Defence of the realm, and it is madness to take from agriculture men who are essential to the production of food. Until that system is altered so that the Minister of Agriculture can get the full measure of labour which he needs, we shall have failed in our war effort.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell
I am pleased that we should have this Debate on agriculture but I regret that we are not able to discuss the subject adequately. I want to draw attention to one or two matters which, I think, are of great importance to agriculture. Hon. Members have already stressed the importance of ploughing up additional grassland, and I agree that so far as the country is concerned it should be far more self-supporting than it has been in the past. I am entirely in support of the policy of ploughing up more land, but I do not entirely accept the view that it is more important than to preserve grassland in order to raise our livestock, because I think a case can be made out for supporting more livestock than we do at the present. What we want more than anything else is a proper balanced economy in agriculture.
I differ materially and fundamentally from the advice which has been tendered to farmers as to what they should grow. I want to appeal to the Minister not to induce agriculturists to grow more potatoes next year. There is a surplus of potatoes this year, and if working men in the industrial areas will, as I believe, grow more potatoes on allotments it follows that less will be wanted from ordinary producers of potatoes. 1379 There is also the fact that a large number of men will be out of this country during the period when potatoes are consumed and, therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the problem from that point of view. If there is a surplus of potatoes this year, there will be a bigger surplus next year. Again, the Government are going to give a guaranteed price. Is it to be a minimum price for potatoes for which there is a demand and which the farmer can market? If that is so then the right hon. Gentleman is not going to satisfy the agricultural industry, but if the State is going to guarantee a minimum price for potatoes for which there is no market then it will not be a very light burden which will be thrown on the Exchequer.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to send an urgent advice to the Agricultural Executive Committee to alter to some extent the policy which, I am afraid, they will suggest for potato production areas and to grow, instead, beans, peas and wheat, the feeding stuffs which we are likely to require and of which there is a shortage. There is a shortage now, and no one knows what it will be next year. A pig producer in my own area has had to sell 300 pigs when they were three score instead of keeping them until they are so score, because of the scarcity of feeding stuffs. Such cases, I am afraid, will be multiplied. So far as the potato policy is concerned, I should like to know whether the chain of factories has been erected? I understand that the functions of the Potato Marketing Board have been taken over by the Minister of food.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me what has been done with the money raised by the levy on the producers of potatoes? To what use is that money being put, and does the right hon. Gentleman intend to implement the promises that was made when the levy was placed on agricultural interests for the purpose of building factories for processing the surplus potatoes that come on to the market periodically year by year? I am certain that the Minister of Agriculture regards this matter as an important one, and I trust that, instead of our having to put up with the pottering little market at Wisbech, the money that has accumulated as a result of the levy will be used to implement the promise which the right hon. 1380 Gentleman made to the producers of potatoes, so that these potatoes may be used to supply both animal and human needs for manufactured potatoes.
I should like now to say a few words on the subject of drainage. In my part of the country—and I have seen this in other districts as well—land has been ploughed up and wheat has been sown, but some of the land in respect of which £2 an acre has been paid for its ploughing up, has been under water, and the w heat that was sown has gone. The land will have to be resown in the spring. Ever since I came to the House, in common with other hon. Members I have been pressing on the Minister of Agriculture and the House the necessity of doing something in regard to land drainage. In some cases a slight expenditure of money would put matters right. I am as anxious as anyone can be to make a success of the ploughing-up campaign and to get the land into use for the benefit of the country. If the farmers benefit from it, so much the better, but at the present time it is England that matters. I say that some of these drainage authorities are neglecting their duties in this matter. The Minister ought in certain cases to take steps to remedy the position and to prevent at any rate the spring crops from being ruined as a consequence of flooding.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
I hope the Minister will forgive me if, before he replies, I make a few remarks concerning the announcement made by the Minister of Food with regard to the milk subsidy. Obviously, it will come into operation before the House reassembles after Christmas, and in view of the very great amount of expenditure to which that announcement commits the Government, I feel it is right that I should make some remarks on it now. Certainly, we on these benches raise no objection in principle to steps being taken to prevent a rise in the consumers' price of milk, because, like hon. Members in all parts of the House, we are anxious to promote the consumption of milk. I leave that side of the matter without any further remarks; but I am concerned about the manner in which the amount of the subsidy to the producers of milk has been arrived at and the manner in which it has been announced.
1381 It is true that there was broadcast a few weeks ago, on behalf of the Milk Marketing Board, a news bulletin, in which they stated that they would require 4d. a gallon more for milk on behalf of the producers. Whether that quotation was justified or not is another matter, but the substance of the broadcast was that the price of milk would have to go up 4d., and obviously the delivery of the notice to the Central Milk Distributive Committee meant that there was to be a bargain negotiated between the two sides, the Milk Marketing Board for the producers, and the milk distributors. I say quite frankly that I have had to resist in some circles the suggestion that the 4d. which it was proposed should be put on the consumers' price should be made the subject of a bargain between the producers and the distributors by splitting it 2d. and 2d. It is fairly obvious, however, that, in any such bargain, the producers, in addition to having received an increase of 2½d. a gallon in respect of manufacturing milk, would have been glad to take the other 2d. in the bargain between the two sides in splitting the increase of 4d. in the consumers' price.
What has happened since then? In the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) quoted, there was the suggestion of an agricultural authority, Mr. Heap, in the "D airy Farmer," that 1d. a gallon would have been enough for the producer. Let me say, on the other hand, that I have made inquiries during the last three or four weeks, in connection with the projected discussions that were to take place on milk prices, as to what were our own increased costs of production. All I can say is that my information bears out almost entirely the suggestion of Mr. Heap that the increased cost would have amounted to 1d. per gallon.
But what do the Government do? They get a series of accounts submitted by the Milk Marketing Board, which none of us has seen—for none of those who were interested in the general aspect of the milk trade were consulted—and on the basis of this, they announce that they will give a subsidy equal to 3d. a gallon which, according to the rough calculations have made this afternoon, will mean an expenditure from the Exchequer of over £3,000,000 for the whole of Great Britain for the first three months it is to cover, 1382 and in respect of the remainder of the year, according to whether they are able to make some little saving in the amounts of summer production, certainly not less than £8,000,000 or £9,000,000, or, if the farmers succeed, with some other set of costings submitted at the end of March, in getting a payment of 3d. a gallon for the whole 12 months, £16,000,000, or 3½d. in the pound on the Income Tax, in respect of this one commodity alone. We are not against the principle of a subsidy for this important milk food which is vital to the nation, but whether it has been done on the initiative of the Minister of Agriculture, or the producers, or the Milk Marketing Board, or by the Minister of Food, we are getting here an example of methods of administration which cause us to repeat what the Leader of the Opposition said last night about the general war expenditure of the Government—we are very desirous of knowing whether we are getting value for our money. I am very anxious to see an increase in milk consumption, and I would support the Government in anything which is done effectively in relation to ascertained costs which have been properly checked; but the speed of this announcement and the profligacy of the amount are things to which the Minister had better give some further attention.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)
I am glad of this opportunity to discuss some of the problems with which the agricultural industry is grappling to-day. I propose to cover a wide field, and I shall not go into exact details, because I understand that there will be an opportunity of debating the subject in greater detail when the House reassembles. As regards the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) about the price of milk, all that I can say is that my experience has been that the Ministry of Food are, generally, at great pains to drive a hard bargain in these matters, and must be well satisfied indeed as to what the costs are, before they are prepared to increase any price. But there is one thing which I think the right hon. Gentleman has left out of account, and which even Mr. Heap, who was quoted, may have left out of account. That is the real difficulty in getting feeding stuffs and the extra 1383 expenditure involved in having to switch about from one form of food to another and the alteration of ratios. It is almost impossible, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree, and as hon. Members opposite who are acquainted with farming would also agree, to give an exact figure as to the effect on costs of these factors in any given year. I am afraid that is one of the incalculable factors which any Government Department or any Minister has to take into consideration in attempting to get milk supplies going.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Has the Minister any evidence to show by how much milk production was reduced during November? Was it a substantial reduction?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I am afraid I have not the data here. To come back to the question of the agricultural industry generally, I think the House will realise that, as with other industries, we are asking agriculture since the start of this war to make a formidable effort. It is an effort which will require all the drive, all the energy, all the vigour which we possess. It is an effort which will probably prove vital, as indeed agriculture's efforts in the last war proved vital, to the success of our cause. The main feature of the campaign which has been inaugurated since the start of the war is the ploughing-up of 1,500,000 extra acres in England and Wales and 500,000 divided between Scotland and Northern Ireland. I shall have something to say later on the reasons which have prompted the Government to adopt that policy and also on the crops which we want to have put into that land.
I would like the House to be with me at the outset, however, in this proposition, that we are asking the industry in the first year of the war to complete a task which it took four years to complete in the last war. It has been said that this task is perhaps an impossible one. I am sure the House will agree that "impossible" is a word which must not be in our vocabulary while the war is in progress. I feel certain that the House will appreciate this fact also. Not only is the physical effort of ploughing up such a great additional amount of land a task of magnitude, but we shall be asking agriculturists to spend thousands of 1384 pounds in altering the economic system on our farms. We shall be asking them to undertake new commitments, which, to them, will be heavy, and we shall be asking them to adopt methods of farming which, for one reason or another, have in peace-time proved uneconomic. It is too early, I fear, to give any exact figures to show how the ploughing-up campaign is progressing, but I can say without hesitation that the response which we have had has been more than merely heartening; it has been inspiring, and that, in spite of all the difficulties with which the farmers are still faced. I think this is one more concrete example of the fact that all sections of our community to-day are determined to do their allotted tasks in helping to bring victory to our cause.
As far as the direction of the campaign is concerned, the House is probably aware of the general make-up of the machinery. Briefly, it is this: As soon as war was declared, I was able to appoint county war agricultural executive committees and executive officers for each county in England and Wales. I was able to give them general directions for the conduct of the campaign, and they were able to start straight away, because they had been selected and warned beforehand. We heard often during the last war about the dangers and difficulties of farming from Whitehall. I hope we have taken steps to ensure that there shall be no cause for that complaint during the present war. While I do retain some measure of control, and rightly, the fact remains that I have given the county committees as free a hand as possible to get on with the job, and as they are men with very good local knowledge, I am confident that the machinery is the best which could be adopted to carry out this great task. Many farmers have vivid recollections of the difficulties which were created during the last war by being told to plough up fields which could never grow a crop and of being given directions which could never successfully be carried out. I hope that this time we shall be able to avoid anyway 99 per cent. of these mistakes, leaving just the i per cent. for human error. The task of deciding which fields should be ploughed and what should go into those fields is the business of these county war executive committees, and these work through their local district committees, who are, as it were, the eyes and the ears of the county committees, 1385 and they have assistance in other ways, especially through specialist sub-committees for such matters as horticulture, labour, machinery, livestock and feeding-stuffs, supplies, drainage, and even pests and insects.
I would like to pay the highest possible tribute to the work which has been done by the members of these committees, and I am sure the House would like to thank teem for the time and energy which they have given to a very difficult task. I believe that when the history of this war does come to be written, the work of this great corps of volunteers will rank high in the national effort. One of the most invaluable things which these men and women, in going round the farms, have been able to do has been to give us a very accurate picture of the present condition of agriculture. They are independent people, representing no actual interest or body or anything like that. They are there for their own knowledge and experience, and from their visits to farms and to individual farmers they have been able to tell us of the real and genuine difficulties which, if allowed to continue, would seriously jeopardise the success of our campaign. I think it is true to say that from their reports we have been able to get a better and a more accurate picture of agricultural conditions than perhaps we have ever had before, and they have told us quite frankly of the adverse factors which are working and which prevent farmers from doing all that they would desire to do in the national interest. I think their reports really cover all the points which have been raised in this Debate, and if I may deal with them on those lines, I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I do not refer to their actual points now.
We are, as I say, trying to carry out this ob by the process of decentralisation to the greatest possible degree, and I am convinced that if we trust the men on the spot to do the real job and to see it through, that is the best way of doing it. It would be far too much to claim that this campaign has gone forward with uniform success. I could not claim that, because there have been great difficulties, which I do not seek to minimise, but they are difficulties which either have been overcome or are being overcome, or, as the hon. Member for North Cumberland 1386 (Mr. W. Roberts) said, they are difficulties as to feeding-stuffs which we have to face and to realise that they will probably continue for the rest of the war. The difficulties which have been brought to our notice are difficulties familiar to hon. Members who have given this matter their attention, such as difficulties at the beginning with regard to supplies of certain classes of machinery. I can tell the House that we are catching up fast with the demand, and that we have now gradually and systematically dispersed that national reserve of, machinery which we had tried to collect before the war started. At present I am informed that the county agricultural committees really cannot deal with any more of the national pool tractors and implements.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
That the demands are satisfied, but the private demands, the demands on private account, for tractors and other machinery have been absolutely unprecedented, and I think it is a highly satisfactory thing that our industry has been able to catch up with that demand is so short a time. The other things which they always bring to our notice include the very serious scarcity of imported animal feeding-stuffs. We all know that it is so, and I think we all know why they are scarce. We know that we have to divert our shipping, that there is the question of exchange and so on, but I hope that the ingenious propaganda machinery of Dr. Goebbels will not try to get too much comfort out of the fact that we are going short of animal feeding-stuffs, because ships under our flag are still sailing here, but they have different cargoes, most of which, I suppose, will eventually be destined for Germany in a rather different form and not in a very palatable form for them.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consider the question of importing feeding-stuffs so that they can come in in the grain and not in milled form?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I think the Minister of Food can get across that. There is one persistent complaint, probably the most prominent complaint made to all county committees, and that is that, when you really get down to the individual farm and see w hat the individual producers can do, there is generally a lack of cash credit to enable them to fulfil their full functions. We have had reports from many districts of shortage of skilled workers and seasonal labourers, reports also on questions of land drainage, which have been brought very much to our notice, and, coupled with all these more specific reports, have been that underlying sense of insecurity, a fear for the future, which has been an adverse factor. We have taken due note of what these people, the county committees, have told us, and also what our other advisers have reported as being factors of importance if this campaign is to be a success. The Government have arrived at certain conclusions arising out of all these reports and of the experiences which we have gained since the war broke out, and I would like to tell the House of these conclusions, which I hope will remove once and for all any doubts which may linger in the minds of producers as to the intentions of the Government with regard to this campaign.
The House will forgive me if I re-state the general principles on which the Government's food production policy is based, and what I am going to say, I must make it clear, applies also to Scotland and to Northern Ireland—the United Kingdom as a whole. The House will agree that it is essential to make the most efficient and economical use of all our resources, be they financial, shipping, industry, or land, and develop them to the fullest possible extent. Much was done before the war started under the Wheat Act, the Land Drainage Act, the Livestock and Sugar Beet Acts, and the land fertility scheme to assist agricultural production and improve the fertility of the land, but the productive capacity of the land still can be greatly increased. There can be no doubt about that, and the more we can produce from it, the more foreign exchange and shipping we can save for the purchase and import of raw materials and munitions and other things for our war effort. It is true to say that our arable land, that is, land which is 1388 now under arable, has as high an average yield as it ever had in the past.
It is true to say also that our best pastures provide as large quantities of food per acre for sheep and cattle as they ever did in the past. I think there is general agreement that what we must do is to plough up those millions of acres of second and third-rate grasslands which are yielding only a fraction of what they once yielded, both in human food and animal feeding-stuffs. There was a time when land of this kind not only produced large quantities of wheat, but also provided the whole of the feeding necessities of a large population of animals, indeed, the most remarkable feature of the decline in the productivity of our land over the last half-century has been the decline in the production of animal feeding-stuffs from the land. It is unnecessary, for me to discuss the economic or other reasons which have brought this about and which have led to an increasing reliance on imported feeding-stuffs for our animals. It is obvious, however, that to-day we cannot allow so large a portion of our land to continue merely to produce poor grazings and hay. It must be made to produce other crops or good nutritious grass.
Our plan is to secure the ploughing-up of 1,500,000 extra acres in England and Wales and 2,000,000 in the United Kingdom as a whole before next summer. The Government attach the greatest importance to the fulfilment of this programme. We want to grow more wheat on land which is capable of growing wheat and which will give a good wheat crop. We want also to get an extra production of potatoes; but we can also, as the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) has pointed out, save our shipping by reducing as far as possible our dependence on imported animal feeding-stuffs by growing oats, barley, beans, peas and fodder crops, or re-seeding where this is desirable. Last year we imported something like 7,500,000 tons of animal feeding-stuffs alone, and that is where we can make a tremendous contribution to our shipping problems. The policy of the Government is, therefore, to allow as much latitude as possible in cropping, but farmers who are primarily concerned, either in milk or in livestock, especially in milk, should in their own interest as well as the national interest try to make 1389 themselves more self-sufficient in food for their stock.
A ploughing-up campaign of this magnitude calls for very great efforts on the part of all concerned, both fanners and workers. Both must be assured of a fair return for what they are called upon to do. While it is the producers' job to prod ice, it is the Government's job to see bat conditions are created which will enable the producers to deliver the goods. The Government recognise, therefore, that if the desired increase in home production is to be secured, a higher level of prices will be necessary for agricultural products generally We must avoid extravagant or uncontrolled prices such as those which occurred in the last war. They not only occurred then, but eventually led to disaster for agriculture itself But given a level of prices which will provide a reasonable return to the farmers and enable them to pay a fair wage to the workers, we can, I believe, if the weather permits—and any Minister of Agriculture is allowed to put in that proviso—get that 2,000,000 acres ploughed up and relieve the strain on our shipping by saving a very large tonnage of imports of food and feeding-stuffs.
As regards wages, the difficulties which have been created by the present level of agricultural wages in relation to wages in other industries or occupations are generally recognised. It has also been represented to me by the workers' unions that t he machinery for regulating agricultural wages at the present moment is unsatisfactory and has led to many anomalies. Discussions are now going on between the workers and the farmers as to that machinery, and I express the confident hope that a satisfactory outcome will be the result of those deliberations. But I would say again in this connection that the Government, for their part, recognise that in fixing agricultural prices regard must be paid to the need for a reasonable wage to the worker.
There is another matter which I think is of as much importance to the farmer and to the farm worker as the level of prices in the immediate future. Our policy for increasing the productivity of the land must be one which farmers can follow with confidence. To do what the Government ask and what the national needs require farmers will, as I have pointed out, have in many cases to change their farming system, and in any 1390 case will have to plan for several years ahead. Therefore, the industry—both the workers and the farmers themselves—is entitled to expect a reasonable measure of security. In framing and developing our war-time policy for production the Government are determined to avoid creating a situation which would lead to the disasters which followed the last war. That is why we are in favour of a moderate and controlled increase in prices and not an exaggerated increase. That is why we are encouraging the utmost latitude and flexibility in cropping the newly-ploughed land. That is why we are urging farmers to make themselves more self-sufficient in feeding-stuffs for their livestock and not concentrate solely on the production of corn and potatoes. By this policy we believe that we can keep agriculture on a properly balanced system as well as secure the maximum increase in productivity and the maximum saving of shipping. The Government also believe that this policy will enable any transition there may be from wartime to peace-time conditions to be effected with full regard being paid to the necessity for avoiding sudden and drastic changes in agricultural policy.
There are certain further steps which the Government propose to take which, I think, meet quite a lot of the points which have been raised to-day. I have referred, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) referred, to the need for preventing the drift of workers from the land. Further consideration is now being given to the problem of reconciling the claims on man-power for the purpose of food production with the claims on man-power for the Fighting Forces. It is a very difficult problem, but earnest consideration is being given to it. Again, the Government propose to extend the present arrangement—I think this will be of special interest to the hon. Member for North Cumberland—under which the county war executive committees can help those farmers who are unable to finance the ploughing-up of land for cultivation under compulsory orders, by undertaking the work and recovering the cost, which is an alteration of the old procedure under which they had to take over the whole farm. Also—and this will, I think, interest the hon. Member for Brigg—the Government propose to take further steps to secure the better draining of land 1391 which is potentially fertile but which is at present waterlogged. They will take steps which will enable the county committees to undertake or to finance on a more general scale than hitherto the cultivation of areas of derelict or semi-derelict land which are found in many counties. I hope to be able to make detailed statements on these arrangement, in the near future.
I would like to add one thing. Many county committees have made representations to us that, if possession is taken of derelict or badly cultivated land with a view to increasing food production, it is essential that possession should be retained for a period sufficiently long to enable expenditure by or on behalf of the committees to be recouped. I realise that if we are to deal with land of this character, it will take time to get it into full production. Therefore, I propose to ask Parliament to confer the necessary powers enabling possession to be retained for a period of not less than two years after the termination of the war.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman proposing to provide money for the drainage in order to enable the county committees to carry out the work with capital lent by him?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
As I said, I want to make a full announcement about this matter later on. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not tie me down to this matter at this moment.
Mr. Lloyd George
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is to make an announcement of great importance about the help that is to be given to drainage by means of grants from the Government. When will he be able to make that announcement?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I hope to be in a position to make it immediately the House reassembles. If we can get all the information through before the House reassembles, we might possibly get into touch with the county committees to give an indication of the kind of thing we have in mind. I want to get on with this job as soon as possible. There is one other thing. When we have put 1392 forth all the energy that we have, and have completed successfully our campaign for 2,000,000 acres ploughed up, we may, in the event of the war continuing, have to start yet another campaign for ploughing up. In that event, the Government would propose to ask Parliament to allow the L2 an acre to continue for another year beyond 31st March next. I think my statement has covered nearly all the points which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have raised. I have outlined in broad perspective the task which the industry has been set—