§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am quite sure that the whole House will have welcomed the robust, vigorous statement by the right hon. Gentleman. It struck a note of optimism, but not of wild optimism — a cautious optimism, an optimism that weighed the possibilities of the unexpected. He gave us a reassuring account of the position of this country at sea. I am quite sure that the whole House will be in agreement with the tribute which the right hon. Gentleman paid to the personnel of our Mercantile Marine, and would add to that of our fishing fleet and the Mercantile Marine of other countries; because in this matter we are defending the rights of all seafaring nations to go about on their lawful occasions without this kind of assassination, and the courage which is shown by us and was shown in the last war by many seamen of neutral countries is being shown by those seamen to-day. I am quite sure that we shall join also in our admiration of the work of the Navy and of the Air Force in the work that has been done. I think it is most valuable that we should know as far as possible the details of this kind of work. The description that we had the other day of the rescue of the captain and crew of a vessel by flying boats was just the kind of news that the country ought to have and I hope that, as far as the exigencies of the service will allow, we shall get to know these stories of the heroism both of our Mercantile Marine and of our fighting Services. Generally speaking, the right hon. Gentleman has given us a most encouraging account, and we may well believe that this particular menace is now on the way to being got under control.
I should like to turn now to one or two of the points made by the Prime Minister. He gave us a survey of the 1247 situation. I think the whole country, indeed the whole world, is standing in admiration of the heroic defence of Warsaw by the Poles. They are undergoing a terrible ordeal. They are standing up in the most extraordinary fashion to overwhelming forces. We should also join with him in our sympathy for the people of Rumania. There is too much of this weapon of assassination to-day. No one knows quite how far it goes. We cannot always determine quite who are the victims of assassination, for assassination is one of the weapons of Hitlerism.
I welcome very much the Prime Minister's statement of the close co-operation that we have with France with regard to supplies. We welcome the closest cooperation with our French allies in every respect. I hope there will be the closest co-operation, also, in economic policy in its wider aspects, and it is my intention to-day to raise one or two points on the economic side of the carrying on of this war. These weekly statements by the Prime Minister give the House an opportunity of ventilating suggestions and criticisms even on points which are not covered by the statement. He dealt with the question of economic warfare. He alluded to the Debate that we had on the Ministry of Supply. In the course of that Debate on all sides of the House there was a good deal of evidence of disquiet with regard to our industrial position. Much stress was laid on the need for maintaining our export trade, and there was very full recognition of the importance of the economic side of the war. I think the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down emphasised that as well.
But I am disturbed because I do not find that the importance of the economic side of the war finds any recognition in the composition of the War Cabinet. There is only one member of it who has ever had any dealings with trade questions intimately, and that is that protean Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who 30 years ago was at the Board of Trade. Otherwise there is no member who has had close contact with economic questions, and there is no member who is carrying out an economic function, and I think that is a very serious weakness. I am not dealing with any criticism of the persons composing that Council. I am dealing with the functions 1248 that are represented there. We have Ministers representing foreign affairs and finance, the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and Lord Hankey, and we have no fewer than four Service Ministers, three of whom are charged with heavy Departmental functions. I suggest that that is the wrong composition for a War Cabinet, and that Members with heavy Departmental responsibilities should not be in the War Cabinet. Again, I am not dealing with persons but with the holders of particular offices. The supreme War Cabinet ought to be composed of people who are dealing with functions and not Departments. In the Government we have the President of the Board of Trade, the Ministers of Overseas Trade, Economic Warfare and Supply, and we have also the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, I believe, is mainly concerned with food. Those Ministers are none of them in the supreme War Cabinet. I think that is an error. I think it is essential that in any consideration of the carrying on of the war the economic side should be always in the mind of those who are directing it.
I suggest that there should be in the Cabinet someone who is charged with the function of economic planning, not only from the point of view of our war effort but also from the point of view of what I might call the major strategy of our overseas trade, which, I think, is of vital importance in considering our relations with neutrals, and also with the economic planning of this country because, after all, that, as has been stressed in the House, is the important thing at the back of our fighting forces — the economic life of the country. To-morrow we shall be discussing the Budget. We shall be given the figures by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the realities behind those figures are the production of goods and the rendering of services by the citizens of the country. It is in my mind that at present we are not really getting that mobilisation of our resources and that utilisation of our personnel that we ought to have. Granted that there must be a time lag, granted the difficulty of the change-over, yet we are to-day encountering a large amount of unemployment — a great deal of unemployment among workmen and a great deal of unutilised services among people in professions and 1249 in the trades that are necessarily going out of business owing to war conditions. I do not think that at the present moment we are taking up that slack with enough vigour. There is nothing more disheartening to people who are offering their services than to be told, "There is nothing we can offer you at present." There is a further point which will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) later, and that is with regard to distribution and prices. I will not allude to it now, but there, again, it seems to me that we want to get more grip.
Another point that I should like to raise is the vital question of the morale of our people. I believe that that morale is very high. It has to be kept very high. I have a most complete faith in our victory; I am absolutely convinced of it, and we want all our people to be equally convinced. We have to keep that morale high, and we shall do it by telling our people the truth. At the present time there is a danger of not giving enough of the truth. There is complaint that there is not enough information, and that the Ministry of Information is tending to be a Ministry to withhold information.
You can criticise the Ministry of Information but, after all, it is in a comparatively junior position, and it is a question whether we are getting the right solution between the natural demand of the Service Ministers for secrecy and the demand of the Ministry of Information that people should get the information that is required. I suggest that you want very careful decisions in this matter. Again, I suggest that there should be someone in the War Cabinet specially charged with considering the effect of all measures upon the morale of our people. Information is vital, and the one particular side of it that I should like to stress at the present time is broadcasting. There is very wide criticism of broadcasting. I am not a habitual listener, but I must say that at times I feel depressed when I listen in. You should not be depressed by listening in. I think that the standard has been lowered lately, just at the time when it ought to be very high. That is one of the things by which the world judges us.
I would say to the Prime Minister that I think it is most important that we 1250 should get better and fuller information. That does not in the least mean the giving away of war secrets. Almost inevitably, if it is left to the ultimate decision of the Service Departments, the person in charge will always err on the side of no information. That is the well-known panic of all censorships. Everyone knows the well-known story of years ago, relating, I think it was, to the Turkish censorship. That department censored an item of news which came in, relating to some engine that was capable of 100 revolutions per minute, and was regarded as an extremely dangerous thing. That censorship was overcautious, but we will always get that sort of thing. Therefore, I want to stress to the Prime Minister the need for seeing that that side of our endeavour to keep up the morale of the people is looked to very carefully. There are two sides — one, giving the people plenty of information; the other, giving them plenty of occupation.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
First I would like to say how grateful we are to the Prime Minister for his weekly statement this afternoon. It covered a wide area of ground, beginning with a brief reference to the last meeting of the Supreme War Council. All that he told us was of great interest and was calculated to inspire Parliament and the people to fresh effort. Then we had a speech from the First Lord of the Admiralty which was a welcome innovation. It was a speech of rare power, a fighting speech from a fighting Minister, which is a strong and appropriate tonic for Parliament and the people of this country in war-time. It was good to-know that the convoy system is now in full operation, that the merchant ships are rapidly being armed and that substantial progress has been made in controlling the submarine menace to our trade.
We have, indeed, sustained losses, such as the one which we discussed last week, the lamentable loss of the aircraft carrier "Courageous" and a number of the brave officers and men who sailed in her. When the First Lord of the Admiralty was interrupted and was asked why there were only two destroyers available at that moment, he reminded us that we had not all the destroyers and small craft that we should like to have. At any rate, none can reproach him for that. Many 1251 of us have urged on the Government greater provision of destroyers and small craft for many months and years past, and he himself has been in the forefront of that campaign. We can derive comfort from the assurance which he gave us that by the end of October there will be available for hunting down submarines three times the number of such craft as there were at the beginning of the war.
I think that by the general consensus of opinion in the whole House it was a great success, this innovation of the First Lord of the Admiralty giving us a speech here. I hope it will be carried further and that next week we may have a similar report, perhaps from the Secretary of State for Air. I am sure that we should like to have a fuller account of what the Royal Air Force is doing. The week before last I raised the question of the Kiel Canal raid and I said that we ought to have more information about that raid. I suggested that journalists ought to have an opportunity of meeting the officers and men who took part in the raid and of giving us their stories. I am glad that the Government acted on that suggestion. Two days later we got the stories that were given by certain officers and men to journalists. They told their stories; that was a good thing. There is a further point I would raise in this connection, and I say it not for their sakes — I am not at all sure that they will thank me for saying it — but for the sake of the public whom I represent here. The public would like to know that those men will get rewards for the gallantry that they showed on that occasion and get them soon. Rewards, like other things, are better if they are given quickly and hot after the event. The public would like to know that proper recognition is being given to men who showed such conspicuous gallantry in the service of their country. I want to make it a constant theme of my observations in this House that we must associate the people with the conduct of the war. I have always made that point in the House and I want to continue doing so. It is vital to have the people associated with the war and sharing in it.
We have all read with pleasure and admiration that the French Air Force have carried out a similar gallant exploit against the aircraft factories and zeppelin sheds at Friedrichshaven. We know also 1252 that our own Air Force is undertaking reconnaissance work in France. The First Lord of the Admiralty has told us that it is helping in the anti-submarine campaign and we know that it has dropped a very large number of leaflets over Germany from time to time. The House would like to hear from the Secretary of State for Air whether this leaflet campaign is really yielding results.
I must say that I did not very much care about the last leaflet which was dropped on the night of 24th September, a translation of which I read in the "Times" to-day. I wonder what effect it will have on the Germans. 1 cannot help thinking that the statement thatYour Government's hope of successful Blitzkrieg has been destroyed by the British War Cabinet's decision to prepare for a three-year war,the flamboyant reference to the French Army crossing the frontier of Germany and British troops "standing shoulder to shoulder with their French allies "— that is the first news I have had that they are fighting — are not likely to serve their purpose. Then there is the passage:The British and French fleets have swept German merchant shipping from the oceans. … You can no longer rely, as you did in the last war, on neutral supplies because your Government cannot pay for them.If I found a leaflet that had been dropped here, saying, "We have steam-rolled the Poles …. — we have secured the alliance with Russia which you were trying to gain — our submarines are sinking your ships — the position for you is hopeless" it would not make me feel that we had to give up the war; it would make me feel that we should have to fight all the harder. I have a higher opinion of the spirit and intelligence of the German people than the writer of this leaflet appears to have. It ends up:Night after night the British Air Force has demonstrated its power by flights far into German territory. Germans note.Goering has given them the answer to that in powerful, robust language that they like and understand — "let them come and drop their leaflets as much as they like; but let them drop one bomb, and we know how to answer them." Have these leaflets made the slightest impression, even when they have dropped through the clouds without turning into pulp — as I understand many do? I hope that the Secretary of State will be able 1253 next week to let us know whether this leaflet warfare is yielding results. If it is, I am all for it. I have no wish to dictate to His Majesty's Government — I am sure Parliament is not the right body to dictate to His Majesty's Government — as to what is the best use to be made of the Royal Air Force. But as they are doing so much of this leaflet dropping, I think we are entitled to more information about that kind of war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to the much-abused Ministry of Information. I do not know where it gets some of its information It startled me the other day by telling us that:The whole manhood and womanhood of the country is now organised to the full for the prosecution of the war.That is contrary to the knowledge of all of us. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to the number of people who are begging to be allowed to serve the country in any capacity, who are begging even to get into the armed Forces of the Crown, and cannot.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
Can the right hon. Gentleman give chapter and verse for that astonishing statement??
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It is a quotation from a communiqué put out by the Ministry. I can get it for the hon. Member. If I can satisfy him on that, he will agree with me that the statement is contrary to the facts. Never a day passes without our receiving letters from people who want to serve and cannot get the opportunity. There is a sense of frustration growing up among the people. This delay in making the best use of the man-power and woman-power of the country may have bad results. I do not yield to the Leader of the Opposition in my confidence in victory, and if the war goes on for three years, or even for one, victory is almost a mathematical certainty. But Hitler does not mean to allow the war to go on for three years. He means to end it in six months. The next six months are going to be a critical period, and we need vigorous organisation of our man-power and industrial resources to withstand the 1254 perils to which we shall be exposed during that time. In the last war, we recruited 500,000 men in five weeks. The Financial Secretary to the War Office, when I reminded him of that a week ago, said that that was a haphazard method, and that now we are working by a regular and scientific method. But is this new system of regular and scientific enlistment yielding as good results as were yielded by the voluntary system in 1914? I have here a cutting from the "News Chronicle" of 15th September, giving numbers of men called up. It says:To-day's big call-up involves 16,900 of the ' twenty class,' 8,000 of whom were put back when the first batch of militiamen was posted to units on 15th July.We did not have 35,000 men being trained in July, we had 8,000 fewer. There were 8,000 put back. Then only 8,900 of those called up in September were fresh recruits. The article goes on:After to-day the next big Army class call-up will begin on 13th October, and a total of 18,000 ' twenties ' will report for training on that day and the three following days. These men will join Air Defence units — antiaircraft and searchlight crews.Surely older men could be trained to do anti-aircraft and searchlight crew work, and these younger men could be trained as marching soldiers.
I have dealt only with matters which are common knowledge, and the sources which I have cited are the public Press; but far more frank and searching discussion of these issues ought to be made possible. That is why last week, not for the first time, I suggested that we must contemplate for the future — not necessarily as a thing to be done this week or next week — a secret Session, in which we can discuss these things more frankly. When I made that suggestion last week it was argued that Ministers would, of course, not be able to tell us all their plans, that they would not be able to discuss strategy freely. We all understand that perfectly well, although I think they would be able to employ a great deal more freedom of language. But the important advantage would be that we should be able to tell Ministers all we know with much greater frankness. There has been great support for this proposal, and it would be useful to have a secret Session fairly soon. At a time of crisis the demand will be irresistible, but then it might be regarded abroad as a panic measure. It would be well that an 1255 occasional secret Session should begin to occupy a recognised place in our arrangements.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It was in fact done during the last war. It is not secret in the sense that Ministers would be able to tell us all their secrets. We are not going to be a sort of enlarged Cabinet meeting. Nothing of that kind would be possible, but with the whole House present it would be possible for the hon. Member and myself to say frankly all we knew about deficiencies in our preparations, and we could make suggestions for the more vigorous prosecution of the war in various Departments
I believe that the resolution of Parliament and of the British people is unchanged. We have watched with deep admiration what the Prime Minister called the magnificent heroism of the defence of Warsaw. One gallant Ally — the Polish people — has gone down before the weight of the German invasion, and the main burden of the war now rests upon the French. I believe that the people in this country will not forgive His Majesty's Government if there is any unavoidable delay in the assumption by this country of its full and honourable share of that burden..
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Sir A. Wilson
We are all glad to have heard the vigorous voice of the Leader of the Opposition again. I entirely agree with everything he said relating to the B.B.C. I do not know what Department of State controls B.B.C. output, which last week included a debate on "what happens to us when we are dead." The B.B.C. wants a thorough clearing out of a very considerable proportion of its present personnel and the substitution for them of men attuned as few of them are to the needs of war, with new ideas and a fresh outlook. I receive complaints from dozens of my constituents of the unworthy stuff they are getting on the B.B.C. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information to inquire whether the American commentators who are put on the air by the B.B.C. should not have their stuff censored as carefully as that which is put out by authority. I am told that an 1256 American commentator told the world that so strong is class prejudice in England that the lower orders are given a different type of dugout from that provided by the Government for the upper classes. That sort of tripe may well be treated by us with contempt but it is not always so regarded elsewhere.
The very uninspiring broadcast by the Lord Privy Seal last Friday prompts me to suggest that the appeal to employers not to dismiss employés would have been more effective if he had been able to explain why the Treasury through the various Ministries has given the most stringent instructions to every county council and local authority to put a complete stop to all public expenditure on housing, roads and surveys any portion of which is paid by the Treasury. That seems to me to be an insane and futile policy to adopt. The Ministry of Health have stopped expenditure on housing where roads have been already built and the electric light and gas mains already laid. A slum which has already been seven years under reprieve is again reprieved, and we are told that not a single penny more is to be spent. Then the Lord Privy Seal complains of employers dismissing their men! How can they do otherwise? In my own county the Ministry of Transport has ordered surveys for new roads to be discontinued completely and the staff dispersed. There must be a time lag. They cannot for some months to come be brought into the system of military. or other employment and naturally the number of persons who are employed is swelling and will continue to swell. The Ministry of Transport is as much responsible as the Ministry of Health. When these persons concerned come in direct contact with the innumerable officials who are at these Government offices they find they are not dealing with the same officials as a month ago. There has been a complete shift round of officials in the various Ministries and no one knows who is who and what is what. We have no reason to be proud of Whitehall at the moment, as far as concerns employment and finance.
On the other side there is going on today, as everybody knows, an amount of squandering of money which will have the worst effect on the morale of this country unless something is done to put a stop to it. I can go to villages 50 miles 1257 from a city to find railway companies still busy sandbagging one corner. There are remote seaside resorts and country villages with children toddling about with gas masks from schoolroom to playground and back. One town of 12,000 inhabitants is spending £ 5,000 a year on air-raid precautions, another £ 12,000 a year. There is a vast expenditure under no sort of control. When I protested to a responsible official he said, "It does not matter; it is Home Office money." That sort of folly is going on in every corner of England to-day when men and material are needed for more vital services. Vast sums are being squandered. I see no signs whatever of any control by Whitehall or any revision of A.R.P. to which the Prime Minister alluded a fortnight ago. Scores of thousands of retailers are being liquidated to the profound satisfaction of planners. I quote from a fortnightly paper, "Pep":Only in war or threat of war would the British Government embark on large scale planning.They have got their war, and their planning. There is already a movement, with plenty of political support, to ensure those who are deprived of their livelihood without any compensation shall not be restored to it when the emergency ceases. Some of us are wondering whether we have not lost in productive energy more than we have gained by these changes, none of which has yet been explained or justified in Parliament and still less debated. Speculation, at least in the City of London, has not ceased and one only has to look at the recent movements in the price of shellac, which is necessary for certain types of munitions and is a favourite counter among traders for a particular and very easily recognisable and notorious type. There are counters still left on the market where money can be made. Some prices have gone up because the Government is in the market and others are going up because the Government are not yet in the market.
I beg all the Ministers concerned with the civil side of our life to keep in the closest touch with those of the business community who can take a detached view. In a good many of these Ministries the old 1914 lot are back again; and the professional interests and livelihood of one group of men are being sacrificed for the benefit of another set of men. The 1258 process is taking shape in the leather, hide and wool industries, where one lot of men have taken over and are busily engaged in ousting from their livelihood a lot of other people. Our export trade will not benefit by the partisan outlook of some of these controllers.
The Government — I am bound to speak frankly — make a great mistake if they think that those in the professional and commercial world, whose taxable capacity has been enormously reduced during the past three weeks, a very large number of whose members have been ruined, will agree with the words of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) — I quote from the "Times" of 15th October, 1938— that changes in our social and economic structure as far-reaching as those which have taken place in some other countries may be necessary as a by-product of a war to liberate Europe from the very systems to which he alluded, namely, those of Germany, Russia and Italy. We do not want totalitarian methods shackled upon us for good as a by-product of a war against these totalitarian systems, for the benefit of a few monopolistic groups of distributors who are already firmly installed in some of these controls and have every intention of maintaining the initial advantage with which they have started out. I am referring particularly to the Ministry of Food.
The face of England is already strewn with financial wreckage of decent folk and old firms. I beg the Government to walk warily if they wish to maintain that national unity which, as has been said by the Prime Minister, has had no parallel in the history of the country. I am far more anxious about the home front than I am about the fighting services. With regard to our inability, referred to by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), to accept the offers of service so freely made from every class of the community, I do not think that we can accept them or a tithe of them for months to come. These things must progress slowly, and the best service is to remind them of the central register already opened for those who have offered and are waiting to render service. As Milton said:They also serve who only stand and wait.1259 When the gilded niches with concealed lighting are all occupied and other jam-roles are taken up, there will still be a vast field of service open for a long time to come for those men and women who have been content to wait humbly and patiently until they have been called upon.
Public confidence would be greatly restored if we could have a broadcast of the speech which we have just heard from the First Lord of the Admiralty. With all his gifts the right hon. Gentleman could never have done it half so well from a solitary studio in the B.B.C. Let us make the precedent and have broadcasts from this House of the Prime Minister and carefully selected speakers. It would have a profound effect and would be far better propaganda than that we hear from other sources. It would certainly contrast painfully with the feeble comments of the gentlemanly commentator who repeats to us what he receives from the Ministry of Information, who in turn repeat what they have received from the fighting Departments, who in turn repeat what they have received from their military and naval advisers. We want something far more vigorous in the way of propaganda and broadcasting than we have yet had. I look to the Ministry of Information to select from its 800 add personnel a few whose voices will carry as effectively as that of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn
We must all agree with the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) in his comment on the speech we have just heard from the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I think it would be a disaster if Debates in this House were to be broadcast. Much of our work is done in Committee. If Debates were broadcast we should, I am afraid, have inflicted upon us a great many speeches which would be far better not heard, and it would be difficult to distinguish between one and the other.
There is one point I wish to raise and it is an unpopular one. Therefore, it is the more necessary to raise it at this time. We are not doing our duty unless those who come from certain parts of the country known as reception areas point out that the present situation cannot possibly be allowed to continue. It is 1260 destroying that very spirit of the people which we must sustain if we are to carry the war to a successful conclusion. I would implore my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health that if he is contemplating any further schemes of evacuation he will take into account the local authorities of the areas from which the people come and the local authorities of the areas to which the people go, and to get really good advice which will prevent a repetition of the deplorable mistakes from which we are now suffering. In my area we have lost over 50 per cent, of the mothers and children who came there and who have gone back to London. In many cases that I have tried to investigate I could see very little reason for that. Where there are children alone and where the type of teacher in charge is out to help and not to hinder, the scheme has been universally successful. I hope that some consideration may be given by the Board of Education to the possibility of trying to model the scheme on the lines of what used to be called children's country holidays, where the children came from the towns and became part and parcel of the village life. At the present time the teachers in charge keep the children separate, with the result that they are not being assimilated and are living a sort of alien existence in the middle of the rural community. Naturally, they are inclined to be unhappy in these circumstances no matter how one tries to help them.
It is essential that you should calm the feelings of the foster mothers who are looking after the children, and the foster mothers who have to deal with the real mothers who are in the household, particularly where there are rows as to who should have the use of the cooking stove. These troubles are causing such a disruption of family life as has never been known before. They are accentuated by the black-out, and they have been made worse by the sort of broadcasts to which the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members have referred. It is essential before the darker days come upon us to see whether something cannot be done to appreciate the gloom into which a great many people have been plunged, in many cases by thoughtless evacuation schemes. I say thoughtless, because at the present time not one single clerk of any local authority, to my knowledge, has been asked to report to the Ministry.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
I cannot allow that statement to go uncontradicted. We are in continual contact with clerks of local authorities and we have received many reports from them. I should not like it to go out from this House that we do not welcome every opportunity to get in touch with the local authorities.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am glad to hear that, but all I can say is that not one single clerk inmy constituency has been asked to render a report.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not think we should send out demands at this time, which might be resented by local authorities, that they should send in reports to me when the clerks of local authorities are on their own initiative sending in continually reports of the greatest value. If the clerks of any local authority in the hon. and gallant Member's constituency send in any reports 1 shall be only too glad to receive them.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am glad to hear that. There is a feeling that what has been occurring has only resulted in getting no information from Whitehall, and there is a feeling that if there was a sudden change in the situation resulting in an unorganised evacuation a situation would be created which would be very hard to deal with. It would give additional confidence in the reception areas if they could have an assurance that there is collaboration between the local authorities of the areas from which children come and the areas to which they go. There it; one other matter to which I must refer and my right hon. Friend knows a great deal about it. In London and most big cities you have good schools and good medical services, but it has been a shock to people in the country districts to learn the conditions under which, apparently, some people live in our great cities. It has been a complete revelation. Somehow or other we must get some good out of the searchlight which has been thrown upon these conditions and discover how it is that children with these skin diseases seem to treat it as a normal condition.
I agree that there are still slums where these dreadful illnesses are bred, but that does not account for the habits of some of these people. I have had many requests to know what can be done to put the houses into which they have gone into 1262 a habitable condition. Who is to blame? How is it that people in this year know no better than to treat a house as if it was a kennel? It has set going a feeling between the country and the town which is unfortunate, and it is absolutely essential that on any future occasion there should be an adequate examination of the children by medical officers before they go and when they arrive, and if there is the slightest indication of illness they should be properly looked after until they are fit to go into cottage homes. These are unpleasant things to say, but it is necessary to say them sometimes.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Does the hon. Member suggest that this indicates the condition of more than a small percentage of the people?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I do not know what the proportion is, and it may be that certain districts and parishes in slum areas have gone to certain villages and they may have got an over-sense of the situation. At the same time the fact remains, and we must take measures to put it right. It is no use ignoring these facts. During the winter there is nothing more important than keeping up the morale of the people and making them feel more inclined to face the difficulties which are in front of us. Very little seems to have been done to get over the immediate difficulties in regard to evacuation, and unless something is done quickly to put the situation right I tell the Government that they are facing a position which I do not think they appreciate, in a great many parts of the country, and one which is causing considerable anxiety to those who sit for rural areas. Nobody knows more than the present Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education about these matters.
Let me give the House three examples. The other day a teacher refused to allow 14 children to remain in a certain house because they had a mile to walk to school. The children were well looked after, but the teacher said, "I do not want to have them around me all day and all night." That is not a sufficient excuse. In cases where you have a complete school you do not want a helper. I know a case where a school teacher brought his wife as helper. She got a guinea and subsistence allowance, and the people in the village are bitterly resenting what they consider a vile form 1263 of profiteering at a time like this. I am with hon. Members opposite all the time when they talk about profiteering, and there is no excuse for using the evacuation scheme to draw money in this way for helpers who are totally unable to do anything from a medical point of view. If you ask a teacher where his business ends and that of the helper begins, there is no answer. There is great confusion and the matter wants thorough investigation. Many of these helpers are slipping back with the mothers. These are scandals which loom larger in the country districts than they do in this House.
In another case three stable boys asked their employer to give them the sack. They were getting 48s. 6d. a week, and as racing is over their employer did not want them. But he said, "Why do you want me to sack you," and they said, "We can get work in a Government factory starting at £ 3 10s. a week, and rising to £ 6." What is my answer to the agricultural labourer, a most highly skilled man, who deserves every penny he gets, when stable boys, totally inexperienced in factory work, ask their "employer to sack them because they can go into a Government factory and get twice as much money as a skilled agricultural labourer? [Hon. Members: "Why not?"] Because I think in war you should pay according to the efficiency of the person and the needs of the country. In the last war those persons who were overseas bitterly resented that the men who bore the burden and heat of the day were paid so much less than others who stayed at home, necessary as was their work. I still think that organised labour will see that there is no such ridiculous gap as that. There is no excuse for paying unskilled men a rate of wage which is higher than that paid to a skilled man. There must be greater uniformity; it is one of the greatest problems which confronts us.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Are we to take it from the hon. Member that £ 3 10s. is too high a rate of wage to pay an unskilled labourer?
Sir R. Glyns
I never said anything of the kind. I have said that these boys earning 48s. 6d. per week wanted to go into Government employment because they were able to start at a salary which was higher than that. The opinion of 1264 the trade unions has always been that there should be some attempt made to pay an adequate wage to skilled workers, and that it is not the Government's duty to pay exorbitant wages to unskilled men.
§ 5.40 p.m.
There is one matter which I want to raise briefly. I want to ask whether the heads of the Service Departments can promote some other machinery in order that separation allowances for the wives of serving men may be paid without delay. I cannot base my case on the Navy, because I have had no complaints from any wife of a man serving in the Navy, but as far as the Army and the Air Force are concerned, there is considerable anxiety throughout the North-East coast — I have tried to check up the facts as best I could — that allowances have been unduly delayed and that men have even left for somewhere in France without their wives receiving separation allowances. I know that machinery is provided whereby wives can go either to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association for temporary help or to the Unemployment Assistance Board, but I resent it very much that the wife of anyone serving in the Forces should be sent from pillar to post to draw allowances which are theirs by right and which, I am certain, the country would wish to see paid immediately the men are called up.
In big areas, such as Newcastle and other large towns, there is, in fact, a Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association and an Unemployment Assistance Board, but in the more widely scattered areas, such as some of the mining villages in my division and small urban districts, there is no Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association and no Unemployment Assistance Board. Indeed, in some parts of my area, when men are required to go and see the unemployment assistance officer in connection with matters arising out of the Board, postcards are sent to the men and their fares to and from the unemployment assistance officer are paid. When wives are waiting for their allowances to come and are wondering whether they will be able to get sufficient money to keep the house going over the weekend, how can they suddenly find the bus fare or the train fare to go to the unemployment assistance officer to see whether he can give them temporary help? In 1265 any case, there ought to be no need for that. In the twentieth century, we ought to be able so to organise our Services that as soon as a man is called up an adequate and proper allowance is available to his wife.
I ask the Service Departments to consider a suggestion which I will put forward. When a man's enlistment paper is served on him and he is called up, would it not be possible then to send, in addition to the calling up paper, a form on which he would enter the names of his wife and children? That form could be presented at the Post Office by the wife and a temporary allowance, either for one month or two months, on the information contained in the form, could then be paid. It is obvious that there must be a certain checking up of the details of the information given on the form, but I can see no practical objection to the temporary payment of these allowances through a Post Office, and if any wrong statement were entered on the form, the matter could be dealt with subsequently, and so the wife would not be kept waiting until the details had been checked up by very busy regimental paymasters.
I want in passing to make this remark. I wish those who are responsible for the administration in Government offices would impress upon the paymasters connected with the various Services that when they get letters from the wives of serving men, those letters must be answered. I cannot think of anything worse than that women, in a state of agitation after their husbands have been called up to serve in the Forces, should have to write these letters, and then receive no answers. No doubt the women may be 'in error, because they may not have sup-plied the proper birth certificates or marriage certificates, but after all, although these arc very easy matters to Whitehall, they are not easy matters to women in small villages. I have had many instances where letters have remained unanswered and the poor bewildered woman has come to me and asked why she cannot get an answer and why she cannot get her allowance. I do not suggest that this is a very widespread complaint, but I raise it because I believe some better organisation could be devised. I wrote immediately to the Secretary of State for Air and I received a reply this morning, in which he said that he would have my complaint looked 1266 into immediately, and the Financial Secretary to the War Office, to whom I wrote also, has spoken to me on the matter. I raise the matter now because I believe that it can be remedied.
When this war is over, when the victory is won, and the peace concluded, the people of this country will have to set to work to build up their lives afresh. How that is to be done will depend upon the quality, the determination and the courage of the people who are left to do the rebuilding. How those qualities will develop will depend upon the leadership given by the people who have the responsibility of leadership, however small may be their position of leadership. I raise this matter to-night because I know that behind me I have every man and woman in the country. They feel that the organisation should be such that the wives of men serving in the Forces should not have to seek round the countryside to get allowances to carry on their homes while their men "are away. I hope that attention will be paid to the matter and that when I put down a Parliamentary question in a month's time, I shall hear that the difficulties have been overcome.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
I want to say, in the first place, that this evening, and to morrow morning, the people of this country will be in a far better spirit than they have been in since the war began. That will be the result of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. That is what we have been waiting for during the last fortnight. I notice that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) is laughing, but the wives in the homes, who have been listening to the B.B.C. broadcasts, the small boys and girls who have been listening to them — I have a little grand son who gets up every morning before eight o'clock to get to the wireless—
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) says that the speech may be censored. I hope that not one word of it is censored. I should like the full speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty to be given on the wireless to-night, so that we may know where we are. I will tell the House that this grandson of mine, who is up to listen 1267 to the news at eight o'clock, and who listens at twelve o'clock and six o'clock, said to me, "Granddad, when are we going to begin? "That is the spirit. I am bringing it to you from. Yorkshire. I was delighted with the speech that was made by the right hon. Gentleman, for it will give inspiration all over the British Isles and in the Empire.
Having said that, I want to say a few words about the home front. There is not on the home front now the unity that there was a fortnight ago. There is a tremendous amount of grousing, and I think that grousing is due to the fact that we have not got the spirit of the volunteer now as we had it before the war begun. In a division such as mine, everybody knows everybody else; and everybody in the town knows what the other chap is earning. I will give an instance relating to air-raid precautions. I want the Minister of Health to listen to me. I am anxious that the spirit of unity on the home front should be maintained, but it will be found that you can upset that spirit much quicker than you can bring it back again. As I say, every man knows what the other man is earning and there are cases like that of an engine-driver who is earning £ 4 or £ 5 a week and whose wife has been put on to a job at £ 2 a week, while other people who have only 10s. a week, have not a chance of a job. Somebody here or somewhere else, ought to take hold of things like that, and see that such cases do not occur again.
It is not only from that standpoint that I wish to draw attention to this matter. We have cases of publicans and of painters and all kinds of tradesmen doing this work, and in my own town there are 150 miners whohave been out of work since last April. These men are drawing 30s. or 35s. a week from the Employment Exchange while other men are getting these posts. We are paying 30s. a week to chaps who could be put to one of these £ 3 a week jobs. I feel it my duty to state these facts across the Floor of the House. As I say, we want to maintain unity but we can only maintain unity if these glaring anomalies are dealt with as soon as possible. Again, I wish to thank the First Lord of the Admiralty for his speech which was an inspiration to us and an encouragement to go on. We 1268 can win, but we want more speeches like that in the House, telling us the truth, telling us where we stand and encouraging our people.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
The House, I am sure, has appreciated and approved of the speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), who has said in forcible language certain things which have badly needed saying for some time past. There is no Member who does not know, either of his own knowledge, or from statements made to him by others, of instances of people who have offered voluntary service and who have been told that they must be paid for their services. There is only a limited amount of money available for this country to finance the war, and if that money is to be wasted in paying people for doing work which they are prepared from patriotic motives to do for nothing, there will not be enough to go round.
I, too, wish to pay my tribute to the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I am all the more glad to do so as a member of the Service over which the right hon. Gentleman now presides. I listened to his statement with particular and peculiar interest, and there are one or two points on which I would like to ask him questions. He gave us the tonnage of sinkings and also the tonnage of our merchant ships on the high seas. Could he also tell us what is the tonnage of our merchant ships on the high seas at the present time, as compared with the tonnage of our merchant ships upon the high seas when the sinkings in 1917 were at their worst? That is a very important figure, because, if taken in conjunction with the other figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given-us, it will present the country with a full picture of the present situation as compared with that of 1917.
The right hon. Gentleman largely confined his remarks to the question of submarine attacks. I do not know whether, in the public interest, it would be possible for him to say whether, up to date, there have been any instances of attacks on convoys by surface vessels or from the air. One of the greatet menaces from which the convoys had to suffer in the last war was not so much attack by submarines as attack by overwhelming forces 1269 of surface craft. The country will have listened with great satisfaction to the speech of the Prime Minister recently in which he stated that the number of submarines sunk had been about six or seven. This afternoon we heard from the First Lord of the relation which that figure bore to the probable total tonnage of German submarine craft in existence when the war began. I think it should be made clear whether or not that figure includes any sinkings of submarines effected by the French maritime forces. If it does not, then I think the position may be even better.
One point which I would emphasise is that it is of the utmost importance that we should not be too accurate and definite in stating the total number of submarines sunk. The effect upon the moral of a submarine officer who does not know how his confreres in the service are going is very important. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the majority of the sinkings in 1917 were carried out by a comparatively small number of extraordinarily expert German commanders, but the uncertainty as to what was happening to German submarines preyed on the minds of the other commanders to such an extent that they were not really very efficient when they got to sea. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned a fact which I think will be welcome, namely, that the total amount of goods seized by our forces from German ships, or contraband which had been seized, was greater than the amount of goods which we had lost. The figure which I should like to have is a figure showing how the tonnage of ships which have been sunk by enemy action .compares with the tonnage of ships which our naval forces have taken from the Germans.
I am glad that both the First Lord and the Leader of the Opposition paid a tribute to the fishing fleet and the Mercantile Marine. As a sailor, I am also glad that they paid a tribute to the work of the hunting flotillas of the Royal Navy. It is perhaps unfortunate that a large and valuable ship like the "Courageous" should have been escorted by only four destroyers when carrying out what must have been an arduous and risky duty, and that two of those destroyers should have been detached to help a merchant ship in distress was also perhaps unfortunate at the time. I cannot help thinking that with a ship of that size employed 1270 upon that work it is rather risky to have fewer than six destroyers in attendance. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's explanation of that fact in that there are not sufficient destroyers at the present time for all naval purposes.
I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) and the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) and also by the hon. Member for Hemsworth. It seems to me that we are making a great mistake in stifling the ordinary trading life of the community. We run some risk, it appears to me, of suffering from an even greater dictatorship than that which obtains in the totalitarian countries, namely, a dictatorship of the bureaucracy. It should be possible for the community to carry on its business with the least possible interference, but anybody who sees London as it is at present, must realise that it is like the annual general meeting of the "Spread a Gloom Club" with everybody going round with long faces, amusements almost completely shut down, and relaxation of all sorts denied to the people. That is having a bad effect on the moral of the country. If some people had their way, we should have still further encroachments upon our liberty. There are those who would limit the public house and its hours and who would try, as was done in the last war, under the guise of national expediency, to bring about enforced teetotalism for the ordinary citizen. I believe that the Government should grant to the well dis-positioned citizen in this country the greatest possible measure of liberty consistent with the national effort being coordinated and properly directed.
Our motto should be, as far as possible, "Business as usual." I cannot help thinking that the letters which we all get from our constituents, bringing forward cases where the reduction in the petrol ration is pressing hardly upon their businesses is something of which the Government should take notice. I had a letter recently from a constituent of mine who is a commercial traveller. He has, in the course of his business, to cover a certain mileage, and the amount of petrol which he is allowed, plus the extra amount granted when he appealed to the petroleum overseer, is absolutely insufficient for him to carry out his duties. If he cannot go 1271 about his duties, obviously the businesses which he serves are made the more difficult of carrying out, and if business in this country is to come to a standstill, it seems to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find it even more difficult than he does at present to finance the country and its effort.
I would appeal to the Government to try and do something to restore to the people of this country means of relaxation. We won the last war because we were able to keep our sense of humour and our sense of proportion. We made every effort to interest and amuse our people while the war was on, and I believe that the reason why the German moral cracked during the war was because they had not the sense of amusement and enjoyment with which the people of this country are blessed. Therefore, it seems to me that we shall fight none the worse, nor will our efforts be any the less, if we manage to keep the greatest possible liberty of individual action in trade and if we make it possible for the people to be amused. I would open the theatres and the cinemas. After all is said and done, all war is a risk, but I believe that, on balance, it is better that the normal life of the people should continue so far as possible than that we should adopt the sort of super funk-hole policy which has obtained here during the last two years. Everyone has said that we must wait for the appalling air attack which will come. It may come, but it will be met, if it does come, by the forces of the Crown — in the first place, by antiaircraft defences and by the Royal Air Force, and only as a last resort by the necessity of putting the citizens underground. Until that time comes, it is better for the morale of the country and for the happiness of the people that we should allow them to go about their daily avocations as freely as possible, and that we should make it possible for them, when their day's work is done, to have reasonable relaxation and amusement in order that their spirits may be kept up.
§ 6.4 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I am sorry the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) has gone, because I wanted to tell him that I never expected to hear such a severe stricture upon Totalitarianism as fell from his lips this evening. Three 1272 weeks of war have indeed worked wonders of enlightenment. I want also to make this plea, and to support the request made by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), when he argued in favour of a secret Session. I merely wish to reiterate his main point, that it is not so much for what Ministers may tell us that we want to have a secret Session, as for what Members could say to Ministers while a secret Session was in progress.
I want to detain the House for only a very few moments, but I would like to say, first of all, how I welcome the sustained tone of resolution which was audible in the Prime Minister's statement to-day and, indeed, in all the other statements that he has made weekly since the war began. If I may say so without presumption, that resolution is worthy of the great people whom my right hon. Friend is serving as Prime Minister. It was, if I may again say so with modesty, brilliantly supplemented by the inspiring and well-informed optimism of the First Lord of the Admiralty.
In a play which I saw on at least three occasions during the peace that has left us for a time, "1066 And All That," there is a character whose name is Colonel Bygadsby. When at a loss he informed a subaltern repeatedly, "The men are splendid." So are the children and so are the women in this country to-day. I think I may add without exaggeration that all our fellow citizens are inspired by a spirit of calm determination, even in the absence of the normal amusements, which means eventual disaster for the enemy. I am sure that every hon. Member admires the old lady who made this comment on the balloon barrage over London, "Those Germans make a great mistake if they think they can intimidate us by sitting up there in those balloons."
If to-day there is a pro-German in this House — and before the war there were several here and a good many in another place — let those pro-Germans oppose the Prime Minister. It would be a far more honest thing than to pretend extreme bellicosity after months and years of flattering Hitler and adulating Nazidom. This brings me to this point, that I want to indicate what I conceive to be the main danger to our cause. Our aim must be nothing short of absolute victory over Nazi Germany and the absolute destruction of the Nazi regime. That cause, I 1273 dare to say, need not fear the enemy. He is formidable, ruthless, and more than half mad. If anybody doubts that, let him read the Blue Book which was published a few days ago. Our enemy embodies bad faith, brutality, insatiable ambition. Whatever the shocks we suffer and the losses we have to endure, the war can only be allowed to end in his defeat and in our victory.
But I venture to say that our cause has most to fear from the enemy at home. For months, until the outbreak of war, the activities of such bodies as the Link, the Anglo-German Fellowship and the British Union of Fascists have caused the Germans to conclude that we would never resist them till it was too late to destroy Nazi domination and to prevent the dissolution of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Those individuals within our own country are in fact the men who have betrayed our cause. Of course, they would now tell us, no doubt, that they were "working for peace" when this treachery, expressed as it was in such ludicrous slogans as "No fighting over Danzig," "Not a drop of British blood for Czecho-Slovakia," has in fact produced the war. Is it conceivable that these dupes of Nazi propaganda could have changed their character over the night of 2nd September? It is from these sources that we may expect pleas for peace before the real work of victory is done.
Again, I would like, if it were possible, although I admit that it is somewhat unprecedented, for His Majesty's Government to state in the most explicit terms that their policy is in no way to be taken as expressed in the columns of the "Times." Even in the last week before the war actually came upon us, the somewhat unsuccessful policy of appeasement vas audible in that most dangerously respectable of pamphlets. Since hostilities actually began this organ, which is so often treated abroad — and I am thinking particularly of neutral countries — as the official voice of the Government, has seemed from time to time to be on the verge of madness, to be, to quote Sir Nevile Henderson, "aping Herr Hitler at his worst." Here are two sentences printed yesterday from their special correspondent on the Lithuanian border:Messages from Warsaw in the last few days show that the spirit of the townspeople, though depressed by the destruction 1274 and carnage around them, are as undaunted as those of the military defenders.That is not my English. He goes on:Apparently the full extent of Poland's calamity is not yet realised by the rank and file of soldiers and civilians inside the beleaguered city, and the hope appears to be strong there that the defence of Warsaw may turn the fortunes of war in favour of Poland.That is a fine sentence, with its defeatist implications, for the German propagandist, whom we hear every night after midnight, to seize and to wireless to the devoted defenders of our Ally's capital. It is as though the "Times" really cannot see the strategic value to ourselves of the valour of the Poles. Every day that the fall of Warsaw is delayed makes our preparations for a stroke on the West, or raids upon military objectives in the Reich, or our propaganda flights over Germany, so much easier and more effective. Not only should we salute the Poles for their courage, but we should thank them with a full heart for every hour they can give us to gather our strength for the blows of retribution.
Russia's invasion of Poland is morally inexcusable. Its methods are unheard of. But its motive even to-day — it is more than a week since it was begun — remains incalculable. When this news came through the "Times" seemed to go mad. They seemed bent on involving us in a war against Russia as well as against Germany. If Russia needed an excuse to feed German stomachs and fill the tanks of German aircraft, she could have found it in that leading article of the "Times." It did not seem to have occurred to this paper that Russia may indeed have been engaged in roping Germany off from the Ukraine and the Balkans. We shall not lose the war, but that will not be the fault of the "Times." I trust that His Majesty's Government will find some means of publicly dissociating themselves from this particularly shortsighted newspaper. We should never forget, even to-day when we arc united on our immediate purpose, that the plot of ceding the Sudetenland, the act which opened the door to Prague, was apparently hatched in Printing House Square.
I am glad that Lord Halifax has at last seen the Russian Ambassador. Contacts, however stormy, are better than no con- 1275 tacts at all. I venture to think that we did not always do our best to get Russia. She may never have intended to cooperate, but I shall always believe that the prospects of an agreement with Russia would have been better if in the spring we had sent to Moscow Lord Halifax, or the present First Lord of the Admiralty, or the Dominions Secretary. I will be optimistic to this extent, and say that he would be a foolish man who said to-day that it was too late to repair some of the harm that was done by the earlier policy of qualified indifference. Of one thing we may be certain; it is that Russia's advance into Poland is not a move which will bring any satisfaction to our enemy.
Many of us have felt ashamed that we have been able to do very little to prevent the terrible sufferings through which Poland has passed in these early stages. Some of us hope that we may be allowed to serve in the forces to do what little we can to repair the wrongs suffered not only by Poland, but by Czecho-Slovakia as well. That I suggest, is the least we owe to Dr. Benes, who, more than any other single man, gave Europe an extra year's peace. While I am waiting to find some kind of useful service — and I expect hon. Members agree with me — I feel as futile as the man who, when asked why he did not go to help save civilisation, said, "lam part of the civilisation they are out to save." It would give some of us who hope to be allowed to go a greater sense of confidence if we knew that the Government included rather more men who had been consistently right in matters of foreign policy, and rather fewer of those who have so frequently been wrong.
The Government cannot emphasise too clearly our plea that we are not fighting for revenge on the ox-like, stupid, stereotyped and extremely unattractive German people. We are pledged to the final destruction of the evil menHitler, Ribbentrop, Goering, Goebbels and the rest who have deceived so disastrously many of our fellow countrymen by posturing as the protagonists against Bolshevism. May I suggest that we should be resolute for peace, but resolute for a victorious peace, a peace, indeed, which gives to the Rule of Law a chance of life.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
I have been listening to the speech of the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) with great interest because it will be great documentation for us in a political sense. He has not named some of the people to whom he is attaching blame, but we will name them when our time comes. That is not our job to-night, however. I have for the last three or four weeks been unable to attend the debates, because I have been busy trying to keep running the machine of supplies to the people of the country in order that we may maintain the morale which has been referred to in the Debate to-day
I want to ask the attention of the House and of the Chancellor of the Duchy to matters arising out of a private notice question which I put to him today and his answer with regard to the immediate necessity of organised rationing of important staple foodstuffs. The position with which we are faced in this matter is exceedingly disappointing to those leaders of the food trade who for about three years have been in contact with the department to which the Minister has gone, which is now called the Ministry of Food. They have said from time to time that it was functioning very well. It now appears that the scheme, certainly as regards the procedure to be followed in the early weeks of the war, was good on paper, but it has not been much good in operation.
Some days ago I approached the Minister privately regarding butter, because I would much rather get these things settled privately, if possible, than bring them into public debate. We have seen an extraordinary state of affairs in regard to butter in the last three weeks. Soon after the outbreak of war the Government Department concerned, now the Ministry of Food, requisitioned a very large parcel of the butter in store in the country. That requisitioned butter has been kept off the immediate market. In view of the statistical position when the butter was requisitioned, that meant inevitably that within a very short time we should have an actual shortage of butter available for distribution. In fact, during the week which we are facing from tonight, we shall see with every day that passes an increasing shortage of butter in the retail shops, and under the Government's present policy we shall 1277 have every retailer in the invidious position of being the ration-controller of his customers. As a result of the Government's policy, with which I did not agree at the time, of asking people who could afford it to stock a week or two's supplies of food, the richer people, with refrigerators in their kitchens will be able to look forward with equanimity for two or three weeks to a shortage of butter, and will still be able to get whatever extra quantity they can from the shops. On the other hand there will be masses of people who will either get no butter at all this week or a very limited quantity, to be eked out with whatever margarine they can obtain.
That is not the whole story of butter. The first step taken was to reduce the number ol qualities and grades to two, with a maximum price of is. 7d. per 1b. for Scandinavian and other northern butters and home-produced butters, and is. 5d. for the other classes. Hon. Members will recall that in the week in which that step was taken there were large numbers of our traders selling at any rate the cheaper qualities of butter at Is. 1d. to 1s. 3d. per 1b., and it was a very steep rise to put on those maximum prices, unless there was very good reason for it. I said then, as I say now, that it is an entirely false policy to start dealing with a shortage by raising the price, as if that would meet the situation, and that we ought to have rationed it and fixed the price on what was the true price position in relation to the stocks held by the Government and known to be in the hands of traders in the country.
Every night, in the last half hour before going to sleep, I read some phase of food control experience in the years 1914–1918, and I must say that I do not regard it as right to start this business by trying to provide all the material for the biography of a civil servant telling how much profit was made by the Government Departments. A very large part of the butter requisitioned by the Government in the first few days of the war was taken over at from 115s. to 118s. per cwt. What was the first controlled price at which that butter, taken over at that price, was offered to the wholesaler? It was 144s. As I see it, the first thing the Minister of Food did was to requisition stocks and then put them on the market at a price which gave him a profit of about £ 250,000 1278 — a gross profit I agree, from when the Ministry will no doubt have to meet some charges for rent and interest. Incidentally, some of the traders have to meet interest charges accruing before the butter was requisitioned. That is not the way to do the job.
In this week we are facing an increasing shortage of butter. Now there is only one grade and the maximum price is 1s. 7d. per 1b. I know full well that in the case of large multiple shop concerns, or co-operative societies in a large way, if there is a hang-over of a particular grade of butter in this or that area they could for this week continue to sell a few parcels at a lower price than is. 7d. But take the case of the small man who has not a pound of butter left in his shop. He has to pay 152s. — because the price of 145s. is ex-store — and he is going to have great difficulty in selling at much below is. 7d. There will be an immediate jockeying for position among private traders, with perhaps some under cutting, sometimes at the expense of the staff, as an advertisement for registration when food control comes. That is an abominable position. It is not a situation into which we ought to be forced.
I know that the Minister will say, as he said to me last week in a letter, and as he said this week in answer to a question in the House, that we shall have to wait for the census of the population, which is to be taken next Friday. In view of the task of handling the statistics derived from the census, I should imagine that it will be a few weeks before we get any rationing, and what the situation will be then in the case of butter and other commodities I hardly dare forecast, because I do not know and I am sure that the Minister does not. When I add to that that in the face of this butter shortage there are some people in official circles who are talking of its being a mistake to attempt to enter into competition with the Germans for higher priced Scandinavian butter, I feel inclined to say: "Why have we not some people in this business who know something about it? "
I turn to sugar. In the case of sugar, as I suggested in a supplementary question this afternoon, there is no shortage of main supplies. It is no good being destructive in criticism and withholding praise where praise is due, and I would say of the people who have arranged our 1279 sugar purchases that they have done a good job. We can say at this time that there is really no dangerous shortage of sugar, there being quite a good stock in sight and available, and yet I dare say there is not a Member representing a reception area, where there has been an extra pressure upon the supplies, who could not say with me that many shopkeepers have not been able to supply some people with sugar at all and in other cases the best they have been able to do is to see that they got a half-pound per head per week. That is half the ordinary demand, and is less than the 12 oz. per head which we could give at once under a ration scheme. That is in spite of the fact, which is known in the trade and which the Minister himself acknowledged in his reply this afternoon, that in the last three weeks deliveries have been very nearly 50 per cent, above the average for the time of year. There is only one explanation of that, and it is that in the areas where there are not so many people as there are in the reception areas there has been deliberate hoarding all along the line, because there has been no rationing.
Now I come to meat. The position here can easily land the right hon. Gentleman into a situation as difficult to handle as in the case of the fish scheme. As I see it, similar dangers are arising, and the trade is being affected to such an extent that meat is rising in price. I do not say it is general, but in certain districts there is an actual wastage, and we get the extraordinary situation of efficient markets, with cold storage available, being left unused for the time being while you have to resort to your temporary war plans. Then you come to the real criticism of the general policy in this temporary period at the outset of the scheme. The Government have preached to the public that there is no need for prices to rise. We have meat holding price orders and the price is round about what it ought to have been on 25th August. The price, on the average, for imported and English home killed has risen 15 per cent, but every retailer is expected to sell it at the price of 25th August. That is an impossible situation. When you come down in a few weeks time to a discussion as to what is to be the real level of prices as between exporters, salesmen and the slaughter places, the first claim that you will be 1280 met with in many cases is the loss incurred in this period owing to the Government's policy, and you will have some difficulty in tracing what the losses were. I could say similar things about other commodities, but I do not wish to take up time. We really are being faced with quite unnecessary chaos.
§ Mr. Alexander
If the right hon. Gentleman wants more examples, I can give them. What is the position with regard to peas,- beans, lentils and oats? We are not short of wholesale supplies. We can get delivery, but can we get a price out of the Department? No. So we cannot get delivery, in fact, into retail shops of commodities which, I agree, are also used in cattle feeding stuffs. We do not know what to sell them at. Is not that chaos? Would the right hon. Gentleman like any more examples? If necessary, I can produce them. Take dried fruit. We had a very reasonable negotiation with the Department on dried fruit, one of the best set of negotiations that we have had, but if falls down here. We were promised a release, ex-Government store, eight days ago. We are still waiting. There is a shortage everywhere of dried fruits in the shops. Does the right hon. Gentleman want any more? I never wanted to bring these matters up in public. I wanted to get thorn done privately. If you could get the trade channels working in this period, there was the best chance of getting a maintenance of the public morale. Instead of that you have this kind of chaos the whole time.
I hope the Minister will not think that because I am being comparatively short it is because I cannot produce, further arguments. I hope he will give us an assurance now that the first essential shall be done and that he will not tell the representatives of the people that for another four, five, six or seven weeks, till you have analysed the returns to be taken next Friday, we are to be left in this chaotic condition with regard to a number of food commodities in which we are short. We in trade circles consulting with the Department as far back as 5th January, 1938, approved the whole basis of the ration scheme. It is ready to be worked as soon as the Department is willing to work it.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir George Schuster
I think the right hon. Gentleman has done a considerable service in raising this question and giving us a chance of debating a number of points which have come up incidentally at Question Time but which cannot be fully threshed out in answer to questions. I find myself, with some regret, but with no hesitation, completely in agreement with everything that he has said. It is the duty of some of us who are connected with particular lines of business to make use of our experience in bringing to the public attention matters of public importance which come before our notice in our business, but I recognise that all of us who are affected in a particular business are apt to see our own troubles magnified. I particularly want to avoid making the mistake of exaggerating the embarrassment which has been caused to us who are engaged in the food business, but I feel that the matter is of real public importance, for two reasons. The first is that examples of what really can only be described as great inefficiency in the carrying out of schemes, for which there has been ample time for preparation, tends to cause lack of public confidence in the Government and put a very heavy tax on the good will and morale of the people. The second reason that I put forward as justifying one in saying that this is a matter of importance is that I think we can find, in what appear to me to be mistakes that have been made as regards these food control schemes, lessons which are going to be extremely valuable in considering the relations of the Government to business and production and to the co-ordinated national effort of the country which this war demands. And what seems to me to be the chief lesson to be drawn from these experiences I would put in very simple language. Do not take over control until you are well prepared and well equipped to exercise it.
I believe we are in very great danger in this war, having recognised the fact that nothing short of a co-ordinated national effort will see us through, of the Government scrapping existing machinery and taking over control of everything before it is really prepared with plans or personnel to exercise that control. One can see examples of that in what has happened during these two weeks in regard to food. The right hon. Gentleman has given a number of examples. It is valu- 1282 able to test these matters out by practical experience. I do not want to dwell in detail on the experience in regard to fish, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has very generously and courageously faced the problem which arose there. We are all grateful to him for having faced it so frankly; still, it was an example of the Government machine taking control without being sure that the means were there for administering that control when it had been taken over.
Let me turn from fish to meat. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that something of the same kind has been happening in regard to meat. I hope my right hon. Friend is right when. he says that these problems ' are being got over, but if one is commenting on the efficiency with which these things are being done and have been prepared for, I would like to put it to my right hon. Friend that it is rather curious that, two days after the war began, his Department were urgently hunting round to get a new controller of meat. Surely that was an appointment which ought to have been suitably filled in the long time of preparation before the war. The right hon. Gentleman has given several other examples. Let me add one or two more. The right hon. Gentleman made no reference to tea, but it is a very good example of the sort of thing which I have in mind. In the first days of the war with the idea — quite a justifiable one — of getting stocks as quickly as possible out of London, which was supposed to be a vulnerable centre, the Government came along and removed tea from the public warehouses in London. They took our tea which was lying there, but they did not tell us what they were going to pay us for it. They just took it away. They did not tell us where it was going. I do not think that they themselves are quite aware where it has all gone. There was a plan in existence before the war that certain warehouses were to be left untouched so that that proportion of tea which was left in London would be tea of which the ownership was clear, and which was arranged and stacked in warehouses in such a way that deliveries could be made in an orderly way, quality by quality. At the last moment, I do not know on whose order or responsibility, the whole of that plan was scrapped and 1283 tea was taken indiscriminately from every warehouse in London. That tea has been taken away. It has been mixed up, some of it in barges. Some of it is in laundries in towns in Scotland.
None of us can get out the kind of tea that we want. I heard of one case in which 20,000 chests of tea had been stacked 14 chests high in a laundry in Scotland, all mixed up. The right hon. Gentleman knows that any warehouseman with a wage of a few pounds a week who stacked tea in that sort of way would be dismissed at once. I do not know what official was responsible for that, but, anyhow, there is the position. The tea has all been mixed up. We have not yet got a Government scheme by which we can sell "National Mark Tea," for which we are-not responsible. We have to sell under our own labels and yet we do not know what qualities we are going to get. We have been unable to draw any fresh supplies of tea for about three weeks; nevertheless we have, as grateful citizens, to pay to the Government Id. per pound for the work they have done. A penny a pound on tea represents a margin of 8 per cent, or 9 per cent., and that is quite a substantial addition to the price at which we have to sell the tea.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned dried fruits. I believe that that again is an example of the same kind of thing. The Government have taken all the stocks of dried fruit, but they do not know now what they have got, and until they do know they cannot start making issues. Therefore, the trade have to go without fresh supplies of dried fruits for three or four more weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman dwelt at great length on the question of butter, and I do not want to traverse that ground in detail. I will only say that I wholeheartedly agree with him that in times like the present, where there is a maladjustment between what the public want of a certain commodity and what is available for supply, whether that maladjustment be caused by the fact that the public are, as in the case of sugar, trying to buy more than their normal quantity or whether it arises because supplies are interrupted and are less than normal, there is only one fair way of dealing with that state of affairs and that is by a Government rationing scheme. Anything else must be unfair to the trade and to the public. I suppose 1284 that the right hon. Gentleman in his business of co-operative societies can tell pretty well who are his regular customers, because they are registered members, but those of us who are running businesses which cater for the masses, and deal with hundreds or even thousands of customers in small branches every week, find that it is impossible to tell who are our regular customers. It is impossible to prevent one family from sending five or six of its members each to take a small amount, and you cannot control distribution.
I am certain that in the next few weeks important commodities like butter will be most unfairly distributed. We were always told before the war that, as the result of the experience during the last war, when we developed a marvellously efficient system of food control — so efficiently, I understand, that it has been copied exactly by the German Government — we should be able to introduce rationing within three weeks. If that had been done none of these troubles would have arisen, but, for some reason or other which I confess I cannot understand, it has been decided that we must wait for the compilation of the National Register before ration cards can be issued. We had no national register in the last war and, so far as I know, there was a very successful system of rationing.
I do not want to exaggerate the importance of all these incidents, but they are taken by the public as signs — they cannot be otherwise taken — of inefficiency which will undermine public confidence in the Government. I want to ask my right hon. Friend to let us know that this question is being fairly faced: Who is responsible for all the things that have gone wrong? I am sure we all want to know who is responsible. None of us has vindictive ideas against any personality, but we are at war now, and we cannot win the war if inefficiency is allowed to continue among the people who are administering these matters. We want to know whether the Government are satisfied with the situation. If they are satisfied, then let me state the warning that increasing numbers of the population will become dissatisfied with the Government. If on the other hand the Government are not satisfied, we want to know what they are going to do about it. We shall want to know what has been done. We are all ready to make sacrifices in the public interest, and all who are 1285 engaged in business are only too anxious to co-operate for the public purpose and help to produce the co-ordinated national effort which will lead us to success; but in the confusion created by the Ministry's plans it has been extremely difficult for any of us to know what is the right thing to do in the public interest.
I want to make one last point. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the effect of this policy on prices. The Government, as he told us, took over in the first week something like 9,000 tons of butter from traders. We have not yet been paid for that butter, but we believe we are going to be paid at the price then current, which on an average was, I believe, something below 118s. per cwt. That butter is now going to be sold back to us at 145s. per cwt. The Government are going to make a profit on that of something like £ 250,000. I do not object to them making a profit, but was it necessary to put prices up to the public so quickly and so steeply? I agree that we must not let Danish and Dutch butter, for instance, go to Germany, and it may be that in order to get that butter ourselves it has been necessary to push prices for such continental butter up to something like what corresponds to 145s. a cwt. I do not know. But that does not apply to New Zealand butter. I do not know who is going to get the profit on that, though I should not object to the New Zealand Government getting something out of it, to help them to prosecute the war. But even if a higher price has to be paid for new arrivals I should have thought it would have been easy to average out the price of issue by taking into account the low priced stocks taken over, and that such a steep rise in prices to the public would not have been necessary. I apologise for having raised these matters in such detail. I cite them as practical examples of what is going on, and I appeal to the Government to give us some indication that they are as dissatisfied about the things which have gone wrong as we are ourselves.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) deserves the thanks of the House for bringing this matter forward. There is chaos in the countryside, particularly in respect of meat. In some parts of the country public sales are still going on. In West Wales public sales have been 1286 prohibited, and there is in force a system of rationing the beasts from the farmers to the butchers. The farmers do not object to control if they see that it is necessary, but they object to control for control's sake. It is abundantly clear that in this scheme of the allocation of beasts to marts the Ministry has introduced control for control's sake. Control as it is now applied does not mean that beasts are better marketed than before. I apprehend that there are two problems to which the Minister must face up. The first is the allocation of marts for the farmers, and the second is the position of slaughterhouses for butchers. The basis, anyhow in West Wales, for the allocation of beasts from farmers is the parish. All the beasts in a certain parish have been allocated to a certain mart. That scheme does not work. It is a complete failure. I respectfully suggest that the Minister should immediately look into this matter himself, and he will see that if it goes on, particularly as regards the meat trade, there will be complete chaos, and he will not get the meat that is so urgently required. I would ask the Minister to abandon this form of control altogether, and let the farmer send his beasts to the mart that he has used all his life. The Minister, fortunately, is a countryman himself. He knows that the marts have grown up as a result of long experience — as a result of that experience the farmer knows the mart which is most convenient for him and where he does other business.
In West Wales, and I daresay in North Wales, too, the shape of many parishes is such that, in the case of a long parish of as much as nine or ten miles in length, it is less expensive and more convenient for a farmer in the north of the parish to send his animals to one mart while a farmer in the southern part of the parish may find it better for him to send his animals to a different mart. Under this scheme all the farmers in that parish would have to send their beasts to the same mart. Here is an example. A very good fanner who produces the very best cattle lives three or four miles out of Llandilo. Now he takes his beasts into this market and if he should find he is short of petrol he could walk his beasts there. Under the new scheme that farmer has to take his beasts double the distance to the Carmarthen market. It is quite impossible for him to walk his beasts 1287 all that distance, and he has to find transport. Where is he to find the transport for them, and where is he to get the petrol? I can give the Minister examples of four whole parishes — perhaps he will remember the names: Llanedy, Amman-ford, Llannon and Llangennech. The farmers from these four parishes have always sent their beasts into the market at Gowerton a few miles away. They have now been ordered to send their beasts to Kidwelly — more than twice the distance. The present scheme is expensive and unworkable. I ask the Minister to say at once that this paper scheme, conceived, I take it, at Cardiff by a man who does not know anything at all about West Wales, shall be scrapped.
There is another point with which I would ask the Minister to deal at once. That is the question of weighing sheep at these marts. The graders estimate the weight of sheep, which seems to be ridiculous when there is a weighbridge at hand, and there is plenty of time. I am told that, whereas the maximum prices on paper come to 11d. or II ½ d. per lb., farmers in some marts in West Wales have been receiving 7d. and 7 ½ d. That sort of thing is inexcusable, and if the Minister were to say that wherever possible sheep must be weighed, it would do away with a large number of complaints on the part of the farmers.
The gentleman who has been responsible for fixing the position of the slaughterhouses must have taken a map of South Wales and a pin. He then must have shut his eyes and just dropped the pin anywhere, and the point happened to drop in two places in Pembrokeshire and in three places in Carmarthenshire, where they are to use these slaughterhouses. The method is absurd. Butchers now have to come for some distances up to 20 or 25 miles in order to obtain their meat, and there is no excuse for making that sort of arrangement. There are proper slaughterhouses in those counties which can be utilised. Why only two slaughterhouses in the whole of the county of Pembroke, and only three in a county of the size of Carmarthen? What is "the reason for it? Farmers know perfectly well that, whereas in the last war there were too many slaughterhouses, there are now too few. If the Minister does not look into the matter, he will find, as 1288 my right hon. Friend has so rightly said, that there will be chaos in the meat trade.
In view of the allocation of these marts there have been of necessity many men, and particularly auctioneers, who have been largely put out of business, and men have been put in their places who occupy two, three and four other jobs. I think that a word from the Minister would be sufficient to advise that, where a man has been put out of a job in this way and he is suitable for work at one of these marts, he should be given a preference before a job is given to another man who may already have two or three other jobs besides. These are problems straight from the countryside, and I hope that the Minister will, as regards the allocation of beasts and the position of slaughterhouses, give his immediate attention to these two problems.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I want to detain the House only for a few moments in order to confirm that what the hon. Member has just been saying as regards Carmarthen is equally true in the case of Scotland. Although the scheme there is slightly different, the problem is precisely the same. The chaos of the last week is similar and the complaints are of the same volume, intensity and nature. I ask my right hon. Friend, bearing in mind the history of the fish scheme, seriously and immediately to consider the complaints now prevalent in the meat trade, and see whether he cannot make another important and courageous decision and scrap the scheme and start again. I will not take time to explain the Scottish scheme but merely remind the Minister of some of its results. We have a grading scheme which has been introduced since the war. There is not a farmer in Scotland who produces fat cattle, and who was present at any market last week, who does not complain bitterly of the unfair and irregular system of grading, or who does not regard the basic price fixed as equally unjust.
So that I may not be said to be exaggerating, I will quote from the Secretary of the Scottish Farmers' Union, who writes to me to-day saying thatduring the last week there has been utter confusion in the livestock market throughout Scotland.1289 As a meeting of the Scottish Farmers' Union held last Friday in Glasgow the chairman spoke of "consternation and confusion." One delegate from Dumfries said thatif the Union and the Chamber did not get this method of marketing changed, there would be revolution in Dumfries.That may be somewhat of an exaggeration in that part of the country, but it indicates that there is something radically wrong with this particular scheme. The chairman, at that meeting on Friday, in a speech, which, I think, ought to be remembered in the country, made it abundantly plain that this time at any rate the Union is not going to stand for any profiteering on the part of the farmers. I welcome that assurance. I hope that that may be true. I am certain that the House and the country would resent bitterly any profieering in food supplies. At that meeting the Farmers' Union, with its representatives from every part of Scotland, passed a resolution unanimously, a copy of which was sent to my right hon. Friend and to other members of Government Departments. The resolution said:We consider the present arrangements impossible. The Council insists on the immediate re-organisation of the scheme and the adjustment of prices. It is imperative that Scottish producers should be consulted before decisions are taken.It is an amazing thing that, in the case of this meat scheme, and, as I believe also, in the case of wool control in Scotland, the producers were not consulted. It is an intolerable and senseless situation, and surely it is not asking too much that the right hon. Gentleman should at least promise that producers in regard to all products shall be consulted by the Government before these new drastic schemes are introduced. The Farmers' Union made a definite suggestion. They said:In Scotland we consider a deadweight grading policy is necessary for all fat cattle and sheep and should be operated at the earliest possible moment.For my part, I warmly approve of that proposal, and it is essential that the Minister should give some indication that a policy of that kind should quickly be put into operation.
I pass now to a second point. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) explained what had happened in West Wales as a result of the new 1290 slaughterhouse policy. I will tell my right hon. Friend what has happened in Scotland and I will take as an example a small corner of Scotland which I happen to represent — the eastern corner of Fife. There we have half a dozen burghs with good workable slaughterhouses, and now comes the hand of bureaucracy to shut these slaughterhouses, and the whole of the meat for that part of the country has to be collected and slaughtered at St. Andrews. That means that St. Leven butchers and Coupar butchers must travel daily to St. Andrews. In the East of Fife alone I estimate that the butchers will have to travel 2,000 to 3,000 miles a week more than they are travelling now to collect their daily supplies. What that will mean in increased petrol consumption, cost of meat to the consumers and increased delay and waste of time, one can scarcely estimate. Having had experience of the fish scheme it is well that before this new scheme is introduced the Minister should pause in this reckless career of bureaucracy. I invite my right hon. Friend seriously to tell us that, although he may not be able to accept fully the criticisms or the suggestions that I have made, at least he will give us an assurance that he will halt for a while in the practical application of this scheme until such time as its needs have been proved and the plan itself has been confirmed by those who understand these matters. If he persists against the advice of those who know best, he will have to face another fish Waterloo. I hope that will not be necessary.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I should like to ask the Minister to take this opportunity of explaining to us where his duties begin and those of the Minister of Agriculture end. I do not know where the line of demarcation is, and I do not think that anybody has quite understood whether the Minister of Agriculture is responsible for the arrangements which have been made for the sale of livestock, or whether that comes from the Food Defence authorities. One recognises that in the first week or two there was bound to be considerable confusion and difficulty. The farmers in my part of the Kingdom were not content with the details of the arrangement made in the North-West of England with regard to the auction marts for fat stock last week. I do not, however, want to dwell upon that point, particularly if 1291 the Minister is able to tell us that the present arrangements are purely interim, while he is preparing his full scheme.
It has occurred to some of us whether at the present time it was necessary to fix wholesale prices, provided retail prices were fixed. The men who buy livestock are in the normal course of their business working on a fixed level of prices and are quite able to adjust the prices they give to the farmers knowing what price the retailer will obtain for his meat. Many of the difficulties which have arisen would not have arisen if the retail prices had been fixed, and the wholesale prices had been left to find their own level. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say that the present stabilisation is merely an interim arrangement before he takes over the whole of the livestock. That is where my point comes in as to where the demarcation lies between him and the Minister of Agriculture. Will he take over the finished product, the meat after it has reached the auction mart or the slaughterhouse, or the butter after it has been made in the local butter factory? If so, some of the minor points which I would like to raise will be dealt with, and farmers will no doubt be ready to put up with them for a week or two.
The grading which has not been satisfactory to us any more than it has been satisfactory in Scotland, is being done entirely by butchers and dealers. Surely, it is only right that the farmers' representative should have some say in the estimate of what the weight of the animal is and the decision as the grade into which that animal should go. The point about fixing wholesale prices is more particularly illustrated by the fixing of grades of fat cattle. There are no grades in the retail price that has been fixed, and why should the farmer be prevented from getting more than 44s. if the dealers and butchers think the beast is worth more than that? Fix the top price if you like, but a graded price for wholesale meat and not a retail price for graded meat is notfair to the farmer who happens to have meat which the local butcher and dealer think is second grade meat. These things might be tolerated for a week or two until the scheme gets into operation, but they certainly ought to be satisfactorily dealt with.
The whole task of the Minister will be simplified when rationing is introduced. 1292 Can the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity of letting us know what are his plans for the distribution of home-produced food and imported food? We take note of the fact that he is buying large stocks of imported food, and we hear many rumours that he is going to buy at some stage in its production the produce of British farms. If that is so, we should like to know what method of distribution he is going to employ. We know that local committees are being set up, and we should like to know what the powers of those committees are to be. Are they to be purely advisory, and will the real decision be taken by the local meat controller, or will the local committee have any really effective voice? This illustrates one of the great difficulties with which the House is faced after having handed over such complete powers to the Minister. We know very little what his intentions are, and often we merely learn from the Press or from some regulation which is issued only to those it affects that, say, the whole of butter or meat supplies have been taken over and that auction marts have been closed down.
I hope the Minister will take this opportunity of explaining to us in broad outline what his intentions are in regard to food distribution. I am sure that other hon. Members will have had the same experience that I have had in my constituency. I have been beseiged with people asking me what is to happen with regard to their particular businesses. For instance, I have been asked: "Is butter production likely to go on; am I likely to go on in this business?" I give that as an example. If the Minister would give us a little more information I should be very grateful. We have not yet had a general statement from the Minister of Agriculture. If food rationing is introduced or if the Minister has a knowledge what the rations are going to be from that point of view the whole question of food production in this country and the imports of food could be worked.
I am sure that farmers are anxious to produce as much food as possible, and even if imports are not seriously menaced by submarine warfare, surely, from the point of view of saving foreign exchange and using ships for commodities which cannot be produced here, the policy of producing all we can is right. But it must depend on what the rationing is 1293 to be. If the ration for eggs is going to be a large one, it may be necessary for poultry farmers to produce more eggs. We must look at the programme as one of how to provide the food which is necessary for this country at the present time. I would ask the Minister, therefore, to explain how the production of home produced food is to be made? I am sure that many people would be grateful for more information.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan
I want to pay a testimony to the Minister's Department for a certain amount of resilience on the question of slaughter-houses and abattoirs. In one case I was able by direct representation to secure an adjustment from a very faulty decision. The machinery is there without actually pummeling the Minister. Again this afternoon we had a testimony of the effectiveness with which the milk supply has been handled, and I dared to suggest that the answer was a pointer to leaving things as they are in certain well developed industries, and feeling our way by degrees. At the Same time I am a little worried about the future of the milk supply. August was a record production month, but now farmers and producers generally are uncertain as to how to buy their feeding stuffs. Those with good credit are able to get supplies on an open price, and if they accept delivery they may find at the end of the month an invoice putting the price at a certain figure. The producer is hesitating to place his order. He does not want to pay on an open price but at the price which the Minister says he is going to lay down.
We are suffering from a lack of decision. The principle has been settled. Farmers are alive to the fact that wheat is not going to be a free market; there is. to be a fixed price. They believe that wheat will be taken for certain uses and will not be allowed to be used for other purposes, such as poultry feeding. That if. the idea that is abroad, and it is tying up the poultry industry. If a clear statement was made that at a given time wheat would be prohibited for the use of poultry feeding it might allow men to get out their mature birds in an orderly way, the millers and merchants would be able to exercise that kind of restraint which comes from limited supplies, and the farmer would gradually reduce his 1294 stock, if he wanted to, or find his way to some alternative feeding stuffs. But while farmers know all about wheat they are tied up on barley. The word has gone round that they are to have a free market for barley. It may be that the Minister of Food has decided to commandeer all imported barley and that such users as brewers are not going to get it. Therefore the brewers will come to the home market and the farmer will be free to sell in a free market. That principle may have been settled. If so, why not say so at once? Farmers will not mind making up their farming revenue out of their barley. That sort of decision should be announced before the end of this month, certainly before the first week in October, or some mistakes may be made in farming policy.
In the matter of milk production farmers are suffering because of the uncertainty over their feeding stuffs. A man of bad credit may not be able to get supplies at all. That may be the job of the Minister of Agriculture, but it looks to me to be the job of the Minister of Food, and, if so, it is time that a clear statement was made with regard to feeding stuffs affecting milk supplies. I support the suggestion that we should have evidence of very close relationship between the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, so close that the Minister of Agriculture already knows his allocations — what he is to produce in the way of potatoes and other things, and so that the farmer is told what he must produce irrespective of what the convoys are able to bring to this country. If that was done I think the Government would have to exercise far less administrative pressure on the industry than they are exercising at the moment. Not only would it save exchange and shipping space, but it would also relieve naval vessels from convoy duties.
There is every argument for going ahead quite firmly with imported food supplies and a very definite agricultural policy at home. Some confusion has arisen over the fixing of prices for pork and bacon. Most farmers understand that we want to get the bigger cut and you have fixed the price at a point which encourages the bigger cut, but uncertainty as to food stuffs is such that in certain counties an excess of immature pigs is being sent to market at the 1295 moment, because the farmer is uncertain as to his feeding stuff prices, and rather than run the risk he is putting his pigs in when they should not be put in. Wherever pigs are at the moment they should be grown to their full weight; we should make sure that the man who has got them, carries them to a marketable stage.
I see that the two Ministers are sitting together. One Minister is in a quagmire of administrative difficulties. I think there is a certain amount of sympathy in the House for his position, and I entertain a little. With regard to the other Minister, up to now the complaints I have about him — and again, I am trying to be as kind as possible — are that nothing is precise, not even to his agricultural war committees. There are generalities and appeals, but no precision and definiteness. The principle has been decided upon, a decision has been taken as to the approach, but the Department cannot make up their mind within a shilling or two as to the price or the fixing of the amounts. Why is not a decision of that kind announced? If it were announced, it would give immense confidence to the industry, which is in a good frame of mind. The industry is not standing out for a price, but it wants to know exactly what it is to do.
For instance, farmers are being asked to plough up acres. The farmer knows that it costs £ 10 an acre before he can move to put seed potatoes in. He is hesitating about potatoes. In ordinary times, that is all right, but in war time you can make alcohol and starch out of potatoes, they can be used for feeding animals and human beings, they are a food with an industrial use. Would it not be possible to announce that potatoes will not be less in price next year, whatever may be the outcome of the war, than they are at this time? That would be enough. But let there be something definite, let the farmer know that if the war stops in March of next year, the potato output has been taken as an insurance by the country. If that were done, we should not have to go round the country arguing with the farmers, as we have to do in every parish, and as I am doing, being in charge of 33 parishes in this matter. We have to argue with every farmer the pros and cons of putting 1296 in potatoes. He knows that he is going to get 45s. for wheat; he would like it to be 50s.; one is not sympathetic to that; but one is sympathetic when one knows that a man is hesitating in making up his mind to plough up usually small acreages for such a crop as potatoes. A decision in this matter could be taken out of hand without seriously impairing the machine which both Ministers have in mind. In making my appeal, I do not wish to point to mistakes; I am making an appeal for precision and definiteness of the kind I have indicated.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
I hope that one of the two Ministers now sitting on the Front Bench will be able to indicate to us, when replying, that something will be done to clear up the undoubted muddle which there is at the present time in the agricultural and food position in this country. Those hon. Members who, like myself, have farmers in their constituencies are naturally very much disturbed by the present situation. Only yesterday I was in the market town of Gloucester, where many of my constituents sell their produce, and I found the utmost confusion and alarm about the situation, more particularly with regard to feeding stuffs. There is now no barley, and very little maize, coming on to the market in any of the Bristol Channel ports, as I was credibly informed by the agents of the wholesalers and millers in that market yesterday. I was told that they are unable to make up balanced rations for pigs and poultry. They begged that this matter should be made known, and they also asked whether something could not be done to enable them to use at least a higher percentage of wheat. We are given to understand there are large stocks of wheat, and it is possible to feed up to a certain percentage of wheat in many of the balanced rations, if it is second quality wheat which is not used for milling for human consumption; but under the Wheat Act, it is not possible for more than 50 per cent, to be used in these rations.
Something must be done; if the farmers cannot get one, they must be able to get the other. If the stocks are not there, let them know about it. The farmers must know whether they should take steps to cut down their flocks of poultry and herds of pigs. However, I believe the stocks are there, at any rate in the case 1297 of wheat; and if they are not, at least the farmers have a right to know, so that they can take steps to go in for a type of animal which consumes less imported foods. This, of course, is the main difficulty with the pig and poultry industries, which are more in the nature of processing industries than are the cattle and sheep industries. A far higher percentage of imported feeding stuffs is given to pigs and poultry than to cattle and sheep. Consequently, if it is difficult in the present situation to consume so much imported feeding stuffs, an indication ought to be given to the farmers. A farmer cannot suddenly cut down on a farm where there is a large number of a certain class of stock, and throw a mass of stuff on to the market. I ask that the farmers should be given an indication whether they are going to get these balanced rations with which pigs and poultry are so largely maintained, and if there is to be a smaller proportion, what is to be that proportion, so that they may know whether they should cut down or go out of business altogether?
There is another matter I want to raise. Many of the farmers in my district are very much concerned with regard to the supplies of petrol. Many of them are in the habit of taking part of their livestock — and in fruit districts, their fruit — to market on trailers. They are not to get more petrol than is allowed for ordinary private cars, because their vehicles are not commercial vehicles. One can understand that, however much one may regret it, but the serious point is whether commercial hauliers are to get petrol rations which will enable them to convey the produce which they now take to market and also the produce of those who have up to now conveyed their produce to market on trailers. From what is generally understood in my locality, that is not so; probably, they are to be cut down still more. Consequently, there will be a position in which large amounts of fruit, of which there is a very large crop in the Western counties, will rot in the orchards unless something is done about it. There is a great deal of other produce which goes to market in the way I have indicated. Although this matter may not be directly the concern of the Departments of the two Ministers now present, at least it is indirectly of concern to them, and I hope that something will be done about 1298 it. I know that a job of this kind is not easy to arrange in a few weeks, and I make all allowance for the two Ministers in this matter. Their Departments are bound to have their teething troubles, but many of us feel that the troubles are going on rather too long.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
This has been a valuable Debate, and if I cannot cover all the points that have been raised in the course of a very wide discussion, I shall at least endeavour to give a reply on the main issues. The Debate has arisen out of an answer which I gave to-day to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander). The primary object, I think, in his mind was to secure that the importance of the introduction of rationing as early as possible should be kept well before the Government and the House. With that desire I have every sympathy. It is, I think, clear that no system of food control can be complete until rationing is established. Rationing is control of the consumer, and when one is erecting machinery for the complete control of all articles from producer to consumer it is evident that until the final stage of rationing has been reached that machinery will not work in a satisfactory manner.
As I say, rationing is control of the consumer, and one of the troubles of a food controller, as shown in the last war, is that while you can always get support from one section of the public for the control of some other section of the public, we do not find the same readiness on the part of those sections themselves to be controlled without a little grumbling about it. For my part I should like to say before I deal with some of the criticisms which have been mentioned that we are grateful to the great trade organisations, whether co-operative or private enterprise, for the assistance which they have given in this difficult time, and I feel certain, although they may have their grievances now, that they will continue in the public interest to assist to the best of their ability in this solution of the problems presented by this awkward and difficult period of transition.
The question of butter has been raised. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman feels that there are difficulties in that connection which require to be sorted out. We shall do our best in that 1299 matter, but let me put frankly before the House the root difficulty of the situation. It is that there has been for these few weeks a shortage in supply. There is no reason why it should be concealed. It is due to causes with which the House is familiar and can readily imagine. The impact of war upon the normal economy creates profound diversions and dislocations. When one considers that the great source of our butter supply has been the Baltic countries, when one realises that we are in the very early days of the war, we must also realise, in spite of the very stirring message which we had to-day from the First Lord of the Admiralty, that there is bound to be a certain disturbance of supplies. One can see that, in those circumstances, it would be idle to cherish the hope that supplies from those sources would not be interrupted. That that interruption may prove to be of a temporary character, is our desire. When the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) spoke about certain difficulties with regard to foodstuffs he seemed to think it a monstrous thing that arrivals of our commercial shipping were not taking place with the same regularity as in the piping times of peace. He must know that the gathering together of vessels for safe convoy and other circumstances which I need not enumerate, arising directly out of the war are bound to interrupt and disorganise supplies.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am coming to that. Those are circumstances to which, I sometimes think, some hon. Members and some critics do not pay any attention at all. I do not make any accusation against any hon. Member who has spoken here, but I have heard complaints of that kind. When we consider these facts then, I agree, that the earliest possible institution of rationing is desirable. What are the' factors which enter into that particular matter? I received very wise advice along with a great amount of not so wise denunciation from the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). His wise advice was not to proceed with a scheme until you were ready. That is perfectly true in these circumstances and in this case of rationing. When the scheme was originally devised, the register 1300 for rationing purposes was to be created by means of a circular sent out by the Food Department to each householder to be filled up by the householder. At that time there was no question of national registration. Then along came this national registration project with its obvious advantages. It is clear that you can get a far better register if you can afford to wait.
There is another consideration, with which I shall deal in a moment, but you get a far better and much more honest and fair register when the work is done by skilled enumerators, than when it is left entirely to the ordinary householder who has difficulty in filling up forms. Also, if it can be done without damage to the public interest, it is surely better in a time like the present, to try to get this job done with one form and one effort and one set of questions and answers instead of having two efforts, one immediately following the other, for a purpose which can be achieved by one. Those are considerations which make it desirable, if possible, to found your rationing system upon your national registration and on the broad view of supplies to this country, it can be done. It means trouble for distributors of some commodities because it puts a sort of strain upon them. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to that. But I think, on the whole, taking the public advantage in its widest scope into account, it is the right course. It is not as though this were a question of choosing between one course which is absolutely right and another which is absolutely wrong. Here you have to choose between two courses, both with difficulties and both with features which can be criticised, and you have to make up your mind where the balance of advantage lies.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and he really referred to what I said as well. The advice to which he refers may be unwise advice, but if the position is as the Minister has stated it, then why on earth did he take 9,000 tons of butter from us in the early days of September and control that, while he did not control the public? He took the butter from us and left the consumer completely unrationed and put us "in the cart." Let us have one thing or the other.
§ Mr. Morrison
Short of a complete system of control, there are measures of control which you can take and which you ought to take, to prevent a situation getting out of hand and, in the meantime, the rationing of a supply of butter which was below the normal consumption, was, I think, a wise thing to do.
May I say just a word or two on the question of meat? I am aware that many criticisms have been levelled against the meat scheme — some of them not as good as others, if I may put it in that way. May I again remind the House of the purpose of control? Why do we control at all? Why not leave everything to take its own course? Why interfere with anything? Because we are at war. Because it was found in the last war and proved conclusively and beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you cannot allow food to be uncontrolled during a modern war.
It was also proved, as those who have studied the history of food control in the last war will observe, that a price-fixing system, founded solely on the issue of maximum price orders, proved in the long run illusory because there are forces at work which tend to get round the orders and make the prices not fixed. The system of control which was finally evolved during the war, proceeded on the basis that to control the prices of the food of the public, you must control not only the price by means of maximum orders, but the very commodity itself. That being the principle upon which we are working and must work, a principle proved by hard experience in the last war, let us not shirk the difficulties which its application presents to us. You cannot have the Ministry of Food buying all the produce that comes into this country from abroad and that comes off our farms and distributing it under a system of fixed prices, and have at the same time what are called all the luxuries of ordinary times. That is the policy. You are bound to interfere, however much one regrets that there should be interference, but if any hon. Member has a criticism against the operation of the scheme, let him honestly pose to himself this question first: Would I, in order to ease up this particular difficulty, abandon control of the commodity? [Interruption.] Fish is a different matter. It is not a rationed commodity at all, and it is not an essential commodity in the 1302 sense that people cannot do without it. Lots of people do do without it, but the great staple commodities have to be controlled and rationed. These things you have to have control of, possession of, and not merely an umbrella of price-fixing orders.
§ Mr. Alexander
If that is the extent of the right hon. Gentleman's answer upon the question of meat, then let me say that he is, so far as this side is concerned, knocking at an open door when he talks about taking control; but, after all, if we on this side took control, we should want to do it on the most economical basis.
§ Mr. Morrison
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to develop that side of the question, he must bear in mind his own adjuration that he and his friends would do it in the most economical manner. I am sure that that would be their duty. If the interests of economy are served by having fewer and better centres and slaughter houses, surely the consequence is clear that we should not shirk from using those slaughter houses best adapted to the public from the point of view of economy. Remember also that the market will become the collecting centre, and, therefore, although I am entirely disposed to consider individual cases where mistakes may have been made insiting a market, that is a very different thing from saying that all the market system, all the slaughter house system, of the country can be, with economy and public advantage, preserved under a system of control. These are two different points. I would like to say, with regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), who gave us a description of conditions in the country with whose geography and orthography he is more familiar than I am, that I will certainly look into those cases and into any similar cases, and, as the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) said, if there is a representation that the wrong place has been taken and that another place would suit better, all these things are capable of revision and review.
§ Mr. Hopkin
Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared at this stage to say that the parish should not be of necessity the basis for the market?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not see why in every case the parish ought to be the unit 1303 Surely the consideration that ought to govern the siting of these markets and slaughter houses is the convenience of the people in the district. But not that alone. No doubt mistakes have been made here and there, and if they are brought before us, we shall gladly examine them, and try to make these things as little irksome and inconvenient as possible to the public. On the other hand, I would ask my hon. Friends to support me in this, and to say that a measure of control of this sort is necessary and that we ought, without too much grumbling, to put up with the inconveniences which, may follow.
I hope that now I may say a word about tea, because the hon. Member for Walsall did refer to it. He gave us an amusing picture of some tea which was snatched out of the docks of London and sent to various unknown destinations somewhere in England. That may appear a very ludicrous thing to have done, but it was not so ludicrous. It was the fact that at that time, before the war, there was an immense concentration of the tea supply of the whole Kingdom in London, and no one looking ahead could shut his eyes to the danger that if the war had gone differently from the way in which it has gone, that tea might have been destroyed very quickly.
§ Sir G. Schuster
I want to make it clear that I have never criticised the idea of tea control nor the evacuation of stocks from London. My point was that the Food Ministry had been in existence for three years and might have had proper plans ready.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a reasonable and just observation, at which I do not wish to cavil. It appears from my hon. Friend's statement that some tea was put in a certain place and that the brands got mixed up somehow. I am very sorry for that. It shows what dreadful things can happen in times of war. Other matters that were raised I think I can pass over shortly. Other points were raised by the hon. Member for Doncaster, to whose speech I listened with great interest. He will find, I think, that the decisions on some of the points that he mentioned will be with him in a very short time. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself both realise that the earliest possible guidance 1304 should be in the hands of the public on these matters, so that they can take full advantage of the time yet remaining to increase production through that ally of the home food supply, agriculture.
I am sure the House will realise that this task which we have had to take over is a very big one and that, however perfect the plans may have appeared on paper, the application of the plans to the facts of the situation must require some adjustment and review. But I would ask the House, when they come across the thorns which surround this rose, to comfort themselves with the thought of the object which we all seek to secure, namely, an equal and fair provision of food to the public at prices which they can afford.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to answer the grave difficulty of the trade in stating prices to the public, when he takes over butter from us at an average price of 118s. and sends it back to us at 145s., which means inevitably an average rise of 1 ½d. or 2d. a lb. to the consumer. Why does he not explain that?
§ Mr. Morrison
If that is the particular matter which the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to explain, I would say this about price movements in food. Of course, the full impact of the dislocation of war occurs in the first few weeks. You may expect to get the greatest amount of dislocation and a possible temporary shortage and consequent rise in prices in the first few weeks, and surely the House will agree that it would be a better policy to make such price-fixing orders as we do make, not in little bits showing an imperceptible but steady mounting upwards, but, if necessary, to jump a bit, looking forward to the future, and then to hold the price steady, despite a rise at the sources of primary supply, so as to ensure to the public stable and steady prices. When the matter is put in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman puts it, it almost looks as if the Department has made a profit out of butter. Let him realise that all the profit that is made by this Department is the public's profit. The profit made in one direction may be used to advantage by reducing price in another direction. Consequently I do not think the public need have any fears about that.
1305 I hope that the House will assist me in bringing to my notice any definite cases of breakdown in the machinery. When I say "definite cases," I mean it, because nothing but good is done by bringing to the notice of the Minister some particular name and address with chapter and verse which he can investigate. Nothing but harm is done to the public interest by wild general charges of inefficiency or muddle unsupported by any evidence. I do not think I am making any accusation against any hon. Member who has spoken to-day, but I suggest that that is not an unreasonable request to make to the House so that these matters can be looked into.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
Are the arrangements in the livestock auction mart's which exist at present likely to continue, or are they purely temporary?
§ Mr. Morrison
They are by no means permanent. They are not the laws of the Modes and Persians, and if there are any regulations which are working to the public disadvantage they will be put right.
§ 8. 2 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I think it is right to express to the Minister the dissatisfaction which I feel at the reply he has made. Every hon. Member will agree with the platitudinous part of his speech and the generalities, but interruption after interruption from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) showed that he was not tackling the very points they were raising. I repeat that there is no complaint about control of prices and distribution. What we are complaining about is, first of all, that there should not be control and maldistribution before there is a system that will work. The organisation in this country for the distribution of foodstuffs by trial and error over a period of years is marvellous, so that you can get in every village shop the requirements that are usually wanted. To go and upset that suddenly and substitute something else which will not work is disastrous. Our second complaint is that the Department have had time for three years to devise, if there was to be any control, a system that would work. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman driving away by saying that we have only been a short while at war and that these things are bound to arise.
1306 The complaint of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) is one that I can repeat in my division. Why go and upset things which are working perfectly well and which are for the benefit of the people? Why ask the farmer to take his stock to a market 14 or 15 miles away, which he has never visited before, where he never does his shopping, and where he is unknown to the tradesmen, when he has a market town within three miles of him? What is the value of that? Who devised such a scheme? Where a farmer can walk his animals on the hoof he is now to spend money on petrol which is badly needed. You are also going to keep the men away from their farms and production. Where is the sense of putting into vogue a scheme of that kind? Our complaint against the Ministry is that these things are being done without sufficient thought, although, as the right hon. Gentleman kept on reminding us, we have the experience of the last war. The marvel is that we did as well then as we did without any previous experience. With that experience everyone is against a rise in prices.
The National Farmers' Union are adamant that there shall not be the rise that there was in the last war. We have all said that there ought not to be a rise in prices. The whole of Central Europe, from the eastern boundary of Poland to the eastern boundary of France, with the exception of a few neutrals, is out of the world market. They have been big consumers and buyers, but now they are out of our market, and we ourselves are the only possible buyers. There is, therefore, no reason for prices of things bought from the outside to go up. At the same time, farmers are prepared to fall under a reasonable control and help as much as they can, and it will not do for the Minister to come here with platitudes and then appeal to us to bring instances with which he can deal. We cannot get a worse instance than the one with regard to fish. Representations were made to the Minister before they were made on the Floor of the House. They were made for days before, and even on the day when they were raised in the House.
Mr. W. S. Morrisons
I think my hon. Friend is missing the point. I said that I had no complaints to make of criticisms of this sort. I received a lot of representations about fish, but I got them in a 1307 contrary sense by means of telegrams. There were two sides to that question,. and I do not think the House would grudge me the opportunity to hear the two sides before taking the action I did.
§ Mr. Davies
I will repeat the answer which the right hon. Member for Hills-borough gave to the right hon. Gentleman when he retorted, "You cannot ride off with that," namely, that the right hon. Gentleman had only been in office only a few days and that the Ministry had been in a position to deal with this matter only a few days. They had been in possession of all the facts for two years. Representations were made to the Minister — it may be that they contradicted one another — and then representations were made on the Floor of the House, when the Minister said, "I am sticking to my 1308 form of control, but I will reconsider it." Having reconsidered it and heard complaints from every part of the House, he withdrew the control and put the business back into the hands of those who have been running it for years and have made their livelihood out of it. We are now telling the Minister that if he is going to put on a control, let him see that it is an effective and economical one which will work. Otherwise, let the business be carried on by those who are accustomed to carrying it on. The people will then be supplied, prices will be proper ones, and there will not be a shortage in any house in the land.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes after Eight o'Clock.