§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Captain Margesson.)
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts
I do not apologise for raising again the question of agriculture and food production. My post-bag, since it was announced that we were raising this question, proves that the number of questions at the moment which are concerning farmers and producers of food was perhaps never greater. All the old problems which were before us before the war are no less urgent as the result of the war, and there are new difficulties and problems which beset both the producer and consumer, and, indeed, the distributor of food. In studying my postbag on this question I was struck very much with the wide range of these problems. The questions raised no longer affect just one Minister. There is hardly any Minister on the Front Bench to whom some of the questions should not be addressed. Food production has many ramifications, but the fact that so many Ministers are involved in the problems makes it much more difficult for the producer. We have present to-day the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister of Agriculture, but the Minister of Supply is intimately connected with some agricultural questions.
We get the most unfortunate instances where the work of one Minister seems to be entirely undone by that of another. An example occurs in a letter which I received from the Society of Allotment Holders. With great enthusiasm a body of allotment holders followed the Minister of Agriculture's advice to dig for victory, only to find, when they had dug and spent a lot of money, that the representatives of the Ministry of War came along, commandeered their land, and destroyed the whole of the work they had done. That sort of thing is intensely discouraging to the patriotic producer, whether he is an allotment holder or a farmer. I wonder whether, as the problems of food production are so important, some better system of co-ordination among the Ministers concerned cannot be found. The Ministry which is causing most alarm in the agricultural industry, either because of its activity or lack of activity, is, of 824 course, the Ministry of Shipping. I do not know whether it is the fault of the Ministry or whether it is inevitable, but I hope we shall hear more about it today.
Of the enormous number of problems which are facing food producers at the present time, I want to concentrate on the question of the supply and distribution of imported feeding-stuffs. We are told that the difficulty is that the shipping space is needed for other and perhaps even more important imports. We must make allowance for that fact, but I would point out to the Chancellor of the Duchy that the position is really this: At the beginning of the war it was inevitable that he should make himself responsible for the imports of the raw materials of a large part of the agricultural industry, and the industry was absolutely dependent upon him for the livelihood of many thousands of people as well as for the supplies that they turn into human food. I, as a producer, used to feel myself responsible for buying feeding-stuffs needed for my cattle, pigs and poultry. But it is useless going to the market and seeing a merchant, or writing to him, if the Minister of Food has not provided these feeding-stuffs, and the livelihood of many thousands of people is entirely dependent on his action or inaction.
There seems to be a widespread view that we are importing more animal feeding-stuffs now than we were in 1913. I have studied the figures, and I think that that opinion is a good deal exaggerated. The fact is that during the last war the position did not get difficult till much later in the war, and perhaps there was more time to work out the control more smoothly than has been given this time. This is a big question. We import into this country as raw material £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 worth of animal feeding-stuffs, and that is the raw material of a large part of the agricultural industry, just as raw cotton is the raw material of the Lancashire cotton industry. The agricultural community asks to be assured that those who are in charge of this matter have been discharging their functions as efficiently as is possible under the present difficult circumstances. The shortage of animal feeding-stuffs is terribly serious in this country at present, and I beg any hon. Members of this House who are not in touch with the rural 825 community, Members for town constituencies perhaps, to realise that the farmer is not growing wealthy at the moment.
There is a really serious threat to the production of bacon, eggs, milk, and other products upon which we depend at the present time, and it is not an overstatement to say that many producers of food are facing absolute ruin. We raise this question, not only on behalf of those people, but because also ultimately, and at not such a very distant date, not only will the producers themselves be affected, but the consumers will be finding that their eggs and bacon are not there, and that a real scarcity of some of the products on which they have depended will have developed. It is bound to mean that the cost of living will rise. We are told fiat much of the effort of the Government has been directed to preventing the beginning of that vicious spiral of inflation which took place in the last war, though, in passing, I might point out that the rise in the cost of food, in the first months of the war, has not been less than the average rise in the cost of food during the last war, and that the efforts of the Government in that direction have not been too successful so far. We do hope that that rise will be stabilised at something like the point which it has now reached.
I wish to refer briefly to the history of what has happened to the animal feeding-stuffs since the beginning of the war, and to tell hon. Members that the position in regard to supplies when war broke out was not at all satisfactory. The trade had been informed that supplies would be pooled, and for that reason, and also because there were and still are ample supplies of maize and other cheap feeding-stuffs in the world, and that if there were not a war, prices were likely to fall—for those reasons, there were not very large supplies of animal feeding-stuffs in the hands of the ordinary trade at the beginning of this war. In spite of that, the Minister of Agriculture, on 4th September, in a broadcast specially to poultry farmers, used these words:There is no shortage of feeding-stuffs, and I appeal to farmers not to take any hasty steps by killing their flocks.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)
That was not to poultry farmers, but in the general speech, was it not?
§ Mr. Roberts
If it was generally addressed to all farmers, then it was equally addressed to poultry and pig farmers, and I was a little surprised at the use of the word "flocks," which usually applies to poultry. At any rate, the impression was created, not only by that speech, but in many other ways, that there was not a shortage of animal feeding-stuffs in the country. We were given to understand that it would be most unpatriotic at that time to attempt to lay in stocks on our own behalf, and we were assured that the Government had the matter fully in hand themselves, but the Minister went on to appeal for an increase in backyard poultry keepers, and to ask them to extend the numbers of poultry that they kept. I do not want to do an injustice to the Minister, because he did state that poultry might have to be kept more on scraps and other such feeding-stuffs, but in fact, at the beginning of the war, the supplies of feeding-stuffs were very low.
I ask, What steps did the Government take to remedy that position then, after the war had broken out? When did the Government begin to purchase cargoes abroad? One has heard that certain neutral countries—and a large part of the trade is with the Argentine—were rather greedy about freights, and it has turned out—in my opinion it is now clear—that it was very poor economy then to haggle over freights and that we should have been very much better off with the feeding-stuffs here, even if they had cost a little more. By the middle of November the position had become acute, and I, as a private Member, was well aware of the fact and raised the Question in the Debate on the Address. On 22nd November the Minister of Agriculture made or. announcement, a copy of which I have here, and I would like to quote a few sentences from it. He outlined the difficulties which were preventing the importation of normal quantities of feeding-stuffs, and he said:Poultry producers are accordingly advised to plan their production programme for the next 12 months on the basis that the proportion of their feeding-stuffs derived from imports will be reduced by at least one-third as compared with the normal pre-war quantity.I draw attention to that, because I wish to suggest that it would have been much better last August to have taken the farmer into the confidence of the Government completely. That was a far too 827 rosy picture as given, that we should plan our production for the next 12 months. The Government were aware of the position, which was far worse than that, because I am informed that the Minister of Agriculture, at a Press conference two days before that announcement was issued, did not talk in terms of two-thirds, but of one-half production, and in fact only a few days later merchants in the trade were informed that they could be allocated only one-half of their previous supplies. Indeed, even that was not the full extent of the shortage which existed. One firm brought to my notice this position, that they were allocated, at the end of November, only one-third for the months of November, December, and January of what they had used in the previous year, and they informed their customers that because they had received in November zoo per cent. of last year's requirements, they were going to receive nothing whatever in December or January. That indeed meant complete ruin for the thousands of small poultry farmers who depended upon them. Fortunately, they were able to get that rectified, and the actual position with many farmers during December has been that they have been getting about one-third of what they required.
I press upon the Government that they should make a frank and full statement of the position. We are told that the position is better now, and that is admirable, but confidence has been badly shaken by the gloss which was put on the position only a few months ago, and I ask whether it will be only temporarily better or whether sufficient supplies are on the way really to improve the position fundamentally. I think it is highly important that we should now know the real facts, for this reason: The Minister was quite right in his announcement of 22nd November that we have to plan our production ahead, and if he had not at the beginning of the war told us that everything was all right, when it was not, it would have been different. Take, for instance, the case of the poultry farmer. The way to get poultry into the hands of the backyarders was to sell pullets in September, not now, when the market is glutted with birds. That was the time when the poultry experts could have reduced their stocks and, instead of killing 828 them, turned them over to the backyard. That is the normal time when such sales take place, but this is not the time.
Then, again, my estimate is that stocks of poultry have now been reduced by 25 per cent. To some extent that is a good thing, cutting out birds which are not very productive and leaving the better birds, but if that is to go on unregulated, as the feeding-stuff position improves later—as we hope it will, at any rate in the autumn, after the ploughing-up campaign has borne fruit—the birds will not be there, nor will, in the case of poultry, the young stock be hatched this year. I could give the Minister the name of one factory, not in the Southern counties, which has had orders for 22,000 chickens cancelled in one month. Nobody is hatching chickens for next year, and the breakfast eggs will not be there in the autumn. The same applies to pigs. In many places breeding stocks of pigs are being slaughtered. I believe that under the present arrangements of the Ministry of Food for buying pigs there is a schedule of the prices to be paid for sows in pig. I am informed that the North of Ireland Order was exactly similar to the English Order except for the fact that that particular classification of pigs was left out, because they had the foresight to see that at all costs they must hold on to their breeding stock, which is the capital of the farmer.
I cannot leave this part of the subject without saying that there is ruin facing many of the best poultry and pig farmers, and that it is a desperate matter. The stocks belonging to ex-service men who started after the last war are valueless if they cannot get feeding-stuffs. The case of the people who were trained at St. Dunstan's was brought to my notice today, and may I also refer to the work done through the Land Settlement Association by the Government themselves. When they were setting up specialist farmers they cannot have intended that this situation should arise. There is a very widespread feeling that the actual distribution of the feeding-stuffs in the country is not being done as efficiently or as fairly as it might be, that there is far too much in the hands of some of the big provender merchants and millers—
§ Mr. Roberts
There is a feeling that the distribution is very uneven as between one county and another. As far as I know. Cornwall has been perhaps the hardest hit.
§ Mr. Roberts
Lancashire, I agree, is also in a desperate position. Then there are great inequalities in distribution as between one farmer and another. We do not know officially what machinery of distribution has been set up. It has all been done by Order, and one has no complete picture of the machinery. The distribution among individual farmers is uneven. Instances have been brought to my notice in which farmers have been offered enormous quantities of feeding-stuffs. and the suggestion has been made that perhaps a premium above the maximum prices fixed was paid by some farmers. I wonder whether it would not smooth out the difficulties if producers' representatives were on the local committees which have been set up by the Ministry of Food. After all, the miller in a county, the man who makes compound cakes, has a very distinct interest in tins matter, and why should the raw materials of the producers be entirely in the hands of the men who stand to gain out of the transaction? There is a widespread feeling that the difficulty of obtaining straight meals and cakes is due to the fact that the merchants make more on the compound and mixed cakes which they are selling.
It is all very well for the Minister to produce a Maximum Prices Order when the farmer does not know what it is that he is getting in his mixture. Nobody but an expert can possibly tell whether the Maximum Prices Order is being carried out or not. There is every kind of extraordinary allowance. I believe the merchant may put on something for "cumulative differentials," whatever that may mean. The farmer does not know whether he is being charged for cumulative differentials, or whether he ought to be. There is a widespread feeling that the Maximum Prices Order is not being adhered to. I have had handed to a carefully-prepared costs account of a farm. It shows that the prices of feeding-stuffs have gone up to the extent of 64 per cent., and I shall be glad to show anyone the carefully-audited accounts of this very successful farm.
§ Mr. Roberts
The prices compared are those in the year ended September, 1939, and the prices chargeable now. The increase, of course, has only taken place in the last few days when the new Maximum Prices Order for animal feeding-stuffs was issued. I have a few constructive suggestions to offer. I suggest that the position is so serious that a real effort ought to be made to eliminate waste. There is some luxury use of animal feeding-stuffs—it may not be very great —but I am not sure that we can afford to feed hunters on oats, or that we can afford to allow people to put anything they like into dog-biscuits for their dogs. I am not sure that we can afford to continue brewing beer of the same quality. If the brewers and distillers got 60 per cent. of what they had been getting before, it would free 300,000 tons of barley which could be turned into bacon or some other necessity. That brings me back to my first point that the waste foodstuffs from households and towns should be collected in a really energetic way. I believe that is a matter for the Ministry of Supply, and whether that Ministry have put as much energy into the collection of this waste as they should have done I am very doubtful.
Then there are other possibilities. I have studied my own rather intensively-cultivated farm very carefully with a view to following out the Government's request that we should make ourselves less dependent upon imported foodstuffs. I wanted to see whether it was possible to make myself entirely self-supporting, and I found there was only one possible way of doing it, and that was by grass drying. It was the only possible way in which to produce sufficiently concentrated food to feed pigs and dairy cows—not poultry, because it is not very suitable for poultry. I put this to the Ministry of Agriculture, that by the process of grass drying we can feed our dairy cattle and beef cattle. There are 2,000,000 dairy cattle in this country. Theoretically, if you could feed them all on dried grass there would be feeding-stuffs available for the pig and poultry rearers, and we could produce our own bacon and eggs.
§ Mr. Roberts
We must not go too deeply into the question here. It is a very technical question and we cannot argue it out on the Floor of the House. Ensilage is quite a good food, but dried grass of high quality does take the place of imported cattle food and ensilage does not. Dried grass provides a high quality feeding-stuff. I believe that by the full use of our shipping space—and I have no confidence that our shipping space was being properly used until late last autumn the position can be very greatly improved, and I have confidence that that is now going to be done, or at least I hope it is. What is the alternative? If we do not continue to produce eggs and bacon and milk in this country because of a shortage of imported feeding-stuffs we must import the finished articles, and in that case the wretched poultry farmer neither gets feeding-stuffs for his poultry nor a high price for his eggs, because of the large quantities of eggs which are imported, chiefly from European countries. I believe it is a very short-sighted policy to import the finished article. It is more expensive from the point of view of the foreign exchange, which is just as important, perhaps, as shipping space, and I doubt whether cold-storage eggs do not take up just as much room as wheat. It is expensive and difficult to import eggs, and I am not sure that grain could not be imported to very much better advantage. Moreover, large quantities of the imported eggs, bacon and dairy products come from European sources, and can we rely indefinitely upon getting the eggs which are coming from Scandinavia or the butter from Holland or Denmark? Can we be sure that those supplies will always be open to us? We can be certain of the raw materials for the animal feeding-stuffs which come from our own Empire or South America or North America.
There are many other questions that I should like to raise but other Members want to speak, and I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few moments longer. I would submit one question of detail which is exercising very many producers. It has arisen in connection with the purchase of livestock by the Minister of Food, in particular the purchase of sheep. During the last war 832 if a farmer was not satisfied with the estimate of the weight of his sheep which was made by a grader employed by the Ministry of Food he had a right to take it to the slaughter-house and to be paid on the actual dead-weight. There is a widespread feeling throughout the North of England that there is no reason why that safeguard for the producer should not be introduced again. We have heard a great deal about guessing competitions in connection with the weight of sheep. I would not go so far as to say there is a guessing competition, but I know that my sheep which were sold last Monday were sold on what I should like to call a "guestimate" of their weight, something between an estimate and a guess. Farmers are said to be unbusinesslike, but here they are asking for a businesslike proceeding, and that is to be paid for no more and no less than they are, in fact, selling. The "guestimate" may sometimes favour the seller and sometimes favour the buyer, and farmers ask that they should be paid for exactly what they sell. I believe that the dissatisfaction with the present system is such that it may reduce the number of sheep which are fed in this country, and sheep are a class of livestock which ought to be encouraged.
I ask the Government to be really frank and practical about the position in regard to animal feeding-stuffs. If the policy of the Minister of Agriculture is successful in respect of ploughing-up—I hope that the wet weather in the autumn and the hard frosts now will not delay things much longer and will allow most farmers to get their ploughs working—I believe that the position will be greatly cased. If you now tell us that the feeding-stuffs position is bad, you will get farmers to plough up far more readily. They are not ploughing up readily at the present time. They are approaching the matter from a sense of duty, as something which has been laid upon them by the Government and as their patriotic duty to plough up precisely the acreage scheduled by their county committees. They are not going into it with much enthusiasm. If you had told us that the position was worse last autumn than you admitted there would have been more hurry to plough up.
I am confident that very great efforts will be made by the agricultural community. There are many things for which 833 we look to the Minister. I raised at Question Time the seed position, which is a limiting factor in the amount of acreage which can be grown for next autumn's harvest. We rely upon the Minister not to give us fair words now if the seed position in oats, potatoes and other products is not really satisfactory. We do not want to be caught in the same way as we were in regard to feeding-stuffs. If the position is not satisfactory, tell us. The campaign for ploughing-up must be pushed ahead with energy. I suggest to the Minister that each farmer be asked to make his farm a little more self-supporting. I suggest that you appeal to the groups of farmers represented by the county war agricultural executives, or that you create smaller groups and say: "One farm cannot perhaps produce all the food it requires for dairy cattle and poultry and sheep farming, but groups can do a very great deal by sharing things, and sharing labour to some extent, to make that group self-supporting." If you put it to the county committees: "You have so much livestock in your area; how much food can you produce for that livestock?" you will be working on right lines.
I hope that the propaganda done on behalf of the Ministry will not be overdone by suggesting that it is a great advantage to go back to a more primitive agriculture and to the form of non-specialised agriculture in which everybody cries to produce enough food for the animals he has on his farm. I believe that specialisation has been and will remain more efficient and that the only way to proceed is by securing wider co-operation and a bigger effort from the agricultural community in order to improve their position.
It is no good crying over spilt milk. The difficulty with regard to feeding-stuffs could have been avoided if many suggestions made from this side of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "And from this side too."]—had been adopted. I would refer to one suggestion in particular with regard to the storage of food. I looked up my OFFICIAL REPORT the other day on the question of food storage and I did not go very much further than the General Index to Questions. I will give the House a fair sample of the answers to some 49 Questions which were asked over that period: 834No statement at present. … No undertakings as to statement of the position. … No decision. … Scheme suggested to be borne in mind.That was with regard to the laying-in of a supply of animal feeding-stuffs which would tide us over the first few months of the war. It is no use crying over spilt milk; there was no supply of animal feeding-stuffs. Therefore we have to make all the greater efforts now to overcome that lack of foresight.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert
The agricultural community are indebted to the Opposition Liberal party for bringing this question before the House and the country. It is one of the most important matters in our rural economy to-day. Something tragic and catastrophic is happening among the pig and poultry farmers. My experience is no doubt the same as that of every hon. Member who represents an agricultural constituency. We have had most pathetic letters. It happened so long ago as October and November. The situation is that the poultry producer on a large scale has had to kill off a very large number of his chicks and that the pig producer has not only had to stop breeding but has had to kill off many of the young sows. I was shocked a fortnight ago in a small market town when a farmer came to me and said: "I have a sow which has had 11 pigs and I have ordered them to be killed." That really gave me a shock, because it showed a very deplorable state of affairs.
There are 1,000,000 more pigs in the country now than in 1914, double the amount of poultry and about 1,000,000 more cattle. We have developed those industries almost entirely on imported feeding-stuffs. The hon. Member who has just spoken said that despite the suggestions that have been made on that side of the House nothing had been done; I would remind him and the House that on this side I, among others, have been urging Government after Government to increase the arable cultivation in this country and the amount of feeding-stuffs produced here. It is because of the neglect of that advice that the situation to-day has arisen. There is not the smallest doubt about that. It has been the craziest policy, after the lessons which we had in the period 1914–1918. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon 835 Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who was so largely responsible then, gave us warnings in October, 1919. I have here a quotation from a speech in which he warned us that this position should never happen again. It has happened again. We do not seem to have taken any notice at all.
The Minister of Food will have a very hard time. We cannot judge so readily the other Ministers such as my right hon. Friend who was at the War Office, the Minister of Health or the Minister of Supply; but the Minister of Food will be judged three times a day by about 40,000,000 people in the country. I hope he may be able to survive. I do not blame my right hon. Friend so much. I blame the lack of backbone of the previous Government. They never had the courage to stand up to this agricultural problem. We could see easily that bacon was bound to be scarce because 70 per cent. of our bacon came from Northern countries, such as Denmark and Holland, and some came even from Poland. Forty per cent. of our butter came from there. It makes one almost despair of Democracy that, after the warnings we had from 1914 to 1918, we have not done better. Again I say that it is no good blaming the Minister of Food. The arable acreage of this country has gone down by nearly 2,500,000 acres and the number of workers has decreased by 287,000, or about 3o per cent.
§ Mr. Lambert
Because the product would not justify it. If any hon. Member opposite believes that farmers can go on paying wages at a loss, they make a great mistake. That is one of the prejudices that we have had to meet: "Why not pay your labourers?" We should be very glad to pay them. I am delighted to see the wages of the labourers go up, but I hope hon. Gentlemen will be prepared to pay for the products in order that those wages can be paid. The farmer grows 1,000,000 fewer acres of roots and we shall now have to pay, because home-grown stuff is not here. The land is deteriorating; we cannot get away from that fact. The cost of animal feeding-stuffs is bound to be greater. The 836 Greeks used to bring in a large amount of grain; now there is the dislocation represented by the submarines.
The Minister of Agriculture has proposed £2 an acre for ploughing-up. If I were to give him some advice it would be that ploughing-up is not a question of acres but a question of bushels. There is a certain amount of land ploughed up that will grow very little. I have a field of my own which will be ploughed up. It thas been in pasture for 4o or 5o years. I am now very interested to find out what kind of manure I shall have to use in order to get a crop. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand that you cannot plough a field and get a crop at once. The price that a man is to get for his product is a far more important matter than the an acre, because if he does not get a reasonable price you cannot expect him to put his heart into the matter. Thousands of acres are being ploughed up to-day which will hardly grow their seed. I know that only too well.
I suggest to the Minister that he must be sure in this new agricultural ploughing-up programme that there is a sufficient supply of seed. I am a little anxious about it myself. I made an inquiry. We want that seed at a reasonable price. The price of seed oats to-day is balloon-like. It is nonsensical. Instead of being about 2s. 6d. per bushel it is about 7s. 6d. That is a stupid rise, and nobody can justify it. Poultry keepers and pig keepers must have grain, and there are not the foreign feediug-stuffs to rely upon. Therefore I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible for him to control the price of seed oats. This is necessary as is shown by the fact, which I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, that oats seed which, in ordinary circumstances, cost about 15s., to-day cost 35s. or 40s. You cannot get the farmer to pay that amount. The sum of 35s. or 40s. an acre is a good deal, especially if he is not certain of receiving a decent price at the end of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is he going to get the money from?"] My hon. Friend asks, "How is he to get the money?" I understand that the Government propose to enable the agricultural committees to have a certain amount of money, but I read this morning in the "Times" that Mr. Fisher, the Chairman of Barclays Bank, said this about the banks: 837Given prices which will encourage him to extend and develop his operations with confidence and, more important still, conditions which will enable him to plan ahead, the farmer can surely rely on assistance from his banker if it should be required.It is confidence that is required and no one has any confidence, especially after the lessons of the last war.
There is a point which I desire to mention with regard to my right hon. Friend's regulations about butter. In the West of England there are certain housewives who make a very superior class of butter and that has to be sold at the regulation price of 1s. 7d. a 1b. That industry will go out of action entirely, because it cannot pay, and I cannot understand, if the rationing is adhered to, why a superior product should not command a superior price. I am afraid that industry will be destroyed, which is a pity when a housewife is a skilled butter-maker. I know some ladies in that part of the country who tell me that they cannot and will not go on.
There is another subject to which I wish to allude and it is a little further afield We are dependent for our supplies of food and feeding-stuffs upon the British Navy and upon the ships that are convoyed by the British Navy. I understand that the British Navy has no bases in the South-West of Ireland and that it does not use the South-West of Ireland. If the British Navy may not use the South-West of Ireland—and I suppose that is the case—I cannot understand why shiploads of feeding-stuffs and artificial manure should be shipped to the South-West of Ireland. If the Navy may not use those shores, surely advantage should not be taken of the ships which are convoyed by the British Navy. If there is to be preference, surely preference should be given to the home producer in this country. Why we are not allowed to use the coast of Ireland if we provide Ireland with feeding-stuffs I am at a loss to understand.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am rather pleased that both the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture are in their places to-day, because I do not see how the subject could have been dealt with without some form of overlapping on the production rid distribution sides of our agricultural policy. I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken in 838 his criticisms of the present or past Governments. It is sufficient for him to have said that they were a crazy Government without any backbone and I will accept readily his interpretation.
I do not know how many times in history a war has been necessary to prove the real value of agriculture in this country, but it is certain that between 1914 and 1918 agriculture did come into its own for a short time. It is equally certain that during the course of this war we are now appreciating to the full the true importance of agriculture in our national economy. The Minister of Agriculture is making frantic efforts to get more land under the plough; he is exhorting one-and-a-half to two million allotment holders to take up their spades; he is telling us that all those with back gardens should be cultivating them, and he and the Minister of Food and the rest are demanding that we increase our herds of livestock in this country, while at the same time, due to the absence of appropriate quantities of feeding-stuffs, poultry keepers and pig keepers are killing off their stocks, and the right hon. Gentleman is improvising a central slaughterhouse scheme. He is making an unholy mess at the beginning, whatever the ultimate result may be, simply because of the lack of foresight on the part of the present and past Governments over quite a long period of time.
As one hon. Member on the opposite Bench said this afternoon, it is a question of pre-war chickens coming home to roost. Like so many rats we have been nibbling at this agricultural programme for many years. We have had a regular welter of legislation and, although it may be that some little good has resulted here and there, I submit that the position in which we find ourselves at this moment —because the real fundamental problem of agriculture still remains—arises from the fact that the Government have never fully made up their minds exactly what part agriculture will play in the life of this country. Hon. Members and right hon. Members will remember the Kettering speech and will recollect how the Minister of Food ingeniously toned down the bitterness which was levelled at the Prime Minister at that time. But agriculture was left in a state of glorious uncertainty which has folowed us into this period of war, and some sections of the 839 country are paying a heavy price for the shortcomings of the past.
I was reading Lord Beaverbrook's article in one of his papers last Sunday. He has found a very easy solution. He told us in a very long article that all we need do is to turn over 4,000,000 more acres of land or put 4,000,000 more acres under the plough, that we must increase our livestock, must eat less butter, bacon and meat and, hey presto, everything will be all right. I prefer perhaps the more modest policy of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, which on paper seems to be very good indeed. He asks the farmers of England and Wales to turn over within 12 months 1,500,000 acres, or in the United Kingdom approximately 2,000,000 acres, and he tells everybody who has the opportunity to dig for victory. The machinery on paper seems to be excellent, but I very much doubt whether the machinery in operation is promoting the confidence requisite to carry out and fulfil the anticipations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
We know that before the war began the chairmen of the county war agricultural executives had been actually nominated and they automatically came into existence as chairmen. The county war agricultural executives each consist of seven persons. There are a series of subcommittees and there must be one member of each sub-committee on the county war executive. There is also a series of district committees operating in the rural areas. I realise that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must delegate a good deal of this programme if anything is to be done at all, but what has happened in fact is this—and this is why I suggest there is an absence of confidence in the fulfilment of the programme by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have approximately 370,000 farmers and 600,000 agricultural labourers, but the county war executive committees are nearly always made up of six Conservative Members and one labourer who may or may not be a member of the Conservative party. That leaves the situation thus, that we have the same mentality dealing with the war problem and it does not engender the maximum confidence.
Let me refer to two cases of which I am aware, although I do not charge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman with having made these appointments. I 840 charge those who have been responsible, however, for their lack of discretion in making these appointments, in view of what I am now about to say. Take the case of Monmouth. There you have a county war executive consisting of seven persons, six members of the Conservative party and one who is supposed to be a labourer but has no connection with the Labour party in any case. The paid officer of the Monmouth county committee is the Conservative organiser for that parliamentary division, and all the meetings of the county war executive committee are held at the Conservative party's offices. I do not charge the right hon. and gallant Gentleman with having made these appointments, but as a House we are entitled to know from him who did make these appointments and what was behind the appointments when they were actually made. It may be argued that the Conservative agent for that parliamentary division is now the paid officer of the executive committee, because it is the Conservative party which goes down during the war and it may be argued that the offices were taken over because the Conservative party had no use for them. In any case the Minister of Agriculture has come to the rescue of the Tory party there and has taken over the offices for the duration and presumably pays the rent.
There is another case in Sutherland, where the chairman of the county war executive, Colonel Gunn, has spent the whole of his life in the Army and has never owned or turned over half an acre of land in his life, as I understand. He is 76 years of age and has now retired, and he is the electric spark and driving force there. The paid secretary in Sutherland, where this young fellow of 76, now retired, is the chairman, is attached to a firm of solicitors; he or the same firm of solicitors are the solicitors for all the sporting interests in that particular area, and in the nature of things his duty to the Minister of Agriculture and his duty to his sporting clients are bound to come in conflict, very likely to the detriment of food production in that part of the country. The crofters who form such a large proportion of the people there have held meetings. They have protested against the chairman and against the secretary, but so far apparently nothing has been done. There happen to be over 3,000,000 841 acres of land in that immediate area set down as deer forests or for grouse shooting, and I am convinced that the grouse shooter or the deer stalker will win so long as the committee remains like that. In effect, the county war executive committees all over the country are sub-committees of the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Member may tell us the constitution of the Yorkshire committee. I know it too. The proportion of Conservatives upon it is rather high. But I do not want to make any observations concerning that com-mitte, because it happens to be a reasonably good one. The Minister in his speeches has been saying the only thing that can be said by a Minister who hopes that his county agents are doing their job thoroughly. He tells us that it is a big task, but that we shall win through. Of course it can be done; but we shall win through by action, and not by words. These actions can be performed only by those who have the war-time mentality, who know the needs of the moment, and riot by those who have the peace-time mentality which let us down in the past. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman tells us that it is too early to see the results of his campaign, but we have had five months of that campaign, and I hope that information will be forthcoming about it when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman intervenes in this Debate.
There are other reasons why one doubts whether we are making the progress that some of us feel ought to be made. It is true that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has said, the farmers have fairly long memories. They know something of what happened in the last war. I would say to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Minister of Food that they are doing the right thing in not attempting to force prices up to a dizzy point, thus creating super-optimism, which would bring disaster for the farmers when hostilities cease. The farmers, however, want some guarantee, and they will not become active and energetic until they know more. The Government can give such guarantees only when they have made up their minds about a long-term policy, not only for the duration but for as long after as is necessary for war conditions to 842 settle down into peace conditions without the serious dislocation that took place last time. The Minister of Agriculture has said in this House:Not only is the physical effort of ploughing up such a great additional amount of land a task of magnitude, but we shall be asking agriculturists to spend thousands of pounds in altering the economic system on our farms. We shall be asking them to undertake new commitments, which, to them, will be heavy, and we shall be asking them to adopt methods of farming which, for one reason or another, have in peace-time proved uneconomic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 2939; cols. 1381–2, Vol. 356.]Before they will undertake this duty it is clear that they will want a long-term guarantee of a reasonable kind, which will be fair to the farmer but equally fair to the taxpayer and consumer. That almost involves them in calling for credit facilities. The banker who has been referred to, who is willing to give agricultural credit when required if agriculture is made a gilt-edged security, is of no use at all. We know the banker who says, in a broad Yorkshire accent, "If the Government will give the rate of interest we demand and the period we demand we shall lend as much money as the farmers want." But the Government ought to devise ways and means of providing suitable, adequate credit facilities for farmers, to enable them to carry out this big task which has been imposed upon them. Everyone in this House knows that we can grow more oats, barley, wheat and sugar at a price, and it is the duty of the Government to make up their mind how much we shall grow, and what is the price we are willing to pay. If they can make up their mind on both those things there will be no doubt about the increase in the production of those four commodities.
But, having fixed the acreage and the price, there is one other thing the Government have to do, and this particularly affects the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. In increasing the production of oats, barley, wheat, or cereals generally, we anticipate that goodly quantities will have to be sold off the farms where they are produced. The Government have to make up their mind what they are going to do with that surplus. That brings me to the question of feeding-stuffs, dealt with so admirably by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). We have had so many controls, part-controls, and decontrols these last few 843 months, that everybody is left dizzy and nobody knows where he is. I doubt whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can tell us the position now. He might have known what the position was in regard to controls before he came to the House to-day, but I doubt whether he knows what has been happening while he has been sitting there.
I do not suppose that the poultry keepers would complain merely because there is a shortage of feeding-stuffs. We know that there is a shortage. We can complain about the Government's inactivity before the war in failing to provide adequate storage, but it is no use protesting about that now. But what everybody is entitled to complain about is the unequal distribution which has taken place during the last month or two. Poultry keepers and pig keepers have had a very raw deal. Everybody in the House has been overwhelmed with complaints from them. I have had a letter this morning from one breeder who has had to destroy 3,000 chicks at one day old. A friend of mine mentioned a case to me in which hundreds of one-day chicks have had to have their little necks screwed round. Among the poultry keepers there are thousands of ex-service men. They are, no doubt, not entitled to any more feeding-stuffs than the non-ex-service men, but all poultry keepers are entitled to a square deal. It is known that the general farmer produces some of his feeding-stuffs, whereas the poultry keeper produces none of his. While the general farmer sells cereals to the provender miller, making a bargain that he buys a certain weight of it back in the form of concentrated feeding-stuffs, the poultry keeper is unable to make any such bargain, and the result has been disastrous for him. At the present moment there is no sale in any of our markets for very small pigs, because of the uncertainty with regard to feeding-stuffs.
It is the smallholder and the poultry keeper who have suffered most acutely during the past month or two, and unless an equitable scheme is produced for rationing feeding-stuffs on the basis of needs the smallholder is bound to suffer acute hardship, because he has not the area of land upon which to grow his feeding-stuffs. He devotes himself largely to pig keeping, poultry keeping, vegetable 844 growing, and that sort of thing. He is paying higher prices and, since the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is inviting millions of allotment holders to grow vegetables, the smallholder is being robbed of his specialised market. He is entitled to far more consideration than he has had so far. The Minister of Food said one day:There must be perfect fairness in distribution—no first come first served, or anything like that. It can only be done by rationing.I entirely agree. There is a shortage of feeding-stuffs. Why has there not been a fair distribution? The only solution to the problem is this. If the Government are going to fix a price which is fair to the producer of cereals they have to decide what is to be done with the surplus sold off the farms and the quantity of feeding-stuffs sold abroad. The answer is, "commandeering." The Government have to commandeer the surplus, join it with the imported feeding-stuffs, and then build up the fairest machinery for distribution that they possibly can.
We know that the Minister has said that he would be in fear and trembling about seed oats. There is a controlled price for oats, 33s. a quarter, but none for seed oats. The answer to the problem is simple. If the Minister put a controlled price on seed oats the farmers would not sell, and he has no power to make them do so. Consequently, there would be a terrific shortage of seed oats for the coming sowing season. That problem is going to worry him unless he stops half-baked control and makes fall control the one thing aimed at during the period of hostilities. I feel sure that if the Government are to succeed they have to make up their mind what area they want to sow in this or that period, what is a fair and reasonable price to producer and consumer, what shall be done with the surplus, and what sort of distribution can be provided which will be fair to the poultry keeper, the pig producer, and the general farmer. Then the complaints that we have been having during the past few weeks will not be repeated.
Then there is the Government's centralised slaughter scheme. This has had only a week's trial, and it would not be fair for us to condemn it. But if we see why the scheme has almost broken down in the first week, it is fair to tell the right hon. and gallant Gentleman 845 what we think about it. We know that both butchers and slaughtering men, and, in some cases, consumers, have suffered after the first week. There have been fog, bad weather and all sorts of difficulties, and I do not even criticise the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for what has happened, but I can say this to him. When he took off the control of meat prices in early December and allowed farmers to land their stock on to the market at any price they could get for it, butchers, knowing in advance that this central scheme was to commence, bought up two or three weeks' supplies, and many of them paid very heavy prices for some of the meat they purchased. The first week that farmers were invited to take their cattle to the market, they simply would not do so. I do not want to quote instances, but I know a pork butcher in my Division, whose normal sales reach £150 to £250 per week, who received an allocation last week of only ins. I do not blame the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for that, but the conditions that were created just prior to the introduction of the scheme made this sort of thing well nigh inevitable, because a fellow who could get 25s. per score for his pigs was not going to leave them in the pig-sty and accept control prices it he could get rid of them before the day that the scheme of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman commenced.
There is one thing in connection with the central slaughtering scheme that I must bring to the notice of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I gather that this applies in all parts of the country. The transport system that will distribute the meat after it has been slaughtered is such as to displease everybody who is in any way connected with it. I have one case in mind where a covered coal lorry was. used to transport meat, and it was not a very pleasing sight to the eye of those who saw meat for human consumption being conveyed on a coal lorry. I suggest to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that unless a better scheme of transport is provided and you get one week of really good weather, half the meat taken from the central slaughterhouse to the butchers' shops will be absolutely unsaleable.
There are only two other questions I want to mention. The first is that of control. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has a very tall job. We could find 846 50 points where we might criticise the administration, but all that I will say to him, is that we are beginning to suspect that, within the general machinery of the Ministry of Food, the same unfortunate conditions are obtaining as obtained when the county war executive committees were appointed. If oil or fats are under consideration, you may be sure that nine out of ten of the controls belong to Lever Brothers, and if meat is under consideration, you may be certain that Vestey's are not very far beyond the door. We do not want to see vested interests either crippling or sabotaging the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's scheme, and I hope that he is going to pay due attention in future to any further appointments and avoid the colossal scandals that occurred during the last war.
I am pleased to find that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has at long last realised that there is need for land drainage in this country. He cannot get his 2,000,000 acres turned into productive land unless and until a good deal of drainage work is carried out. In 1927, I remember that a Commission told us that there were 3,750,000 acres that were dead for want of cultivation. It has taken a war to make the Government appreciate that fact, and whatever they do now, I hope it will be done not upon a niggling scale but upon a big scale, and if the catchment boards neglect their obvious duty, I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not hesitate to take powers from this House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The Rule dealing with legislation comes in here. Land drainage comes under a Bill which the House is to discuss next week.
§ Mr. Williams
But the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has already intimated through the Press and in other ways that a grant could be obtained for land drainage, and I am referring to land drainage- But I will not pursue the matter further. We have lost 260,000 or 270,000 skilled agricultural labourers since 1921. We have seen many more taken into the Air Force during the last few months. I am not sure whether the Government are not at fault in allowing more skilled agricultural labourers to be diverted from their normal occupation when food is of such. 847 vital importance at this moment. There are the schedules of reserved occupations, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to emphasise the needs of agriculture to all the Service Departments if he is to accomplish anything like the programme which he has set himself. In any case, if you keep taking away the young men from rural life, the time is not far distant when all the agricultural labourers who are left upon the land will be old age pensioners.
I want to see the Government make up their mind upon just what they want. The control, partial control, decontrol, succession of Orders, amendment of Orders, and re-amendment of Orders, leave everybody dizzy, and nobody knows where he is. I hope that they will make up their mind finally as to what they desire, and what are fair conditions in which to produce what they require, and then, I am convinced that all sections of the community will respond to their call.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I intervene in this agricultural discussion with the object of trying, if I can, to assist the House by saying a few words upon what was perhaps the main topic of the speech of the hon. Member who opened the discussion, namely, the position with regard to imported feeding-stuffs for livestock. That is a commodity which my Department is responsible for importing and having distributed to the merchants, who finally dispose of it under controlled prices to their customers. I am sure that though the Debate upon which we are now engaged deals with but one aspect, and a very important one, of our national food problems in time of war, the House would like to regard this particular part of the problem against the background of the whole question of food in war-time, so that we may see the due importance of each particular factor in the problem. The task which confronts any Government in war-time in this island of ours is to secure an ample supply of food for the 45,000,000 people NA ho inhabit the island. To that end agricultural policy at home, and the policy with regard to the importation of food from abroad must work together, having regard to that supreme object.
848 The question of importing feeding-stuffs for livestock is a part of the cereal problem as a whole, and in order to appreciate the magnitude of the problem it is perhaps sufficient for me to say that cereals account for about half the total shipping required by the Ministry of Food. Therefore imported cereals are by far the biggest single item in all the demands upon shipping. Let me say a word on the question of pre-war policy with regard to this commodity. I agree with what has been said in the Debate, that we are more concerned with the present and the future than in digging up the past, but I feel it due to a fair appreciation of this matter to give the reasons which made the policy of the Government in this matter in peace time what it was. As the House knows, the Government accumulated in peacetime a large reserve of cereals in the form of wheat. The question has been raised whether we were wise to concentrate upon wheat, and whether or not a part of the reserve ought to have been in other grains. That is a matter upon which opinions may differ, but I will give the reasons which made the Government at that time concentrate upon wheat. The first one was the obvious reason, that on the supply of wheat depends the bread supply of the people. In the second place, it is true of wheat, as it is true of no other grain, that it contributes both to the nourishment of human beings and to animals. At the present extraction of flour, a percentage of the product of wheat goes as offals to feed animals. There arc other technical reasons with which I will not weary the House, but it is true to say that no other grain, such as barley, and particularly maize—and it is more true of maize than it is of barley —keeps as well as wheat.
In order properly to store any grain you have not only to store it, but to turn it over, and the problems connected with turning over wheat so as to ensure that it is always fresh and fit for consumption are much less serious and severe than they are in the case of these other grains. The main reason for that is that the demand for wheat is constant throughout the year for bread, and you can always withdraw it from your store and place it upon the market with the full knowledge that you will get rid of it. In the case of feeding grains, where there is a more fluctuating demand at different seasons, that is not 849 so possible. For these reasons wheat was the sole cereal stored. I have mentioned the contribution which milling offals make to animal feeding-stuffs, but there is also another point which ought to be remembered. Wheat can be fed to animals, though maize cannot be fed to human beings. During the last war it was found necessary to prohibit by Order the use of wheat, barley, rye, and other grains for anything but human consumption. That has not been the case so far in this war, and of the home crop it is certain that substantial quantities have been used by the farmers for feeding purposes of one sort or another. That was the position at the outbreak of war, and at that date all available storage buildings were filled with wheat. A building programme of fresh stores was inaugurated and put in motion, and that was the position with which we entered the war.
It is very easy and understandable to realise that criticism can be levelled at this policy of concentrating upon wheat for storage. However, I have given the main reasons which led to its adoption and when one questions the wisdom of it let us remember that there is this to be said to its credit: there has been, since the war started, a fairly considerable period—now happily ended—during which our consumption of grain for bread exceeded our importation into store of wheat. However much the policy may be criticised it has produced this result. It has carried the people safely through a period in which bread and flour were undiminished in quantity, unimpaired in quality and at a steady price. Particularly, during the period to which I have alluded, the utmost economy in shipping space had to be exercised and it was not possible to bring in the accustomed supplies of animal feeding-stuffs, which compete for limited shipping space with wheat, exactly as limited storage space competes with wheat. During December the position with regard to animal feed-ing-stuffs—it has been suggested to me that I should be frank with the House, and I wish to be so—was such that it was not possible to release more than 30 per cent. of normal requirements. At the outbreak of war itself there was no shortage of feeding-stuffs, but a shortage developed in the early weeks of the war. But now I am glad to be able to tell the House that a considerable improvement has taken place in the position since then 850 and this month supplies were raised first of all to 4o per cent., and then to 5o per cent. of normal requirements. In the case of imported offals they were raised to 66 per cent. Looking at the situation as it is now it is even more encouraging and it was possible, on 23rd January, to increase supplies for February all round to 66 per cent. of normal requirements.
§ Mr. Morrison
Stores are being built. In war-time I do not like to look too far ahead but I hope we can keep it up. Let me say a word in reply to the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) on the question of distribution, because it is quite clear that this matter is in his mind. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has truly said that when any commodity is in short supply it is very necessary to make the best arrangements one can for equitable distribution of what is available, and if I give to the House a sketch of the arrangements which exist at the present time it will, perhaps, assist them in the Debate. The Ministry of Food is buying all these major imported feeding-stuffs. In each port there is a Port Area Grain and Feeding-Stuffs Committee which acts as the Ministry's agents. The hon. Member for Don Valley advocated, if I understood him aright, that there should be a complete rationing scheme down to the farm. On the surface it is an attractive suggestion, and my right hon. and gallant Friend may deal further with that later in the Debate, because it is more in his province than mine. There are, however, great difficulties in regard to it; and in the absence of a rationing scheme we are bound to secure as equal a distribution as we can. A fixed percentage of the normal imports received is released to each C.I.F. buyer, according to what is available, and he is instructed to pass on the same percentage to each country merchant and provender miller with whom he customarily deals. The system is a little different in Scotland because one of the intermediary stages is cut out, the Scottish practice being different. That means that there is a form of rationing down to the merchant, 851 but the final stage of passing on feeding-stuffs from the merchant to the farmer rests on the good will of the merchant. In all these large organisations one always hears of things that go wrong rather than things that go right, but from inquiries I have made I feel justified in expressing to the House my opinion that on the whole the merchants placed in this position have dealt fairly with their customers and clients.
All those concerned in this rationing system of distribution have got to have regard to the declared policy of the Government, and, frankly, during the period I have referred to, when these things were short, the brunt of the shortage fell inevitably on poultry keepers and pig breeders. I say inevitably because when one considers other consumers of feeding-stuffs I think it leaps to the eye that whatever you do you must conserve your milk and meat supplies if only for the reason that these sources of human food, if allowed to disappear, would take three years to build up again. The large provender millers were informed that the Government were anxious to keep up milk supplies and were asked to modify production to give effect to this necessity. Since the recent improvement in supplies, however, this request has been withdrawn. It is quite clear that not only does this fall most severely on poultry keepers and pig breeders, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture warned us it would, but it is also evident that it must fall with particular severity on poultry and pig specialists who have no other source to which they can turn.
The House does not need any assurance from me that that aspect of the problem is perhaps the most grievous of all troubles caused by this position. When one considers a great county like Lancashire, with its enormous and prolific sources of poultry breeding, done by small men, ex-service men, and others with small capital, one must consider it to be a duty to do all possible, within the limits of national war policy, to mitigate this impact of war conditions upon that industry. My right hon. and gallant Friend quite recently stated that special regard would be given for a short period to those who are mainly dependent upon pig and poultry keeping for their livelihood. Certain improvements are being made in the 852 position at the present time which I hope will result in a fairer allocation. Here and there the whole question has been complicated with difficulties of a peculiar nature. In the case of Cornwall the matter was complicated by the tact that in normal times they draw their feeding-stuffs from the ports of Plymouth and Cornwall, with such home-grown feeding-stuffs as Cornwall imports from Devon.
Owing to reasons quite outside the scope of my Department it has not been possible to make the same use of these ports as in the past, and in consequence my Department has had to organise the transport of Devon and Cornwall supplies from Bristol. But I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) that the matter has not been lost sight of and that the peculiar position of Devon and Cornwall is before us. Other districts have suffered in similar ways; in Hull, for instance, there is a similar position. So far as we can, though, we are improving from day to day in the light of experience the distribution through this organisation, and I think the House will realise that the story I have been telling is one of considerable resiliency after the first impact of war. The disorganisation which followed on the war was severe and from the figures I have given to the House it will be seen that we are doing our best to overcome it and, to some extent, have succeeded. The fact that this month the amount we shall now be able to release is exactly double what we could release last December shows the alteration which has been effected. We are gradually strengthening the distribution position and I am not unhopeful of the future, but I do not think I should be right in saying that I consider it reasonable to expect full pre-war supplies of imported feeding-stuffs to be maintained during the war. The utmost economy in overseas foodstuffs is essential. I hope to give the House from time to time the fullest information as to the actual supply position of these commodities so that they can adapt their agricultural policy in advance. Agriculture, like other industries, must adapt itself to circumstances when we are engaged in war. These necessary adaptations do press harder on some members of the community than on others but we are trying to effect them with the greatest smoothness and with the least hardship.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
The organisation at Godstone is a small auxiliary control board. As to the level of prices, a much more important question, it is hard to be certain how they will go but we shall, as we have done since the war started, do our utmost to keep them stable and as low as possible.
§ 5.47 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I desire to say something in regard to one of the important factors in victory or defeat in this war, but before I turn to the broader issues raised by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) I must say a word or two about the speech of the Minister of Food. It is very satisfactory to those who have been hit pretty hard by the muddle in food supplies to know that there is going to be an improvement which may last for three months. That is as far as the guarantee goes; and that we shall get two-thirds of our foodstuffs. But meanwhile we have had to part with our herds to a large extent. It came upon us without any notice that the Food Minister was not prepared at any rate to carry on for a sufficient number of months to enable us to turn round and find whether it was possible to get alternative food supplies, and, if not, gradually to liquidate our stocks. It came quite suddenly and unexpectedly, especially after the statement that there were plenty of foodstuffs available. I cannot understand it.
In March the Germans marched into Czecho-Slovakia, in spite of a most definite undertaking given to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister took notice of that by giving a guarantee to Poland which ultimately landed us in war. Therefore, we were in a war atmosphere, in a position where it seemed to most people that war was inevitable in March, six months before the declaration of war, and yet when September came there were no stores to provide cattle owners, pig breeders and poultry keepers with food for their stocks. Many of them have had to find refuge from bankruptcy in the slaughterhouse. Some of them were in a better position than others; they were good customers and therefore were looked 854 after and got their one-third. But I have had letters from no end of small poultry keepers and pig owners who have got nothing, and that after the Minister of Food, who is a member of the Cabinet, must have known that we were slithering into war. It is most indefensible. Now there has been an improvement. The Minister says that at the beginning of the war there were plenty of stores, and that if they sold the whole of the stores which the warehousemen had we could have kept up 100 per cent. For how many days, for how many weeks? In the sense that there were plenty of stores, that is not correct. In the business sense of the man who has to look forward to supplies, there was not plenty. We have had a second assurance now that there will be at least two-thirds. If the Minister of Food had so arranged things that we could have had at least six months to turn round we might have been able to make up the deficiency, but many have had to sell hundreds of their pigs and the poultry position is a deplorable one. I hope that the assurance given us now most solemnly in the House of Commons, that we can look forward for three months, can be carried out.
I want to talk rather more about the general food position. The last war, apart from the aid of America, was decided by food shortage. When it was decided that food supplies should come first there was a gigantic drive in December, 1916, too late for the winter sowing. But in spite of that we were able to add very considerably to our supplies by the tremendous drive in which the whole Cabinet was involved. That is one of the things I want to say. It should not be left to this or that Minister. It is the job of the Cabinet; it is the job of the head of the Cabinet, because the fate of this country depends upon it. No Minister can do the things which the two right hon. Members opposite will have to do unless they are conscious that they have behind them the whole of the influence and prestige of the Cabinet, and if necessary the whole compulsory powers vested in the Cabinet as a whole, compulsory powers which no House of Commons has ever refused in war time when the Government have asked for them. Germany collapsed for lack of food. We survived, largely through the 855 food programme which converted 3,250,000 acres of grassland into arable land. At the end of that period we had the greatest harvest—it was a bad harvest from the point of view of weather, and hon. Members will remember that during August and September, 1918, they saw stooks of corn rotting—in this country for 6o years. The wheat crop alone was greater by 65 per cent. than the prewar average for 20 years, oats 38.5 per cent. higher and potatoes 59 per cent. higher. That was done by a real drive with the whole of the Cabinet behind it.
The right hon. Gentleman has brought in a Bill—I do not propose to discuss it —which contains a good deal of the policy I recommended to the Government in 1935, which they examined carefully and rejected. It would have made a great difference if the provisions which are now incorporated in these proposals had been carried through in 1935 instead of in 194o in the middle of a great war. Let us examine what is the position as far as the war is concerned. I shall quote an authority which, I think, on the whole, is impartial in its estimate of the prospects and probabilities. There appeared in a Sunday newspaper, I believe the "Sunday Dispatch," a very remarkable article written by Signor Gayda. It was an article of great value on the prospects of the war, and it is because it bears upon the subject of this Debate that I shall read it. Signor Gayda has special authority from the fact that there is no doubt he is in Signor Mussolini's intimate confidence, and it may be taken that his views represent, on the whole, the Duce's opinion as to the probabilities in this great struggle. I think he is impartial—which is more than I would have said certainly a year ago—because, after listening to the Italian broadcasts—and I have those who can give me what is said in those broadcasts and also a summary of the Italian newspapers—I do not think there is such zeal in Italy for a German triumph as one would expect from an ally. Whatever enthusiasm or warmth there ever was, I think it was chilled by the Russian iceberg. I do not see the indications of a passionate desire for a great German victory in any of Signor Gayda's utterances. Therefore, I think that, on the whole, his opinion would not be biased in favour of Germany.
856 Signor Gayda says that the Italian view is this. He dismisses great military operations, he rules out a war of movement, he says that both sides will hesitate before they go into resolute assaults on great defensive lines; and he goes beyond that, and says that, in his judgment, Germany has no desire to attack in the West. I am giving his opinion, not my own. It is interesting that he also rules out the dreadfulness of air warfare on the civilian population. He thinks it is so horrible that all the belligerents of course, he is in the position of a neutral—will shrink from it. Therefore, he rules that out as an element in the war. He comes to the conclusion that the two democracies in substance expect victory by the inplacable and static siege of the whole of Germany. In his view—to use his words—that will take a very long time; and he thinks it will take a longer time than the Prime Minister expects. He says that Germany has accumulated vast stores, and that she has done gigantic things in making herself economically independent. He does not discuss at all any prospect of Germany's securing any supplies from any other country, and although he certainly does not rule out that in the end we shall exhaust Germany, he says that the Italian view is a little uncertain. That is the view taken by an Italian who is not unfriendly, as one can see in his article.
I think that, as far as the length of time is concerned, we ought at any rate, even if we make a mistake, to make it on the right side, and rather underestimate our prospects of securing an early victory. I think every Department in the Government ought to organise our resources in every particular on the assumption that it is going to be a very long struggle. If it should be a short one, we should gain so much by saving two or three years of war that it would not matter that we had spent gigantic sums on ammunition which we had not had to fire. It was so in the last war in the case of Germany, for we had about 58,000,000 shells surrendered to us by Germany. I forget what our accumulation was.
This is what I come to. I should like to know—perhaps the Minister of Agriculture cannot give a full answer to-night, but he cannot defend his Bill in the House adequately without telling us—what he has in his mind with regard to 857 increasing our food supplies in this country. What is the position? This is not the time to enter into recriminations, but several of us have been repeatedly warning the Government about the danger of going into a war with our arable acreage down 2,500,000 acres as compared with 1914, the number of agricultural workers down by 250,000, and what is almost worse, I think, our grasslands neglected to such an extent that there are millions of acres that have lost their fertility, are cluttered up with weeds, or waterlogged. This was going on. before our eyes. When the rearmament proposals were presented to the House of Commons in March, 1936—four years ago—I said:I regret very much—and I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture here—that the Government seem to ignore completely one of the most important elements in the defence of the realm, and that is the provision of food. We came nearer to defeat owing to food shortage than we did from anything else. I cannot understand why, when they are thinking out the whole problem of war and possible dangers, the greatest danger of all seems to have been left out of account."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 10th March, 1936; cols. 2030–1, Vol. 309.]I said that four years ago. I emphasised it two years later:But for food, the last war would have ended in a stalemate. If we had not managed to defeat the submarine, the value of which the Germans themselves did not realise for the first year or two, it would not have been a stalemate for us, but a surrender. That lesson, grim and deadly, is not taken in by a Government that is spending £2,500,000,000 of money upon armaments and leaving this, the weakest point in our armour, practically unrepaired and unstrengthened. I do not understand it. I do not understand the House of Commons standing it, and I cannot understand why the nation does not compel them to deal with it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1938; cols. 1376–7, Vol. 338.]The first effort to deal with it was the proposal put forward by the Minister of Agriculture for 200,000 acres a year to be converted from grassland into arable land-200,00° acres a year at a cost of 1500,000!
Mr. Lloyd George
It was a thing that could not have been done without the same sort of powers as are now being asked for by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He has discovered that. I was giving his estimate of the contribution which that proposal would make to the problem. It would have taken 12 years to get back to the position in which we were in 1914, because meanwhile 2,500,000 acres of arable land have been turned, not to grass, but a great deal of it has become derelict. That, then, is the position. Now, I trust that, although it is very late, this newly-proposed project will be a real one, with real support behind it, with real drive behind it, with real authority behind it; I trust that the Cabinet will become not merely conscious of it, but that they will put the whole of their strength there to support whatever Minister has to undertake it.
The position is worse than it was in 1914. Two and half million acres have gone, there has been a steady deterioration in the grasslands, the number of agricultural labourers is down by 250,000; but I think the most serious element is the decline in our shipping capacity. I have taken no part in the Debates on that matter, but hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have done their best to urge upon the Government the perils of this decline. It is much more serious than I thought. The other day I took the trouble to get the figures from various authorities. In getting figures with regard to shipping, the comparable figure is the figure of the deadweight, the carrying capacity, and not the registered tonnage, which is put down as low as possible in order to reduce fees and harbour dues. If you take out of the figures those great monsters of the sea that have been built with Government subsidies—I am not going to discuss the policy; it contributed nothing to the carrying capacity—and if you take out the enormous increase which there has been in oil tonnage because of our consumption of oil having gone up enormously since the last war, the carrying capacity of our ships for ordinary merchandise, foods, materials, is down by 6,000,000 tons. They are comparable figures and, as I am reminded by an hon. Friend, that includes all those little coasting steamers. Eight million tons of our shipping were sunk in the last war. You start now 6,000,000 tons down.
859 I am putting that as an argument for special exertions—greater exertions than we made in the last war—to make ourselves a self-contained community. You cannot do it altogether. You certainly cannot do it in the middle of a war. But I speak with some knowledge of what the soil is capable of producing and of what can be done, even with poor soil, as the Minister of Agriculture knows, by intense cultivation. Much can be done and it has to be done. It is no use carrying Acts of Parliament unless they are driven through ruthlessly after they have been passed. You must not be intimidated by vested interests. I had no end of difficulty about that, even with Ministers. But why should we not do this? Why should we not cut up our land—even park land? Every scrap of land ought to be conscripted and enrolled in our armies. We say we are fighting for freedom. So we are and there is not a single spadeful of available soil which ought not to be mobilised in the struggle. There must be no privileged land. If the Minister has the strength to stake his existence upon that, it will not be as easy to sacrifice him as it was to sacrifice our friend below the Gangway. The food of the people will be involved and they are beginning to realise that fact.
We had a speech, a very interesting speech, from Lord Halifax the other day. He said, what is quite true, that if you look at the decisive factors they are running in our favour. I think they are but on one condition—that those factors should be developed, should be utilised, and should be exploited. Undeveloped factors are worthless. We have our soil —rich soil. We have plenty of workers who are doing nothing. We had not that advantage in 1918. We were short of labour. We could not find people to do the most essential jobs. You have now an unemployed register of 1,500,000. The Minister has an enormous advantage. He has another advantage. We had hardly any tractors then. I think the first lot of tractors were got from Henry Ford. He sent us about 5,000 or 6,000 and we owe him a debt of gratitude for them. Then we had to ask the munition works to manufacture them. It was a new job for them, but we were able, at last, to gather together a few thousand tractors. Now you have tractors and that is in your favour. If your agricultural labour is down, you have machines— 860 harvesters and other machines which were hardly known here in those days. You have that in your favour.
Lord Halifax said the other day that the dictators had an advantage over us in preparation and planning. This was by way of explaining why we had not done certain things which ought to have been done. What are these advantages? That the dictators keep their plans secret —that they have got the police to enable them to keep these things secret. But what was there to keep secret about plans for the cultivation of the land? Suppose you had brought in the Bill which you are introducing next week or an even stronger Measure to drain the swamps and to have compulsory cultivation of derelict land, why should that be kept secret? Could not we carry such Measures in this country without having secret meetings of the Cabinet? You said that 1,000,000 acres had to be ploughed. What was the secret about that? Why should you say, "Do not let the farmers know, or the labourers and certainly not the newspapers; and you must keep it from Parliament whatever happens. "Why this talk about the police? We have not got police to compel the people, but if you have belief in democracy, if you had gone straight to the people of this country and said, "You are in danger; you are at war, and you have to see to it that your food supplies are secure and that the children of those who are fighting for the liberty and honour of our land shall not starve in their homes," do you mean to tell me that you would need police to force Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen to do their duty? That would be a slander on democracy.
Let Ministers cease to talk that kind of rubbish about the advantages of dictatorship. That is not the way to defend democracy. The dictatorships have no advantage. If you tell the truth to the people they will back you through thick and thin and they will back you now if you mean business. Why do you not do what Mussolini has done in Italy for the land? He need not have sent people to gaol in order to drain the Campagna. He need not have suppressed newspapers in order to drain the Pontine Marshes and irrigate the shores of the Adriatic. That was not necessary. You could have done all this drainage scheme which you are talking about now, if you 861 had come to the House of Commons and said, "We must have that land and we must spend the necessary money upon it." If you had said that you could have had it. What is the good of saying that you must have dictators to do this kind of fling? Since when has democracy become such a fatuous, impotent, helpless thing that it cannot cultivate its own land? That sort of talk is part of the propaganda of Nazism.
In a speech the other day Signor Mussolini said that in 1924 they had had to import 30,000,000 quintals of wheat and he announced that the last harvest had given him a surplus. He has not done that with secret police. It was done openly. He carried his nation with him and so could you. He has secured this surplus and during the period when he was doing so, he was strengthening his army, his air force and his navy until, according to the opinion of very competent authorities, they are almost twice as efficient and infinitely better equipped than they were in the Great War. All that was done while he was still, in a very poor country, increasing his agricultural resources. The same thing applies to Germany. While they were raising their army from 100,000 to 5,000,000 and building the greatest air force in the world, they were at the same time draining 5,000,000 acres of marsh land. We have waited until war is upon us before even attempting any of these things. Now the Cabinet have decided to make the effort. Let them make it in earnest. It is no use half doing it. It is no use quailing before the vested interests which will begin to thwart you at every point and which are entrenched in some of your committees, as my hon. Friend has said. It is a perfect scandal the way that is done—and the same thing applies to the department of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. There has been far too much politics in the appointment of distributors, many of them incompetent.
Mr. Lloyd George
Yes, I will. There are one or two things I want to talk about and I will give facts within my own knowledge. I will do so with pleasure. Therefore, knowing that we are only at the beginning of our tremendous struggle, knowing that by the very 862 fact of our being ready to the last particular, Germany will understand that whatever happens she cannot starve us and will therefore be in a better mood for discussing real and genuine peace terms, I ask the Government to throw the whole of their energies into this and to show that the effort which is being made in regard to the cultivation of the soil, and putting us above apprehensions of famine and privation, should be a reality and not a sham.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise
I cannot but think it must have been with some sense of tragedy that it should have fallen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), within less than a generation, to stand up in this House and take part in a discussion on such a vital topic as our food defence in time of war. I think those hon. and right hon. Members of this House who were present during the last war must also feel a sense of tragedy that once again it is necessary for this House to be discussing this vital subject. The second part of the tragedy is that there would have been no need for this discussion, and the form that it has taken during the speeches of the last two speakers, if only the nation had been prepared to learn the lessons of the last war. If it had, then, indeed, we might have reviewed the situation with very much more complacency than we are able to do to-day. Perhaps there is a third element of tragedy in the situation, and that affects the right hon. Gentleman himself. With much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said I find myself in agreement. I cannot forget, however, that it was while he was Prime Minister that Part I of the Agriculture Act was repealed—with all its merits or demerits—and it had, I admit, some demerits—it was a definite effort to put agriculture, and in particular arable agriculture, on a permanent footing at least for five years.. In spite of the fact that it could not be repealed for five years, it was, during the Premiership of the right hon. Gentleman, repealed within six months. That was a tragedy, but there is a still further element of tragedy—
Mr. Lloyd George
Of course, as Prime Minister, I was responsible for the whole of the policy of the Government, but it was proposed by two, or, I think, three 863 Conservative Ministers. As Prime Minister I accepted the responsibility, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and others who talk like that, always overlook the fact that it was the Conservative Ministers' votes and a Conservative majority that carried it. If the hon. and gallant Member is willing to say that men of his own political persuasion share the blame, then I certainly take my part of it.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I was not a Member of this House at the time, but I am quite certain that the party to which I belong would not try to divest itself of its full share of responsibility.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
In view of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has just made—and it is one of the many speeches which I have heard him make in the House on this subject—why then, if he holds these views so strongly, when it became necessary for Part I of the Agriculture Act, 1920, to be repealed, did he do nothing to put British agriculture on a sound basis?
Mr. Lloyd George
Because of a meeting at the Carlton Club of die-hard Conservatives, and I ceased to be responsible for the Administration of this country. At that time I was consulting with the Minister of Agriculture and preparing an agricultural scheme.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I think I may leave it to the judgment of the House whether the right hon. Gentleman has a measure of responsibility for the plight into which British agriculture has fallen in the 20 years since the war. As I said in my opening remarks, with a very great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman said I find myself very nearly in full agreement, and in my humble way for many years past I have stood in my place in this House and endeavoured to tell successive Governments, of every political shade or opinion, of the vital danger which we were facing as a nation if we did not take adequate means to put the home production of food on a permanent and sound basis. That is what I mean when I say there is an element of tragedy in the fact that we should be debating this vital subject to-night, 864 because, if we had taken time by the forelock—
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
—we should have been in a comparatively safe position. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly reminded us that in the last war, while we had military reverses and naval reverses, the significance of those reverses paled before the peak point of peril when we were most short of food. There are two lessons which should have been learnt by this country. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food alluded to the fact that we have in these small Islands some 45,000,000 mouths to feed. That being so, I submit that it would never be safe, even in peace-time, to make ourselves ever increasingly dependent on sea-borne supplies. Let us assume that for one reason or another in peacetime the sea-borne supplies again go short, and that there is famine in one continent or another, or that for some other reason the flow ceases to come to these Islands. What would be the result? We should be, as consumers of food, held to ransom, paying monstrous prices for whatever we could scrape up from the corners of the world, because we had allowed our own production of food in these Islands to die. That is the first lesson that this country should have learnt after the experience of the Great War. The other is that it was surely wise that we should have learnt as a nation that if and when there was another war, any intelligent General Staff of any potential enemy of this country would direct their plans against the weakest link in our armour, namely, our seaborne food supplies, and that is exactly what Germany has done for the second time.
Both the lessons have, unfortunately, not been learnt. When the nation found itself in the Great War in considerable difficulty in regard to its food supplies, it called upon the industry of agriculture to come along and fill the gap. Right nobly did the industry respond, and no one will deny that it was largely done, I admit, under the great energy and driving force of the right hon. Gentleman. But, no sooner was the danger past than the industry of agriculture was discarded. It was allowed to drift into the doldrums and largely into bankruptcy.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I am not attempting to approach this problem from any narrow party point of view. I am personally prepared to say that I think that every party in this House shares a great and heavy responsibility but I do not want to drag in the red herring of party controversy, because I consider this matter far too vital to tinge the discussion with any party controversy. The fact is that the industry, having made the great effort ii: did in the last war, was left to fend for itself, and it has been left to fend for itself almost entirely for the last 20 years. Other industries have been afforded some considerable measure of assistance, whether by tariffs or some other equivalent method, but agriculture has not been allowed to have the benefit. I am not going to argue whether that is the most appropriate thing or not, but I wish to point out that since the war other great industries of this country have gone from strength to strength under the tariff system, whereas agriculture has had no equivalent measure of assistance given to it. I admit that there have been some subsidies given to the industry, but will any hon. or right hon. Member deny that when a subsidy is given to the food-producing industry, every penny of that subsidy is a direct subsidy to the consumer of food, because it enables that article to be sold under the cost of production? So much then for subsidies, but as regards the value of subsidies granted to the industry, they have not amounted to more than a sustenance ration to keep the industry alive.
A few months before the outbreak of war it fell to the lot of my right hon. and gallant Friend to make an appeal for a ploughing-up campaign. In the name of the nation, he asked the industry of agriculture to put some 2,000,000 acres back under the plough. What business had the nation ever to allow these 2,000,000 acres to fall away from the plough? The fact that it has fallen to the duty of my right hon. and gallant Friend to make this appeal to the industry is the strongest condemnation of the national policy towards agriculture during the last 20 years. That agriculture will make a heroic and herculean response under the energetic guidance and drive of my right hon. and gallant Friend, I have no doubt, but once and for all the nation must drop 866 the habit of regarding the food-producing industry of this country as merely the third, fourth, or fifth line of defence. It is nothing of the kind. It is the first line of defence. It is essential that human life should be supported. All the ships, the aeroplanes, the munitions, and the guns you like to make are utterly worthless if the men behind them have not food and if the men working on the home front are not fed. We talk airily of our food supply as if it came low in the list of our lines of defence.
However keen the agriculturists may be—and, indeed, are—to respond to the appeal now made in the name of the nation to pull their full weight and to increase the home-produced supply of food, one must recognise that the industry is entering upon its task under considerable handicaps. A great deal of the skill in growing cereal crops has unhappily been lost to the industry. Half a generation or rather more of skilled arable farmers has passed on, and half a generation of skilled workers who knew how to take part in arable cultivation has gone. An enormous number of the ordinary, humdrum, everyday implements necessary for arable cultivation have simply been lost; they were no longer wanted when the land went down to grass. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs mentioned, hundreds and thousands of acres are under-nourished, many of them derelict, and a large number waterlogged. It is no good talking about cashing-in on the fertility of the soil when, in fact, the fertility has long since been squeezed out. One of our major tasks to-day, if we are to do any good with our food-producing campaign, is to get the fertility back into the land. That fertility must be replaced, but it cannot be done in five minutes. It is a matter requiring patience, skill, and credit.
It is lamentable that the nation as a whole should have been so unmindful of the prime necessity of keeping the agricultural industry in good heart and fully producing all the time. I am bound to say that I agree largely with the view that the financial and commercial interests have, or had, too often combined successfully so that home production should not be encouraged in order that there might be an increasing importation of sea-borne foodstuffs. Agriculture, I believe, will make a great response, even 867 though it has to enter upon its task with crippled resources. The plea that I would make is that agriculture should be given a square deal. If it is to be called upon in time of emergency for the great efforts which the nation asks from it, then surely it is not too much to ask that it shall have fair play in time of peace.
Turning to more detailed matters, when on the outbreak of war control was imposed upon the price of cattle and pigs, it was a mistake for the Minister of Food to fix a price which was, if anything, below that ruling according to the ordinary law of supply and demand before the war broke out. That was not a very encouraging way to support a great food-production campaign. I can testify from personal experience about this. I happened at that time to be weekly in the markets selling cattle and pigs, and I found that directly control arrived I had to receive considerably lower prices than I was receiving in the weeks before war broke out. Is it likely that any other industry—shipbuilding and armaments, for instance—would be asked on the outbreak of war to take a lesser price than they got in the ordinary way before the war? Why should the industry of agriculture be singled out for this special kind of treatment? The error was so glaring that the control had to be taken off, and it remained off for a considerable period. It has now been re-introduced, and the level of prices for cattle and pigs is not such as to give reasonable satisfaction to the producers. I beg my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make the strongest representations to the Minister of Food that his efforts will be considerably crabbed and the national effort will not be fully developed unless a reasonable price level is fixed for the commodities which agriculture has to place on the market. I had intended to say some-think about the feeding-stuffs position, but it has been adequately dealt with by previous speakers.
Hon. Members may have read the speech of the chairman of one of the big banks at its annual general meeting yesterday. He demonstrated clearly the position of an industry which has exhausted its capital, as agriculture has to-day. If the country says to it, "You have to start and have a tremendous drive and do everything possible to increase the 868 production of food," and the farmer turns round and says, "I have not the cash or credit or capital to do it," what does the banker say? I agree with what the banker says—that the right way to do it is to give the producer a reasonable price level and security so that he can plan ahead. Then, says the banker, credit will flow into the industry. I beg my right hon. and gallant Friend—and I address my plea equally to the Minister of Food—that there should be the closest collaboration between them; and if they really require, as I know they do, that this great food-producing campaign should be a 100 per cent. success, they must fix a price level which will enable the goods to be produced.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I do not propose to criticise any party for anything they may have done in regard to agriculture. I have listened to many speeches on agriculture in the House, and this is the first time I have ventured to express an opinion on the subject. I do so with all humility, because I have no practical knowledge of farming, I have not even a theoretical knowledge, and I have no farmers in my constituency, no farms or farm labourers, and not even a cow. I hope to convince hon. Members that even the townsman can make some contribution to this issue and that the constituency which I represent has made a considerable contribution.
When the appeal went forth for more food, one of the things that occurred to us in our district, which is an industrial part of North London, was to consider whether anything could be done with the amount of food that is wasted. The first thing we decided to do, before proceeding to collect the waste food and sell it as pig food, was to have some pigs of our own in order that we might try it on them, to see whether it was all right. We approached the dustmen and asked them whether they would like to form a pig club. They did so, and on 6th November, in the presence of representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, 42 pigs arrived in our district. Some of our inhabitants had probably never before in their lives seen a pig. The dustmen had been busy in their spare time building piggeries on modern hygienic lines; they are well-built places, erected to plans which came to us from the proper 869 quarters. The pigs were happily installed, and the pig club was formed. The dustmen proceeded to give notice to their friends, householders, shopkeepers, and people who ran cafés and restaurants, to save their bits and pieces and give them to the dustman when he called in the ordinary way in order that they could try out this experiment on the pigs. In the first month we not only collected enough waste food to feed the 42 pigs, but we collected from 10 to 12 tons surplus. If we had followed the line of people who pretend to be wiser than us, we should have buried it. Instead, we sold it for 35s. a ton.
We have been inundated with requests for food. The "Times" was good enough to print a report of this experiment, and it was followed by letters begging us for food. Farmers are writing from within 100 miles of our district asking us to let them have some of this surplus food. It consists of waste bread, remains of dinner, potato peelings, and other refuse. I will give hon. Members who know a great deal more about agriculture than I shall ever know an example DE what has been done which will show them more than anything that I can say what the farmers and pig breeders think of this kind of food for pigs.
A week last Friday we received an urgent letter from a farmer asking for a truck-load of food. It came from a farmer who said he had nearly 2,000 pigs and could not get food for them anywhere. We asked the railway company if they could let us have a truck in which to send the food, because the farm was 60 miles away, but the railway company could not do it. Then we asked some of the dustmen if they would volunteer to take a lorry-load of the food to the farm on Sunday. They agreed, and away they went, arriving there about half-past twelve. What I am going to say now is what a dustman told me. He said, "We got there, and the bloke on the farm came out and said, 'What have you got?' I said,"Pig food, guv'nor.' He said, 'Well, take it out and let me have a look at it.' When we turned it out tears almost came into his eyes, he was so overjoyed." He gave the dustmen a ten-shilling note each, and asked them to stay to dinner before sending them back, and to-day we have received another order from him for five tons of food for his pigs.
870 I see our own pigs every other day, and they seem to be prospering remarkably. I know nothing about pig-keeping, but they are putting on weight, and while it is early days to dogmatise upon this experiment, I have a shrewd suspicion that the kind of food on which we are feeding the pigs is perhaps better for pigs of four months old and upwards than for very young pigs. If a young pig were fed entirely on what is called "swill," it might become corpulent at too early an age. The pigs we have are about four months old and they, at any rate, are making remarkable progress.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Do you boil your swill? It is essential to have that point made clear before such food is generally distributed.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
In our district we do not pretend to know anything about pigs, and, therefore, at every stage we have asked the advice of people who do know, and one piece of advice we are following very rigidly is to see that all the waste food collected by the dustmen is boiled for an hour. This brings me to another interesting experiment. I am glad the Minister of Agriculture is here, because this experiment took place only yesterday, and there has been no time for particulars of it to reach his Department. Having had this early success and finding that our own pigs are doing well, we are pushing ahead. Farmers are applying to us for our product, and we could sell five times the quantity we do. We think we are doing useful work, and we find, too, that it is a paying proposition. It used to cost us 6s. a ton to destroy this stuff, and now we are selling it for 35s. a ton. Therefore, we do not pretend to be philanthropists or ultra-patriots; we are engaged in a sound business proposition.
One difficulty we found was that if we had to send a truck-load to a farm any distance away, the transport charges were nearly as much as the cost of the stuff. Yesterday we took 3½ cwt. of the waste food that we had collected and put it into an apparatus which had been placed at our disposal by a firm which had used it for something else. We put it into this boiling apparatus for an hour and a half. During that time it was not only boiled but thoroughly mixed, and the process reduced the bulk 871 by 75 per cent. and reduced the weight from 3½ cwt. to just over 1¾ cwt. The food which was produced—I have a sample of it here and will give it to the Minister of Agriculture—is in appearance something like solidified spinach. We tried it on our pigs to-day, and they clamoured for it. We are told that the food will continue good probably for 12 or 14 days. In view of the great importance of this experiment, I would ask the Minister of Agriculture for the immediate assistance of one of his staff to look into the matter and advise us whether we are on the right lines and whether it is possible to carry the experiment further, so that we can produce some feeding-stuff like the oil-cake which is fed to cattle which would be useful for pig farmers. As we have reduced the bulk by 75 per cent. while retaining the food value, it has rendered its transport easier, and the experiment seems to have considerable importance. At least half a million tons of pig food can be recovered in this country without any difficulty.
Now we are going on to the next stage. The next stage is that we have had all our vehicles in the district fitted with special containers, and next week we are sending out a circular to every householder in the district—to 30,000 homes. The circular is headed "People, Paper, Pigs, and War"—because it refers to waste paper, of which we collect something like 30 tons a week. The part of the circular referring to pigs says:Do you know—That employés of the Tottenham Cleansing Department have purchased a herd of 40 pigs and are feeding them substantially on kitchen waste given to them by a few hundred householders and others in Tottenham.That as a result of the efforts of these householders it has not only been possible to feed our own pigs but during the past few weeks we have supplied many tons of pig food to pig keepers in Hampshire, Surrey, Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex.That the Council are now asking all the 30,000 Tottenham householders to help in a similar way by saving their kitchen and table waste (not green stuffs) but potatoes, potato peelings, scraps of meat, bread, etc.That all this material usually finds its way into the dustbin and has to be destroyed.That householders who are willing to cooperate are asked not to throw the material into dustbins but keep it either in paper-bags or small boxes or anything else suitable for 872 the purpose and place it near the dustbin when the dustman calls each week.That if 50 per cent. of the people in Tottenham would do this we could collect between 20 and 30 tons of edible pig food every week and so assist pig keepers in feeding their stocks.I have not the slightest doubt that we shall get a tremendously good response to that circular, and probably get somewhere between 25 and 30 tons per week. I say that with confidence, because some time ago we appealed to householders not to throw their waste paper into the dustbins but to pile it up separately, and I am not exaggerating when I say that last month we collected in our district almost as much waste paper as all the other Metropolitan Borough Councils put together.
I apologise to the House for having dwelt so long upon this matter, but may I venture, in this my maiden agricultural speech, to say something about another phase of the matter that interests me profoundly? As I say, I do not know anything about agriculture, but I know that 10,000,000 tons of refuse are collected annually in this country by the local authorities. Out of it, 1,500,000 tons are put through a screening plant by the local authorities and produce a material which we call screened dust; not dust altogether, because it goes through a three-quarter-inch mesh. After having done so, it results in approximately three-quarters of a ton of screened refuse. The hulk of this material is, at the present time, being dumped by local authorities at a price of round about 2S. or 3s. a ton. In some boroughs where they send their refuse some distance I believe it is costing the borough engineers about 6s. a ton to get rid of it.
We have held the view that there is value in this material that we call screened refuse. We heard stories from Scotland that some of the more successful farmers used it for a time with great success. We were anxious to experiment further, so we have supplied one of the most successful farmers in Essex with 2,000 tons of this refuse since the war broke out. I took the opportunity of spending an hour on his farm this morning. I found that this man, who is not a philanthropist but a highly successful farmer, whose line is likely to be followed by a good many other farmers in his neighbourhood, was highly satisfied with the material, which we are giving him free of charge. He 873 pays the carriage, and we are glad to give it to him free of charge because it was costing us 3s. a ton to get rid of it. He is putting the material on very heavy land at the rate of 40 tons per acre. His opinion, which I give for what it is worth, is that it very valuable indeed, particularly for breaking up heavy ground. He also thought that it had a considerable fertilising value.
He illustrated his point with a very homely illustration which I said we should never have thought of. He said that if you looked around the country, even at first-class farms, you often found that the farms were disgusting to look at, but that nearly every farm had a very nice garden in front of the farmhouse. He said, "I often used to ask myself how it was that the farm was not producing as well as was the farmer's own garden, although it had the same soil." The answer, he said, invariably was that the ashes and the dust from the grates in the farmhouse fireplaces were thrown into the front garden, and that addition to the land in the front gardens made them look so nice. He is applying that principle and putting the dust and ashes that come from the dustbins of 30,000 householders on to his land. He says he is convinced that it is a very valuable factor in breaking up heavy land and that it has very considerable fertilising value.
I want to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a question on this matter. I know that it necessitates making experiments, but could he shortcircuit some of the experiments at present being made by his Department in order to give some guidance to us on this matter, which is of the very greatest importance? I can tell him that in the winter-time in one borough alone, the one for which I am speaking to-night, we produce 300 tons per week of this material and that it goes through a 1½-inch mesh. If the Minister would tell us something about the fertilising value of this material and whether we and all local authorities are to be encouraged to go ahead with screened dust we should be very grateful.
§ Sir Robert Tasker
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman's speech, which is extremely interesting and important, to ask him whether the farmer separated all the ashes? Did he have it sieved? My experience is that the dust itself is the most valuable, in clay subsoil.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
The real answer to the hon. Gentleman is that before the war we used to put this material through a double mesh. First the stuff went through a three-quarter-inch mesh, and we used to sell the result to brickmakers for breeze. The pure dust we always sold to the brickmakers, and I believe it was embodied in bricks. With the stoppage of the building industry on the declaration of war, there was no further demand from the brickmakers for the material, and we looked for an outlet for the vast quantity of material that was on our hands every week. That is how we came upon the farmers, and now we are supplying several farmers with it and they are all very satisfied. The farmer whom I saw this morning expressed the opinion that he liked the larger pieces better because he thought they were better for the particular purpose he had in view, the breaking up of the ground. The material consists of all the contents of every household dustbin that will go through a three-quarter-inch mesh.
I think I have taken up more time than one who knows very little about agriculture is entitled to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In conclusion, I would like to invite half a dozen Members of the House who are interested in agricultural matters to come down to our borough, if they care to do so. I make this invitation, not with any idea of showing off what we have done, but because we want advice from the agricultural point of view. We see the matter only from the townsman's point of view. We think we have done something which makes a contribution to agricultural problems, and we should like half a dozen Members to accept the invitation and to come down and see our pigs, as well as our screened dust, of which we produce 300 tons per week. We should like them to give us their advice and opinions, because these would be greatly appreciated, and perhaps the visit would help to create a better feeling between town and country, which is much to be desired.
§ 7.18 p.m.
Mr. De la Bère
This is the first occasion on which I have managed to speak in an agricultural Debate since I have been a Member of the House of Commons. That may seem strange, but it is true. I want to confine myself 875 almost entirely to the question of feeding-stuffs. I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture is present, but I am particularly sorry that the Minister of Food is not, although I hope he may be here before I have finished. It seems to me that this question of feeding-stuffs is more important at the present time than anything else. In the middle of a war it is no use having post-mortems into all the mistakes that have been made, but not even the most ardent supporter of the Government would suggest that there has not been a shocking lack of vision and foresight. I do not want to dwell upon that aspect of the matter but to try and make constructive suggestions.
The suggestion I want to make to the Minister of Food is that he should inquire into this question along the lines of the milling combines. It is idle to suggest that there has been equitable distribution of the existing feeding-stuffs in the country. It has not taken place at all. I do not believe we need have been cut down, as we were in November and December, but for one fact. Certain vested interests wanted to manufacture compound cubes and cakes and they were determined to take every ounce of straight-run feeding-stuffs they could get in order to do it, and I think they succeeded in doing it. As a result the ordinary corn dealer had no supplies given him at all. He had to refuse the small poultry keeper and the small pig breeder and that is what has led to this catastrophic position to-day.
It comes back to the milling combines once again. In July, 1939, we found that wheat was at its lowest price on record for 300 years, but did the price of bread come down with the price of wheat? Not at all. The Millers' Mutual Association ensured that the price should not come down. Did the price of wheat offals come down? It did, but very slightly. Again the price fixing association was responsible. I challenged the President of the Board of Trade, who is now the Secretary of State for War, on this question and I said, "Is there no one in the Government with the courage to stand up to the rascally manoeuvres of the milling combine?" He said there was nothing to inquire into. What is happening now? A short while ago I was asking the Minister of Food what 876 strange events are happening at Godstone. We may well ask. I do not wish to say anything unkind to-night, but I will just remind the right hon. Gentleman that we all want to know very much what is happening at Godstone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do you know?"] I shall not be led into saying anything unkind because I do not believe in it, but I think after this there will be some inquiry.
There is one other point which I have taken up with the Minister of Agriculture who is here, and that is the question of credits for agriculture. I have been concerned with that question a good deal and a few days ago my right hon. Friend said to me, "You must admit that we have made some progress, at any rate." I should love to be able to agree with him, though I cannot see what progress we have made. We have heard a statement from the Chairman of Barclay's Bank, that if the Government guarantee this, that and the other the banks will find all the credit that is necessary. Of course the banks will find it; so will I, and so would anyone in this honourable House. There is "nothing to it." If the Government will guarantee it we will obviously find the money. What is really wanted is the money at the right price. What will be the rate of interest which they will charge to farmers? Shall we have a scandalous repetition of what happened with one of the well-known so-called commercial banks—and I will again avoid mentioning names, although I can do so if called upon—when they charged up to 14 per cent. for money advanced for the hire-purchase of cattle? I do not wish to see any of the big banks do that and I do not think they would do it.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Would the hon. Gentleman enlighten us about this, because he has already mystified us about one thing.? We would like to know the name of this bank.
Mr. De la Bère
It is not my intention to be vindictive, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to know, it was the United Dominions Trust. There is no secret in it, although I would have preferred not to have mentioned the name. The question of credits is important. No industry would be asked to double its output without having the necessary financial facilities, but in agriculture we are asked to increase our output from the farms with no financial support for doing so.
877 In 1935, when I first came into the House, I asked why agriculture should not have the same credit facilities as the railways. Hon. Members may recollect that the railways had some £26,000,000 at 2 to 2½ per cent. with a nominal capital of about £100, and they had that on favourable terms. If the Government care to look into the matter there is no reason why the same thing should not be done for agriculture. The years 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 went by, and day in and day out I asked the same question and there were roars of hilarious laughter at the Member for Evesham. I do not mind. I was right about that. I am right about the scandal of the milling combines. There w ill have to be an inquiry. We shall have to see whether they have done anything wrong, and when it comes out if I am wrong I pledge myself to stand here and say, "I made a mistake; I was wrong." But I shall not have to say that. I know I am right. This matter has to be tackled courageously. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to take all his courage and really go into this, because it is only by going into these things and not bothering whether these combines are powerful or not that we can get things done for the small farmer. He has stood a lot and lie is patriotic.
I was with my farmers last night. I ask anyone in the House to say if I was more useful in my own division with my farmers or here. Of course I am more useful in my own division, seeing if I can help my people. One thing they asked me about was the feeding-stuff position. They said, "Tell us where we shall stand in three months' time. We have been told we shall get two-thirds of our normal requirements for three months." I am glad to hear that and I hope this is so, but even so we shall have to know where we stand later on, because although three months' supply is something, it is not much. They do not know what they will get for their prices and they do not know what to do about it. There is no real policy at all. There is a sort of stop-gap, carry-on, go-back. go-forward policy—as I once said, sideways, downwards, backwards and forwards with no settled policy. I am not tying to be humorous. This is amazing and the farmers do not know what they are to do.
The ordinary farmer wants to be patriotic and above all else wants to see that 878 we win the war, but he does not know what to do. He has not got the money with which to double his output and he does not know when he will get the grants which are due to him. I ploughed up 16 acres of my land in the second week of September. The county war agricultural committee came along and passed it with the necessary certificate. That was sent in in the second week of November, but I did not get any money in November or December, and in January I became exceedingly rude to the Ministry of Agriculture. In fact, I have never been so rude to anyone. I was told that 300 or so civil servants had gone somewhere up North—I know where that is but it does not very much matter—and that we must not expect them to do it all in a moment. I was also told that so many people had not signed the forms correctly. But I had signed mine. They said I had signed mine and in one place there was an eighth of an acre difference compared with another place, and I said, "Why not pay me on the lowest amount?" After a fortnight I got the princely sum paid on the lowest amount. Last night I was told —there were 200 of us present—that throughout Worcestershire hardly any of us who have ploughed up our land have got this money. Yet this is the time when money is urgently needed. We have been talking about farmers wanting capital, and they are not paid for months and months. It does not matter to me, but it does to the smaller man. It is not fair.
The same sort of thing applies with the cattle producers. I do not know whether they will get paid. I hope they will, but I am told that some of these things are by no means certain. The Minister of Food has very kindly come back—at my request, I am sure—and I am going to deal again with one of the most important matters that confronts us. The Minister of Food has power, unlike the unfortunate Minister of Agriculture, who has only responsibility and no power. I hope that, after what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said, the Minister of Agriculture will get Cabinet backing; he deserves it, and he will certainly get any backing that I can give him. Will the Minister of Food inquire into the milling combine scandal? Will he inquire into the fact that straight-run feeding-stuffs for cattle were taken by the combine and 879 manufactured into cake, which was the cause of all the troubles of the small producers, who could not get any of the feeding-stuffs?
I believe that when we get the real truth, which we have not got to-day, any remarks that I have made will be found to be justified up to the hilt. But that is no good unless the Minister will insist on all the facts and figures being produced. We all know the difficulty. The Food Council is a voluntary body—the public do not know that; they think it is a paid body. It asked for certain figures, and could not get them. The milling combine will refuse to give information, and will go on bluffing up to the last minute. The only thing to do is to say, "We are at long last going to have the truth. For years you have exploited not only the farmers over feeding-stuffs, but every single consumer over the price of bread, through the Millers' Mutual Association." They are all the same people. Everybody knows that I am speaking the truth to-night, but many will go away saying, "I suppose he is speaking the truth, old boy; but I am afraid it cannot be done." But it must be done. I have no vindictive spleen, I have no personal interest, and that is why, even if I do not put it very well, you know that what I am saying is the truth. This House is very kind. When a man knows that something has to be done, this honourable House helps him. It is in that vein, asking hon. Members to help me to obtain the real truth, that I sit down.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett
I rise with considerable hesitation, because, like the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), I cannot claim to be an expert in agriculture; and, unfortunately, unlike him, I cannot put before the House any proposals. It seems to me that the hon. Member for North Tottenham has done a great service to the country to-night, because one of the great scandals that face. us is the tremendous amount wasted by the British housewife. We have heard from the Minister of Food a fairly complacent statement, but a statement that filled me with very great uneasiness. The hon. Member for North Tottenham, on the other hand, has given me a considerable jolt of optimism.
880 I want to draw attention to one or two general trends, as I see them. Although I cannot claim to be an expert, I have the honour, the rather unexpected honour, of representing an agricultural constituency, and I know that the people in my constituency are very worried about a great many problems. Owing to the war, there are certain tendencies which I think have not been sufficiently emphasised in the Debate. War, with all its miseries, does have one great advantage: that it gives us the chance to break down dangerous vested interests. We have to see that in agriculture, as in other industries, the power of those interests, such as that to which the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) has referred, are carefully examined and when necessary checked. One tendency is to encourage a return to mixed farming. Mixed farming, like the curate's egg—which I am sure was one of those imported eggs marked "new laid"—is good in parts. It should make the farmer more independent of the middleman. Like the hon. Member for Evesham, I feel that the greatest domestic danger to this country at the present time, not only in agriculture, but in a great number of industries, is the tremendous development of these middleman monopolies. In the case of agriculture, there seems to be no doubt that middlemen have, time after time, so squeezed the farmers that the farmers have not had anything like a fair deal.
I hope that by broadening the basis of farming, giving it encouragement, for example, to plough up more grassland, we may see the farmer made more self-reliant and less subservient to these middlemen. But a great number of farmers are nevertheless bewildered by the situation. In the past they have been told that they must be scientific, and specialise. Now it looks as if the farmer who has specialised in the past is going to suffer most. We are told that mixed farming is the best thing, although I take it for a fact that it is much more difficult to make use of the development of machinery if you cease to specialise. It seems to me that there is a little tendency to make too much of a virtue of necessity. If we carry that policy of going in for mixed farming to its logical conclusion, every farmer will soon be walking around in homespun.
881 The second result of the war is that you have this further development of price control. I imagine you cannot go to a single market in England without hearing a great number of complaints about the prices the farmer is getting. But, all the same, farming will never be prosperous until the farmer knows what he is going to get for his produce. He now gets that knowledge in a greater degree than he did before. Doubtless he will let us know in this House—I hope he will—if the prices he gets are too low. It is up to us to see that the promise given to revise prices is kept, if costs rise. As a result of the war the farmer will stand much the same chance of security as many people in other industries. As a result of the lack of security which he has experienced in the past, England was becoming derelict, because it was easier to buy foreign feeding-stuffs than to produce our own. But, obviously, that has now changed. It is no longer possible to turn cattle out on pasture land that is so poor that it is hardly good enough to maintain rabbits—about which the English are so sentimental that they write songs about them.
It is essential that we should maintain a proper relation between the demands for agriculture and the demands of the fighting Services. In the coming months the pressure on the Minister of Agriculture to give way and allow more and more men to go into the Army is going to be increased, but, in my small way, I have seen enough of agriculture to realise that even the most poorly paid farm labourer is, in point of fact, a highly skilled and versatile workman. It is going to be very difficult indeed to replace him if, as in the last war, we allow him to go over to any other National Service.
The more the nation depends upon the farmer and less upon imports for its food, the more important it is to see that the farm labourer is properly paid. Somehow we have to stop this drift from the village to the city. I wish the Minister of Agriculture could, within the next week or two, give really encouraging assurances about the question of wages. The wages of the agricultural labourer, I think everybody will agree, are one of the prices that have lagged terribly behind costs. One would like to know that the Minister of Agriculture will use all his influence to speed up the appointment of 882 a central wages board. I am told that there are 47 wages committees with 47 rates of wages. Surely, that is absurd at a time when it is more important than ever before to co-ordinate the national effort to get the maximum production. If the Minister could tackle that problem by fixing a minimum wage, it would be very much easier to persuade the nation to accept a price level for farmers which would give the farmers a fair and honest return for their labour. Incidentally, he would become one of the most popular men in the country if he had the energy and courage to push through that reform, which must come sooner or later. I do not think that there is any time to lose in these matters. Delay or incompetence in agriculture is just as dangerous from a national point of view as delay or incompetence in the case of any of the three fighting Services.
I listened to the Minister of Food with considerable dismay because it seems to me absurd for anybody in this House or in this country to imagine for one moment that Germany is yet making her maximum effort to starve this country. We have been given this unexpected period of relative peace in this nerve war, and we do not know when Germany may bomb our ports and our lines of communication and make a really concentrated attack upon our shipping. I cannot myself believe that Germany is yet making that maximum effort, and yet the Minister tells us that we have had to draw on our wheat reserves, and that we shall be lucky if we receive two-thirds of the feeding-stuffs or that we are at the present time receiving two-thirds of the feeding-stuffs for pigs and poultry and we shall be lucky if that goes beyond the three months period. Surely, that is very dangerous because we ought not to be depleting our reserves; we ought to be increasing them the whole time in this period. The Minister, I think, spoke very complacently about the pre-war preparation. He explained why there were no great reserves of food except wheat. Is it not the fact that when war broke out our stocks of, I think, maize and oil-cake were well below the normal? I should have thought our stocks of all these vitally important food stuffs ought to have been well above the normal.
There is one last point. It is the question of the specialist farmer, and in particular the poultry farmer. I hope that 883 we can have a little more assurance about the future of the poultry farmer. There you have a farmer who has made greater use of scientific discoveries than perhaps any other type of farmer, and the egg, as we all know, forms a very important item of food. The specialist poultry farmer claims that he can produce twice as many eggs per ton of feeding-stuffs as the ordinary general farmer can. Thousands of such specialist farmers are now faced with ruin, and it is urged that it is better to import foreign eggs than foreign feeding-stuffs because the latter take up more room than the former—I believe about one fifth of the cargo space. But I am entitled to suggest that there is the other side of it. The specialist farmer claims to be able to produce a shipload of eggs from a shipload of imported grain and eggs would be worth more than three times the value of the feeding-stuffs. The cost of labour for unloading the grain is lower, freightage is lower, insurance is lower and the cost of transport is lower. I have forgotten the proportion of water in an egg, but it is quite considerable, and it seems a pity to use a lot of the space in our ships for importing water.
The farmer wants two things at the end of this war. He would rather have a fair and steady price than an exaggerated one which would make it difficult to transfer from war-time back to peace-time conditions. It is essential, as other hon. Members have pointed out. to avoid a repetition of the tragedy of the Corn Production Acts of 1921. Secondly, it is important, despite these very grave difficulties of importing feeding-stuffs to which the Minister of Food drew attention, to do everything one can to keep the specialist farmer going. With the reservation about the specialist farmer, I strongly welcome this tendency to encourage the return to mixed farming, because I believe that the more there is done to widen the basis upon which the industry is built up, the less danger there is that farming will be at the mercy of every economic wind or typhoon that blows over the world at the the end of this war.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Dr. Little
I want to speak a word for Northern Ireland, and I feel sure that some Members in the House will ask, 884 "What does that sky-pilot know about agriculture?" I was born on a farm. I had to do my full share until I was licensed as a minister, and I am proud that I did it for my father's sake. When I entered the ministry I had a glebe of 20 acres, and I made it pay. I know a little—not so much as some other Members of the House perhaps—of what it means to do a day's work, and I should rejoice to hear from the Minister of Food that we in Northern Ireland are to have a full share of this 66 per cent. of the pre-war allowance.
§ Dr. Little
I am hoping that I shall be able to give him the blessing that an old lady in my native part of County Down used to give when he increases this to 80 per cent. on 1st March. This old lady—there were no old age pensions in those days—went from house to house receiving a little at each house to carry her along. When the charity was moderate, she would turn and smile, and say, "God bless you, and bless you all." but when the charity was something like what I expect from the Minister of Food, a little out of the ordinary, she would turn and smile, and say, "God bless you, and long may your whip crack." I would say, "Long may our right hon. Friend remain Minister of Food," if he does this. As Minister of Food, I fully sympathise with him, and I have found him very ready to hear a humble Member like myself and sometimes to give a little heed. Agriculture in Northern Ireland is our leading industry, and the farmers are the backbone of the country. They are far removed from the grumbling class that some people who do not know the farmers would set them down to be. I find them men of patient industry, with grit and good common sense, and I have spent all my life among farmers, with the exception of five years and six months when I served in the city of Belfast as a licentiate and as parish minister in the burgh of Dumbarton.
The farmers are men of faith, hope, and courage who patiently wait for the early and latter rains in expectation of good harvests. It is easy for some people, as some in the House have been doing this afternoon, to be wise after the event. I have met maiden ladies who have thought they could bring up their married sisters' 885 children much better than their sisters could bring them up, but I always had my doubts about this. We are face to face with such a concatenation of circumstances to-day that we should let the dead past bury its dead and face up to the issue before us—the defeat of the enemy. An hon. Member said to me this evening that Germany would try to starve us out. Thank God, that is a thing that Germany can never do. We can defy her in that respect, but it is for us to co-operate and stand together on the Ministerial, opposition, and back benches if we are to do so successfully. We can do it if, as agriculturists, business men, and parliamentarians, we put forth all our energies. We have had many ups and downs in Northern Ireland in agriculture. I remember when flax was the staple crop in Ulster. Later it became so unprofitable that in a leading town in my constituency I saw it sold at 3s. 6d. per stone, when I was a boy. The farmers lacked confidence and, gathering round my father, asked him what he would advise them to do; he told them to go home and sow no more flax. That was the staple industry up to that period, and it had to go. The oat crop also suffered seriously as regards price. It proved unprofitable, and farmers had to switch over to cattle. Then one thing came after another, and of late years farmers have had a trying time. Now, however, I am hopeful that through the efforts of the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, they will come into brighter and better days. As a representative from Northern Ireland, I am grateful to the Minister of Supply for fixing the price of flax at the figure he did, because I think it will enable farmers to grow it, not with great profit, but with a moderate amount of profit.
I am here this afternoon to say that the great drawback in Ulster at the moment is lack of feeding-stuffs. It is not simply milch cows and cattle that are being fattened. Many of the cattle which are being put on the market to-day as fat cattle are, in fact, no more than half or three-quarters ready for the butcher. The people are crying out, "What are you in London doing for us?" and I have assured them, and have sent letters to the newspapers, that the Minister is trying to do his best under the existing circumstances. But still the cry goes on. The pinch is most felt by those 886 who are losing their livelihood through the shortage of feeding-stuffs for pigs and poultry. Quite a lot of our people have small holdings, and they and ex-service men went to considerable expense in erecting piggeries and getting fowl runs and houses prepared. The money they spent was their very all. This industry was built up after years of expenditure, and a strong effort should be made to provide sufficient to keep it in existence. I hope it may not occur, but should anything happen to Denmark and Holland, this country would suffer a very great shortage of bacon and eggs. This would be very seriously felt, hence it is incumbent on the Government, in the best interests of the country, to leave nothing undone in the way of providing all possible feeding-stuffs for pigs and fowls.
The more self-sufficient we are, the better it will be for us, but somehow we are so made that we take the easy way out. We think it easier to have luxurious grass. It used to be the joke in Northern Ireland that the cattlemen of West Meath had nothing to do in the summer but bask in the sun and watch their cattle thriving on the grass which grows there. We must not take the easy way out any longer, because the more self-sufficient we are, the stronger we shall remain as a nation and the sooner the war will come to an end. Agriculture is our chief industry, and I hope that agriculturists, not only in Northern Ireland, but in the whole of the United Kingdom, will stand' together and that the Government will do, everything in their power to encourage them by providing all possible feeding-stuffs and so make it worth their while to do their utmost to defeat the enemy. We have, of course, a fighting line at home as well as a fighting line at the front. If by doing our best we encourage those who are standing between us and the enemy, it will make them strong to face up to the enemy.
In conclusion, I would like to say that industry in Northern Ireland is closely connected with agriculture, and I want to plead for more war work for Belfast and Ulster where men in thousands are standing to attention waiting to do something for their country, and I hope the Government will encourage our Government in Northern Ireland and have many more war industries established in that part of the United Kingdom. I have gone into the whole thing and find that 887 we are not getting our fair share of war work, and it breaks my heart to see these men go back into the city and away on their bicycles to the country from Short and Harlands and Harland and Wolffs, with disappointment written on their faces because they have failed in their quest for work. I hope the Government will remember that we in Ulster are part of the United Kingdom and, to put it at the lowest, no less loyal than any other part of the Kingdom. I do not ask this as a favour but as an obligation on the Government to give us our just rights. I ask them to come over and help Northern Ireland by giving it with good grace its fair share of war work.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Jackson
I do not wish to raise any matters of high policy this evening, but I want to talk about a few things that occur to me as a farmer and an agriculturist. In the last few weeks I have been going round the countryside, and I must admit that in my talks with brother agriculturists I find that a feeling of pessimism is spreading among them. I hope it will be somewhat relieved by the speech of the Minister of Food tonight. I hope, however, we shall not have any more of his optimistic broadcasts without any fulfilment, as we had last week. I myself felt very fed-up on Saturday morning last, after hearing his speech, to find, for the first time, I admit, since the war started, that I had nothing but frozen swedes with which to feed my 300 pigs. It is very disappointing, and it affects the farming industry. I hope we shall know the worst and be able to prepare ourselves for it. But the thing which worries me most, and I think most of the farming community, is the fact that we have not as yet any proper fixed-price policy over a long period. I am the chairman of a local branch of the National Farmers Union, and I get very sick of the perpetual requests which we have to send up to headquarters and the Government, always chasing after higher prices because of increasing costs of production. It has a very bad effect on farming and farmers generally.
But the main thing which I want to raise to-night is, What preparation is the Minister of Agriculture making for labour on the land, for the tremendous increase of labour which will be required 888 at harvest time next autumn? Let me quote the figures showing the position of my own county. Over the years 1923 to 1939 the number of farm workers has decreased in Herefordshire from 8,759 in 1925 to 6,492 in 1939, a 26 per cent. decrease in 14 years. That is, I believe, general over the greater part of the country. Yet the new arable acreage which we are asked to provide is 5,000 acres more than it was at the time when we employed those 2,200 more men. Of course, it will be quite impossible to gather in the harvest in those conditions, and I want to know what preparations the Minister has made for it. At the present moment there is no particular body which is responsible for the future supply of farm labourers, except in part the Employment Exchange, and there is a disinclination to use this organisation. The Minister of Labour will, I have no doubt, tell us that there are still available plenty of farm labourers on the books of the Employment Exchanges, but I must say, although some of my friends may not agree with me, that if anybody cares to investigate the bulk of the cases of the farm labourers at present on the Employment Exchange books, he will come to the same conclusion as I have, that large numbers of these men would be quite useless on farms.
The Employment Exhange, in my opinion, is not a suitable place to deal with highly specialised labour like that of a farm worker at a time like this, particularly when they have alternative skilled work which they can offer to men who come there at much higher wages. I think that a separate scheme should be drawn up to deal with the recruitment of farm workers and that the working-out of such a scheme should be handed over to a committee which would work in conjunction with the Agricultural War Executive Committee. It should represent all branches of the industry and, of course, should have equal representation from workers' organisations. This committee should have the power to recruit and train youths and men for agricultural work, and a grant should he given by the Government to carry them over the training period, after which, I am certain, there would be no difficulty at all in finding them work. The same committee could make arrangements for casual and seasonal workers, such as hop pickers and fruit pickers, and I also think that it 889 would be a good thing to place the Women's Land Army under the same organisation. I do not wish to belittle the enthusiasm shown by these girls; some of them are doing splendid work, but they would be far more useful if they were brought under people who know the requirements of the industry. I know that many of my colleagues are doubtful of the success of the Women's Land Army, and I doubt whether it would have been necessary to recruit these women if proper plans for agriculture had been made earlier. However many women you may get, they cannot take the place of the genuine farm worker.
I would also like the Government to raise the wage of the farm worker so that it compares favourably with the wages in other occupations. This, I am certain, would bring back many men who have left the land, and also encourage recruits. I have tried to make practical proposals, but if these suggestions do not find favour, I beg the Minister to tackle the question of labour at once. It would make many farmers more happy in their work if they knew that there was to be no shortage of labour at harvest time. I have had many farmers ask me whether it is a wise thing to plant sugar beet for the future, and I have advised them to carry on. hope I have not given them wrong advice. I think an immediate halt ought to be called to taking any man off the land until we are certain that we can replace him. Unless this is done, our planting policy will be a fiasco when the autumn arrives.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, and for a change I should like to say something the other way and to thank the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food for the sympathetic way in which they have dealt with.:he fruit industry. I should like to thank the Minister of Food for arranging for such large quantities of apples to be canned this season. I believe they have canned enough this season to last over next season. It is a wise thing, and it should be profitable, because it is doubtful whether we shall ever have a season again when we have such a prolific crop. I am thankful to him also for encouraging Army caterers to use apples. Unfortunately, the crop has been so enormous that even with all these efforts it has still left the price very low. I am 890 also pleased to hear that arrangements have been made in this country to see that next year the supply of packages for fruit is assured, and I should like to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture on his foresight in that matter. We have to accept the restrictions over the planting of new acreage for certain fruits. We know that this is absolutely necessary, but I should like to ask the Minister whether he could not see his way to exempt the small strawberry grower from the 25 per cent. reduction of acreage. I refer to the man growing less than five acres. That would be a tremendous boon to these people. I know the small strawberry growers in Somersetshire and Southampton, and I know that they have to pay tremendous rents for their land. If they have to restrict their acreage, it will be difficult for them to get a living; they might have to go completely out of business.
One other word about a matter which concerns my own constituency. I want to make a complaint about the price that is being given for Welsh wool. It may seem a small matter, but it is important to a constituency like mine, which is a large producer of wool and where in many districts it is not a by-product but the main source of income. We feel that the price of 11½d. a lb. is very low indeed, and will not encourage farmers to keep sheep on the high lands. This will be also a loss to our food supplies. Only a few years ago, the price of the same wool was 1s. 5d. and 1s. 6d. a lb. I hope the Minister will reconsider this price, as to my mind the treatment meted out to Wales in this matter is not comparable with that given to Scotland. I hope also the Minister of Food will be able to make available immediately as large a supply as possible of flat maize for the lambing period, because after the very bad weather we have had, there may be many losses in our lambing period unless we can get some food to build up the constitution of the sheep at that time.
Like several other hon. Members, I do not think we are going ahead with production in this country anything like fast enough, especially when one considers the tremendous efforts in this direction that are being made by our enemy, Germany. No Minister of Agriculture has ever had the good will of the farming industry more than the present Minister, and I 891 am sure that, whatever efforts he calls for from farmers and farmworkers alike, he will receive a great response.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Hurd
I am sure I shall express the feeling of hon. Members when I say that we are indebted to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson) for the constructive speech he has made. We have listened to several constructive speeches in the Debate, and we have also received a reminder from some hon. Members that this is no time for recriminations. The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) made a most helpful speech in opening the Debate, and we are indebted to him for giving us an opportunity of raising this subject. In view of the criticisms that have been made of past policy, I want to remind hon. Members that it is no good forgetting the background against which our agricultural policy has been built. This country is highly industrialised, and at the present time it is even more industrialised than it was in the past. Therefore, in the opinion of a very large section of the population, cheap food is absolutely essential, and cheap food, as we know, is generally accompanied by low wages. Our agricultural policy has to be one that is based on a recognition of our international position and our Empire position, and any policy which forgets that fact will have the same fate as the policy of the Agriculture Act, 1920—it will not last. Unless we are world-wise and Empire-wise, as well as home-wise, we cannot hope to initiate a policy that will succeed. I know that it is not easy to do that.
When the present Minister of Agriculture came into office, some of us assured him that he would have our sympathies and our prayers. He needed them then, and he needs them now. My right hon. and gallant Friend was also told from several parts of the House that he would have our practical support. He needs that very much now, for he has many difficulties to encounter. Looking at matters as far as I can apart from any party considerations, I think my right hon. and gallant Friend is obtaining a substantial measure of success. The ploughing-up policy is proving even more successful than some of us dared to hope 892 it would be. From statements that have been made, it appears that there is a good prospect of getting 2,000,000 acres back under the plough again. Let us not forget that, in building up a sound agricultural policy of a permanent kind it would be quite impossible for us to do this were it not for the hearty co-operation which the farmers are giving, even though many of them know that the results to them will be very meagre. Again, the Minister is doing a great thing in creating the new price structure. It is a very difficult thing to do in an industry in which all sorts of factors come into play, but the Minister is succeeding in creating a price structure which pretty well covers the agricultural industry. The importance of this is not only in the immediate effects on production, but also in the fact that it makes agriculture a credit-worth industry, and consequently an industry that can attract loans which otherwise the banks, as business institutions, would be unable to provide. I know that any new arrangement made with the banks will still leave some agriculturists outside, and I sincerely hope that the new plan which the Minister has in mind for bringing in the county committees in this respect will prove to be successful.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor mentioned the labour problem. In my part of the country, we are severely harassed by labour needs. The drafts for military service are taking away some of our best men, and the temptation to men of the land to go to work in the towns, at neighbouring aerodromes, and so on, has put us in a difficult position. I am not sure that the Ministry, in some of its Departments, is helping us as much as it could do. The experience gained from evacuation and the difficulties that have arisen in that respect have proved that there is on the part of townspeople a' very strong feeling of kinship with the land, and the young men of the towns are giving evidence that they would desire to turn to the land and to be educated on the land if only they were given a sufficient inducement. How can that inducement be provided? I think the inducement of wage is an essential one, and I hope sincerely that the discussions now going on, I believe, between the employing and employed classes on 893 the land will result in the establishment of a greater permanence in the advances that have been made in agricultural wages. It is traditional with the party to which I belong to oppose the creation of a national wages committee. I am not sure that the time has not come when it might be wise, if agreement could be reached, to establish a national wages committee, and I am not sure also that it would not be a good thing to have a national minimum wage, with a bonus, of course, in return for quality production, as is done in agriculture in my county. I should like to see something of that sort tried, especially if wages could be allied to prices, as is done in the coal industry. It seems to me that there you may have a fruitful line of development which would help forward the solution of the labour problem.
I hope we are going to learn something from the misfortunes and difficulties of to-day. I hope we are going to learn, in all parts of the House and country, that the farmers have really shown themselves capable of self-management beyond anything which even they themselves thought probable a few years ago. The county committees are remarkable bodies in the work they are doing day after day, without pay and with an enthusiasm for which the country is very greatly indebted to them. The other day the Minister of Health paid a very high tribute to the work done by the rural district councils in connection with evacuation. In the marketing boards there is further evidence of capacity for self-management if only it is wisely directed. All these seem to me to be very hopeful signs in the present situation, and they are a useful reminder to us that there are in many cases very strong limitations to the usefulness of Whitehall when it comes to the actual day-to-day business of farming, with all the problems concerned therewith. The fate of the fish control is a reminder of the limitations of Whitehall, as will be the changes in the meat control in order to recognise local conditions.
The more Ministers and Departments learn that it is wise to keep in the closest possible touch with those who handle the day-to-day problems of production and marketing in an infinite variety of products and in relation to varying conditions of weather, soil and environment, 894 the more likely we are to get an agricultural policy of real value. It is no good setting up advisory bodies if Ministers do not consult them at the right time and do not listen to the advice which they give. It is no good coming to an advisory committee and saying," We have decided so and so; what do you think about it? "It is then too late. Their counsel should be taken at the proper time and the fullest use made of the experience which they can bring to bear on these problems.
The second point which I hope we shall remember as a lesson from the experience of to-day, is the folly and wastefulness of many of our methods. Take the case of milk, in which my county is especially concerned, and the question of milk distributive costs. Happily the milk industry is being induced to make some changes in this direction. I hope the industry will be induced to make further changes so that more money will be available to those who produce the milk, a better price to those who consume it, and a more effective means of distribution. There is also the question of the slaughtering and marketing of livestock. Our methods in the past have often been ineffective and inefficient. Although for the moment we have Government control I hope the experience of to-day will lead to a thorough reform of the old methods which have often proved ineffective and wasteful.
We have had a good deal of discussion on the shortage of feeding-stuffs. Perhaps hon. Members will recall that the other day the German Minister of Agriculture said he had no use for the livestock farmer who could not make his farm a self-contained unit. I do not say that this is feasible in all cases, but certainly we should go a long way further in this direction if we used more modern methods of producing alternative feeding-stuffs. We have failed lamentably in that respect in the past. We have carried on gross wastefulness in regard to feeding-stuffs and we are suffering for it to-day in many respects. Regarding the co-operation of local authorities, I thought that the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) made a most interesting and helpful speech. I happen to be living near London and to be a member of the town council of a neighbouring borough. When I raised a parallel question the other day at the council meeting I was 895 received with guffaws. It was regarded as a ridiculous idea that this extra-London borough could possibly do anything to help in meeting the difficulties of food production. Yet here, next door to us, Tottenham has had the enterprise to carry on experiments which are most hopeful. I earnestly trust that the Ministry concerned will see that the example of Tottenham is made known to other boroughs such as my own, and that these may be induced to follow that example and help materially to meet the feeding-stuffs shortage. The hon. Member also referred to the question of town refuse. In Southwark, I am told, they have carried out an experiment by which town refuse is turned into manure of considerable manurial value. I hope this experiment also will be made known to other local authorities.
I asked a question of the Minister of Health yesterday about the annulment of by-laws and other restrictions by town councils on the keeping of poultry and pigs. The Parliamentary Secretary's reply was that the Ministry had issued a circular but had not carried the matter any further and had not called for a reply. Why not indicate to these councils how much they can help by annulling these by-laws and encouraging poultry and pig keeping on their estates and allotments? Why not ask them to report within three months on what they have been able to do in that direction, at a time when they can do so much—as the example of Tottenham and Southwark has shown—to meet our difficulties in this respect? The Ministry might help in that direction by encouraging local authorities to go in for these experiments as has been done in many Continental countries with great success.
The difficulty is often the matter of the transport of the products to the farm. In Tottenham, apparently, they have gone some way to meet that difficulty. I do not know how they have obtained the petrol with which to convey this swill to the farms—in some cases I understand considerable distances—but it is worth consideration whether the Ministry of Transport, in view of the necessity for a larger food production in this country, should not give a more liberal allowance of petrol for the conveyance of these valuable helps to the farmers who need them.
896 Another point is the way in which we can help by education. As a nation we have far too many poor cooks and far too little knowledge of the economic value of the food we produce. A Norwegian housewife now here gave recently a broadcast which some hon. Members may have heard. She mentioned that when passing along the Tottenham Court Road she saw one stall with beautiful sticks of celery priced at only 2d. each, whereas in Norway at this time they would cost 1s. each. She was delighted al: the sight but then she watched the barrow-keepr take a stick of celery and first cut off the root with a considerable proportion of the stem—a most valuable food product—and then strip its leaves and cut off the top, leaving only a little white kernel which he put on the barrow for sale, that almost broke her heart. She bought a stick not treated in this way and proved what nutritive value was to be obtained in soups and other condiments from a stick of celery if properly treated. Cannot we have better education of those who handle our vegetables in the way to get the full nutritive value from them? The same thing applies to potatoes. A Dane or a Swede coming to this country is shocked at the way in which we throw away as refuse valuable parts of the potatoes and bring to the table merely the skeleton with a large part of the nutritive value gone.
I do not know why the Departments concerned in this matter are not represented here to-night. The Board of Education does not seem to think that has anything to do with agriculture. Nor does the Ministry of Health. The War Cabinet seems to think that it has nothing to do with agriculture yet it is as vital a matter as armaments, or, at any rate comes next in importance. I have only seen one member of the War Cabinet here during the whole of this Debate and then only for a few minutes. I am sorry that the 'Government is not more adequately represented. In connection with this matter of education I might mention that the Gas Light and Coke Company before the war, conducted a helpful series of lectures to cooks and housewives on the best use of available foodstuffs. The electricity departments in my borough and other boroughs have had similar lectures. Unfortunately these have been stopped since the war. Why? 897 There are plenty of voluntary women experts who would carry on these lectures at a time when they are more than ever necessary in order to induce our housewives to obtain the fullest possible nutritive value from the foods which are available to them.
Again, I think more use might be made of Women's Institutes. In my division a lady came down and gave a most interesting series of lectures in the villages to show housewives how they could make the best possible use of parts of meat which hitherto they had completely neglected. Why cannot we make more use of such agencies of helpfulness who are anxious to help? I am sure it would be very profitable if we did.
We have been discussing with much interest arrangements for pooling our economic wealth with France. M. Dautry, a responsible Minister, has said that between the two countries there are no longer frontiers and no longer secrets. I wish we could get the French to teach us more of the secret of the art of living. When dealing with this question of food, Napoleon said that an Army marches on its stomach, but so does a nation, and if we neglect that fact we do great harm to the national cause. We all know, and every human being knows, how life can be marred, and how all activity can be destroyed, if there is an uncomfortable feeling below the waistcoat. Surely we can learn from France a great deal in the way of cooking vegetables and in making them really nutritive as well as irresistible. When we go to France and other countries like Denmark and Sweden we see how training in food values can be of advantage to the nation in time of peace and certainly in time of war. Yesterday we listened to an excellent broadcast from the Minister of Economic Warfare. We sadly need a director of economic welfare who would have power to lead the different Departments who are concerned to give guidance in the better way of treating our food products.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has reminded us of the position of agriculture in 1918. We then said "Never Again." We shall say "Never Again" at the end of this war. Shall we really mean it?
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
Like other Members I am very grateful to the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) for initiating the Debate to-day. I regard it as one of the most important Debates that we have had since 3rd September. It has been rightly said that man cannot live by bread alone and that unless he gets bread he perishes. So far as the Army situation is concerned it looks as if the forces of Germany, at any rate on the Western side, are firmly held; and the Navy seems to have a complete stranglehold upon the enemy. But what is happening in our home front really concerns us most deeply. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, it was the food problem that really decided the issue in the last war, and it may very well be that the food problem will decide the issue in this war. Time and again it has been pointed out that our resources are infinitely greater than those of the enemy. They may be potentially, but they are of no value unless they are organised and used. Indeed, they become valuable only when they are used. It is well to know that the reserve may be there, but unless it is put to actual work and used to the fullest it may be a danger.
It is because one is so worried about the home front that I was disappointed with the speech made by the Minister of Food. It reminded me of so many speeches that he made when he was Minister of Agriculture—promises, promises, promises, with no complete plan. If there is a plan, or something is done, the next week we hear that once more they have backed out of it. Like the hon. Member for North Cumberland I spent a not unprofitable Sunday evening going through the OFFICIAL REPORT reading answers and speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food. It was amazing, the number of times the two phrases "active consideration" and "close review" were used. How often have they actually laid down guidance for the agriculturists, or for any one, with the exception, perhaps, at the time when rationing was introduced? Now the position is serious, and I was rather surprised at the reference by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) 899 to an article which appeared in last Saturday's "Daily Express." I welcomed the argument in that article. It was a well-informed argument, and an instructive one, but what is more important is that arguments like that should be put in a national newspaper so that the people's attention is directed to the seriousness of the problem. Very rightly the author pointed out how much we are importing from overseas and how little we are growing in our own country. Two-thirds of the food we require is imported and only one-third comes from this country.
It is right that the attention of the public should be directed to this. It is an equally startling fact, brought to the notice of the House by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—and the figures he quoted I have on my own notes—that we start with a shorter shipping tonnage in this war than in 1914. My estimate is very similar to his. We start now with less carrying tonnage for the purposes of cereals and foodstuffs by no less than 6,000,000 tons. What is our replacing capacity when we have allowed yards to go out of existence and when yards are not fully engaged on work? What are the plans for to-day? I was amazed at the statement made by the Minister of Food with regard to the feeding-stuffs position at the outbreak of the war. I was astonished to hear him say that the stocks were not short. I am sure the country will be staggered at the answer he has since given. The position did not become acute, he said, until some weeks had elapsed, but it is very significant that there was no reference from the Ministers on the Front Bench to any shortage until 22nd November when five hon. Members had put down Questions. If the Government knew what was the position on 3rd September, why did they not warn the farmers? On the contrary, as I read through the OFFICIAL REPORT from 3rd September, I find nothing but encouragement for them to go on to increase their stock, their poultry, and their pigs, and for people of the towns to keep pigs and poultry. If the Government knew the situation they should not have misled the people in that way.
I have the figures for my own county and it is only right that I should point out what the position is. It is purely 900 an agricultural county, we have no in-dusty of any kind except agriculture, and my largest town has not more than 5,000 inhabitants. It is a land of fruitful valleys, but it contains a great deal of moorland. It consists of 510,000 acres. How much have we got under the plough? In 1918 we had 70,000 acres, but to-day we have only 29,000 acres under the plough. Only 22,500 acres of that are growing cereals and 6,500 acres roots and potatoes. The 1918 figure was an increase of 26,000 acres over 1914. To-day they are planning to plough 15,000 acres. If they do it they will only be back in the same position as in 1914 and not in the position of 1918. In 1914 we had no warning of what was happening. The warning came during 1916–17 and we increased our ploughing to 70,000 acres. The warning came to the Front Bench two years ago. It came all the more in March. We were begging for more assistance for ploughing all along, and all we are to get for this coming season is an extra 15,000 which will put us in the 1914 position.
What is the position with regard to feeding-stuffs? I have made the best calculation I can with the best assistance I can get of the amount required for my 700,000 animals—horses, cattle, pigs and sheep—and my 500,000 poultry. I require 82,000 tons, and as near as I can make out I have home-grown in that county only 12,000 tons. I have, therefore, to import into the county 70,000 tons of foodstuffs. It can be seen how dependent the county is on imports, and especially on maize and barley. The cake and the balanced rations are used in the main for the dairy cattle, but it is maize and barley that we want for feeding purposes. What has happened in that county since 3rd September? I gave certain figures to the House on the last occasion, and I have now the figures brought up to date and checked. There is a small body in the county called the Montgomeryshire Farmers' Association. From September, 1938, to mid-January, 1939, they imported for their farmers 1,847 tons of maize and 205 tons of barley, a total of 2,052 tons. From September, 1939, to mid-January, 1940, they got 270 tons of maize and 15 tons of barley a total of 285 tons.
The Minister of Food said that they only knew of this position later on because of the shortage with regard to 901 wheal. If that is so I am amazed at this position. In September, 1938, we had 80 tons of Plate maize, 25 tons of white maize and 60 tons of American maize. In September, 1939, we had no Plate maize, 20 tons of white maize, and no American maize. In September, 1938, we had 45 tons of barley, but in September, 1939, I did not get a single pound. Is the trouble due to distribution? The Minister of Food said that what is happening now is that it is dis-tributed to the c.i.f. buyers, from them sent to the merchants, and then left to the merchants to distribute amongst the farmers. But many merchants do not get it to distribute. The result of the shortage is that we have had to slaughter our animals before time, and we are still short of feeding-stuffs for our poultry. All that we get is a promise that things will be better and that we shall get two-thirds now instead of one-third. We do not get even one-seventh.
May I now turn to ploughing? So far as the 15,000 acres promised are concerned, only about 4,000 acres have yet been ploughed. There will be a really busy time during the next 5o days for Montgomeryshire farmers if they are to come up to that quota of 15,000 acres. How are they to do it? Member after Member has mentioned the trouble with regard to labour. My position is probably the most serious one in England, Scotland or Wales. My county is the only one which has less population today than it had in 1800. It has only two-thirds of the population that it had in 1867 and it is dwindling at the rate of 500 a year. Somebody rightly mentioned that it will be a county of old age pensioners soon. It has lost since 1914 a third of its agricultural labourers, and it has lost still more since 3rd September, 1939. They have gone to the camps where they get three or four times the wages they usually get, and they have not come back. They have also gone into the Army and I am struggling to get them back. They are key-men, the men from 19 to 25. Only this week I had two letters about two men upon whom the whole of a farm depends. These men are not cowards. Many a taunt has been thrown at my countrymen, but the taunt of cowardice can never be thrown at them. We had a higher ratio of volunteers in the last war than England or Scotland, and you had 902 to call our pitmen back from France to win the coal again. You cannot make the charge of cowardice against us, but we are anxious to grow the food that this country needs.
When I turn to the land, what is happening? Some time ago a circular was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture calling for the ploughing up of derelict land. There is a certain amount of derelict land near Welshpool. There is a hill there called Heldre Hill, which the county agricultural committee proposed to plough. This was the answer they got from the Ministry of Agriculture in January:I am directed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to refer to your letter of 2nd ultimo relative to your Committee's proposal to take possession of and cultivate the above-named land, and I am to say that while from an agricultural point of view the proposal has much to commend itthere is nothing wrong from an agricultural point of view—"the Minister is bound to consider other aspects of the case. The land, as common land"—over which a few sheep had been grazing during all those years, for all I know for a century or more—is protected against inclosure and the Minister feels, in all the circumstances, that the present time is not opportune for the utilisation of the powers conferred on him by Regulation 51 of the Defence Regulations with regard to this land. I am to add that the example-value of the cultivation of the land in question has not been overlooked, but it is considered probable,etc. This is the answer sent by the chairman of the Montgomeryshire Agricultural Committee. It is worth citing:I am obliged for your letter. I am afraid I was under the impression that the Ministry were in earnest when it was said that they were anxious to augment the food supply of the country, and that next to munitions the increased food supply was of outstanding importance. Had I realised that in the opinion of the Ministry the maintenance of open spaces during war time outweighed the food question, I should have understood why they are never able to come to a prompt decision, as, no doubt, all sorts of other Government Departments must be consulted before the Minister feels justified in giving an opinion. At the same time it is a little imitating to receive a circular from the Ministry urging action when obviously action is of little importance, just as it is equally irritating to hear from the Ministry that foodstuffs for certain stocks will be cut by one-third, when one knows that all the foodstuffs in this country for October, November arid December were only 5 per cent of normal supply.903 Does the Minister want the land ploughed? Does the Minister of Food want food? Is it any answer to say, "This is common land and I will not use my powers" when it is clear that the land is all right agriculturally? What is the policy of the Government in these matters? I turn again to seed oats. Only a week ago I mentioned the matter in this House. The price in November was 27s. per quarter. In the week before Christmas, at Aberdeen, the price was 50s. on Monday, 55s. on Wednesday, 60s. on Friday. Then what happened? Some time after Christmas there was broadcast from the Ministry a statement that they were going to control seed oats and seed barley—certainly seed oats. One thought that at last one would get some guidance. Imagine my surprise when I read a letter from the president of one of these associations to say that two or three days before firth January he had been called into consultation and now it was proposed by the Minister not to put a control on at all, not to fix a price, but to ask them whether they would be good enough—these middlemen, these men in control—to keep down the price to the farmer, and that would solve the situation.
Is it going to solve the situation? How can it when the farmer has not got feeding-stuffs in the yard? He is not going to part with his oats. He will use his seed oats to feed his cattle. In the same way we shall not get the farmer in Montgomeryshire or any other county to put a plough into the land until he knows that he has something more than promises, knows that the seed which is to go into the land is in his yard. I finish on this: There has got to be a definite plan put before the people of this country. Take them into your confidence, tell them the truth and tell them what is wanted. It does not matter how drastic your plans. They will respond, and the response will surprise you and surprise the enemy.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence
I rise to intervene in a Debate which was initiated by the Liberal party. If the present state of the second bench below the Gangway opposite is an indication of the interest felt by the Liberal party in agriculture, I am not very much impressed.
§ Major Neven-Spence
The Debate has ranged over a very wide field to-night. Every aspect of my right hon. and gallant Friend's policy has been under review. I make no apology for introducing a topic which has not been dealt with so far. I am going to speak about a matter in which there has been a departure from established policy. For some years there has been in existence in this country a scheme for the encouragement of the production of better stock by encouraging the purchase of good bulls, by making a grant available to those who bought those young bulls and continuing with payments in the second, third and fourth years. No one doubts that that policy has been of enormous benefit to stock-breeding. Everybody familiar with stock-raising must have seen with his own eyes the extraordinary improvement in the quality of the stock being raised in this country now. If one looks back through the legislation which has been passed in recent years, one word goes through it like a refrain—quality, quality, quality. I understand that this scheme is now going to be withdrawn, and I am afraid that sooner or later this will react unfavourably on the quality of our livestock. It is a scheme which was specially helpful to small farmers. It was beneficial to the man who specialised in the breeding of these bulls, of benefit to the man who bought them and used them for stud purposes, and beneficial to the small farmer who resorted to the use of these bulls. They were all approved and licensed and a restricted fee was charged for their use. I understand that the axe is not falling completely on this scheme. My right hon. and gallant Friend has devised a method of dismemberment rather than decapitation, but I would point out that dismemberment which starts with decapitation is very fatal indeed; but that is what is happening in this case, because I understand that the premium is being withdrawn from the young bulls but will continue for the bulls already in the scheme in their second, third and fourth years of use.
It is really a very great hardship to the breeders of bulls that this change should have been introduced with so little notice. A man cannot build up the necessary stock for breeding high-class bulls at a moment's notice. Much thought, much labour, much capital, much time have to 905 go into the work, and it is hardly fair to make the change so suddenly, because these men depended on the fact that the buyers of young bulls got this premium, which enabled them to pay a much better price than otherwise. They got a better class of bull than they otherwise could have got with the money that they had available. I understand that the reason for continuing this payment for the second, third and fourth years was that it might have been considered a breach of faith to have discontinued it for bulls which were already in the scheme.
I do not want to use any harsh words, but I would like to tell the House that I had a letter a few days ago from a farmer and that in it he roundly used the words "breach of faith." It reminds me of the story of a small boy who was in a tramcar in Glasgow and was sitting beside his mother. A woman came in with a toy dog. He looked at it for a bit, and then he said to his mother, "Ma, see yon wee doggie." His mother said, "Hush, it's not a wee doggie, it's a little dog." The boy looked at it again, and then he turned to his mother and said, "If it's not a wee doggie, it's awful like a wee doggie." It seems to me that the Government's policy comes perilously near to a breach of faith—withdrawing the premium at such short notice. I know the pressure that is being put on my right hon. and gallant Friend to economise, but I think he might devise some scheme that would enable the axe to fall not quite so drastically. He might continue the premium for the first year and lop it off subsequently.
I do not think it is wise to abandon this policy, especially in view of the good it has done to the stock-breeding industry. It is well known that premium bulls tend to get too many cows brought to them. F there are to be no premiums for young bulls, it stands to reason that the old bulls which are already having too much to do in some instances are going to be more overworked than ever. That will have quite definite results in the long run. In the first place, the stamina of the bulls gets undermined, and they become much more liable to disease. There is an immediate decrease in the fertility of the cows in the neighbourhood where that bull is serving, and in the last resort there is a big drop in the number of calves. These are results which, I am sure, my right 906 hon. and gallant Friend does not want to see.
This matter has been brought to my notice only within the last two or three days from my own constituency, part of which happens to be very important to farmers in Scotland, because it produces probably the best store cattle of any place in Great Britain. In view of what happened there last autumn, it is very unfortunate that this decision should have been arrived at at all. I shall not go into this matter at any length, but I would refer to the frightful muddle possibly quite unavoidable, in connection with the shipping of store cattle from that part of the country. The stock were left in the constituency very much longer flan usual, for weeks and even months, and tens of thousands of pounds were lost by farmers, who are all small men farming about 20 or 30 acres. This entailed a very serious loss. Through these store cattle and sheep having to stay in the county for so long, feeding-stuffs have been very seriously depleted. It is hard on these men that this should have happened to them. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will reconsider this matter, if possible before it is too late, and will devise some method for letting the blow fall a little more gently, if at all.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
We have had the experience this evening of a Debate which has more than justified the existence of Parliamentary institutions in war-time. If the Ministers concerned had no idea before the Debate started of the depth and the range of indignation which existed among the agricultural community, they were left in no doubt about it after the Debate had proceeded for an hour or two. I share entirely the views which were expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies). I failed to discover in the speech of the Minister of Food any justification for the complacency which he himself enjoys and which he sought to impart to other people. He based his own satisfaction upon a conclusion which seemed to me to have no justification. Several references have already been made to the statement made last September that there would be ample supplies of feeding-stuffs. Six weeks or so later the farming community were told that they had to suffer a shortage of one-third. They discovered subsequently that 907 the shortage would range to the extent of about two-thirds. The Minister of Food is highly delighted with himself that, in the course of a week or two, he will have brought the farming community to where he said they were going to be at the end of last year. My own view is that the farming community in general will greet that situation with cynical amusement.
At the risk of wearying the House, I wish, for a few minutes, to say a word or two about the feeding-stuffs position, and I do so only because of my own almost painful experience in my constituency last week-end. My constituency is curious, in the sense that it is regarded as a mining constituency—that is the only reason why I am here—but substantially it is an agricultural constituency. If its agricultural interests had been more substantial, I should not be here. I have heard mining constituents of mine say some forthright things about this Government, but even they did not use the sort of forthright and emphatic language which was used by my farming friends during the week-end. I had better leave the House in no doubt about that.
The hon. Baronet reminded us of Napoleon's saying that an army marches on its stomach. I think that if Napoleon lived in 1940, he would revise his maxim and would say that an army marches on the stomachs of its civilian population. One of the things about which the Government seem unconscious, but which I believe to be of supreme importance, is the vulnerability of the home front. Our home front in this war is required to bear stresses and strains that have never been imposed upon it in any previous experience. It will bear those stresses and strains with fortitude if people feel that the burdens are being equitably distributed; but give them any suspicion, such as the farming community now have, that they have not only to bear burdens, but to bear them unfairly, and, moreover, to bear them unfairly because of misdirected policy, then there will be serious reactions which the Government will have to face. The farmer expects to have to face the difficulties of the war, but he resents having to face difficulties which he thinks should never have arisen. I have here an extract from the "Yorkshire Post," a paper with a policy similar to 908 that of the "Daily Express," but compared with the "Daily Express "the "Yorkshire Post" is a very respectable and respected morning journal. Its agricultural correspondent on Saturday last said that the farmersobject to being grievously misled in a matter which seriously affects, not only their livelihoods but the flocks and herds which they have been at some pains to build up. On the outbreak of war they were told by a Minister in whom they reposed great confidence that there were ample stocks of feeding-stuffs, and that there was no need for hasty slaughterings; on the contrary, they were urged to increase production, which means, in three cases out of four, more livestock. There followed a period of bewilderment, as deliveries were delayed, were reduced in volume, and in some cases failed altogether. After the shortage had occurred came the official announcement in November that imported cereals would have to be cut by a third; later still, the confession of acute shortage. Always the pronouncement has followed the event.What has made a painful impression upon me is the fact that, on the basis of those ministerial assurances poor men of limited means, with no reserve of resources, added to their poultry pens and put their pigs to breed; and that now they cannot feed their hens and are putting their gilts to slaughter. One very large fanner told me that for 10 years he had reared 2,500 pigs a year, and he was now being forced out of business in as short a time as possible because of the shortage of food. He told me that he was not within a year or two of the public assistance committee, but what worried him was the number of small men in the constituency who were on the doorstep of the public assistance committee and who would have to face one within a month or two unless there was a rapid change in the situation. Just outside my constituency there was a land settlement scheme with 42 settlers on it. I have been assured that a large number of those men are in grave and serious jeopardy, and probably all of them are facing a crash. The small man may be an economic unit in the field of production; this is not the moment to debate that, but neither is this the way to squeeze him out. This is the kind of confiscation which almost out-Stalins Joseph Stalin.
What is the result of this from the point of view of public policy? The shortage of bacon does not worry me personally, but I realise that other people have different tastes, and it must be remembered that the pig is probably the most prolific food-producing animal in 909 the country. It is still more serious, from the point of view of public policy, with regard to eggs and poultry. The egg is the most valuable of protective foods, and surely at a time when the supply of very nearly every other protective food is likely to be a bit risky it should be our public duty to see that we maintain the supply of the one protective food over whose quality and quantity we have some sort of control. We know that at this moment there will be a drastic fall in pig production and a very drastic fall indeed in egg and poultry production. I am sure that the situation with regard to pigs and poultry will be no more serious than the position with regard to milk. I am assured by most experienced milk producers that because of food shortage there is already noticeable a substantial and serious drop in milk yield. It is notorious that we in this country consume far less milk than we should compared with the average consumed in other European countries. We should not reduce the consumption of milk, but expand it. At the moment we are restricting the supply, and I know no way of improving the situation except by having some further assurance from the Minister of Agriculture in the matter of food supplies.
I come back to the point that I made about the speech of the Minister of Food. On the basis of the experience of the last three or four months, I do not believe that the farming community, especially that large number of small-settlement farmers with anything from 30 to 60 acres, will derive any comfort or satisfaction from the statement that has been made this evening. There is one other matter relating to this from the point of view of the small producer. The Minister of Food has issued a Foodstuffs (Maximum Prices) Order. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that that Order is regarded by the small man with complete contempt, first of all because the small man is so desperately in need of food. He himself is in no position to engage in the arithmetical calculations required to discover whether the fair price or an excessive price is being charged. Even if he had more capacity, he is in no position to argue about the price, so desperately does he need the food.
In some mysterious fashion there is an absence of straight feed. He can buy all 910 sorts of fancy mixed stuffs, the names of which he has never heard, the contents of which he can never discover except by analytical examination, and the expense of which he cannot bear. In what position is he to engage in involved scientific and arithmetical calculations to discover the components of the food, the cost of the components, and, therefore, how the aggregate price is arrived at? Therefore, not only is this army of small and desperately poor men being hurried to the bankruptcy court to a complete financial disaster, but on the way to it they are being compelled to suffer experiences which cause them to regard the maximum prices order with complete contempt.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire and others have referred to the position with regard to spring sowing. Under the stimulus of the per acre subsidy 25,000 acres are scheduled for ploughing in Derbyshire, but I have been told by a very responsible person that there is not, and he fears there will not be, available seeds for sowing 25,000 acres. If that is the case, this most serious position arises. Had the land remained grassland, it could have been used for cattle, and if it were producing a harvest in the summer, it would still have been useful, but it is going to be fallow, and therefore it will not be so useful as it would have been had it not been touched at all. I share the view which has been expressed in the House to-night, with a restraint which many hon. Members must have found it difficult to exercise, that this is a very serious situation. In the minds of many people who are watching this Debate and who will read about it to-morrow, there exists the gravest anxiety. I have no desire to impart personal feeling into the Debate, but in my view the Prime Minister would have been better advised if he could have put these two Ministries on the priority list for attention.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
I was glad to hear the references made from all parts of the House to the importance of dealing with the wages question at the present time in our approach to agriculture. We have this opportunity, which war and war alone could give us, of estimating the work of the agricultural worker in comparison with that of the man who works in the towns only a little way away. His work is skilled, and it cannot easily be 911 taught; it is arduous, and it is of high national importance, as is shown by its early reservation in the list of reserved occupations. I hope we shall be prepared, in formulating an agricultural policy, to abandon any preconceived ideas we may have of the wages that are due to the agricultural worker, and start with the idea of determining the figure that a man of that skill, engaged in an important occupation at the present time, is entitled to receive. Those who have served on Courts of Referees know that many men have left agricultural employment and drifted into industrial employment. The best inducement to get them back to the land, to which many would like to return, is a wage equivalent to that which they can get in the towns.
I must deal with the question of feeding-stuffs, which has affected us very seriously down in Lincolnshire. I listened with interest, but I am afraid with some disappointment, to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food. The fact that feeding-stuffs, having once been restricted, are again to be increased is of no advantage to the man who has slaughtered his pigs or poultry because the feeding-stuffs were not available as they were wanted. Pigs and poultry are not machines that you can leave in the garage until the ration comes along next month; they have to be fed all the time. I say, with the utmost seriousness, to my right hon. Friend that there is someone in his Ministry who is not playing the game by him and by the country. We have heard appeals by the hon. Gentleman who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping for storage of food, which could have been done with advantage before the war, when prices were about half what they are at the present time, with wheat at 18s., oats at 17s. and maize at 22s. At the port of Boston, a small port, 16 months after the commencement of the last war there were 30,000 quarters of maize still in store. There is absolutely none there to-day.
I appeal to the Minister of Agriculture to let us have a definite long-term policy for the country. Articles written by Lord Beaverbrook on this subject have been appearing in the "Daily Express." I am not competent to criticise or approve them; but I do say that here is a plan, clear, brief, and reasonable, and I appeal 912 to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister to give us a plan—a better plan perhaps, but one that is as clear, as brief, and as reasonable. We are not sure what is to be the minimum price for potatoes for next season. Potatoes can be used as a food not only for human beings but also for cattle. The amount of the crop is governed very largely by the minimum price fixed. I hope we shall have a definite statement on this question in the very near future.
One other thing that I would say to the Minister of Agriculture is this: He has great confidence and many friends among the agricultural community; that is not confined to the farmers, but is the case in all branches of the industry. That industry will accept grievous sacrifices, but we ask, on behalf of the farming community and all those engaged in it, to be told what sacrifices we are to shoulder, rather than being left slowly to bleed to death, as has been the case with so many specialists in poultry and pigs. There is a great opportunity for my right hon. and gallant Friend. I believe that he will rise to it; that he will be encouraged by the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to cleave through the difficulties and through such vested interests as he may encounter in his course, so that we may have the opportunity of welcoming him as one of the architects of our national security and defence.
§ 9.25 p.m.
In the discussion to-day hon. Members have impressed upon the Minister of Agriculture and his colleague the Minister of Food that the mind of the people is very much concerned as to the whole question of the supplies available and what might be the position in this country in regard to food should we have a prolonged war. The war itself has brought a sort of revolution in the minds of people, a new outlook upon the possibilities of agriculture. The Minister, in his Department, has to carry the burdens of the great responsibilities that fall upon him during what may be the emergency years before us. He has been strengthened, of course, by emergency regulations and powers that have given him authority to do things which in normal times would never have been permitted. The people of this country will be prepared to make sacrifices, provided 913 that those sacrifices are in the best interests of the nation.
There is also a much wider concern shown, not only in this House but in the country generally, with regard to the human interests involved in agriculture. We may try to enforce changed methods and new conditions, but ultimately we come up against the wider and greater problems of the human interests. We must always take them into account. I have noticed in this Debate that, from all sides of the House, tribute has been paid to the workers on the farms and in the countryside. If the war and the conditions that arise out of it tend to raise the status of the agricultural worker, something has been gained. But many agricultural workers have memories long enough to recall what happened after the last war, and they have fears as to what might happen after this war. The worker on the land is recognised as the individual who tills the soil, sows the seed, reaps the harvest, and takes part in farming operations, such as milking the cows and grooming the horses, but it is still essential to remind ourselves that even to-day he is also called upon to do the ditching, the hedging, and the thatching which the ordinary husbandry of agriculture cannot do without. Our full appreciation of these qualities in the workers of the countryside is somewhat belated.
This brings me to the position, which has been emphasised from every quarter of the House, of the need for some application of newer methods in dealing with remuneration and the conditions of the workers on the land. As hon. Gentlemen know, I, personally, have been one of the participants in the discussions which have taken place upon the projected changes which ought to be applied, particularly in the circumstances of the day when agriculture has become more intensified. There are guarantees to this and that section of the prices of commodities, and the farm worker is equally entitled, not only to a fairer share, but to better treatment. The speeding-up of the processes of the application of wage increases is not merely in order to meet the increased cost of living, but to bring about a higher standard of life for the agricultural worker than he has hitherto enjoyed. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), was somewhat amazed at the 914 attitude of the National Farmers' Union with regard to the changes that have been projected in the discussions that have gone on to try to obtain agreement upon the proposals which would help the operation of the wages boards in the counties as they exist to-day. It may be that the representatives of the National Farmers' Union will insist upon the last word being said by the members of their association as to what changes should operate. They are bound also to recognise that, in these days of very great and rapid change, even in their democratic institution delay is a time factor which has its limits and can only be extended within a reasonable period to give satisfaction to the workers who are organised equally with them and are entitled to have some say as to how these negotiations should be carried out.
I want to pay a tribute to the officers of the Department of Agriculture who have been very gentle in their methods of trying to facilitate these discussions and to bring the parties together, in the first instance and, secondly, to keep the door open so that negotiations should not break down. All of us would agree that it would be fatal to come to a deadlock upon the principle that is involved in the proposals for a national wages board. But there is, at least, the experience of the last war. I want to warn the Minister that, although the sense of rupture has been cast aside, the patience of those who represent the agricultural workers cannot be extended too far and that he should exercise his influence with the farmers' representatives to try and seek a speedy voluntary settlement of this question. Ootherwise we shall be bound to press him to seek powers to legislate on the matter. The machinery in his Department should be used to try and settle this question of a national wage board as soon as it can be accomplished.
Now I want to turn to an aspect of the general agricultural problem that has been touched upon at various times this afternoon. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Clement Davies) touched upon one aspect of the matter by pleading with the Minister himself and his Department to extend the acreage to be cultivated by including derelict or semi-derelict land. Perhaps it is unfortunate, in one sense, that the Minister has handed over his 915 powers of determining what acreage should be ploughed up, and what land should be selected, to the war agricultural committees. It may be that in some cases they may exceed the powers which he has laid upon them. As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, I drew his attention recently to the case of a war agricultural committee which was enforcing the cultivation of land where the tenant was leaving in a few months without any guarantee that the land could be looked after unless it was the responsibility of the owner. Unfortunately, the Minister could not intervene, but I am happy to say that the war agricultural committee themselves came to the rescue. Here is a case of an individual who sent me an extract from the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" of 9th January, indicating that under the plans of the Ministry of Agriculture for the ploughing-up of derelict land cultivation would now be permissible. This man owns between 40 and 45 acres of land, and he previously offered it to a war agricultural committee. He appears to believe the partially official statement in the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" that he can look with some guarantee to these 45 acres being cultivated. I agree that it would be a mistake for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to let people believe that all types of land can be cultivated. I understand that they attempted to cultivate this particular plot of land some years ago at an enormous cost, and had to give it up, and since then it has become stubble. Rather appropriately they have called it Prairie Farm.
I want to put this proposition to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, whether in the case of land which is not farm land war agricultural committees have the power to cultivate it without the responsibility being put upon the owner of the land, who probably does not farm, or whether they will at least encourage the cultivation of such land by some organisation or association. There are acres and acres of land adjoining urban areas which could be cultivated, land which is too vast for ordinary allotment holders, who have no facilities or machinery and probably not the temperament to carry it out. There are, I should imagine, acres and acres of land which might be cultivated under the Land Utilisation Acts, and which should be cultivated when there 916 is an essential need for foodstuffs to-day. One last point. Does the Minister of Agriculture intend that the cultivation of derelict or semi-derelict land should be undertaken towards the end of this year? If so, we have been reminded in the Debate to-day that there is likely to be a shortage of seeds available unless farmers themselves have stored them, and if it is made clear that there should be a cultivation of this semi-derelict land, it might be an incentive to make preparation for it.
Then there is another aspect of the problem which comes under the Minister's jurisdiction in connection with horticulture. In our plea for the maintenance of foodstuffs I trust that we are not overlooking the vast resources of those who are engaged in horticulture, in the growing of tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce. Is the Minister giving any encouragement to these people? I am reminded of it because of a recent occurrence in the Lea Valley, with which I have had association for a number of years. According to an early estimate, at any rate, the recent explosion at Waltham Abbey broke hundreds of thousands of feet of glass in the area. I should be glad if the Minister would inform me whether any direct or indirect assistance can be given to the horticulturists who own those glass houses, because the ordinary insurance will, at the maximum, cover only a fraction of the damage that was done. Is the Department giving any attention to this matter? I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be able to give some encouragement to the owners of the glass houses in that area. Perhaps he will be able to indicate the extent of the damage that was done and whether there is a possibility of the repairs being done before the spring. Is he satisfied that the work can be carried out so as not to delay the early crops which these people will want to produce particularly this year, because the diminution in imports even from the Channel Islands may cause a shortage of this essential food?
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to try to create and maintain confidence in agriculture and the interests involved. Undoubtedly, he will receive criticism because of the application of the new powers which he possesses, but it is desirable, now that we are beginning to appreciate the human interests involved, from the point of view of the farmers, the public generally, and the workers in 917 the industry. The Minister should do something in the direction of discouraging those frequent applications that are made to the wages boards for reductions in the wages of the aged workers on the land on account of the fact that they happen to be drawing a contributory pension after reaching the age of 65. These workers, with their knowledge of the land and agriculture, are still valuable to the country, for although they may fail physically, they have experience and knowledge which are of tremendous value to the farming industry. I hope the Minister will encourage a higher standard of living and better conditions of housing for the agricultural population, and that he will try to overcome the many problems of the countryside and find a solution even in the times of emergency through which we are passing.
§ 9.50 p.m.
Mr. Owen Evans
I am sure that the two Ministers concerned have no reason to complain of the spirit in which this Debate has been conducted. It has been constructive, and I am sure that it is essential in these days, not only to draw the attention of the House to the position in which we are in relation to agriculture, but also to draw the attention of the farmers and producers in the country to the difficulty and even the danger of that position at the moment. We have heard a great deal to-night about the shortage of feeding-stuffs. I do not intend to follow up that matter in any detail. Suffice it for me to say that the Minister of Agriculture is already aware of this trouble as it exists not only in the West of England but also in the agricultural districts of Wales. I have had the opportunity of drawing his attention and the attention of the Minister of Food to the conditions which have been existing in West Wales, in the counties of Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Cardigan ever since the outbreak of war. In those counties the system of farming has changed during the last year, largely owing to the policy of the Government. Many more farmers have gone in for producing milk and no longer grow sufficient food on their farms to feed their cows.
It is, indeed, a sad reflection that the position in this country compares unfavourably with the position in Germany. I admit that no one knows the exact position in Germany at present, but we 918 do know fairly accurately what was the position in Germany at the outbreak of the war. I have frequent opportunities of meeting prominent neutrals from Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and Scandinavia. They represent the best source of information one can have. They not only know people who go backwards and forwards between their own countries and Germany, but they themselves sometimes go to Germany, and from their information one can state with certainty that we ought not to be complacent about this matter. We should indeed feel strong reason to energise ourselves and the farming community in regard to this matter.
It is a remarkable thing to have to say, but one which must be emphasised clearly to the country, that Germany was, at the outbreak of the war, in a much better position than we were in to fight a war. That was due, I think, to the policy which this country adopted and our failure to face the new policy required by new conditions. Germany stocked herself with all sorts of essential commodities for the feeding of her people and for carrying on war manufacturing industries. For some reason—I think perhaps it was the conservative spirit in this country, which fears to depart from traditional lines or to adopt entirely new policies in face of new conditions—we did not take similar steps. I have not had an opportunity of verifying the reference, but I think I am right in saying that before the war a Royal Commission was appointed to consider the stocking and storage of material which might be required in a war, and I believe—I am open to correction—that the unanimous conclusion of that Commission was, that it was not necessary or advisable that this country should store commodities in anticipation of war.
Of course, the reason at that time was obvious. The view of the so-called "blue-water school" prevailed in this country. That is to say, the Government believed, and the people believed, that it was not necessary for this country to finance large stocks of essential commodities in anticipation of war, because so long as this country could have command of the sea and the wherewithal to buy commodities, it was unnecessary to stock them for war. But things have changed, and we have had, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has reminded the House, due 919 warning that our potential enemy, Germany, was stocking essential commodities in the way of food and other materials. I think I am right in saying too that Germany has a great deal more gold than is attributed to her by some. The fact is that it is not in Germany but in the countries where she is busily buying material for war. That is, I think, the cause of the attitude of successive Governments—it is the failure to realise that this country is now endangered by new implements of war which are specially directed at the weaknesses of this country.
With regard to foodstuffs, I hope the Minister will not be satisfied with what he has said to-night—that we are likely, I think he said, to have about two-thirds of the normal quantities for this month, next month, and March. I hope he will recollect that the need of feeding-stuffs during this winter will be much greater than for any through which we have passed, because of the severity of the winter. It is a very serious matter in many parts of the country that, owing to the severity of the weather, the need for feedings-stuffs will be very much greater. I hope the Minister will give some further assurance in his reply as to the prospects of farmers receiving adequate supplies before the animals go out to the pasture.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said something to this effect, and it was a challenge to the Government, that the Government have evidently not made up their minds yet as to what part in the national economy agriculture is to occupy. He himself did not volunteer his opinion as to what part agriculture should occupy, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway have yet made up their minds, nor do I think there would be very great unanimity in the House if anyone attempted to define the position of agriculture in the national economy. I am sure the Government could not do it, because my recollection is that before the war, when we urged upon the Government to take steps to secure supplies of food in good time prior to the war, and increase the productivity of land, we were told we must not disturb the normality of agriculture at that time. They did not do so, and I doubt whether the owners of land in this House will be able to tell us what they think should be the precise position 920 of agriculture in the national economy. Whatever it is, I venture to lay down the proposition that land, being limited in quantity and extent should not be allowed to go waste and should be put to the best possible use. I think we can safely say that.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) had a little breeze with my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. He said that while he agreed with a great deal of what my right hon. Friend had said, he charged him with having been responsible for putting an end to an Act of Parliament which, in the opinion of many people, would have been of great benefit to agriculture in future. The retort of my right hon. Friend was that, after all, he was a Prime Minister tied to the Tory party and that the majority of his Government were Conservatives. We are inclined to say, "Let bygones be bygones," but you cannot do it because there is a good deal of the same policy prevailing in the Conservative party as before the last war. From these benches no one has done more than my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to make this country land-conscious. Of course, he presented a case in the old days which greatly annoyed certain people connected with the land, but will anyone deny that a great many landlords of this country have outlived their usefulness? Will anybody deny that a great deal of the derelict land and a great many of the farms, the buildings of which have been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that they are not fit for animals to live in, are due in many instances to the relation between landlord and tenant having broken down in many parts of the country?
I am not attacking any individual, for I know there are excellent landlords, and there are those, many of them in this House, who have a sense of responsibility and are exercising the functions of the landlord in partnership with the tenant. I know, however, that there are hundreds of them who have for years lived above their means and have never put a penny back into the land, with the result that in a large part of the country to-day the best pasture land is almost like prairie or desert. A short while ago I was reading an important letter in the "Times" from a landlord in the Border counties, either in Radnorshire or Brecon-shire. He was a disciple of Professor 921 Stapledon, of Aberystwyth, and he came to his estate when every building was about to tumble down. He found practically all the land nearly derelict and uncultivated, and he determined to use all the resources he had and to apply the rents which he got and put them back into the land. As a result, he is now proud to have got his estate in the position in which it ought to be. That, of course, was extremely creditable, but I do not want the House or the country to run away from the fact that to-day there are still landlords in this country who are not performing all their responsibilities and functions towards their tenants.
A reference has been made to the War Agricultural Committees. The right hon. Gentleman has entrusted the work very largely to those committees. I have no doubt that many of them can be criticised. I heard some criticism of the War Agricultural Committee in my own county from the National Farmers Union, but I must say that on that committee are the best and most accomplished farmers in the county. That I freely admit; but the degree of efficiency shown by the various War Agricultural Committees will, no doubt, vary. Some will be first-class and some will not be, and I suggest that in order to secure the maximum of effort throughout the country there must be direction and close supervision from above. Only a night or two ago I heard one of the best-known experts in agriculture in this country taking part in a discussion upon this matter. He said that the way in which the Government had approached this question, by leaving discretion to the War Agricultural Committes, was rather like a general saying to his soldiers, "You know all about it; carry on." The Minister should bear in mind that the work done by these committees ought to be carefully observed and supervised, because it is the duty of the Minister to see that the programme is carried out.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert), who spoke earlier in the evening, said that though we could plough up land, there would be no crop immediately. I have the honour to represent an agricultural county, and I am also a farmer. Had it not been for the war, I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman might have come down to Aberystwyth to open a new building, but unfortunately he has been 922 prevented. I thought it would be a fine opportunity for him to see what people can do, not with first-class land, but with second-rate land—to see what they have done under the supervision of a centre like that at Aberystwyth and the leadership of Professor Stapledon. If people say that it takes two or three years to bring land back to cultivation, that is wrong, completely wrong. On the farm which belongs to me there is a field of 12 or 13 acres, and the oldest inhabitant in the area told me that 50 years ago that field maintained a herd of dairy cows practically throughout the summer.
It was a herd of 12 to 14 cows. He said it was such a good field that it maintained that herd throughout the summer. By the time I took it, it was in a shocking condition. It was full of Yorkshire moss, furze, and brushes, and the drains were blocked. The land was valueless. Under the guidance of experts, I put eight or nine men on it to clear it, first of all. That was done pretty rapidly. It was then ploughed up by tractor. It was harrowed, and it was rolled. Lime and slag were put on it. It was sown in the middle of July with a commercial mixture of grass seed and grain. In early October it was a beautiful field to see. There were 100 sheep on that field. Then, in January, they were all sold. I can assure any expert in agriculture, even including the Minister himself, if he wishes to see the land, that that land was a picture to see. In three months it was able to maintain stock. It was brought back in three months, and since then, under the guidance of expert advice from Aberystwyth, more and more acres on that farm, nearly 100 acres, have been gone over, although the land had not been ploughed for 40 or 50 years.
I believe that under the ploughing campaign of the Minister, if it is directed properly and not controlled in such a way as to say that it must grow oats, barley, or wheat—on this point I would like some assurance from the Minister—land can be put down for the purpose of maintaining stock.
§ Sir J. Lamb
Would the hon. Member answer one question? Was this expendi- 923 ture capital which he had made out of agriculture or capital brought in from other sources?
No, I lent it to myself. I had that amount of dependence. I quite agree with the hon. Member; but if any farmer who did it had used exactly the same money, on credit, if you like, I can assure the hon. Member that, in six months, he would have had all his money back, as happened that year.
I would like to say one or two words on the question of seed. In my part of the country—it is an arable county—many individual farmers are saying today that they do not know where to get seeds to put in in the spring. They have not any seed, and they do not know where to get it. They are not sure that they will get that seed; indeed, they hear that seeds are extremely short and that they will be very expensive. I should like the Minister to give some indication of what is to happen in that respect.
I would like to say something also about prices. Something has been said in the course of the Debate to-day about one object of the Government's policy being to induce the farmer to grow the maximum amount of food by assuring him of a reasonable level of prices. I think I am stating the matter fairly. I would like to ask the Minister how the prices of those commodities are to be fixed. I was at the annual meeting of the branch of the National Farmers' Union in my county, of which I am a member, and great dissatisfaction was expressed by farmers as to the prices for certain commodities. Wool was one. I do not know whether the Minister has any power in this matter, because I think that the price of wool is fixed in some other way, but in Wales, to our hill farmers, the price of wool is a very serious matter. It was said that here was again a grave injustice to Wales as against Scotland. I am glad to see a Scotsman as Minister of Health, although I realise that this does not concern him. Take Scotch wool; I believe to-day's price is 10½ paid. for Scotch black-faced wool, which can only be used for rubbish like carpets, and the best Welsh wool to-day is priced at 11½d. The farmers have asked for an increase of 33⅓ per cent. and, if I remember rightly, they got 10 per cent. I would like to ask the Minister, What is the principle on 924 which the basic prices are fixed? Are they based upon costing—if so, who are the people who determine the cost, what experience have they had of costing?—or are the prices based upon some average? Farmers in my county say with regard to wool that whereas in 1937 and 1938 they were getting 1s. 3d. and 1s. 5d. for wool, now under the fixed control price they are getting 11½d. That is an extremely serious thing for the farmers who produce from thousands of sheep the best class of wool in the country.
There is another point. What is the attitude of the Minister of Agriculture in regard to farms which are now being taken up by the Service Department? I am informed that in Wales about 40,000 acres have been taken by the Service Departments, and in my own county some hundreds of acres have been compulsorily taken, with no satisfaction to the farmers at all, and in some cases the gathering of the crops last autumn was interfered with. There has been no statement as to how they are to be compensated. Even the very best arable land has been taken. In certain counties the farmers are anxious about the position of labour; the difficulty of obtaining labour is acute. Men who were in the Territorials or who were Reservists and who are competent drivers of tractors have been called up, and it is exceedingly difficult to obtain the suitable labour in place of them. After all, I believe the farmers will do their part, and do it well, provided they receive assurances and some direction also from the Minister.
§ 10.19 p.m.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I. too, urn very grateful to the Liberal party for having raised this question of agriculture. I think a most useful purpose has been served by discussing the doubts and hardships which undoubtedly have come to many people engaged in the production of food. But in the main the Debate has been not so much about the production from our own soil as the real difficulty of maintaining supplies of imported feeding-stuffs in this time of war and in this time when on the seas the war is very real. I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) said quite a lot about the importance of the effort which the farmers are making to overcome our present difficulties in the shortest possible time that 925 nature will allow—an effort which I believe to be as vital in the conduct of the war as it is in itself magnificent.
On the agricultural side, we have heard a great number of complaints and expressions of doubt, which I know to exist, but we have not heard overmuch about the value which this House does set on the fulfilment of a programme of production front our own land. I hope it will be taken from this Debate, by all parties, that this House does want to succeed in the task before it. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Hitler; he probably saw the other day that Signor Mussolini was reported to have told the Italian farmers that a good harvest can be equivalent to a military victory. With us, it is much the same; a good harvest, garnered from the 2,000,000 extra acres, at least, which we are hoping to plough this year, may be equivalent to a major victory in this war. It is equivalent to a great addition to our merchant navy, and it will go a long way towards relieving the strain which is being put at the present moment on our Navy in convoying and so on. In so far as our shortcomings are impairing the conduct of this campaign for increased food production, I am very grateful for this Debate. I can assure hon. Members that due attention will be paid to each and every suggestion which has been made; but I would again point out that the main thing which I want to go out, from my own purely agricultural point of view, is that this House of Commons, and indeed the Government, want this campaign of increased production from our own soil to go forward with all energy to a really successful fulfilment.
As for the curtailment of the supplies of imported feeding-stuffs, I have not much to add to the full, and indeed frank, statement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. But there is one point with which I would like to deal. That is the broad policy the Government have had to adopt with regard to the allocation of supplies which have in fact come forward and have been available. I think the House will agree that it is always an unenviable task to have to go into the question of allocation of priorities when there is a shortage of a given commodity; and to take those decisions which one knows will have to hurt quite a lot of people is not the most pleasant possible task. 926 Nevertheless, those decisions have had to be taken, and they were taken. From the agricultural point of view, when we are thinking, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in terms of a war of considerable duration, the first thing we have to think about is the fertility of our soil, because it is on the fertility of our soil that eventually we may have to rely for our very lives.
May I remind the House of the announcement that was made with regard to that allocation? We said that the maintenance of our milk supply was of paramount importance, because we cannot get milk from anywhere else, and that in consequence every effort would be made to provide ample supplies of feeding-stuffs for our dairy cattle. We then went on to point out that the fat cattle and the sheep had to be maintained too, and that therefore the main burden of any curtailment would in fact have to fall upon the pig and poultry industries. We went on to say that at least in order to deal with the pig and poultry industries, and in planning their future operations, they would have to rely upon suffering a cut over the 12 months of at least 30 per cent.
I have been taken to task for one or two things which I have said with regard to this feeding-stuffs position, and I think the House will appreciate that it is never easy to give any precise instructions in time of war. The indications which I have given have been given in all good faith, based upon the best information which is available to me. In the very first broadcast, I warned the farmers that there was no shortage—I did not use the word "supply"—of feeding-stuffs, but I did go on to say:I would strongly urge farmers of livestock to make every effort to grow on their own farms as much as possible of the feeding-stuffs which they will require.That was on 4th September. On 19th October, as the position became a bit clearer, but still was not quite definite, I said this in the House of Commons:It is too early yet to frame a definite policy in respect to pigs, poultry or eggs in view of the large amount of cereals required for these forms of production. The position is being carefully watched and more exact guidance will be given as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1939; col. 1048, Vol. 352.]On 22nd November we were able to give this guidance, taking a view over the 927 12 months. That has been read to mean that we were in fact guaranteeing 70 per cent. on each and every day of the year, but I think it was a bit unfair to read that meaning into those words. We said that for 12 months there would at least be a cut of 30 per cent. But we have as far as possible tried to bring such relief as we could to those people who in fact rely almost entirely upon their pigs and upon their poultry; and to the smallholders, instructions that can be given, have been given to try and relieve these people and also relieve the position with regard to breeding stock. We all recognise how really important it is that, although we may not suffer a curtailment, we may be enabled soon to build again, and it will not be worth building if we have not sound breeding stock left in the country with which to breed.
The question has been raised in several quarters as to why we have not put into operation a rationing scheme for livestock. Even with the difficulties which they had in the last war they were unable to bring into operation a rationing scheme for livestock, because only those who have sat down and tried to work out the details of how you would work a rationing scheme really know the difficulties. I will suggest one or two of them, a s it is a very vital thing. If you want to get real equality of treatment between the various farmers and the various types of farmers you would have to know exactly what is on a man's farm, what he has in stock and so on, and his livestock population. That changes from week to week and you would also have, for example, such a case as this: If large stocks were there, you would want to know when they were going to be threshed and why they had not been threshed when it had been stated that it would be done. There are all sorts of complications, but I hope they will not prove to be insuperable because we do want to get the best equality of treatment we can. We are still reviewing this matter with farmers, merchants, and everybody else concerned to see whether we can get out a scheme which will, beyond all doubt, give this equality of treatment between farms and farmers.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) raised the question of working in groups and trying to 928 establish group working for grass drying and things of that kind. I am glad he did so, because it is a matter of extreme importance in the furtherance of this campaign. It is perfectly clear that in war we have got to rely on the efforts of individuals and on the initiative coming from the country. I believe there is a lot to be gained by growers getting together and, if necessary, pooling machinery and labour. I hope that the county committees will encourage this type of pooling, and I have an assurance from the workers' union that they will be only too glad to try and help in regard to the proper utilisation of the men who are on farms.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) had a go at the executive committees and tried to make out that there was some political bias in connection with their appointment. I can give him this assurance, that politics have never entered into this question. I ask him, Does he think that politics ought to enter into the question?
§ Mr. T. Williams
No. I say, definitely not, but in the two or three cases quoted politics have entered into the question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]— to a greater extent than should have been the case if we are to make these committees a success.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
That is a little less definite than the remarks the hon. Member made before. In any case I know of nobody who has been asked what his politics were when being chosen. So far as Monmouthshire is concerned, I think the position looks more serious than in fact it is. As I understand it, Monmouthshire Conservative Association, in the belief that there was going to be a political truce, have done away with all their political activities, and it so happened that this gentleman has now been appointed secretary of the war agricultural committee because he was considered to be the best man for the job. The committees have the right to appoint their own secretaries. I deal with the appointment of the executive officers. The secretaries have not much power. I admit that it looks rather sinister, but I am informed that these offices happen to be in a big building. I do not know the politics of the gentleman who owns the building, I have not inquired. I understand that the war executive committee, with the approval of the Office of Works, 929 took over the whole of the block of building.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The committees are appointed by me. The hon. Member for the Don Valley also asked for some definite figures.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Before leaving that question, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that I did not attempt in any way to exaggerate the statement I made, that six out.of seven of the members were members of the Conservative party, that the Conservative agent for that Parliamentary Division was the paid secretary of the war executive committee, and that the meetings of the committee were held in the Conservative party's room?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
In the building in which these rooms were. I think that the hon. Member has read more into it than there really is. The hon. Member asked for the latest figures in connection with the ploughing-up campaign.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I am sorry to intervene, but will the Minister say something about Colonel Gunn, the chairman of the Sutherlandshire War Executive Committee?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I am afraid that I cannot. That is a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for North Cumberland that the ploughing-up scheme is not going with that zest which he would like to see. I do not think he is right. Having regard to the weather we have been experiencing, everyone will admit that it has not been one of the best for ploughing. I think that farmers have done extremely well. The actual acreage which has been either directly served to plough or about to be served in England and Wales is 1,269,820, which I think is a good showing of the intention of what the farmers mean to do to contribute towards the foodstuffs of the country.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
At the beginning of his speech the Minister used the figure of 2 000,000 acres. Now he has used the figure of 1,500,000 acres. Which is it?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
What we asked for was at least 1,500,000 acres from England and Wales and another 500,000 930 acres from Northern Ireland and Scotland. My information is that Northern Ireland has already exceeded her quota, and I am perfectly certain that Scotland will not be behind England and Wales or Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for the Don Valley also raised the vexed question of credit. The House will agree that the policy of the Government in war-time should be to provide a guaranteed market at a reasonable price for the goods which farmers produce. If we can get these conditions, and I think we can, then farmers should be in a position to pay the ordinary rates of credit like ordinary traders. It is my belief that that is a sound policy to follow, because I believe we should avoid thinking that subsidised credit would, in fact, perform a really useful service to farmers. We have seen before how subsidies under different conditions than those under which they were originally given are liable to go in one way or another. What the farmers want, what I want and what the Government are aiming to do, is to have a policy which will enable the farmers to stand on their own feet and not have to have subsidies either for credit or anything else.
Mr. De la Bère
May I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to bear in mind that the railways did have that £26,000,000, and that that sum was used very largely for electrification development? If it is right for the railways to have money in that way and for other industries to have it, I cannot see why the farmers should be treated worse than other industries.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I think it will be remembered that there were special considerations with regard to that matter.
Mr. De la Bère
I do hope the Minister will not gloss over the matter in that way. It does not give a very good impression.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
Surely, it should be our aim to get this industry into the condition in which it can pay ordinary commercial rates like any other industry. But there will still be some farmers who, I know, will not be able to finance their expansion, and although I cannot mention it in detail, because it comes in the Bill, the Second Reading of which I hope to obtain next week or the week after. I hope to be able to bring forward a scheme which will, in fact, enable the 931 county committees to deal with that particular type of case and enable them to give the necessary help to those people who cannot get money from other sources. As far as the banks are concerned, all I want to say is that I have been sufficiently in touch with the banks during recent months to be satisfied that it is not only their wish but their intention to co-operate to the best of their ability in this food production campaign.
The hon. Member spoke about the need for giving guaranteed prices and giving some guarantees for the future to the farmers. We are, and we have been since the war began, trying to arrive at a level of prices which is giving confidence to the industry, and we have also tried to give the proper indication that, as far as the Government are concerned, their policy is going to be based on taking those steps which will enable us, if there is to be a transition after the war, to have that transition come about slowly and not with the suddenness which hit the industry after the last war. But as for giving guaranteed prices for a long time, or any guarantees beyond the war, I am not sure that is in the power either of the Government or the House of Commons to give these. And I would like to say this: In another part of my office, I am Minister of Fisheries. That, I do not forget, and when I think of the people who ask for guarantees after the war, guarantees for a long time, I cannot help thinking of those fishermen who go out day after day to get food, and who are not asking for guarantees. They have got a job of work to do, and they do it, and I very much doubt whether, in fact, any of us have a right to try to carve out for ourselves a guarantee for the future before we have won this war.
As far as the seed position is concerned, there is, I know, a great deal of worry in the minds of producers about that. What we did was this. Before the war, we set up a Seeds Advisory Committee to watch this very important part of our work, because I quite agree that it is absolutely fantastic to plough up land if the seeds are not there to sow. The members of this Seeds Advisory Committee are representatives of the agricultural and horticultural seed trade association, the Co-operative movement, the allotment movement, and the scientists, and their meetings are attended 932 by representatives of the Government Departments concerned. On more than one occasion I have met their representatives, and I have also attended their meetings. They are the people who know the seed position and to whom one would go for advice on the question: Are the seeds here and can they be supplied? I find there a spirit of informed confidence with regard to the seed position, in oats and everything else. I can understand that farmers who see this big amount of acreage which, they think, will have to go down in oats, in counties which have not perhaps sown much land in oats, wondering where the seeds are coming from. Well, we had last year, I think, the best oat crop we have ever had since records have been kept, and the seed trade assure me, as do the farmers and all who know, that they have no doubt whatever that the seeds will be available.
It has been suggested that the Government itself should go in for the seed trade and buy up seeds. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did not do that in the last war. There was never, I believe, any control of the seed trade, though, I think, once the Government did buy some seed wheat from the farmers. Then the farmers went along to the trade and said, "We are not going to buy that back; you buy us some cheaper seed wheat." I think it would be futile at this moment for the Government to put a clog on the wheel which is going round quite smoothly, by going in and buying. I believe in that way we would do much more harm than good and when all the people who know —producers, merchants and everybody else—say that they are confident, I have to be satisfied with their expert advice.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
There will be no controlled price of seed oats. That was another advice which every person concerned with seed gave me. Buyers and sellers agreed—[Horn. MEMBERS: "The Farmers' Union?"]—Yes, I think the Farmers' Union did agree. It was a most remarkable thing to get such unanimity between East and West on this particular question, and what they said was, "If you did put a controlled price on these seed oats, you simply would never get the seeds." Again, it would have been a difficult position to defend, if I had not 933 accepted the advice of those who are in a position to know, and if the seeds had not been forthcoming. But they have given me an explicit assurance that they will do all they can to see that the seeds ate put in at a reasonable price—as cheaply as possible. Each and every member of this association has been circularised and they have given an undertaking to co-operate with the Agricultural Department and with the buyers of seeds so that if there is any difficulty in any given county or district, the seed association will see that sufficient seed goes to those areas to prevent prices rising unduly. I think that is a good and a helpful undertaking.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
What is the practical difference between feeding oats and seed oats in emergency conditions?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The seeds are there and will be forthcoming. One of the troubles is that at the present moment farmers are not giving orders for the seed. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr. Adamson) said the seeds were not there. I wonder whether his farmers have placed their orders yet with the merchants to test whether the seeds are there or not. I am informed that the orders are going through slowly because farmers are still waiting to make up their minds what they are going to do with the land.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Did the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, or did he not, between Christmas and 11th January, make up his mind to take control of seed oats, and broadcast to the country that such control was going to be taken, and, afterwards, about 11th January, change his mind?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
No, Sir; the question only came before me quite a short time ago. The hon. Member for Don Valley said that what the farmers wanted was the Government to make up their mind what was wanted from the land, and give definite directions. There is only one direction which I feel we can give to the men on the land, and that is to use their land, as in fact it should be used, as they alone can best tell what 934 is the best crop to put into it. That is the direction we have given, and I am sure that anyone who farms will be with me when I say that it would be fatal if the Ministry of Agriculture did, in fact, give directions what actually should be grown on any given field in this country. What is happening? It is the good men on the county committees who not only know their county but are, as the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) said, the men really respected by the farming community, the people who can discuss with the farmers what are the best crops. I think we shall have much better results by giving as much latitude as we can to the farmers who are ploughing up, and indeed in the case that the hon. Member for Cardigan raised, as to whether the land could be re-seeded, my reply is, "Yes, that is so." I would hate to have a hard and fast rule and determination from Whitehall of what in fact should happen to this land.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has made one of his usual very invigorating speeches. I was rather doubtful whether he considered that the task which we have asked agriculture to do is a small one. I think it is a tremendous task to do. In this one year we are going to try and plough up these 2,000,000 acres, and that in fact took four years to do in the last war.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The increase of 2,000,000 acres did not come in until the fourth year, that is, the last year of the war.
Mr. Lloyd Georģe
I really do know something about that. The programme did not start until the end of December, 1916. There was very great pressure brought to bear by Lord Selborne and Lord Balcarres for the programme to be started. No programme was started until the end of December—the first year, 1917–18.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
We are a bit earlier this time. We are trying to do it now in the first year. I would like to make the point that it is in fact but the first instalment of a greater programme if the war continues. It is a tremendous task which we are asking the farmers to perform, and they will have our good will and our every help to enable them to fulfil it. It was hinted by the right 935 hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and said by the hon. Member for Cardigan that Germany was in a much better position to carry on its agriculture, and indeed a lot of other things, than this country. I doubt that, because from broadcasts from Germany and from their papers I find that my opposite number in Germany is having just as many difficulties as, and indeed a few more than, I have in this campaign. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we intended to get on with this job with energy, to get the drainage done and to cut through vested interests, and so on. The answer is that we do intend to cut through any vested interests that are in our way and get on with the drainage and reclamation of such land as can be reclaimed and is worth reclaiming. I agree with the hon. Member opposite that there is some land which will probably not pay to reclaim. I want to have the local opinion in regard to that. I have already resisted attempts of interests to oppose the county committees, and I shall continue to do that, because the committees consist of the men who should know. The right hon. Gentleman cast aspersions at my little an acre subsidy. I am prepared to take the decision of Sir George Stapledon, who was good enough to say that he thought that was one of the most historic pronouncements of any Minister of Agriculture.
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) on his very interesting speech, and to assure him that the immediate assistance for which he asks from the Ministry will be sent to Tottenham to give such advice as we can. I hope I may take advantage of the invitation which he threw out to hon. Members. I trust that other local authorities will take courage from the work which is being done at Tottenham and will follow suit in the quickest possible time. That is the kind of initiative which we want from the boroughs and the urban authorities, because we do want both town and country to make their contributions. I am fully conscious of the question of town waste and screeening. It is always a pity to see a lot of fertile stuff going down the Thames day after day, and I hope that within measurable time we may get through these experiments, which are always somewhat lengthy things.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) raised the question of the payment of these grants. The hon. Member's case in point is one which shows the difficulties of getting some of these payments out in time because he put in a claim which did not quite coincide with what his county committee thinks.
Mr. De la Bère
It is not a question of my own claim. It is the claims of those in Worcestershire and my own division of Evesham. There are hundreds and hundreds who have had them in for months and nothing has been done. There is a lost legion of 300 civil servants at Blackpool. Send somebody up there and get on with it.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The hon. Member knows that the whole of that Department has been strengthened and we hope to get on top of the position in a short time. I quite agree with the speaker who said that there is not much to be gained by holding an inquest on the past.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
Is the Minister going to leave the case raised by the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère)? Is he not going to say something about the serious charges he made? Is he not going to comment upon what happened at Godstone?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The House will appreciate that, naturally, I would rather have entered upon my task with agriculture in a very different condition from what it was before the war began. The whole of my life has been devoted to trying to persuade the country that a flourishing agriculture is and always will be an absolute necessity in the life of this country. But to-day, being at grips with the most powerful foe that has ever threatened us, we have to make the best of what we have got and must try to rise superior to the difficulties which are 937 clearly there. The Government has to give confidence to the industry, but nothing that the Government or the House of Commons can say could give more confidence than would be inspired if the rural community could know that every section of the country was determined that after the war is ended, after victory has been won, agriculture shall not again fall back into the condition it has been in, that we shall then say "Never again" with real meaning, and that we shall be able to carry out the ideal of giving agriculture its proper place in this country.
§ 11.3 p.m.
Mr. John Moran
I am sorry to come in at this late stage, but I think the Minister has perpetuated again one of those speeches which we shall have to criticise in a very short time. He knows that there is less wheat in the ground than there was this time last year, and that we shall have a smaller wheat harvest, and that the figures about 1,200,000 acres are paper figures, representing only orders which have been served or are about to be served. There is also the seed problem. The farmers see they cannot get that erormous area of land which has not been under the plough this autumn seeded in the spring on the seed likely to be available. There is also the fact that they are uncertain as to the amount of feeding-stuffs they are to get and they are holding on to their oats until they can be certain that they will get an adequate supply of feeding-stuffs.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
My information is that the seed oats are coming out extremely well. The hon. Member makes these statements. I do not know what foundation he has for them.
§ Mr. Morgan
It is open to the Minister to refute them. Let the Minister refute them with figures. He has been able to give us one figure. I cannot believe that his Department is unaware of the real position in farming at this moment, and there is no point in hiding the facts from the industry or, more particularly, from the Government themselves. They have been conspicuous by their absence to-day. One Minister of the War Cabinet has poked his head into this building for a few moments. The Government have left it to two Ministers to face this charge that the agricultural industry is falling behind in this paramount job.
938 We are sympathetic to the Ministers. We believe that they have a difficult task to do; but to come here and give us that figure of 1,200,000 acres as a sort of indication of the position to which we have developed this campaign is exactly the kind of thing which the late Secretary of State for War was told about and which has led to his downfall.
Going among the farming community as I do—I happen to be the secretary of one of these war agricultural district committees—I know the problem is very important. I know that there are hundreds of acres of sugar beet still to be got in, because of the lack of labour-drive in October, when it might have been got in. We have not even got in our sugar beet crop—and this is not giving information to the enemy. The world is full of food if we care to get it in, but the Treasury have ordained that we are to have a 30 per cent. cut. We are endeavouring to fit our suit to that cloth. Surely that is going the wrong way about it. Yesterday I gave an order to a merchant, for a quantity for which I paid £37 in October. The same order was repeated, but now I have to pay £55 for it—not because the world has not any feeding-stuffs but because the Treasury has said that we can bring in only a certain quantity and that there is to be an artificial cut in the amount that may be imported. [HON. MEMBERS: "Because of the shipping space"]. It may be in part because of shipping space, and I admit that, but, on the other hand, there are other factors that come into this matter.
Let us have regard to our original Danish bacon scheme, when we told the Danes that they were to cut down to three pigs, but we succeeded in giving them £1,000,000 more for the three pigs quota than we were ready previously to give them for five. Here are feeding-stuffs prices being forced up in the face of the farmers, although there is a world glut of grain.
§ Mr. Morgan
This world is full of grain harvests to an extent that it has not been during many years.
§ Mr. Morgan
It may be ships, but why cannot we be told? I am entitled to say this sort of thing, because we have no facts upon which we can form a judgment 939 and on which farmers can come to decisions which must affect the wellbeing of this country—and in a very short time. They want that Minister (the Minister of Food) to fall; that is the mood of the farming industry at the moment. You cannot get a farmer to say a good word about the Minister of Food, and 90 per cent. of them are hoping that he will fall in a very short time, because of the predicaments that have been brought to their industry by his failings and failures. These are the real facts of our countryside. It is glossing in the extreme to come here and say that farmers have already committed themselves to the extent of 1,200,000 acres. They have done nothing of the kind, There are farmers who are approaching their county committees to get their orders withdrawn. I know county committees that are entering into consultation with them to do so because they say, "We cannot possibly plough up this land "—I think this case was put by an hon. Member for one of the Derbyshire Divisions—" because if we do it will only lie as bastard fallow for the summer. We had better carry on the usual course this year and get some grazing."
If the Minister is to get those 1,200,000 acres there will have to be more drive from behind. I am not blaming him. I know the position of the farming industry when he came here. It is idle to point the finger of scorn at the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and to blame the way in which the Corn Production Act was handled; the present Government have been in charge of this country since 1931. They have had the agricultural industry in the pawnshop ever since and they have so demoralised the industry that you now cannot get landlords to carry out their job. You are having to subsidise every operation that is made on the farm in order to get something done and to put the industry into a fit state to feed this country in two years' time. Why not say this thing to the industry? It would brace it up, because the industry is getting tired of the Minister's broadcasts. He has made the same kind of speech to-night that we have already heard here two or three times—almost word for word, phrase for phrase. Once the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food is out of the way his own weaknesses will be exposed We are not satisfied that the 940 Government have this matter at heart, or this Debate would not have received the support from all parts of the House that it has. I ask the Minister not to indulge in phrases, but to deal with facts and get from the Government a better response and a more lively interest in this industry.
§ 11.11 p.m.
I apologise to the House for delaying them to-night, but when I tell them this is the first time I have dealt with this matter since the war started I hope I shall be forgiven because I represent one of the largest arable areas in Great Britain. One-fourth of the wheat crop of Great Britain is grown in my constituency. I feel it my duty to say to the Government that I am not satisfied with what is going on. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in the speech which he made this afternoon. He has done the country a very great service. This twin Ministry of Food and Agriculture cannot go on, and I am going to do my best to try and put it out of operation. I do not wish to do anything against the national interest, but I am certain that it is wrong. The Minister of Food has the business end of agriculture in his hand and the Minister of Agriculture has the production end, and the two are not working together in a way which I believe is for the good of the country at this time. I want to ask the Minister this: The following has appeared in the Press. Is it a fact that we have lost half a million head of cattle since the war started, that we have lost half a million pigs, and 5,000,000 head of poultry? If those are facts they are things which the Government must face up to. It is not a bit of good coming to this House and saying what is to be done in the future. These are things which should have been looked to when war was imminent early last year. The agricultural industry is now in a condition where there is no confidence in the Government's policy, and as a Government supporter, I say that the farmers of the country have no confidence in the policy which has been pursued. It is no good burking these facts; we are at war and victory in this war means the proper maintenance of food supplies in this country. It is just as important as any fighting force which we can put for- 941 ward, and unless you are going to restore to the farmers in the country absolute confidence that the industry is going to be backed to the full by their Government you will not get that essential production.
Why have we a volume of unemployment when there is a shortage of agricultural labour in the country? We have a million and a half unemployed and 250,000 places to be filled on the land, not in six months time, but now, if the war is to be won. What is the good of telling the farmers to plough up their land? Let the drainage by contract, but let the farming community who understand farming get on with farming. There are so many acres in this country which require to be attended to and which can be done by labour other than farming labour, and it is important that the Minister of Agriculture should recruit from the ranks of unemployed men who can do this class of work, and do it now instead of waiting until six months' time.
I am a soldier of 25 years' standing, arid I can understand that every man is required who can go and do his duty in that way, but the farming side of our country is of vital importance to us also. We can never be defeated either on sea or on land, but we can be defeated if we are short of food. Believe me, I speak in all sincerity; I beg the Government to pay more attention to this essential part of our national defences at this time. I bow to no one in my admiration for the capacity and zeal of the Minister of Agriculture. I regard him a s the right man in the right place at the right time. But if he is not hacked by the Cabinet and given all the money he needs, how can he get on with his job? The Treasury stands in the way of his carrying out what he knows to be essential for getting a proper balance of our food supplies at the present time. I could go on at greater length, but I know that other people want to speak. I beg the Government to start on this industry while there is yet time. There is time to get an increase in production that will enable us to relieve our shipping to such au extent that it will be available for other things which are essential to us at this time. If the other Defence Services had been as slow in dealing with the essentials of their Departments as agriculture has been, we should not have had a chance to win this war. But they have their aeroplanes and their men and their 942 equipment. Agriculture, however, is producing less now than it was producing when the war started. No one can deny that. I defy anyone to challenge that statement. And it is essential that we should build up this production at the earliest possible moment.
I can assure the Minister that there are no more loyal people in this country than the farming community. If given a proper chance, they will do everything the Government ask of them, but you cannot ask people who have been under the weather for five or six years to double their production suddenly without the slightest financial help. There has not been a shilling's worth of financial help given to my constituents since the war started. Certainly, there have been improved prices in many respects, but they were long overdue. There has not been a shilling's worth of credit given to any farmer in my constituency, which is one of the largest in the country. You cannot expect improved production unless you give some help. The farmers have the skill, they have the capacity, but for five or six years they have been left in the lurch, and now they are almost bankrupt. Suddenly they are asked to double their production. What can they do without money? It is all very well to say that the bankers will give them credit. I wish the Minister would speak to the bankers in my constituency, go with the farmers to see them, and find out what they will do. The farmers do not want the money given to them. They want credits in order to do the job you want them to do. Arrange these and you will get all the production you want. I do not want to detain the House because other Members want to speak, but I would not like to sit down without saying how grateful I am to hon. Members opposite for having given us this opportunity of voicing our views in this House in a Debate on agriculture.
It is most important to the country that something substantial should be done. I for one am not satisfied, and I shall not cease to raise my voice both in this House and in the country until I am satisfied that the maximum effort for British agriculture is being put forward in order to win victory and security for our country.
§ 11.21 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate
I apologise to the House for keeping it in order to say a few words on 943 a subject upon which I realise my very great ignorance, but one does not need a great knowledge of agriculture to note the seriousness of the present position. Although the Minister of Agriculture thanked the Liberal party for raising this subject to-day, and said that he was sure it had served a useful purpose, I am not confident it has done so. The Minister of Agriculture has sat entirely alone on that Bench this afternoon for more than two hours, entirely unsupported or adorned even by a Whip. There has not been a member of the War Cabinet in here for more than 20 minutes. If we are told that the members of the War Cabinet have too much to do to be here, I admit it, and it is one more reason why they should not be members of the War Cabinet and in charge of Service Departments which need constant attention.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture said that he hoped agriculture would never again be allowed to get into the state in which it was before the war. I realise that he took office at an impossible time but does he really think that agriculture is going to be in a better position after the war? Are we building a single cottage now for agricultural labourers? All over the country young people are marrying. Magistrates have before them young couples seeking consent to marriage because they have been refused on account of age. These young people after the war will need homes. Many of them would settle on the land if the cottages were there for them. Many people are to-day gaining an insight into life on the land who perhaps never had an opportunity before of doing so.
§ Mr. Elliot
I can tell the hon. Lady that I have arranged with the Minister of Agriculture for any cottage that is necessary in connection with the production of food on the land to be built now and I will find the material for it.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am deeply grateful to the Minister of Health, and I think his announcement will encourage everyone, and particularly those n the building industry. It is no good the Chief Whip making ugly noises. It is the fact that men are out of work in the building industry who have not previously been out of work since they entered the industry. That is the truth. An hon. Member 944 laughs, but it is the truth. There is a deplorable shortage of timber in the country. Why? We started by building our camps of timber, knowing that it must mean a shortage. We have concrete works which are closing down and dismissing all their men. It means that some of them will never be able to be reopened because we have not used the facilities we possess and have not built of concrete but have taken a short-sighted point of view and built of wood.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has spoken of the difficulty of raising crops on newly-ploughed land in the first year. I would urge on the Minister of Agriculture whether he cannot see his way to give a subsidy for the grubbing up of orchards, many of which have comparatively good soil but are producing second and third-rate fruit which decreases the price of the apple crop all over the country. If there could be a subsidy for the grubbing up of these more or less derelict orchards the land might be made fertile more easily than other land, and more quickly brought into cultivation.
There is one other point I wish to raise. All over the country we are being urged to increase our food supply. Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realised the extraordinary rise in the price of vegetable seeds? If you compare this year's catalogues with those of last year, you will see there is a rise of from 20 to 40 per cent. I can see no possible justification for it because a great proportion of the seed firms had their stock in hand before the war. Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman look into it? I would also ask him whether he does not think many village communities might join together in growing vegetables and selling the surplus to nearby towns? There would not be much difficulty if they could get a retailer's licence. If you could institute some form of temporary retailers' licences for communities it would be of some value. They would be able to sell their surplus in the nearest towns.
With regard to imported foods, it has been taken for granted that we are going to import eggs rather than grain. Surely on a question of imports we have to think of our currency. Surely that is of greater value than space. If we are deciding what we are going to import in the way of food 945 and what we are going to grow here, the question of currency is of such importance that it should never be overlooked. The country should be told what the Government's policy is. Out of this Debate we know that the Government have many hopes, but the actual agricultural policy of the Government in many aspects is still slightly mysterious. I think if the people were to be told that eggs are going to be scarce they would know where they are. I think the importation of eggs is very dangerous. The hon. Member who opened the Debate asked how we can know whether the sources of the supply of eggs are going to remain available? It is a very shortsighted and dangerous policy, and I beg the Government to tell the country the truth. The people of this 946 country will face any danger if they are told the truth. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who has some little knowledge of the conduct of war and the production of food, has said that on this question will depend whether we win or lose the war, and yet we have had only one Minister, whose interest in agriculture no one doubts, in this House to listen to the Debate to-day.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock, until Tuesday next, 3oth January, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.