Motion made and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,359,683, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid and expenses in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and improvement of breeding, etc., of live stock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing; fishery organisation, research and development, control of diseases of fish, etc., and sundry other services including certain rema. net subsidy payments." [NOTE.— £1, 000,000 has been voted on account]
I understand that it is proposed to take more than one Vote in this discussion to-day, and I assume that that proposal meets with the general agreement of the Committee. It is in order that we may have a discussion of a wider nature than would be possible on this Vote.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
I understand that this Debate is to cover not merely food production, but also food distribution. I am aware that many hon. Members desire to speak, and I hope, therefore, that I shall be forgiven if I confine my remarks to as narrow a compass as possible. I know I shall expose myself to some criticism for not having discussed points which are of interest to individual Members, and I crave their indulgence beforehand. I would also like to make it clear at the beginning that although many of my general remarks refer to the United Kingdom. I intend to deal more particularly 1082 with the parts of the country for which I am responsible, namely, England and Wales. I hope, further, that I shall not be accused of complacency if I commence by saying frankly that the account which I propose to give of the situation to-day is very much brighter than I had dared to believe possible 12 months ago. It is very dangerous to prophesy before the harvest has actually been brought in. All sorts of factors, including the weather, may destroy our present bright prospects. Assuming, however, ordinary, reasonable weather between now and the middle of September, I think we can count on the farmers of this country producing a greater volume and weight of food than in any previous year in this century.
I think that the nation will have cause to be grateful to the four partners in this achievement, namely the war agricultural committees, the farmers, the workers and the landowners. I have on more than one occasion paid tribute to the work of the committees. Their labours are now bearing fruit. As I go about the country I am assured by those who are qualified to judge that the average level of farming efficiency has definitely risen in the last six months. That is not to say that 12 months ago there were not plenty of good farmers. There were. But there was also a number of others who, for various reasons, including very often the disheartening experiences which they had had during the last 15 years, were less efficient than their fellows.
In a great number of cases, I might almost say in the majority of cases, the farmers of this country have been asked to revolutionise their methods of farming, and they have responded very well. Grass farmers who knew nothing about arable farming, and who prided themselves upon the way in which they looked after their pastures, have been compelled to plough up those pastures which were the apple of their eye. Under the guidance and with the help of the war agricultural committees that revolution has been accomplished, and the magnificent crops which one sees as one travels about the country to-day are, definitely, the result of improved cultivation and also of the application of increased quantities of artificial fertilisers which have been made available—the application not only of greater quantities but of greater quantities in a more discriminating and scientific 1083 manner. The farmers themselves have pulled their weight in bringing about this revolution. They have accepted it as their contribution to the national effort, and they have been ably and whole-heartedly backed up by their workers. Equally the landowners have seen, without complaint, terms of leases broken and have cooperated loyally with the committees not only in ploughing up their own land but also in many cases assisting their tenants.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food and I have been trying to make a tentative estimate of the amount of food that will be available to the people of this country during the third year of the war. It will be quite clear to everybody that as a result of shipping losses in the Battle of the Atlantic and elsewhere the total amount of food and feeding-stuffs that we can calculate on importing from overseas into this country is bound to be lower than it was in the second year of the war and bound to be much less than it was in peace-time. Despite that reduction—and although I cannot give the figures, I hope hon. Members will take it from me that it is a very substantial reduction—and owing to the largely increased quantities of food grown at home, it should be possible to assure the people of this country that in the third year of war the quantity of food in food values will not only be greater than in the second year of the war but will be at least as great as it was in peace-time—quite possibly, it might be even greater. Clearly the actual composition of the diet is bound to vary slightly; there are bound to be certain changes. We have to rely more on potatoes, cereals and vegetables, and, so far as proteins are concerned, there is a slight change of emphasis from proteins of animal origin to proteins of vegetable origin, but the total change is smaller than one would expect.
So the general picture is definitely reassuring. Home-grown food is very good food, and this fact should be remembered. I am always extremely chary of making any statement which might be deemed to be wishful thinking, but, on the other hand, just as this nation is always prepared to accept bad news and a gloomy picture cheerfully, so I think the nation is entitled to know when things are going well and to hear about the good side of 1084 the picture. What I have said does not, of course, in any way mean that we can relax our efforts in our campaign for increased food production at home. We must strain every nerve to ensure for ourselves still further production at home against the possibility of further shipping losses in the third year of the war and a still further limitation of our capacity to import. The moment this harvest is over we have to start preparing for the next, and the cultivation that should be done in the next few months will have a very definite effect on the yield of the harvest next year. In this matter time is definitely food, and we must see that not a moment is lost and that as soon as the harvest is gathered in, the plough is put into the ground again for next year.
For obvious reasons I cannot give our estimates of what the total production of food at home will be, or what our imports will be. I would, however, like to say a word or two about milk, not only because it is an extremely important food, but also because of the widespread apprehension that seems to exist in certain circles about the sufficiency of our future supplies. I, personally, have never believed it was possible to increase the total production of milk in war time. It must be remembered that in the two immediately pre-war years the production of milk in this country attained record proportions, and farmers are doing very well in maintaining the milk production within 10 per cent. of these record figures. There are special difficulties that affect the production of milk in war time. Not only is there the loss of imported feeding-stuffs, on which the dairy farmers of this country had come so largely to rely, but there are the difficulties of the black-out, labour and the weather, and all these were particularly acute during the winter months of the last two years. In addition to that, it must be remembered that by definite and deliberate action we have very largely increased the consumption of liquid milk in this country since the war broke out.
In addition to the milk in schools scheme, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food instituted a scheme for cheap milk for mothers and children. Both these schemes are having a very good effect on the national health, but it is not to be wondered at that since the war 1085 started there has been a considerable increase in the consumption of liquid milk. In England and Wales the increase was 20,000,000 gallons in the first year of the war, and if the present rate of increase continues, the increase will be over 100,000,000 gallons in addition to the 20,000,000 gallons, in the second year of the war. We in agriculture are being asked not merely to maintain the peacetime level of consumption, but to provide for a greatly increased war-time level of consumption. But taking the year as a whole I think, and I certainly hope, we shall be able to do it. If the demand continues at the present rate, by this winter it will definitely have outdistanced our record pre-war year of output of winter milk. But I would like to issue a word of warning. If conditions are very difficult this winter, the public may expect some slight shortage. If will not affect mothers and children, but it may slightly affect the adult population in the depth of winter, when production is at its lowest. I hope any such shortage will be very small, but I think I ought to issue this word of warning as to the possibility.
I see that in a Debate in another place the other day it was suggested that we should take a leaf out of the German book. It was said that Germany has increased her output of milk since war began, but from all the information the Government have been able to obtain exactly the opposite is the case. The Germans are limiting their liquid consumption of whole milk to nursing mothers, invalids and children, and if any adults are able to get any milk at all—and they are not numerous—they have to be content with skimmed milk. We do not usually give exact figures of our production in war-time, in case it might be a comfort to the enemy, but in this case I propose to depart from this rule. This year we shall drink in England and Wales 880,000,000 gallons of full milk, compared with 760,000,000 gallons during the last pre-war year. I do not think that will provide any comfort to our enemies. The Germans are devoting the bulk of their milk supply to the manufacture of butter and only spare a little for nursing mothers and children. We are in the much more fortunate position of being able to devote nearly the whole of our supply to the liquid milk trade, and the 1086 Minister of Food has been able to make arrangements for the necessary supplies of butter and cheese to be imported from overseas. That is another example of the value of sea power in war-time.
As I have said, the Government realise the importance of milk. The task of the Agricultural Departments—I am sure I speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as well as for myself—and of the County War Agricultural Committees and the farmers themselves is to maintain the maximum production of milk possible in war conditions. That task will be discharged. But milk is far from being the only foodstuff that we produce in this country. We have to consider cereals, vegetables, sugar, and not least, meat; for whatever the food reformers may say, we are a meat-eating community. There was evidence of this at Question time to-day. The less changes one can make in war-time in the nation's habitual diet, the easier it will be to maintain the nation's morale. Therefore, the policy we have pursued for the last 12 months has been to try to increase the total production of food of all sorts in this country. We have taken each farm individually and tried to get the best out of the land, the equipment, and the buildings. This policy has the advantage, from an agricultural point of view, that it maintains, as far as war-time needs will allow, the balance of agriculture, and maintains the fertility of the soil; and fertility of the soil is a matter that is very present in our minds, because if we are prudent and anticipate a long war, it is obviously of vital importance to maintain the fertility of the soil in order to ensure an increase in food production in the years to come. I submit to hon. Members that it would be the height of folly to concentrate, as some people would have us do, on one single item of foodstuffs at the possible cost of a reduction in the total production of food as a whole.
I have on previous occasions referred to the difficulty of framing a national agricultural policy owing to the absence of statistics, especially reliable statistics. Such statistics as we have are subject to a wide margin of error, and there is the additional difficulty that they apply to the country as a whole, whereas, in fact, conditions vary from county to county, from farm to farm, and from field to field. This difficulty is well illustrated by the 1087 problem of what is the right number of livestock that can profitably be kept in the country in war-time. I use the word "profitably" in the sense of keeping cattle which produce meat and milk and not merely walk about the fields and grow older.
The Committee will remember that my predecessor, in the early days of the war, decided that, owing to the prospective shortage of imported feeding-stuffs, some reduction in the total head of livestock was inevitable. Pigs and poultry, which unlike cattle and sheep could not feed on grass and competed directly for human foodstuffs, obviously had to be reduced in numbers. Lowland grass-fed sheep, owing to the shortage of grass caused by ploughing up, also had to be reduced in numbers, and a proportion of them has gone. All this was, and is, inevitable. Hill sheep and arable sheep represent a special problem, and are receiving special treatment. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that he hopes the particular problem of hill sheep will be discussed when the Debate on Scottish agriculture takes place.
When we come to cattle, however, there are powerful new factors to be taken into account. I have already emphasised the importance we attach to milk and to maintaining our efficient dairy herds. I have referred also to the importance of maintaining the fertility of the soil. In many parts of the country—some of the most important from the point of view of human food production, for example, the Eastern Counties—the whole basis of our farming system depends upon cattle as an essential element in the production of crops for human consumption, such as cereals and sugar, quite apart from such important dual purpose crops as oats and barley; and in Wales there are large areas where farms are adapted to rearing cattle, but would be absolutely useless—for instance there are no suitable buildings available—for dairy herds. Therefore, it is of primary importance that we should settle our beef cattle policy with great care in case we do more damage than good.
Clearly, we cannot afford to keep passengers in war-time, and therefore, the culling of unthrifty and diseased beasts, 1088 which are not worth their keep, is a common-sense policy. That process is going on, and will be continued. It must also be remembered that the normal replenishment of English herds, especially beef herds, from Northern Ireland and Eire has been suspended for six months owing to the existence of foot-and-mouth disease. Therefore, there has been a general reduction in the total number of our livestock. If I am asked whether we have reached the right proportion between our livestock and our available feeding-stuffs—and in feeding-stuffs I include cake, hay, straw, and all the various roughages, swill, etc.—my answer is that I cannot possibly say, and I do not believe anybody can. But what is certain is that there were very great potential reserves in this country which are now being brought into use. To take only one instance, I mention the waste food from the towns, which is now being dealt with and processed by the Waste Food Board, under the able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison). They are producing excellent feeding-stuffs for pigs and poultry, and I am bound to say that I was astonished and pained to learn from my hon. Friend that in certain parts of the country the total available supplies are not being taken up. We want to keep our pigs and poultry as long as we can feed them, and this swill, whether raw, semi-processed or finally processed is extremely valuable in supplementing other foods which are rigorously and inevitably restricted. I hope that after what I have said, every pound of these supplies will be used.
On the farms themselves there were enormous reserves, especially of grass. In peacetime, when there were unlimited supplies of cheap imported feeding-stuffs, there was no particular incentive to make the maximum use of our home resources, and personally I think we wasted something of the order of one-third of our grass. I cannot prove that figure, but that is the best estimate I have been able to make. Farmers who had grass have been compelled to plough up a considerable proportion of it, and they now find that they have to make the best use possible of the remaining grass. They have to treat it. Undoubtedly, very large hidden reserves are now coming forward and being thrown into the battle. 1089 What is the application of this to national policy? Surely, it must be that we have to treat each individual farm by itself to make sure that it pulls its maximum weight and that on each farm the available feeding-stuffs are used to the maximum extent, because in a great many cases, and indeed in the bulk of cases where the feeding-stuffs are roughages, they are not capable of being transported across country. Only by doing this shall we obtain the total maximum production of which the country is capable. That is the policy I intend to pursue.
I now turn to our policy for the next 12 months. We have been impressing on farmers, in season and out of season, that they must make themselves self-supporting this winter. We think that the advice has been taken and the lesson of last winter learned. At all events, we are proceeding on that assumption. In consequence, no farmer will be compelled to get rid of any sound cattle which he himself can feed on his farm, and the corollary to this is that, with the exceptions which I will mention later, every farmer should be allowed to keep the feeding-stuffs he has grown on his own farm for feeding to his own livestock.
The first exception is wheat. Wheat is required for human consumption, and I have not heard any farmer question that. Therefore, we propose to continue the existing arrangements under which all wheat of millable quality, except that required for seed, must be offered to an approved buyer. The standard price, as I announced last year, will be 14s. 6d. per cwt. The question whether it is desirable in the national interest to introduce a storage payment and encourage farmers to store on the farm is receiving consideration, but that has not been finally decided. The next question is oats. I cannot, of course, give any precise figures of what we expect the harvest to be. I can say, however, that it is bound to be very much greater than in 1938, when the figure was 2,000,000 tons. The Minister of Food requires 350,000 tons for human consumption, and a similar amount is required for urban horses and pit ponies. We hope to draw this quantity from the farms by the following means. The maximum price for ordinary sales of oats for feeding purposes will be, as announced last year, 13s. 6d. per cwt., but an addition of 3d. per cwt.
1090 will be paid for oats sold for milling purposes. In order to encourage orderly marketing and recompense fanners for holding oats in the stack until next spring, an additional sum will be payable by way of a storage charge, varying from 3d. per cwt. in November to 1s. 3d. in March over and above the maximum prices for feeding and milling, respectively. I am very anxious that farmers should dispose of their surplus oats as soon as possible after the harvest. We propose in the rationing arrangements for next winter to give an additional inducement to farmers to market their surplus oats by enabling them to buy other feeding-stuffs in return for their deliveries of oats.
I now come to the ration arrangements which we propose for next winter. The underlying principle is that every farmer is expected to have made himself as nearly self-supporting as possible. Obviously, we have to make provision for certain dairy cows and a limited number of pig and poultry owners, who have been unable to make themselves completely self-supporting. To this end the available supplies of cake will be allotted, in the first instance, to dairy cows. Dairy farmers will be assumed, subject to appeal, to have made themselves sufficiently self-supporting to provide for the maintenance ration and for production requirements to the extent of the first half gallon of milk. For the remainder of the milk sold off the farms, they will, I hope, be given what is regarded as an adequate, if not generous, allowance of cake. Details of allowances for special cases of pigs and poultry will be announced later. There will be no specific ration for farm horses, beef cattle or sheep. As I have said, the farmer will be expected to have made himself self-supporting. If, in spite of repeated warnings, he has failed to do so, he will be compelled to sell his surplus cattle or sheep either for slaughter or to some other farmer who has taken our advice. As a result of the decision I have just announced, we recognise that there will be a certain number of farmers who have grown wheat which they cannot now use for feeding purposes, or who have a surplus of oats and a deficiency of protein. We propose if possible to give those who need it compensation in the shape of concentrates, probably in the form of wheat feed. If our import programme of oil 1091 seeds for the manufacture of margarine is fulfilled, we expect to have a certain amount of cake available, over and above the requirements of the dairy farmers We propose to exchange this against further supplies of oats to any farmer who has surplus oats for sale and desires to obtain some protein in exchange.
In other words, the broad principles are that the national rationing scheme this winter will apply only to dairy cows, and, to a limited extent, to pigs and poultry. We shall not attempt to give a definite ration to everyone, as was the case last year. Details will be announced in due course. For the rest, farmers, having been warned to make themselves self-supporting, will be allowed to keep on their farms as many cattle, pigs, horses, poultry and so forth as they can effectively keep, having regard to the feeding-stuffs they have. The county committees will keep a general eye on them, and will step in where there is an obvious case of overstocking.
§ Mr. Lambert (South Molton)
Supposing a farmer sells 1,000 bushels of wheat, will he have an equivalent amount in wheat offals?
§ Mr. Hudson
The final details have not been worked out, but will be announced in Sue course.
I am afraid I have not enough time left to give the Committee full details about labour, fertilisers and machinery. So far as labour is concerned, the preliminary returns in the June census show an increase in the number of male workers on farms compared to last year. We have only had the sample returns so far, but I will consider giving the final figures later on. In addition to that, as the Committee knows, the Minister of Labour has promised me 10,000 unskilled workers for whom hostels are being erected. I hope the first will be erected next month and that others will follow rapidly. The returns of 4th June also showed a material increase in the total of dairy herd. Additional labour is required in this respect, and women are particularly good at this job and have shown their worth. The need to supplement male labour by women labour remains as urgent as ever. We have actually placed 3,500 women from the Women's Land Army on farms during the last two months. Volunteers are coming forward at the rate of 500 or 1092 600 a week, but instead of hundreds I want thousands of young women of the same type and spirit, and thousands of farmers to train and employ them.
§ Mr. Hudson
No, Sir; it is rather like the Spanish prisoner tale. So far as fertilisers are concerned, we have made arrangements for considerably increased supplies of phosphates, nitrogenous fertilisers and lime. The latter two are produced at home, and, unless we have very bad luck with our phosphate shipments, we should be able to make available supplies of all three fertilisers in quantities considerably in excess of those coming forward in pre-war years. The same thing applies to machinery. Up to July this year committees in England and Wales had taken possession, under Defence Regulation 51, of 150,000 acres of uncultivated or badly cultivated land. In a great many cases this land has never been cultivated. Down land in the South of England, fenland in Norfolk and Cambridge, horrible stiff clay land in Huntingdon, undeveloped building land in Surrey, Sussex and Essex, commons throughout the country, hilltops in Wales, have all been requisitioned for food production. [An hon. Member: "Golf courses?"] Yes, quite a considerable number.
§ Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)
Is it not true that production in the fen-lands is held up by lack of drainage?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am coming to drainage. With the help of modern machinery we are able to tackle a great deal of the fenland. This is being done, and the important thing is that it is being tackled and is growing magnificent crops, and I hope these areas will be permanent assets to our cultivated land. Apart from the 150,000 acres of which they have taken possession, my County Committees had up to July this year terminated the tenancies of another 100,000 acres without taking possession. There the landlord has either re-let the land to other satisfactory tenants, or else taken it in hand himself, and in either case it is going to produce increased quantities of food for the nation. I should like to make it clear that we are not ploughing up merely for the sake of ploughing up or to be able to say we have a record number of acres ploughed. We are turning land up because we are 1093 convinced—and apart from a negligible minority of failures this year's harvest should prove our belief correct—that an acre of arable produces much more than an acre of grass. We have asked the committees to produce another two million acres this year and, if the war goes on, we shall have taken the plough right round England. We shall have bigger crops, and when, as in the ordinary course of events, the land is re-seeded down to grass after two or three straw crops we shall have the consolation of knowing that we shall have much better grass in the fields.
I am sure that we cannot get any substantial addition to the acreage under the plough unless we push on with drainage, both farm ditches and minor water courses and in some cases larger schemes. Progress is being made at a rate that is steadily increasing every week. Minor schemes were approved to the value of £1,000,000 in 1940. In the first six months of this year we have approved £1,500,000 and new schemes are coming in at the rate of over 1,000 a week. As far as excavating machinery is concerned we had none last September and we have now 116 machines working. They are coming forward in increasing numbers, and I hope by the end of the year the number will be more than doubled.
I think I can summarise the situation by saying we can claim that we have produced in the last 12 months a greater output of food than ever before. As far as milk is concerned, a most important protective food, particularly for children, people are drinking it in larger quantities than ever before in our history and, given reasonable luck and reasonable weather, the population may be assured in the third year of the war of a diet better than last year. Finally, I would assure the Committee and the people of the country that I and my committees, and the farming community generally, realise the size of the task that we have still got to tackle. The farming community, I am sure, will be greatly heartened by the result of this year's labours. The result will encourage them to do better still next year and they can be relied upon to pull their full weight in the national drive to final victory.
Mr. De La Bère (Evesham)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about credit?
§ Mr. Hudson
That is one of the many subjects to which I referred at the beginning of my speech as being outside its compass.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has given us a comprehensive survey of the whole of the food production situation, and he touched a little on the question of consumption. I regret that we are having this Debate in the order in which we are having it. It may be the order in time that you produce the food before you eat it, but the order of importance in reviewing the food situation is to know what the country requires in war-time and then consider what greater means can be taken to produce that food—to consider consumption and distribution first, and then production. However, we are taking the Debate the other way round. The Minister's speech, and Lord Woolton's speech in another place in which he said there was less malnutrition in war-time than before, are exceedingly interesting. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary can give us a little more information on that and tell us on what it is based. We have been told that there is a greater quantity of food available now than before the war, and that is very satisfactory, but I wonder what the evidence is that there is actually less malnutrition. There is a little evidence to the contrary. Infant mortality and the tuberculosis death-rate are going up. Without pressing that point further, I should like to ask him, if he has any more information.
The News Service of 21st July, just after the Minister of Food made a rather similar statement to a meeting outside, said that, in spite of a reduction of 6,000,000 tons of animal feeding-stuffs coming to the country, the Minister was able to state that we were producing more food. Another point put in this News. Service is that 6,000,000 tons of animal feeding-stuffs are equivalent to the product of 7,000,000 acres, which is 75 per cent. more than we have actually ploughed. If we reduce by 6,000,000 tons the imports of the raw material of milk, poultry, eggs and bacon and we cannot make it up by ploughing, how is it that we are producing more in this country, and how is it that, taking our own production and our imports, there is a larger amount of food 1095 available than before the war? I suggest that the only way in which it is possible is that we are not importing raw materials but are importing the finished article. We are not importing animal feeding-stuffs but are importing eggs, and the milk situation is partly satisfactory because of the arrangements made with New Zealand and the United States for the importation of dried milk and milk products. This means that so far as imports are concerned we are exchanging the bulky raw materials for the less bulky finished article, but it still requires an immense amount of shipping space to bring that finished article to this country.
I should be glad if we could have a little more explanation of how the estimate of our increased production is made up. If we take the area that is being ploughed up and value it in the form of cereals for human consumption, there has been a great increase in production; but if those cereals are to be consumed by livestock and we are to consume the products of the ploughed acres in the form of milk, eggs or meat, I think that the increase which the Minister claimed to have taken place will not be found to exist. It entirely depends on how the increased production is reckoned. What must have happened is that the imported animal feeding-stuffs have not been replaced by increased production of animal feeding-stuffs in this country. Therefore, products such as eggs, bacon and to some extent milk have been reduced and have been made up by imports.
The case I want to put, broadly, is that the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture is to try and retain too large a proportion of the livestock products on farms and to encourage farmers to make their farms individually self-supporting for the production of livestock products. I believe that the emphasis ought now to be changed in favour of producing food for direct human consumption. I suggest that while we are converting oats into beef or into other livestock products which we need we are expecting British farming to do too many things at once. Farming cannot maintain the milk supply, it cannot provide more meat and maintain other products and yet supply foodstuffs direct for human consumption.
§ Mr. Hudson
I said in my speech that one of the difficulties we were up against was the lack of reliable and adequate statistics, and I made two statements which I said I could not prove but which I thought no one could disprove. The answer to my hon. Friend is that farmers are doing it. I admit that everybody would have been astonished 12 months ago, and no one thought that it could be done, but farmers are doing it.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am one of those who believe that the possible increased production of this country is far greater than many people believe, and I am not arguing that production cannot be increased enormously. I have always supported the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that we could double production in this country. We cannot, however, double the production of livestock products and at the same time increase the production of foods direct for human consumption. That is what I am arguing. The emphasis ought now to be changed to the production of food for direct human consumption. I wonder whether the Minister and his Department still believe that nearly one-half the food consumed in this country was produced in the country before the war, because it never was. The figure is more like one-third, and yet in the bulletin I have quoted I see the words "less than one-half." It was very much less than one-half. The total output was £250,000,000, from which has to be deducted £40,000,000 for animal feeding-stuffs.
The whole crux of the question is whether the Ministry's policy should be devoted to replacing imported feeding-stuffs for animals by home-grown feeding-stuffs. There is a shortage of oats in spite of the ploughing-up campaign because they have been eaten by the livestock. There is the question whether we can maintain the fertility of the land with less livestock, but other European countries where there is much less livestock than in England maintain their fertility. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that it can be done. The amount of fertility in a great deal of the grass land that is being ploughed is enormous. I wonder whether if there were 1097 less summer beef cattle, some of the grazing which they used during the summer could be used for growing cereal crops. The Minister in this connection used an interesting phrase. He said that his predecessor had decided to reduce pigs and poultry because they made use of cereals which might be immediately available for human foodstuffs. Surely that is a short-sighted policy. The pig may eat what is immediately available for human consumption, but the summer-grazed cattle are eating in a field which is now growing crops and might be growing 10, 20 or 30 times as much if it was growing cereals. Surely it is very short-sighted to think in terms of the immediately available products. I think the Ministry has got it all wrong all the time.
The other day I asked a question about the reduction in dairy herds, and I did not get an answer which I clearly understood. Dairy herds are being reduced, but I am not at all clear that it is intended to reduce the beef herds. All scientific evidence shows that the pig and the hen are more economical converters of feeding-stuffs into food for human consumption than beasts, and yet these cattle have had this priority all the time. We all agree that the dairy cow should come at the top, but, after that, scientists are insistent that the hen and the pig are far above the beef animal as an economical converter of feeding-stuffs. Yet the bullock is the most sacred animal in the eyes of some farmers and is very well entrenched in the goodwill of the National Farmers' Union, and I am not sure that that is desirable from the point of view of making the best use of the limited land we have.
I am very glad indeed that the Minister was able to re-assure us about the milk position. I came here to-day fully expecting that his outlook would not be so sanguine. But having asked us to be self-supporting on our dairy farms he now very kindly tells us that we are going to be rationed on every gallon above the first half gallon and that we are expected to provide the maintenance ourselves. There are very few dairy farmers who have not produced maintenance themselves even in the heyday before the war, and if we are to get cake for the first half year that no doubt will be the safeguard for the milk supply. I imagined that the cake and feeding-stuffs position was going to be much worse, because in my innocence I 1098 really believed what was put out on 7th June, that we were only to receive cake as a bonus and not as a basis for milk-production. I do not consider that everything above the first half-gallon ought to be called a bonus, because I believe the dairy farmers could do better by turning themselves into arable dairy farmers, in that way making themselves self-supporting.
Last autumn, knowing that I should be occupied with military duties, I drew up a plan for my farm, and I am pretty sure that I shall be able to maintain the same number of dairy cattle and get the same output of milk with little additional land. I believe other dairy farmers could do that also, but it is no use telling them to do it on 7th June. I do not, however, think that the policy of asking every farm to be self-supporting is the right one. It will not be efficient and will need a lot more labour. Of course if you come afterwards and say, "Here is cake after all," then it does not matter, but if you are going to turn over to what is a perfectly feasible system of dairy farming, which is to grow everything you need on the dairy farm, if you are going to make a big economy in shipping space by saving the cake and other feeding stuffs required for milk production—
§ Mr. Hudson
I thought I had explained myself in this matter. We should not save any shipping space. There are no imported feeding-stuffs as such. We shall only have the by-products of wheat and oilseeds.
§ Mr. Hudson
I said that if our programme for the import of oilseeds matured, we should have over and above the cake for dairy cows a certain amount which we should be able to exchange in return for surplus oats.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
Will the Minister say whether it is the policy to import only oilseeds and not oils?
§ Mr. Roberts
I am sorry if I misunderstood the Minister. I am trying to understand the important statement he has 1099 made. The question of feeding-stuffs for livestock is vital to the problem of producing more food from British agriculture. We are to get, therefore, only the by products of imports which would in any case come to this country, but still we are not self-supporting, and my argument is that dairy farming on the scale it is at present could be independent of imports. To try to make every farm self-supporting is something which matters in farming. There are lands in the South of England which will produce proteins, meat, peas and other things very much better than you can produce them in the North, or in Scotland, where dairying is one of the biggest sections of the farming industry, and it really is worth while to plan production, to grow your cereals where they always have been grown and to confine your proteins to where they are best produced. I do not stress that point, but what I do say is that it is possible to make dairy-farming self-supporting in regard to all the animal feeding stuffs required for winter, but I do not think you can do that and retain large stocks of animals for beef such as there are in the country at the present time. If you wish to do that you must reduce the beef cattle considerably.
I would like to say a word, in passing, on the subject of the production of dairy cattle. The tendency to deal with each farm individually can be overdone. Why should the owner of a tuberculin-tested herd be asked to reduce his stock by 5 per cent?
§ Mr. Roberts
He has. It is a fact, because I have seen it with my own eyes. It may be only in my own county. I have never seen it in the Press or elsewhere. I would definitely ask whether instructions have gone out from the Ministry that no farm which holds a T.T. licence is to be required to reduce its stock. The problem does not seem to have suggested itself to the Minister, so I will refer the problem to him. I challenge him to deny my assertion that no instructions have gone out from the Ministry of Agriculture that tuberculin-tested herds shall not be treated in the same way as other herds. If I am wrong, I shall be glad. In Whitehall and Westminster, reducing dairy herds may be explained by 1100 diseased cattle and so on, but when it gets out into the counties it comes down to a reduction on each farm of good cattle as well as of bad. I am told that this is happening in various places. Again, the instructions which have been sent out on the subject of farm labour do not result in only the redundant and superfluous workers being called up. It works out that each county has to find a quota of men, and the men are taken from the farms which it is thought have the most men. It means that the farm which is most intensive, which employs the most men and is producing the most, loses its men.
The food situation is good, and I congratulate the Minister on the amount of work which has been put into food production in this country. I believe that, from the point of view of the consumer, the position is good, chiefly because of the enormous quantities of imports still coming into the country. The experts, including those of the Minister, recommend that milk, wheat meal, vegetables, oatmeal and potatoes are the things which we can grow and which will provide a complete diet. I hope the Minister will not lightly brush aside expert opinion on the ground that we are a beef-eating country and must continue to be so. Experts are sometimes right. To give an example from a quite different matter, I remember how our experts laughed when they saw the film showing the Russian parachutists. The Germans did not laugh. In their food policy, the Germans are using the advice of scientists and experts to 100 per cent. We had better do the same. We had better face the fact that we must begin to depart from the traditional livestock farm and produce food for direct human consumption. We may be able to rely upon America now, but the time may come when our choice will be between guns or butter and ships from America. You cannot have both. It would be wise at this stage to switch over to producing food for direct human consumption.
I should very much like the Minister to reconsider the question of agricultural labour. He calls up more men from the land at the time when we want more food produced. He builds hostels for unskilled men at considerable expense in men, and meanwhile the wives and families of the 1101 men who have been called up are living in the cottages. I wonder what is the real balance to the nation in that transaction. The situation is changed. There is a very large reservoir of man-power fighting the Germans at the present time in Europe. I wonder whether the real contribution made by a few thousand men being called up would not be far greater in saving shipping space if the men were taking their part in the Battle of the Atlantic than in the Services. The Battle of the Atlantic is being fought out. I trust I have not appeared too critical to-day. I did not wish to be. The farmers, led by the Minister of Agriculture, are doing a magnificent piece of work, but the time has come when a change in the direction of production would be of national advantage.
Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles Brise (Maldon)
I hope the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not endeavour to follow his argument into all its various ramifications, but I would like to make one comment on his speech. One of his main complaints appeared to be that too much of the foodstuffs produced on our farms is-consumed at the present time by livestock on the same farms. In another part of his speech he applauded the statement of the Minister that our milk supply was in a very much better condition than he had ever seen it. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile those two positions? Surely you cannot have milk without feeding the cow. What objection has the hon. Gentleman therefore to the cow being given food grown on the farm if the ultimate result is milk for the children of the country?
§ Mr. W. Roberts
I certainly do not appear to have made my meaning clear. We all agree that milk production should be kept up. I was referring to the beef cow.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Of course, that may alter the argument to a certain extent I am sure the Committee will have been extremely gratified at the account which the Minister has been able to give of the agricultural position in the country. I have no doubt that the Committee will wish to congratulate him and those who collaborated with him or actually carried out the work in the counties, and the 1102 farmers must not be left without their need of congratulation. There was one sentence in my right hon. Friend's statement which did rather disappoint me. That was when he said that this year, on the assumption that we have a good harvest and are able to gather it, the production of foodstuffs in Great Britain will be as great as in any year this century. I hope I have quoted him correctly. That sentence disappoints me, for this reason. Is it not rather a matter for disappointment that after 41 years of this century, with all the money that has been spent on research, with all the advance of science and with all the application of machinery to the farm to a degree which did not exist 40 years ago, the total output from the farms of Great Britain should not be greater than it has ever been before in this century? I am afraid that I regard that part of his speech as disappointing. However, that is the only part which I place in that category, and I think the Committee will agree that in almost everything else he had to tell us there was room for a considerable amount of satisfaction.
I base the remarks I wish to make upon the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I make no apology for quoting to the Committee two very short paragraphs of that report. They are to be found at the foot of page 41:For achieving the immediate object, viz., to obtain the maximum of effective production, there are two main needs:The report goes on:
- (1) the creation of confidence in the continuity of agricultural policy;
- (2) the restoration of the fertility of the soil."In meeting these needs three objectives should be kept in view; first, to provide a foundation and inspiration for enterprise; secondly, to direct the expenditure of money and other resources into the most fruitful channels; and thirdly,"—and this is the most important—to ' peg the gains ' achieved under both these heads during the war and carry them forward to the future.I will deal first with the fertility of the soil. How long will the war last? We none of us know, but whether the war be short or long, there is a need to maintain the fertility of our soil in either case. We should not delay in taking appropriate 1103 measures to see that our soil is not only not exhausted, but is adequately sustained. If at the end of the war our soil lies exhausted, then there will be all too many people ready to say, "Why bother about growing foodstuffs in England? Our soil is exhausted; buy all that you need to feed our 45,000,000 mouths from abroad." We all know quite well from our past experience that there has been a school of thought only too rampant throughout the whole of this century—to go back no further—advocating the policy of importing our food rather than growing it at home. Of course, the shipping, finance, marine insurance and industrial interests naturally wish to import foodstuffs in order to pay for the goods they wish to export, and if at the end of the war England were to be found with her soil exhausted, the same cry would again be raised. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we should take all appropriate measures to maintain the fertility of our soil, and be able to say to the country at the end of the war, "We can grow a very large proportion of your food here, and we intend to do so."
The potential food production from our own soil in this country is enormous, far greater than is generally supposed. Last week in another place, a former Minister of Agriculture, speaking with knowledge, stated that the production from the soil of this country could be far greater than the best opinion had previously held, and I believe that to be perfectly true. If it is true, and if we are to keep up production, then fertility is the keystone, and whether that fertility is maintained or not depends, in my view, principally on the number of livestock kept on the fields and at our farms. I take the diametrically opposite view from that held by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). If we are to have production, we must have fertility, and if we want fertility, we must have livestock to maintain it. I would add this: It costs money to finance livestock, in the first place the purchase of the necessary herd or flock, as the case may be; secondly, to provide the labour for tending it; and, thirdly, to provide the necessary foodstuffs, and the question of livestock is very closely bound up with the general price level of all other agricultural products. I myself am alarmed 1104 at the extent to which the slaughter of pigs and poultry has proceeded. I wish my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Food were able to see their way if not to stop, at least to modify, the heavy attack on pigs and poultry, both from the point of view of their own production and from that of the fertility of the country's soil.
If my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture had been in his place, I would have asked him to consider at this time some of the items of prices. He has told us that there is a big acreage of wheat growing at the present moment, and we trust he may be able to secure the harvest, but I question whether my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Food are paying a reasonable price to the British farmer for wheat at 65s. 3d. per quarter. I take wheat because it is a typical crop in the arable rotation and stands almost in a category by itself from another point of view, namely, that it gives us our most important foodstuffs. I would remind the Committee that in the last war the price for wheat paid to the British farmer was 80s. a quarter, when costs of production were no higher than, if as high as, to-day. I shall not deal with any other questions of price. I have mentioned that one as being particularly important, and in connection with my general argument that if we are to maintain the fertility of the soil there must be a reasonable price level for the whole of the commodities produced on the farm. Otherwise there is not available that amount of ordinary working capital necessary to keep a correct head of livestock.
The Government have taken control of the industry of agriculture at every point. First, they call on farmers for heroic efforts to increase their production. The Government raise the costs of production artificially, at will. The Government control all sales, or almost all sales, made off the farm; they control almost all purchases brought on to the farm. It is true there are the county war executive committees, but the Government are to-day farming largely from Whitehall. If the necessities of war make these measures imperative, I have no quarrel with any of them, as war measures, but there is a corollary. If the State takes over the industry in this way, I say that the Government must be responsible for all the implications. The 1105 Government have it in their power to do so by a reasonable price level, adequate to meet the costs of production. Then indeed the Government will be going a very long way towards meeting one of the major implications, namely, to see that the industry does not run short of finance. Inadequate prices definitely hinder production, besides saddling the industry with a new load of debt. It is of the utmost importance that the Government should keep their attention on the price level of agricultural commodities if they want their programme of production carried out to the full.
Here I would like to interpose the remark that, where the State finds it necessary for one reason or another to subsidise a commodity of foodstuff, I think it is only right that the State should make it perfectly clear at the time as to whom the subsidy is paid. There has grown up an idea that whenever anything done in connection with a food product, the money provided by the State out of taxpayers' pockets is a direct contribution to the farmer's pocket. Nothing could be further from the truth. To take an example, the State is subsidising wheat—not in giving a subsidy to the grower of wheat in this country, not at all. The State is probably right to keep the price level down. The subsidy is given, and I imagine it is costing a considerable sum of money, not to the British farmer; it is being paid direct to the eater of the loaf, in other words, the consumer. I think it is only right that, whenever the Government decide to subsidise any commodity of foodstuff produced in this country, they should make it perfectly clear to the public that it is the consumer who is receiving it and not the producer.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us who, if the subsidy is being paid, is finally receiving it?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
It is the consumer who is receiving it by paying less money for his loaf than he would have otherwise paid.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
Not at all, not by any means. The consumer gets the full benefit by having to pay less for a loaf than the cost of production. I must, 1106 in contradistinction to my hon. Friend behind me, applaud the policy of the Government in encouraging farmers to make their farms self-supporting and independent of imported feeding-stuffs. I believe that is the right policy, but it is rather disappointing when the farmer, carrying out the policy of the Government, finds that, having grown enough foodstuffs on his farm to feed all his animals, he is not allowed to use it for wheat feed. It has come as a considerable shock to the farming community as a whole. I welcome the slight modification which the Minister indicated in his speech that where a farmer does grow enough to feed his own livestock the restriction on using some of this for wheat feed is to be relaxed. I understood him to say that where a farmer grows wheat, which is a requisitioned commodity, and which the farmer is obliged to sell to an approved buyer, when he required wheat feed back for his stock he would, in future, be able to get a proportional amount of wheat feed brought back to the farm. I would like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in replying, to make it perfectly clear, because this is a matter which has jarred lots of farmers to a considerable degree, that having done as the Government have asked in the way of producing foodstuffs, they have been tied up and found it requisitioned.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)
I would like to explain, in the temporary absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, that my right hon. Friend said the matter was under consideration and that a statement would be made shortly.
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I hope that the matter which I have just pointed out will receive sympathetic consideration. You nave asked them to do something, and they did it, and when they have done it—
§ Mr. W. Roberts
Surely the object of the farmer in increasing wheat production is to feed humans, not livestock?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
I go back to the speech of my hon. Friend on the milk question. You cannot get milk without livestock, and they have to be fed. He would not suggest that all beef calves should be slaughtered at birth?
§ Sir E. Ruggles-Brise
That is a rather different question. The question I am discussing is one of the fertility of the soil and whether we can keep it up and get increased production as a result. If you were to slaughter all bull calves and give feeding-stuffs only to your dairy cattle there is not the slightest doubt that the fertility of the soil of this country would go down at a steep rate, and our total production of foodstuffs for humans would eventually be very seriously reduced.
I would like to say a word now about distribution. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will not, I hope, be unduly agitated if I refer very briefly to the question of eggs—or ought I to call it "the egg muddle"? Once it was obvious that there had been a muddle over eggs, my right hon. and gallant Friend and the Minister of Food were not slow in altering the plan and in trying to correct the errors made in regard to distribution. I would plead that the present plan should be given a fair trial and a good run, as I think that probably the distribution is now on a better basis than it has been for some considerable time. I merely refer to that in passing. But I am not satisfied that the Ministry of Food are correct in the decision they have come to in regard to the relative value of imported wheat and imported eggs. I have had figures given to me which I am bound to say ring true. I dare say there are figures on the other side which ring true also, but I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to give further consideration to the question of whether it can be sound sense to import eggs into this country in bulky crates instead of importing the small amount of wheat which would be necessary to feel our poultry to obtain the same number of eggs. I hope that that will be gone into de novo, because I believe that the Ministry have gone wrong on that point.
The Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure stressed the necessity for a measure of confidence in agriculture. I would remind hon. Members that some half-dozen years ago the Government set up a committee of, I think, three, under the chairmanship of Sir Wilfrid Greene, who is now to adorn another place. That committee was set 1108 up to investigate the sugar beet industry. The majority report of the committee condemned the industry root and branch. Happily, there was a minority report, written by a late Member of this House, whom I hope, incidentally, we shall soon be able to welcome on his return to the House. As a result of the majority report, there arose a considerable agitation throughout the whole of the Eastern counties and all those parts of the country where sugar beet was grown. The Government of the day took some alarm. Although there had been every indication that the Government had intended to scrap the sugar beet industry, that policy was reversed; the industry survived, and, happily, survives to-day.
Let us consider the position of our sugar supplies to-day as compared with what they were in the last war. I wonder whether hon. Members recollect the very serious position in which this country was placed in regard to sugar supplies in the last war, when a convoy of 16 sugar ships was sunk off the Southern coast of Ireland, the alarm that was caused, and the fact that even the walls and the floors of buildings engaged in the sugar industry had to be swept down in order that the sugar could be reclaimed and made available for human consumption. To-day, we have a thriving sugar beet branch of our sugar industry. We are growing between one-third and half of the whole sugar requirements of this country. Think of the shipping space that is being saved; think of the currency that is being saved by our not having to make those purchases abroad; think of the human lives that are being saved because that amount of sugar has not to be brought to these shores. Think of the tragedy it would have been if the Government of the day had accepted the advice of that majority report. I mention this matter in connection with the word "confidence." How can there be confidence when this kind of incident occurs?
It is, of course, difficult to foresee what will be the post-war position: what form the reconstruction period will take, and how agriculture will fit in with the general scheme of things. But let us realise now that agriculture is a long-term industry and that there must be for it a long-term policy, not subject to the whims of parties that may come and go, but based on national needs and on the production of 1109 the major amount of food that may be won from the soil of this country. We should see that we keep that soil in proper fertility and give a just reward to those who win the food for us.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
I intervene in this Debate primarily to refer to the problem of the equitable distribution of our food supplies after we have either grown it or imported it from abroad. That question mainly concerns the Ministry of Food. I have often listened with considerable interest to the contributions of the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise), and I am quite familiar with his attitude in the past. I happen to represent in a more particular way the consumers of the large industrial centres, and I would at least join with him in a common desire that we shall not in future repeat some of the mistakes of the past. But to secure that, there must be a contribution from both sides. I have always regretted, in connection with the problem of home-grown food supplies, that in peace-time the buyer appeared to be on top and in war-time the grower appeared to be on top. We have never yet sufficiently imposed on the individual interests of the respective sides of the purchase a long-term State policy that keeps an even balance for the consumers of this country.
I deprecate sentimental expressions on the Floor of the House of Commons, when the labours of the farming community are so vital to the success of this conflict, which produce artificial hopes that we shall not again meet the impact of world conditions on the food supplies of this country. If we are to safeguard the farming community under present conditions, frankly, I would be very critical of the policy which the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers are following during this war, not from the point of view of output, but because it does not indicate any attempt to anticipate the post-war position. We have had two years of war with little or no evidence of any co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food—in fact, this is the first evidence of any collaboration between the two Departments. The Debate has become mixed up, and we have to discuss production and distribution, and the first pertinent point is, that one cannot see, in the policy on food 1110 supplies, any reasonable or efficient collaboration between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture. There is a great deal of evidence that points to conflict between the policies pursued by the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture. If this joint Debate to-day emphasises the desirability of these two departments working with one harmonious objective, then it may serve a useful purpose.
I come to the first major difference that discloses itself. The Ministry of Food is responsible for purchasing and handling food supplies imported into this country, but when we come to home grown supplies, the attitude of the farming community and Ministry of Agriculture is largely one of "hands off." There you are making a vital mistake by separating the home-grown problem from the general food problem of the community. You are doing that because you think that you can make hay while the sun shines. The consequences of this difference and the conflicting purpose of the two Departments have built up an immense amount of irritation in the public mind. If that irritation is permitted to fester and to continue during war-time, all the sympathy which could be capitalised and influence them to agree to a long-term policy with regard to agriculture will be destroyed. That irritated public opinion will welcome, when the war is over, the release of floods of commodities on to the British market and will take full advantage of them. Therefore, if we are to consider the general interests of these two Departments, I hope that some of my agricultural friends will take notice of the views of some of us who represent the industrial populations of this country and wish to see a stabilised and successful agricultural system. We recognise that in times of war it is vital to the success of the war, and that unless we have a healthy agricultural system we cannot keep up or replace the vitality in the towns under our present industrial methods.
I would point out, having made this general reference to a long-term policy, that the Minister of Agriculture, as far as his statement was concerned, indicated that he wished to avoid complacency, but he showed a good deal of satisfaction in the story that he told to-day. You can always get results, either in business or in 1111 any other direction, if you are able to hand out public funds, but the thing in which I was interested, and which I would like to clear up, is the statement of the Minister with regard to our third year's food supplies. There seems to be some little confusion with regard to the statement of the Minister. As I interpret it —and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will no doubt correct me if I am wrong—he indicated that there would be a drastic curtailment of imported food supplies in the third year, but that the increase in the home-grown food supply would more than compensate for the reduction in imports and that the total food supplies of the country, both home-grown and imported, was likely to exceed the normal supplies that we have in these times. I understand that that was the statement of the Minister, and a statement of that kind could very well lead the country into difficulties. The economic conditions of the country are of such a character that, even if we have a surplus of food supplies in any particular range of commodities, we cannot afford excessive consumption, and those foodstuffs would have to go into a reserve pool for the time being.
I want to discuss the policy of the Ministry of Food, not on the basis of a surplus of food, but on the basis that, in my view, we have had a sufficiency of food in this country since the outbreak of war, that we are likely to continue to have a sufficiency of food supplies, unless there is some catastrophe against which one could not provide, and that it is desirable that this Committee, the Ministry of Food and the public should settle down to a system of food production based upon the principle that we have a sufficiency, but that we shall not have a surplus to waste during the war. The policy of the Ministry of Food should start with the grower in this country, especially if it is the intention of the Ministry of Food that the bulk of our supplies should come from the home producer. We want a policy of administration now that will secure a wage or a return to the producers that will induce them willingly to produce their maximum output, but we must have a System of price regulation to ensure to the consumers the capacity to buy the commodities commensurate with their wages and income. Unless the Ministry of Food 1112 at once produce that policy, then White Papers such as have been circulated recently by the Treasury are an insult to the intelligence of the people of this country and will cause resentment among the wage-earners.
You cannot even approach the consideration of a stabilisation policy of wages if a large range of foodstuffs are moving rapidly up and down the scale. Many of them are at an exceptionally high level compared with the pre-war prices upon which wages to-day are based, and it is utterly inconsistent for the Chancellor in his Budget Statement to be talking about stabilisation to avoid inflation while the Ministry of Food refuses to follow this policy. Let the Committee look at our experience so far, because we have had a repetition of this experience with commodity after commodity, and they nearly all relate to home-grown food products. That is why I emphasise the need for collaboration between the two Departments. We are faced with this position: The Ministry of Food lecture the public traders or farmers, as the case may be, with regard to certain commodities, but they have no guiding principle that applies to food distribution as a whole. My contention is that if the country is facing a position where we cannot escape just a bare sufficiency of commodities, that makes it inevitable that we must have more or less an all-round system of rationing, not a rigid system of rationing. I want to explain later the methods by which I think rationing should be built up.
The whole of our food supplies must be governed by the principle of rationing, for this reason. If you are working on the basis of sufficiency, a sufficiency can easily become a scarcity at any moment, because the public can themselves create a scarcity out of sufficiency by commencing to buy ahead of their requirements All through the war the public have been encouraged by the policy which the Ministry of Food has so far followed to buy ahead of their current requirements, because they have no confidence that the Ministry will handle each commodity at the moment it should be handled to avoid inconvenience and inequitable distribution. The Ministry has been warned off, I assume, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the farming community, The Ministry is handicapped 1113 over this problem of sufficiency because farmers and growers can turn a sufficiency of foodstuffs in the country as a whole into an actual scarcity in the shops by withholding for a certain period the supplies which would normally go on to the market.
That is repeatedly happening and has a disturbing effect on the relationship between the Minister of Food and the public. Again, any system of unequal distribution caused by dislocation or by the movement of population turns a sufficiency of supply into one of scarcity in a particular locality. Consider the position into which the Ministry of Food have put the housewives of this country. Housewives have been compelled to alter the whole of their normal habits with regard to shopping. They are forced out immediately after breakfast on to the streets; and into the shops to try and purchase whatever available supplies are necessary. That is a hardship and an irritation which we ought to be ashamed to see developing, the more so because it is unnecessary. Women in this country who have homes to look after, children to get off to school and midday meals to prepare have had their normal housework disarranged because they have had to go out to the shops in the morning. Normally the wage-earners' wives of this country shop in the early afternoon, after they have done their housework. It is a reflection on the Ministry of Food that this condition should have arisen. Even when women are forced out during the early hours of the morning to get their supplies, we have the stupid position of the police of various local authorities prohibiting queues for supplies. No woman wants to get into a queue for her supply; nothing irritates or annoys her more than having to do this. Meanwhile, conditions and administration compel this situation to continue.
§ Sir J. Lamb
Dees not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is an injustice to those who live in rural areas, who are not producers, and to those who have been evacuated to those areas, that when they get into the towns by whatever means of transport is available they find that supplies have been taken by other people?
§ Mr. Barnes
I entirely agree. My whole case is that this is not necessary. We are lacing a policy where you have a sufficiency but no surplus, and where you 1114 have a bare sufficiency there is a number of factors which immediately turn that to a scarcity. Public policy should be directed to preventing that and to giving the community confidence that they can get their supplies to suit their convenience. Still more scandalous is the position with regard to the women whom we are forcing into munition factories.
Let me turn now to the principles upon which we ought to meet this problem. In my view it involves a general system of rationing, not a rigid and uniform method. We should have a system of price control from the grower through every stage to the consumer, and not when the damage is done. Let me take the case of fish, to illustrate my point. The Ministry first talked about controlling fish in November of last year. They allowed prices to rocket to scandalous heights and then tardily came in and controlled fish prices by 33⅓per cent. Those of us in the food industry noticed that at that stage the Minister of Food publicly congratulated himself that he had cut the prices of fish by this percentage, but as a matter of fact this cut on unregulated prices left prices far higher than they should be, taking everything into consideration. We have had repeated experiences of this description. Therefore, I say that prices should be controlled from the grower through all stages to the consumer, and if that were effectively done, we could then consider White Papers dealing with stabilisation policies. The responsible elements of the trading community generally desire to co-operate for the public good, and I think the Minister would be entitled to make a request to the trades concerned cither to conduct their own business properly, in conformity with the broad principles of public policy, or to have it taken out of their hands and done for them. It is my opinion that if the trades concerned were given proper opportunities, they would, within general principles, regulate the problem much better than the Ministry of Food and its officials have done.
When those two basic conditions have been met, it seems to me that the principles of rationing should be on the following lines. The Ministry of Food should guarantee to each individual the ration of certain essential foodstuffs to which he is entitled. Apart from the first range of essential foodstuffs, I do not think the 1115 principle of individual right should be taken any further. It is desirable to maintain as much interest in eating and as much variety in foods as is possible, even in war-time conditions, and therefore, after we have got a universal individual right to certain essential foodstuffs, I think we should then go on to group or alternative rationing, in which there is a number of similar or related lines. In the case of these foodstuffs, there would probably not be sufficient to give a ration of a given article to every citizen in the community, but within a group of commodities it would be possible for the individual citizen to choose the article most enjoyable or palatable to him. They would get a larger ration of the article which they chose from the group than they would get if they were given an individual right to every commodity within the group.
The third aspect of a flexible rationing system which I think we ought to consider is classified rationing. We have, in this instance, had an example which is bound to recur. The Minister recently gave a minimum ration in cheese, and then the cheese stocks increased and there was an increase in the reserve, but it was insufficient to give an increased ration to the whole community. There are large groups of workers—agricultural workers, miners, lorry drivers who have to go on long distance runs, steel operatives and so on—which are more entitled to extra cheese than are those engaged in sedentary occupations. It would be quite practicable for a classified system of rationing to be developed so that whenever there were increased supplies of any commodity, it could be distributed first to those whose need of it was greater than the need of the general community. Finally, with the policy of increased imports from America and elsewhere, one can foresee that, from time to time, supplies will find their way into this country of goods which are in the nature of tasty tit-bits, for which we all yearn, but which the normal adult can do without. My view is that in the case of such commodities—oranges, lemons, and so on—we ought deliberately to follow a policy of selective rationing, and that these things should be reserved for children, invalids, hospitals, and so on.
1116 If this Debate on food leads to the Committee expressing to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food our feeling that greater collaboration between these Departments is needed in the future than there has been in the past, as far as we can judge, and that we can base our policy in regard to food only on sufficiency and that, therefore, there must be introduced a sound and general system of rationing on flexible lines, I think the Debate will have served a useful purpose.
§ Sir George Schuster (Walsall)
Before making the remarks which I wish to make on these subjects, I would like to express to the hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) great appreciation of the speech he has made, which was a most valuable contribution to the Debate. He has expressed many of the sentiments which I intended to express much better than I could have done, and I am grateful to him for having made my task easier. I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member is closely connected with a great branch of the distributive organisation of this country, and I think he knows that I am chairman of a large group of another kind. I want to make it clear at the outset that in talking about food distribution, I am to a certain extent connected with it. I feel it is right that I should make that clear, although to-day, as in the past, I shall put forward arguments which in many respects are contrary to my actual business interests.
It is difficult to choose the subject of one's remarks in this Debate which ranges over so wide a field. We have here today—and I share the appreciation already expressed for this—my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. and gallant Friend—I am glad to be able to call him my right hon. Friend for the first time—the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. I should have liked to say a good deal on both subjects, because I have the privilege of presiding over the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure which has examined the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food. But I shall concentrate my remarks on food production, and there are only two or three things that I want to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. The hon. Member for East Ham South used the expression that he had a 1117 chance to "make hay while the sun shines." Perhaps it is not quite appropriate to talk about the sun shining when one is referring to war conditions, but I feel that my right hon. Friend is in a sense the happy warrior, because he has in war-time an unequalled opportunity, and if I do not say," Make hay while the sun shines," perhaps I may say," Do put on a good act while the limelight is upon you. "It is shining on the Minister of Agriculture to-day, and when I say" put on a good act," I mean take full advantage of the opportunity not merely to produce immediate results, but to produce a sound foundation for agriculture in this country in the future. I know that my right hon. Friend agrees with that, and therefore, I need not emphasise it.
To turn to another point. I am glad that my right hon. Friend stressed the importance of milk production because there are in certain quarters suspicions that perhaps he listens too much to the beef and corn farmers, and has not paid sufficient attention to the dairy industry. He has to-day shown that to be an unjust charge. He also spoke of drainage. On that point, there are certainly some hon. Members who feel that sound capital expenditure on improving the fertility of the soil would be one of the best forms of economy. And I want to say this: If my right hon. Friend finds that when there is labour and material available he is prevented from getting on with drainage schemes of a large type, which he considers necessary for the improvement of the fertility of the soil, merely because under the present scheme a particular conservancy board or catchment board has not the necessary financial resources because of the way in which their ability to raise money is connected with the rate-able value of the area in which they work, then, speaking as a Member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, although only personally, I feel that he ought to take up that matter and bring it before the House. There is a great opportunity to-day to put the land of the country right.
I now turn to the question of food distribution. It is very easy to find matters on which to criticise my right hon. and gallant Friend or his Minister in this connection. But when I think of what has been achieved and the difficulties of the task I have to feel very chary 1118 of criticising. There he sits at the head of a Department comprising a staff of between 35,000 and 40,000, straddled all over the country, with a small percentage of regular civil servants—some of whom are very good and some of whom are perhaps not up to the standard of 20 years ago—a certain number of business men—some very excellent but not accustomed to working in a Government Department—thousands of clerks, and, in between the two levels, a great body of temporary officials of all kinds, barristers, university dons, etc., etc., all admirable men but flung into quite new duties. When I think of the task the Minister has to perform, uneasy must lie the head that wears that sort of crown. There are bound to be things which go wrong, but I do not wish to concentrate upon them to-day. I do not wish to dwell, for example, on such matters as the distribution of eggs. I believe that on the whole the scheme is on the right lines, but I do want to make one point. Everyone must admit, and I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend would admit, that the public are entitled to say the scheme was launched without proper consideration of how it was going to work, since it had to be modified in various ways from the moment it was first announced. There have been other instances of that kind, and this state of affairs is not having a good effect on the confidence of the public. The point I want to make is that we should like to feel that the responsibility for what I may describe as not very good staff work is being brought home. I will leave it at that.
I want to concentrate now upon four principal points, the first of which has been touched upon by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. I do not consider the Minister of Food has been drastic enough, determined enough, or quick enough in handling the rationing problem. I have always taken this line since the early days of the war when, although it happened to be contrary to my own business interests, I supported the right hon. Gentleman who is now First Lord of the Admiralty in pleading for a comprehensive rationing system. I think there has been a tendency to rely too much solely on appeals to the public. I emphasise the word "solely," because appeals of a kind have their place. But there must be more. I will give the Committee a practical illustration. It must have been 1119 obvious from the early days of the war to anyone who had anything to do with the food trade that the importations of canned fruits, and so on, from California could not possibly go on. Everyone knew there were heavy stocks in the country and that eventually they must come to an-end. The Minister of Food clearly appreciated the position, and in a broadcast asked the public to go slow with the tin-opener. That was his first attempt to deal with the situation. Apparently it did not impress the public enough because a fortnight afterwards the Minister gave a more definite warning which in fact made it quite clear to everyone that the stocks of canned fruits were coming to an end. The result was that in the companies for which I am responsible our sales for canned fruits were about four times more than normal during the next three weeks. We had one example of a motor car drawing up outside a shop. The door accidentally opened and hundreds of tins of canned fruits which this customer had collected on a tour around the town fell out.
I could quote other examples of cases where the same sort of thing has happened, and a situation has been allowed to grow up which ought to have been reached much earlier. But, in this connection, the really important question, both in regard to the present and the future, is the distribution of unrationed foodstuffs. In this respect I entirely agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South. We are all having complaints about the queues, about unfair distribution, and about the difficulties of women doing their shopping, particularly women who are engaged during the day on work of national importance. I had the temerity to speak during the Debate on women-power some months ago, and I drew attention to the special position -of women engaged in work of national importance. I pointed out that a scheme had been tried out in a town near my constituency, whereby firms engaged on Government' work handed in the names of the women they employed to the dealers with whom they were registered, asking the dealers to set aside their share of unrationed goods, to be collected at convenience by the firm or by the women themselves. I do not know whether that suggestion has been 1120 adopted, but I put it to my right hon. Friend that there is strong feeling on this matter, and that the country is expecting the Ministry of Food to adopt some scheme which ensures a fairer distribution of unrationed goods. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South has said, there are classes of foods which are un-suited for rationing. I suggest that tinned milk is an example. To certain classes of the community tinned milk is of importance while others hardly use it. Therefore, you cannot ration that type of commodity.
But I think there is something to be said for my hon. Friend's suggestion that there should be a pooling of certain classes of commodities to be covered by a general ration allowance. He is bolder than I am, because I do not in this Debate intend to specify any particular scheme. It is a matter of great difficulty, but I urge upon my right hon. and gallant Friend to tackle it. It is not only a question of unfair distribution as between individuals, but of unfair distribution as between certain localities. The essential point seems to be that arrangements by which wholesalers are allocated their shares of goods by the importers and manufacturers do not seem to be keeping up with the movement of population. For example, you may find wholesalers in London obtaining supplies based on pre-war sales, whereas the business of their retail customers may have largely disappeared. Such wholesalers may have a surplus to dispose of, while others on whom retailers in crowded reception areas rely, may have short supplies. I suggest, therefore, that the allocation of supplies to wholesalers is not being kept up closely enough to the movements of the population.
One last point under this heading. My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South suggested that there might be special rations for special classes of workers. I know there is great difficulty in regard to such schemes; but I do want to make the point that, as far as I can see, agricultural labourers are not at present getting enough to eat, and deserve special consideration. They have no canteens to feed in, outside their rations, as many workers in industry have, and I believe that is a point that might be worth considering.
1121 I want now to turn to quite a different point. I am bound to deal with it rather tentatively. It is a matter on which as Chairman of my Sub-Committee of the Committee on National Expenditure I have asked for some information from the Ministry of Food which I have not got yet. Therefore, I cannot give exact facts and figures, and in any case they might be too confidential for that. But it is a matter of very great importance. I will jump straight into the middle of my point by saying that I believe that the whole of our policy as regards bread which has doubtless a great deal to commend it, is tending to waste. Now this is a very big thing indeed in connection with the shipping problem. 1 do not want to give exact figures, but I shall be disclosing no secrets and L shall, as I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will agree, keep within the bounds of accuracy if I say that our normal imports of wheat for bread were in the order of 5,000,000 tons, and that last year we imported more than the normal pre-war amount and no doubt built up stocks. There is, of course, more bread being eaten now than in normal peace-time. That is natural when other foods are short, but the point I want to make is that having this absolutely free supply heavily subsidised is leading to waste. I believe the subsidy is costing something like £48,000,000 and represents 3d. on the four-pound loaf. I do not quarrel with that, though. I may remark, incidentally, that if I were spending £48,000,000 a year, I should like to see some of it going in some more direct way to the people that really need it—say by giving some of it in the form of children's allowances. My point, however, is that it is tending to the waste of bread. I am told, for example, that the cheapest way of feeding chickens is to give them bread. I want to urge that somehow or other the public ought to be made "bread conscious."
To illustrate the importance of the subject, I thought I would bring a little sample down to the House. Here is a bit of bread which represents a quarter of an ounce. I reckon roughly that, if everyone in the country wastes a quarter of an ounce a day, that amounts to 125,000 tons in a year. The amount of flour involved is not quite as large as that, but it is a very large figure indeed. This simple illustration brings out that even if there is 1122 only a very small percentage of waste, it is enough to have a very serious effect on the shipping situation. Now if we consider what ought to be done, I am sure there will be no disagreement anywhere that steps ought to be taken to prevent waste. Probably a great many people would also agree that, in order to ensure the most economical use of bread, we might revert to the system of the last war of not allowing bread to be sold except twelve hours after it is baked. Beyond this too a good many people also will agree that the consumption of the national loaf, which undoubtedly means a great economy in imports of wheat, is a matter which deserves more consideration and perhaps might be made compulsory.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)
Can the hon. Gentleman bring any concrete evidence before the Committee of the wastage of bread?
§ Sir G. Schuster
I have purposely not put my case too high. I have not been presenting an established- case, but only saying that there is a case for inquiry. I have of course a good deal of prima facie evidence to go on. 1 know what my baker in the country tells me, I know what many people tell me about feeding chickens, and I have heard about waste in Army camps. I do not want to say that I have proved the case, but I say here is a matter of first-class importance which might have a major effect on the shipping situation. Our present policy as regards bread is encouraging waste.
Now I want to raise another point on this same matter, which brings up the relations between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture, the relation between the consumption of bread and the consumption of potatoes. I know that when one comes to potatoes one gets on to tricky ground. Sir William Beveridge in his admirable book on food production in the last war has written thatas a producer of problems for food controllers the potato has no rival in the vegetable or animal world.I think he is quite right. It is, of course, a crop liable to immense variations in yield. I can illustrate the point that I want to make by giving some rough figures. Roughly speaking, I understand that before the war the potato crop was about 4,000,000 tons, of which 3,250,000 to 3,500,000 were used for human con- 1123 sumption. The increased acreage last year combined with a very high yield led to a production of about 5,500,000 tons, and there was an increase of 10 per cent, to 15 per cent, in human consumption. This year, with a further increase in acreage, and allowing for a yield representing the average yield of the last 10 years, there would be a crop up to 6,500,000 tons. Allowing for a further 10 to 15 per cent. increase in human consumption, there will be, if we realise that crop, a surplus of 650,000 tons. That is doubtless not more than the margin necessary to have as an insurance against a bad crop. But if the time comes when it is clear that we are going to get this margin as a realised surplus, then it is obviously going to be a great benefit to the shipping position if a certain amount of reduction takes place in the consumption of bread to be balanced by an increased human consumption of potatoes. Food experts tell us that potatoes up to a certain limit are an admirable food. They are represented as our great insurance, owing to their vitamin content, against scurvy if we cannot get citrus fruits. Exactly what is the maximum desirable quantity is uncertain, but up to a pound per head per day, at least, I am told, they can be consumed with great advantage.
As to the actual consumption at present, the position is not quite clear, but I understand, according to a sample household census taken in February this year, that the richer classes are tending to increase their consumption of potatoes and have got up to 12 to 15 ounces a head per day, but the poorer classes are not, and are still down at seven to eight ounces. Why that is so no one seems to know, but on those figures obviously there is room for a large increase in the consumption of potatoes to the benefit of the health of the country. Here is a problem where the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture are very closely concerned. If you could make human beings eat 650,000 tons of potatoes instead of feeding pigs or making dried cattle food of it, and save 650,600 tons of imported wheat, that might at a particular moment have a decisive effect on the conduct of the war.
One cannot go into details to-day, but we all know how serious a factor this shipping position is in our war effort, and 1124 how necessary it is, if there is a chance of doing a deal of this kind, to take advantage of it and so get greater latitude for our import of other things on which our success in the war depends. I would like to put it to my right hon. Friend that that is a matter which is worth inquiring into. I do not want to deal at length with a fourth possible degree of action about bread, namely, that we might come to such a position that it would be necessary to ration bread; I will do no more than express the view that to regard it as an absolutely inviolable law that in no conceivable circumstances could we contemplate rationing bread seems to be a dangerous error. We are up against very serious factors in this war, and I believe that the people of this country, far from getting into a panic if they are told the situation is serious and that it is necessary to go short of something for a few months, would receive it as a good tonic I do not believe that the people of this country thrive on soothing syrup.
I come now to the third point that I wanted to make. That is that I do hope that everything possible is being done to take advantage of scientific possibilities in connection with food. I was glad to see this morning a statement in the Press which I suppose came from the Ministry of Food about importing a side of beef in a cigar box. It referred to the new scientific methods for drying food products. I am told that there are great possibilities in these processes especially as regard dried milk. The importation of dried milk might be an important factor in the feeding of this country.
As my fourth and last point I should like to put in a word for the traders who, I think, have often been somewhat unjustly represented as having been to blame by certain Ministers. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) said on the fish business. I do not say this in any complaining or over-critical spirit, but I put it to my hon. and gallant Friend that there has been a tendency on the part of the Ministry of Food when anything has gone wrong to take credit to themselves for putting it right and to place the blame for its going wrong on the trade. I want to endorse my hon. Friend the Member or East Ham South when he said that in all responsible branches of trade to-day the dominant desire is to co-operate with the Government for public purposes. Nobody 1125 really wants to profiteer. As a matter of fact, many of us, who are unlucky in our E.P.T. standards, are in such a position that profit making has become meaningless, for beyond a line of profits, which may be reached long before this year is over, everything goes to Excess Profits Tax. But, quite apart from that, most traders with whom I come into contact take the attitude, "We want to preserve our goodwill for the future, but as for profits during war that is a secondary consideration. What we want to do is to help in the war effort and feel that our organisation is being made use of." As an illustration of the point I have made about the traders' attitude, let me take the case of fish. The prices of fish were pushed up to unreasonable limits. That was the inevitable result of the system of auctions which the Ministry insisted on. Many of the traders themselves did not want to see these high prices. I can speak with direct evidence from one important company in the distributive business which also runs its own trawlers when I say that they strongly disliked the prices and profit margins which were forced upon them. They had to sell their fish through the auctions and could not avoid the results. But in fact they were making far more money than they thought it right to do, and they were looking round for means of passing some of these profits back to the public on other lines.
That is the spirit which prevails very widely in the country, and I hope that the Minister of Food will do his best to recognise it and to take the fullest possible advantage of the desire for co-operation which exists among trade associations. As a matter of fact I have good reason to believe that he fully appreciates this. I recently put up to him a scheme on behalf of the Multiple Shops Federation for helping to organise the emergency distribution of food and other necessaries in badly blitzed towns. Incidentally, I may say that before approaching the Ministry we notified the Co-operative organisation about our proposal so that they might work in with us, and we also notified the small traders' organisations. What we wanted to do was to ensure that the value of all our organisations should be made available for public purposes. But it takes a long time to get any response from Government Departments to that kind of thing. I saw the Minister of Food last week and from his very sympathetic atti- 1126 tude I believe that we can now make a start. I only mention it as evidence of what business people are trying to do all the time, but very often they get greatly discouraged because they receive little response from the Government Departments.
I only want to say a few words in conclusion. We are in a very serious position, and this question of food production must be tackled as part of the national war effort. It must be tackled in a spirit of national service to which everybody contributes as much as he can, and the essential object of all schemes must be to ensure fair distribution among all classes. Napoleon once said that mankind cared very little for freedom but a great deal for equality. There is much wisdom in the latter half of that remark. People talk about equality of sacrifice. There can be no equality of sacrifice. Sacrifices fall on each in different ways and it is impossible to weigh one sacrifice against another. There can, however, be equality in the distribution of things like food, and I trust that my hon. and gallant Friend will take account of what I regard as the most serious point made in this Debate, and make a big move towards a fair distribution by tackling the problem of un-rationed foodstuffs.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Wansbeck)
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) has dealt entirely with distribution, and much as I would like to follow his argument, I think that he and the Committee will forgive me if I turn back to a few points connected with production. The thanks of the country are due in a large measure to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and his predecessor for the forthright, determined and ruthless manner in which they have tackled the job of turning British agriculture on to a war-time basis. Right from the beginning, without any delay, the plough, which is still the basic instrument of husbandry, has come back into its own, and the result has been that the stored up fertility of millions of acres has been released in order to grow human foodstuff. Because of the size of the task and the rate at which it has had to be carried out a great many problems of a technical nature have arisen, and a great many more will arise. One of those problems is connected with the difficulty of getting, what I term the new arable 1127 farms, on to a proper rotation, It is one thing to plough out an old grass field and, given the correct instruments and man-power, to grow a reasonable and remunerative crop on it. It is comparatively easy to do that the second year, but problems arise with the third year.
That third year is corning for many thousands of acres. The natural rotation suggested would be roots in one form or another, but it is not an easy crop to grow in these days when there is a shortage of farmyard manure and of labour. It means that almost all the land that came under the first ploughing-out campaign will have to be laid down to temporary pasture and in certain cases to permanent pasture. That does not mean that those fields are going to be lost to production. On the contrary, they have a very important part to play both in the grazing of sheep and cattle and in the production of winter feeding stuffs in the form of hay and silage. Therefore it is necessary that these fields should be made as good as science and skill can make them, and the basis of the whole matter will be the supply of grass seeds and clover. It would be a very encouraging thing to farmers to know that these seeds would be available at the right time, that is, in the spring, and better still that they would be available at a lowish price, in order to encourage the use of the very best mixtures and in the right quantities. There are some of us who wonder whether war agricultural committees should not have further powers to enable them to recommend correct seeding, and if necessary enforce it.
My second point is concerned with the rabbit, an animal which, as we are told, has played a very great part in the social history of the country and has had, perhaps, more than its fair share of Parliamentary time, both in this House and in another place. Be that as it may, because of the large increase of arable land, and because of the scarcity of rabbit catchers, vermin killers, keepers, and I might even add poachers, there has been an alarming increase, in spite of all the work that has been going on, in the number of rabbits in some parts of the country. Only last week I saw gassing operations going on with a view to exterminating rabbits—naturally rendering them unfit for human consumption—and that very same week 1128 I noticed that an increased ration of bran is to be given to the domestic rabbit-keeper. By all manner of means let us encourage the domestic rabbit, but let us at- the same time see that wild rabbits are used for their proper purpose. It seems to me that the Minister of Agriculture has argued that there is only one good rabbit, and that is a dead one, and then a voice calls from another place that the only good rabbit is one that is in a pie. They are both right, but is it not possible to evolve some scheme, if not for this year then for next year, which will ensure that rabbits can be kept down to a very low limit, and exterminated if possible and that in dying they shall pay for their past sins and find in "Death, a new Glory" on the tables of the masses?
Lastly, let me turn to the question of this harvest. My right hon. Friend said there was an excellent promise of a bountiful crop but warned us that we must not count our bushels and quarters before they are harvested. Last year harvesting operations were carried out in almost perfect weather conditions. We have no right to expect that blessing a second time. The rains may come, the corn may be laid, and we may have weeks of broken weather afterwards. Bad harvest weather is always a serious matter, but it is a nightmare when it is coupled with a labour shortage, and is a national calamity when it is coupled with a blockade as well. In such conditions as I visualise the position would be very much worse in the North of England and in Scotland and in other upland districts where we have an earlier autumn and shorter working days because of the early morning frosts. The fear of that lies at the back of the minds of a good many farmers today, and I suggest there is only one way of removing that fear, and that is by promising that if such a calamity should come upon us, if the weather should be broken for weeks, then wherever possible, and whenever there are fine days, there should be made available a large force of soldier labour and Army vehicles. I am quite aware that I shall be told that that is a difficult scheme to organise, and that it will interfere with the training of the men. I know that, but I also know that if such a calamity as I am visualising should happen, then the use of that soldier labour and Army vehicles might make all the difference between full stack yards 1129 and plenty and rotting com in the fields and tightened belts.
§ Mr. Wootton-Davies (Heywood and Radcliffe)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Scott), but go back to the opening speech of the Minister of Agriculture. It was a very heartening and comforting speech, and I am sure this Committee and the country will hope that his ambitions will be fulfilled. I wish he had given us more information about three things, namely, animal food, manures, and the utilisation of hill lands. Hill land is difficult to farm and more expensive to farm than other land, but a lot can be done with it. It can produce food which the country needs if it is properly handled, but it requires machinery and manure. I do not want to stress this point unduly, but I would like to refer my right hon. Frend to a pamphlet, which he has probably read, on the best utilisation of hill land which was published by the University College of Wales. It shows the way to a greatly increased agricultural production.
I would refer to three things on which I think healthy agriculture is based—lime, phosphates and proteins. To-day I might add to those three things fair remuneration for the farmer and the worker, because if we do not get fair remuneration for both we shall never have what we ought to get out of this land of ours. I am glad to note that the lime subsidy is to be continued. I am glad also to note the scientific committees that have been appointed, but I wish my right hon. Friend had made those committees a little more practical. They have other things to deal with than theoretical agriculture. If we are to get full crops it is most urgent to supply phosphates. My right hon. Friend is relying on phosphates coining from abroad. They are necessary, and you have only to go round the country and look at the oats and other cereals, second crops and third crops, which are suffering because of the lack of phosphates. I am one of those who think we are throwing away a most valuable manure in the form of sewage—throwing it away. China can teach this country things in the matter of agriculture. China has realised the value of sewage. I have tried to press this point upon the Minister of Agriculture without very much 1130 success—or apparent success, because I do not know what he thinks; but I say that in this sewage we have something at home which could replace those vital phosphates.
Regarding proteins, the Minister of Agriculture admitted long ago that proteins were a difficulty. At the present time he is committed to getting his concentrated proteins from imported oilcake, but there are practicable ways today of making proteins. You can make yeast, and the easiest way is, perhaps, by using imported molasses (a method I could not recommend) or potatoes. The Germans are feeding their soldiers, as I pointed out earlier in the day, partly on yeast produced from wood and straw. The scientific advisers to the Ministry of Food have told me that there is nothing new about my proposals. The argument against them is that they are not new. They depend upon economic factors. I implore whoever is responsible at the Ministry of Food and Ministry of Agriculture to get the tree stumps and straw made into yeast. I can produce a German refugee who did it. It is not a theoretical matter, but quite practical. On that protein depends our milk, and largely depends our eggs, because in the long run milk and eggs mean protein.
I turn to the Ministry of Food. A question was recently asked in the House about an ordinary article of diet, chipped or fried potatoes. I confess that one of the best meals I can get is fried or chipped potatoes and an egg. I leave the Committee to imagine egg and boiled potatoes. I want to increase the palatability of the people's food, and I believe it can be done. It is no secret that the Minister of Economic Warfare has stated that Germany is manufacturing synthetic fats to make soap. It is poor soap, but it will still wash. Let us take some of the fats from the soap makers and give it to the people to help them make their food more palatable. You cannot fry chipped potatoes without fat; you cannot make cakes without fat. If my suggestion were carried out it would make our lives much more comfortable, especially if we made yeast from wood. People will buy yeast out of a bottle at a high price, and it is admittedly a good article of food. I ask the Minister of Food to consider this suggestion for an increase in 1131 the fat ration. I am a soap-maker, and I have, on the whole, more material than in pre-war years. A little of it could be given to the public in order that they may fry their potatoes and make their cakes, which would make their lives very much happier.
I cannot sit down without referring to the speech made by the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). I understood him to say that he and the Co-operatives had submitted a scheme for food distribution which included the small trader, and I trust notice will be taken of this and that the Minister of Food will not treat the small trader unfairly.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I am glad to have an opportunity to bring the Debate back to the question of distribution. I am sorry I did not hear the whole of the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). Yesterday I heard the Parliamentary Secretary express a considerable amount of satisfaction because he said he had a Maximum Price Order on all essential commodities. I believe he was dealing at" the time with the awkward question of what appeared to be a warning or accusation to market racketeers. Is that his final word on the subject? What is the policy of the Ministry regarding food speculators and un-rationed commodities? We ought to have a reply about it this afternoon. Does his Noble Friend believe that nine or ten rationed commodities are sufficient to sustain human energy and human toil in our factories, mines and workshops today? I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary recognises that the real agitators in this country are the housewives who have to queue up for food morning after morning whether they like it or not. They are queueing up in every industrial town, rich and poor alike.
All we have had up to now is some kind of message, sent out, I believe, from the Ministry of Information, that an earnest endeavour must be made to abolish food queues. I saw such a message yesterday. It is very much like the M.C.C. sending a message to the Lancashire County Cricket Club to make an earnest endeavour to abolish rain or otherwise they would have no test matches. Not one practical idea has been evolved for the equitable distribution if imported unrationed commodi- 1132 ties. Why are we denied a sensible and realistic food policy? I have no doubt that the growers. wholesalers, merchants and all those people who congregate inside the Ministry create confusion when policy is being considered. Who, for example, advised the Minister to allow a margin of £13 a ton between the grower's price and the retailer's price for new potatoes on 1st July? I understand that the grower's price for new potatoes on 1st July was £18, while the price in the wholesale market was £23. The consumer's price was £31. If the Minister can commandeer stocks of old potatoes months ahead, could he not commandeer supplies of new potatoes months ahead also? He might say, "No," but why is it that a coster or a small storekeeper, with one stall or two barrows, was able to acquire on that very week thirty tons of new potatoes and able to make in two days £200 clear profit, simply because he was able to invade the black market because of the Maximum Price Order which permitted him to do so? In my division during the same week we had not ten tons among all the greengrocers' shops, 'for a population of 80,000 people. Those are reasonable questions, and they demand answers
I have been in Spitalfields market, Brentford Market and Covent Garden market at all hours of the morning and night, and there is a new language in those markets every day, as each new Maximum Price Order comes into being. It is a kind of "Yes, we have no bananas" language. If the Noble Lord had gone into Covent Garden or Spitalfields markets a week or two ago, he would have heard poor retailers trying, to buy a few boxes of tomatoes. He would have heard the wholesalers, in reply, say to the modest inquirer, "We are selling cherries first" or "We are selling cucumbers first." The retailer asks if he could not have two or three boxes of tomatoes, and the wholesaler—he does not make it a conditional sale—simply says in reply that he is selling cherries or cucumbers first. Recently the Noble Lord said that we were a foolish people if we paid 3s. 6d. a lb. for cherries, and I quite agree, but the reason why cherries are offered at 3s. 6d. a lb. is that cherries are being foisted on the retailers in order that the latter shall get a few tomatoes or other price-controlled articles. Fantastic prices have to be paid by the poor retailers if they are to get a 1133 few of those price-controlled articles. For example, a fortnight ago in Spitalfields market, peas and cabbages were the code words in reply to inquiries for new potatoes. I do not know what the code word is this morning, now that raspberries are down to 9d. a lb. and gooseberries to 5d. a lb., but the Minister may be assured that there will be a new code word introduced for every commodity which becomes covered by a Maximum Price Order. Cucumbers, for instance, were normally sold in pre-war years at 6d. or 7d. Nobody ever heard of a cucumber at 2S. 6d. before, but cucumbers are the bargaining factor if a poor retailer wishes to secure a few tomatoes, strawberries or raspberries, and so the merry-go-round of consequences goes on in every wholesale market to-day.
This week, of course, shopkeepers are having to give the usual reply concerning raspberries. Why have they no raspberries? I have seen some, by the way, within the last few minutes, but I venture to offer one answer to the Minister in reply to that question. The price is controlled at 9d. It is certain that if he goes into the West End restaurants and hotels he will find them. In one particular restaurant, and a very big one at that, three-fifths of the sweets supplied this week include strawberries or raspberries, as part of the ordinary meal. I know what is happening, and so does the Minister. The housewives of the country cannot buy raspberries or strawberries, despite the fact that they are allowed an extra 1lb. of sugar. I would like to ask the Minister whether the scarcity is also due to raspberries and strawberries being diverted to the canners and bottlers, with the result that we shall be asked to pay 2S. 6d. or 3s. a tin during the winter months for these articles. We know that hotels and restaurant buyers are prepared to pay, and do pay, fancy prices for these commodities. We know that in every market in London there is preferential treatment for hotel and restaurant buyers. I leave it to the Minister's inspectors to investigate what happens, but I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will at least pursue some of those people who are paying higher prices than those permitted under the Order.
The reason that restaurant caterers are prepared to pay higher prices is very 1134 simple. They are not interested in selling raspberries or strawberries, they are not interested in selling tomatoes; they are interested in selling a meal and are prepared to pay twice as much for a box of tomatoes so long as they can get them, and that is what happens. If the Minister denies it, I hope he will accompany me to-morrow morning, and I will take him where he can see for himself. I make these challenges because I have been able to see for myself what is taking place. As I stated in a Yorkshire constituency a few days ago, I believe that if I were to set out to make £1,000 a week in the black market, I could do so easily, if I had ready cash in my pocket and two or three wagons to take the stuff away. I would also like to mention to the Parliamentary Secretary one of the craziest and most stupid Orders ever introduced under the Maximum Prices Order. On 16th June an Order came into operation regarding gooseberries. Gooseberries of all kinds were to be controlled at 5d. a lb. Gooseberries immediately disappeared. Included in the Order were what are called honey gooseberries—sweet gooseberries, all controlled at 5d. a lb. They disappeared from the market altogether. The strange thing is that on 13th July, according to the Minister's Orders, honey gooseberries were decontrolled. They had been missing altogether from 16th June to 13th July, but by 15th July honey gooseberries were seen in the shops at 3s. 6d. a lb.
§ Mr. Walkden
It may have been 4s. 6d. in Reading; it was 3s. 6d. in London. To what crazy gang did the advisers belong who suggested the idea of such an Order as that? 1 would recommend them to Mr. George Black at the Palladium. There are many other comments one could make in regard to the Maximum Price Orders, and I submit to my right hon. and gallant Friend that it does not help us to accept the assurances of the Minister that he is anxious to avoid profiteering when such follies are committed. We believe that it not only creates shortage, but deliberately creates profiteering as well. Need we be surprised at black markets? Is the Minister surprised at the black markets? When these Price Control Orders come into operation black markets are deliberately created, because 1135 he controls the price but not the commodity. We have made a plea time and time again to him at least so to organise his scheme that the commodity shall be controlled, as has been said by the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), right from the grower through to the wholesaler, to the merchant and to the retailer, and distributed on a population basis, town by town, village by village, so that every area shall at least be assured of these unrationed commodities in reasonable supply.
I found out that they were going to allocate 2,000 tons of black currants for pulping in the next month or two. We tried to find out the policy with regard to apples and stone fruits for the autumn months. We have not found out what that policy is. No announcement whatever has been made. Could not the whole of these supplies be registered, and if need be, the housewives of this country be told that, so far as stone fruits are concerned, they are likely to be in short supply but that they can be assured that every plum that can possibly be gathered will be transferred to the preserve factories, and that they may have to go short?
We know that almost every jam factory in the South of England this very week is only working to 50 per cent, capacity. We know they would like to reach 100 per cent. The housewives of Britain would not mind being told the truth by the Minister, if he could say to them over the radio during the next few days that he is going to commandeer all the plums he can get that can be converted into jam, and that they shall not go short of jam next winter. We should be able to say to the seamen that they need not worry about going on the high seas to bring jam from Australia, that we are going to produce it at home. I believe the British housewives would have been content with some assurance regarding jam. "Old Bill" was bothered about strawberry jam in the last war. British housewives are not, but they would like an assurance that we are going to have an adequate supply of raspberry, strawberry and gooseberry jam. The hon. Member for East Ham South has emphasised our case, and I hope we shall get a reply to some of these questions, that we shall get a full, frank and honest statement on the lines indicated by the hon. Member for Walsall.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I want to raise one point briefly, but before I do so I wish to say how glad I am to find that so many people are joining in the chorus and asking for complete rationing and vocational rationing. I have asked for that almost since the outbreak of the war. Mine was almost the sole voice in what has now grown into a very large chorus. As to the matter I wish to raise, the Minister of Agriculture has said that the policy of the Government is to see that farms should, so far as possible, be self-supporting. I am sure every endeavour will be made by farmers to carry out the policy. That means that the farmer will be growing his own corn and will have to feed his cattle with it, which means that it will have to be ground. Unfortunately, during the last 40 years the country mill has been allowed to fall into rack and ruin, large economic mills have been built all over the country, and the country mill has been allowed to go. This matter has been exercising the minds of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food for some time. I understand that the Minister of Food has already initiated an inquiry into the state of these mills.
May I stress my point by an illustration of what is happening at the present time? Along the River Vyrnwy, within my recollection, in a distance of something like 11 miles, there were nine country mills 40 years ago, all working. In those days we were, in that valley, more or less self-supporting. To-day there are three mills, one at the head of the valley, one about four miles down and the other at the foot of the valley. That means that the farmers this year will have to carry their corn all that distance. They will be on the road for hours. If they have any petrol, it will be a waste of petrol. Most of them will use their horses, which means that the man and the horse will be off the land and on the road, carrying this corn, coming back empty, and going another day to fetch it. There are mills still in existence there. I do not know their state at the moment precisely, but I can give an instance of one. Last November it had been in good working order. Then there was a storm, and part of the weir went. The landlord has not put it right; whether he can do so or not, I do not know. We have made representations to the war agricultural committee 1137 and to the landlord. In such a case, if the landlord cannot afford to put it right, will the Ministry take some steps to put it right as soon as possible? That is the short point. I am sure it is a state of things to be found all over the country, especially in the hilly districts, where we have been dependent on water.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I have listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) with regard to the black market. We all know that it does exist, but: I think that he himself proved the difficulty of running it to earth when he said he had been to many of the markets every morning, and knew these things were going on, but, I gathered, he was not able to take a single case to my right hon. Friend which would enable him to take proceedings.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
I have never said I am not able to take a single case to the Minister. Surely it is the duty of the Minister to check the cases I can give him. There are the police, and he employs officials for such duties. I am not a policeman as well as an M.P.
I understood that the hon. Member issued an invitation to the Minister to accompany him to see what was going on. If it is so obvious, I should have thought he would have been able to pass on some facts to my right hon. and gallant Friend. I have had 20 years' experience of a London market, and I know the difficulty of running these cash transactions to earth.
Leaving the black market, I wish to divert the attention of the Committee to the fishing industry, to the catching of fish and the distribution of fish. The hon. Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) and the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) both touched upon that subject very briefly. I want to develop it in the few minutes in which I shall speak. In September, 1939, the House of Commons, or rather, the Minister of Food, yielding to pressure from the House of Commons, did away with an impossible scheme of fish control. That was in the third week of September. Between then and 30th June last, a period of 21 months, there was no control at all with regard to fish, in spite of the fact that only a quarter of the catching power of the industry was available, and also the Increased demand for fish because of the 1138 scarcity of other foodstuffs. That is a matter for regret, because the natural thing happened; it was bound to happen. Prices soared to the highest level ever reached in the history of this country. They were brought down by 33 per cent, as a result of the Maximum Prices Order. An hon. Member has said that they are still too high. I go further, and say that they are at least double what they should be, and that they are outside the purchasing power of the great mass of the people. I often wonder who is able to buy fish at all. It is a very important food, having regard to the rationing of other essential foodstuffs.
This order, brought in three and a half weeks ago, to deal with one-quarter or one-third of the peace-time supply of fish, provides high prices to the trawl owners and very high prices to the fishermen—much too high. It provides margins for fish salesmen, for coastal merchants, for inland wholesalers, for retailers and for fryers, all living out of one-third of the normal supply. The consumer is having to pay—until he can pass it on to his employer. As the State is the biggest employer to-day, it is costing the State millions in increased wages to meet the increased cost of living which is due very largely to these excessive fish prices. It may interest the Committee to know that the British trawl owner for the bulk of his catch in the years before the war got less than a penny a pound, and that the minimum quay-side price to-day for any fish, including dogfish, is eight times that price. That is all that the Ministry of Food have been able to do in controlling fish prices at the source. I do not think there can be any argument as to whether that is a proper or an improper price. Not content with high prices for the trawl owner, still higher prices are taken into account in settling with the crews. The price for many types of fish is 22s. a stone, yet the crews are settled with on the basis of 25s. 6d. per stone for many kinds of fish. That is a purely mythical figure, but it is used in settling their payments. I should be the last to submit that any man facing the hazards of the sea should be badly paid, but I submit that the average wage of deck hands, which was £2 to £3 a week plus food before the war and is now £8 to £12 a week, is much too high. That problem must be tackled at the same time as the whole problem of fish prices is tackled.
1139 Then there is the problem of distribution. The auctioneer at the port, the coastal wholesaler, and so on, all have to have margins. The coastal wholesaler is allowed 1s. 9d. a stone, simply for taking the fish on landing and doing nothing but packing and icing it and putting it into a railway truck for the inland market. He gets 1s. 9d. a stone, except when he transfers it to an inland wholesaler, in which case he gets only is., the 1s. 9d. being divided between the two wholesalers. The retailer gets a further 4s. 3d. Can you wonder that prices are much too high? There are far too many people in the distributing side of the industry. I find it very difficult to make that statement in the House, but, having regard to the need for reducing prices and for the nation to make the best use of its man-power, I cannot support such a system as now exists. At Fleetwood, and I believe at Hull and Grimsby and all the other big ports, every coastal merchant and his staff could be done away with, and their duties taken over by a Ministry of Food transit depot. The fish would go automatically from these coastal places to inland centres, such as Billingsgate, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol. There would be no pettifogging little packages of fish sent to individuals, wasting transport facilities which we cannot afford. A percentage would be allocated to every one of the big industrial areas. While the catch would vary, the percentage would remain constant.
The problem of distribution would become very simple. The fish would be got from where it is landed to where it is wanted, in the big industrial centres, and the country districts could get their supplies from there. In Billingsgate market there are over 200 wholesale merchants today, dealing with 200 tons of fish. In Grimsby there are many more wholesalers. There is not a livelihood for them in the industry to-day, yet they could be made use of elsewhere. Here we are conscripting soldiers' wives to make munitions and compelling them to leave home. Surely, when there is this vast supply of man-power in the fishing industry, many not doing an hour's work a day, and trying to get a livelihood out of a reduced supply of fish, we should take this matter in hand. I cannot see why three fish shops should do the work of one. I cannot see why" it is not possible for the food 1140 control committees in the town to say, "These are the shops we shall select; we shall blot out the proprietor's name upon each, and substitute three fishmongers' names, and that shop shall be the composite shop of the three." The taxpayer and the consumer would then be relieved of these high and unnecessary prices.
In regard to production, there is much to be done. We should use Iceland much more than we do. It is only about 400 miles from the North of Scotland, yet no fish from there is landed in the North of Scotland. It all goes by the long journey down the East coast of England harried by aircraft, and possibly by submarines. The other day, I was looking at that lovely desolation known as Glen Affric. Convoys of heavily loaded motor trucks with herring landed in a Sutherland or Ross-shire loch passed en route to Aberdeen and the South. Cannot we do the same with fish from Iceland? Would it not be much better to save coal by running the vessels into the nearest point in Britain to Iceland? In Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and even New England there is an abundant supply of fish, so much so that to-day we are importing cod fillets from Newfoundland into the United Kingdom at 6½d. per lb., plus a fraction of a penny for war risk insurance. These fillets are sold over the counter in the same condition as they arrive, the only difference being that they have been taken from the port of entry to the place of distribution, and the 6½d. becomes is. 7½d. a lb. to the public. It was is. 3d. before the control came in; but the previous price had to be stepped up to 1s. 7½d., to keep it in line with the excessive prices for other kinds of fish. That is the best indication I can give of the excessive prices being charged.
Two refrigerating steamers plying between Boston, Halifax, St. John's, Newfoundland, and a West coast port would bring in 2,000 to 3,000 tons a month. That would be a valuable contribution to the food supplies of this country. It might help to employ some of these people to whom I have already referred, who are not getting a full day's work, although I imagine that they could do much more important work in the Navy, the Army, in the fields helping farmers, or wherever needed for the war effort. These are a few brief suggestions. I be- 1141 lieve that the Ministry of Food contemplate making changes in September. They are very much overdue. There is a big job of work to be done for the country, and the country expects it to be done. It is the duty of the Food Controller to do it, and it is the duty of this House to see that it is done.
§ Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)
If this Debate has served no other useful function, it has enabled us to hear the valuable speeches contributed by the hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) on the question of food distribution. This Debate, of course, covers the two sides of food production and food distribution. I propose to burden the Committee for a few moments by harking back to what really comes under food production instead of food distribution. There is a large number of points with which one might deal but like my hon. namesake opposite, I think it better just to select one point and to be brief with regard to it. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not here, but his Parliamentary Private Secretary is, and perhaps he will convey to his lord and master anything that I may happen to say, if he thinks that it is worth while. The Minister has pointed out the great shortage that then: will be in supplies of feeding-stuffs unless farmers very largely produce their own supplies and become sell-supporting in that respect. That policy has been pressed home in every way during the last two years, and there has been a very good response, but there is one matter that I would ask the Minister of Agriculture to drive home further and more strongly.
It is the question of silage. I believe that silage has to replace to a very great extent the shortage of the concentrates that we have been accustomed to rely on for too many years, and it is no good saying that hay and grass, and the chance of buying a few concentrates, are going to be sufficient. I know of considerable areas where farmers have a nodding acquaintance with silage, but they have never taken the matter up seriously. I want to urge upon the Minister that he should make a special drive, particularly this year, when as far as one can see, there will be a full supply of green fodder of various sorts suitable for silage making, and, as he knows better than I, there are 1142 in these days cheap forms of temporary silos which do not entail the enormous capital expenditure which one has in the past connected with that process. It should be considered one of the A, B, C's of successful farming, and farmers should now be laying up their stock of silage material to carry them over the winter.
The other point that I want to emphasise concerns to some extent the Ministry of Food. I am glad that the two Ministries have been concerned in this Debate, because so many subjects overlap those two Departments. We are being urged in every direction to add to the human food output of the country. We have been told that people have to reconstruct their dietary, which they are doing to a very large extent. We are told that vegetable produce is to take the place of many of these things on which we have been accustomed to base our diet in the past, and that change is taking place throughout the country. But when they are urged, on the one hand, to make these efforts, it appears pari passu, on the other hand, that all kinds of difficulties are put in the way of those who would be in a position, in a limited way, to add to the food products of this country. You cannot increase your food products unless you have the labour to help you to increase it. There are large numbers of small, medium and large-scale householders and others in the country who have their own market garden in the form of their own walled gardens or ordinary kitchen gardens attached to their houses. A great many of these have done away with the production of flowers and similar things and have substituted foodstuffs. They have taken on the considerable responsibility of increasing the food supplies, and suddenly they find that their gardener or gardeners, who have been converted as far as this is concerned into real market gardeners, are being registered and called up and taken from them, leaving them faced with the problem of how on earth they are going to continue to get any productivity whatever out of their land.
I know of a particular case—it is only typical of many—of a man who grows fruit on such a scale that you might almost call it ranching, in which he has been very successful. He lives quite close to his fruit ranch and has an area of two 1143 acres of market garden of his own, and one man to help him to look after it. In addition to that, an important feature is the keeping of bees, which help to pollinate his fruit crop. He has just been informed that because that single man, who is working about 14 hours a day for seven days a week, is only cultivating two acres of ground instead of three, he is to be called up for war service and taken away. This man is faced with the complete loss of productivity of his two acres of market and home garden. I cannot square that in my mind with the demand for the increased production of foodstuffs. It is true to say that, if all of us as private individuals were in a position so largely to increase our production that it was beyond the consumption of our own households and therefore the over plus would be thrown on to the market, the market might soon become glutted and the stuff wasted. But that is not the same when you are actually supplying the needs of the nation that do not impinge on the normal marketing procedure.
For example, I take my own case. Two-thirds of what I produce goes to an institute for children under five. I have a productive garden far beyond the wartime needs of my shrunken household. I am prepared to supply, and I do supply, all that production of my garden required by this establishment of children. I happen to be fortunate, because my diminished garden staff are in the same age category as myself. We are "greybeards" and are not going to be called up, and so we can continue to produce. But if that garden staff of mine were somewhere about 38 or 39 years of age, they would be taken away "without question put," and I would be left with a considerable acreage going completely out of production. I believe that that is a gap in the Ministry's food scheme for increasing, and maintaining the increase of the very necessary food production of the country. So I would ask them to give some consideration to this matter. I know that it goes further than their respective Departments and involves questions connected with the Minister of Labour, but I would urge the Minister to realise the importance of the fact that, although individual crops might be small, in the aggregate they would make a great contribution to an increase in the food supplies of the country, and to see what 1144 he can do to assist where this burden of anxiety is falling upon those who are only too anxious to make their full contribution to the demands that the needs of war make upon every one of us.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
I would like to deal with several particular sections of the food industry and make a few suggestions to the Ministry of Food for action in trying to put right some of the difficulties which have arisen. First, I would like to deal with potatoes. I think there is a fairly wide feeling of disquiet about the shortage of potatoes which has been apparent during the last month or so in the country. We have had explanations from the Ministry of Food as to why there has been this shortage and have been told that it was because we had so many potatoes which were not of the right kind to keep well and which had, as a consequence, to be fed to pigs. Surely it is the duty of the Potato Marketing Board and the people responsible to plan ahead. The whole point in having such a Board is that attention should be given to possible difficulties that might arise, and last autumn the people responsible for the control of potatoes in this country should have seen that those potatoes which would not keep were first put on the market and that those which would keep were held back for the spring and a possible shortage. The country wants to know why that was not done and who was responsible for not taking that action. At quite an early date in the spring it must have been obvious that we were to have a late season, and at that time there ought to have been a review of the situation in order to see that adequate reserves were held back. I think it is important that the Ministry should have an inquiry into this matter so that the same sort of thing does not happen next year. After all, it is the job of the officials responsible to see that these difficulties do not arise.
With regard to milk, I think the Committee was pleased to hear that progress has been made in milk production, but I think there is a certain amount of disquiet about the question, especially at the present time. There is a general feeling that the present scheme requires overhauling before the winter milk shortage comes upon us. The Ministry attempted to restrict milk consumption by cutting down supplies by one-seventh, but difficulties arose with regard to people buying 1145 small quantities, and it was agreed that restriction should not apply to people ordering one pint or less per day. This had unfortunate results with regard to the quantity of milk set aside for cheese. A number of co-operative societies which handle a large quantity of milk have told me that whereas the Minister hoped that consumption would be cut by 15 per cent., which would be diverted for cheese production, the cut, in practice, had only been about a half of this. What happened was that many people, instead of taking half a pint a day, were taking a full pint, because, through the shortage of labour and of bottles, distributing firms had been unable to deliver half pints and had delivered pints instead. That meant that many households consisting principally of adults were taking more milk than before while large families with children had to take less. I only hope and trust that a proper rationing scheme will be worked out by the autumn which will see that children who need the milk will get it.
I would like to support strongly what was said by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) about fish. I fully agree with the points he made, and some of them I would like to take a little further. I feel that if the fishing industry is to be properly run in the interests of the nation as a whole, it is necessary to requisition all fishing boats. After all, we have had fishing boats requisitioned by the Government for mine-sweeping and mine-laying, and I do not think there will be any inequality in requisitioning the remaining boats for fishing, the Government to pay the fishermen in the same way as they pay the dockers —a guaranteed minimum with bonus on the actual catch. The Ministry should I own the fish and see it right the way through to the retailer. I would suggest that retailers be formed into retailers' committees on the lines of the butchers' committees, so that they could buy from the Ministry for their own areas. I think that such a scheme as was put forward by the hon. Member, with the additions I have made, would enable us to get all the fish that we can catch around our shores and distribute it as fairly as possible over the whole population. In that way it would be possible to see that hotels and restaurant proprietors do not get more than their fair share. I do not want, however, to suggest that the London 1146 County Council and other local authorities which are buying fish direct should be cut out. All I suggest is that it is important in the interests of the nation that the Government should give attention to this matter and see that fish is supplied cheaply and is distributed as evenly as possible. I think it can be done and that it should be done.
The fish trade is one of the most difficult trades to handle. For weeks pressure was put by the Ministry of Food on the trade, asking them to fix prices and reorganise the industry, but the industry showed no response to the request from the Minister, so that the Minister had then to take action and fix prices himself. It has been announced that by 1st September the Minister hopes to bring in a new scheme for the complete reorganisation of the industry. I hope he will be courageous, because I warn him that he will have a big fight. The fish trade is mobilising to fight the Ministry of Food. An organisation to prevent action has been set up. On 10th July a committee was formed and a circular letter sent out saying thatThe fish trades committee feel very strongly that every effort should be made by the industry itself to safeguard its interests and combat those influences which appear responsible for the mistrust of the various sections of the industry evinced by Lord Woolton and as a result of which there is a definite danger that the future management of the trade may pass into the hands of the Ministry.The Committee regards the Ministry's proposals as "a challenge" and intend to appoint a Parliamentary agent to get Questions put down in the House and to see that their interests are looked after here. This question therefore, becomes a real test, and the nation will decide on what happens with regard to the reorganisation of the fish trade, whether the Ministry is prepared to stand up to vested interests and get something done or will give way to these vested interests. I hope that the Minister will stand up to the vested interests.
I want now to say a few words about communal feeding, because I think that in this field a good deal more progress is necessary than is being made at the present time. There has been a development of canteens, but this has not been on a big enough scale. In my own constituency, canteens have been created at cer- 1147 tain works, but many of them do not supply more than a bun, a glass of milk, a cup of tea-, and so on; they do not attempt to provide hot meals for the people engaged in the works. I think that, generally speaking, it is desirable that when canteens are created they should either provide hot meals for those who want them, or, when necessary, some sort of packed meal which can be taken away by people working in pits, and so on, who cannot eat at the canteen. I should like to stress the position of people working in munitions factories. Many of these factories are scattered in order to avoid the attention of the enemy, and the canteen is at a central point to which people working in some parts of the factory cannot easily get, and if there could be some packed meal for them to take to where they work, it would be very useful. It is very important that more attention should be given to the full development of canteens. The problem of school meals also needs to be more adequately dealt with than at the present time, particularly in reception areas, where there are many children who, if they could get meals at school, would not cause the same difficulty to foster-mothers which they sometimes cause at the present time. School meals are particularly important also in cases where the mothers of the children are at work. I hope there will be greater co-operation between the Board of Education and the Ministry of Food in the development of a fuller policy of school meals.
Finally, I want to refer to the British Restaurants. They have had a very rapid growth, and I think all of us appreciate the work that has been done in developing these restaurants, but I should like to ask that where there are reactionary local authorities which have not gone ahead, they should be strongly pressed to do so. There should be co-operation between all the different Government Departments concerned in the development of communal feeding to see that there is a joint policy and that, as far as possible, the different Departments work together, sharing the kitchens arid buildings in many areas. Up to now the development of communal feeding has been on a very fine scale, but it needs to be pushed further, particularly with regard to canteens. If the Ministry will do that, they 1148 will do a very fine job in helping to build up national morale
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I have had the privilege of doing something which is rather rare in these days, although it used to be more common in the pre-glacial period when I first came to the House: I have listened to every speech that has been made in the Debate. The modern practice, which I do not criticise but merely comment on, is for hon. Members to make their speeches and then rush out of the chamber at the earliest opportunity. My patience has been well rewarded, for we have had a most interesting Debate, and I propose to make a few comments, again in the old-fashioned manner, on the speeches that have been delivered. I was not in a position to warn hon. Members that I intended to do so, and I hope that if I say anything controversial concerning the speech of any hon. Member who is not in the Committee at the moment, he will excuse me when he reads my remarks in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
I should like, in the first place, to pay a tribute to the two Ministries and the two Ministers concerned in the Debate. I think the Committee will agree that even in this war, when the pressing, thronging problems of every Department must seem to its occupant at the time to be insoluble, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food take a high place in the priority of perilous adventure and almost certain unpopularity for their Ministerial heads. May I say that I consider that both the Ministers, as well as the Parliamentary Secretaries, have shown a great and statesmanlike grip of the situation, and that the nation has profited by their presence there?
What are the results of that administration, which have been well expressed in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and, I think, have been brought out in the very excellent speeches which we have heard from the back benches? There has been a great increase in the land that is being used to the best advantage from the point of view of food supplies—not withstanding that military and air requirements have, unfortunately, through no fault of the Minister, reduced the effect of this—and a diet sufficient to keep them in health for the 1149 civilian population. I hope those facts will go out to the public. It may rather horrify hon. Members to know this, but I happen sometimes in the small hours of the morning to broadcast to the United States, and I think the information to which I have just referred is the sort that should be sent out to the United States and to all friends of this country. We are producing more food at the present time than ever before, and we have a diet which is on the whole sufficient for the population Those are very fine facts.
I should like to support one thing that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South (Mr. Barnes), who made a most excellent speech. I think all hon. Members appreciate that he represents, perfectly properly and fairly, the point of view of the great and most useful body with which he is connected. He made an appeal for an attempt to find, not only for war time but for peace time, a balance between the interests of the consumers and those of the producers. That is really what we have to aim at, and in this connection I must tell the Committee something which shocked me to the core recently. I will not indicate the case, because I do not want the person who said this to me, if he should read the OFFICIAL REPORT, to know that I have quoted it. I was talking to a certain farmer on the subject of farms and prices, and he said, "Oh, yes, I am very well satisfied with the situation. I think we shall do well. After all, the war may last another four years, and farmers' prices will be higher." It is a terrible thing, from the point of view of human value, that farmers—and this man was a working farmer and no capitalist—should have to look to four years of war to give them what they think is a proper profit. We know that in the Napoleonic Wars there were toasts at farmers' banquets, "May the war last another ten years."
§ Earl Winterton
It may be a serious statement, but it is a statement of fact. There is one thing that I want to say to the two Ministers. At Question time 1150 in the House, they very often have to stand up to a barrage of questions, and I should like to pay a tribute to the administrative value of standing up to criticism in the House, not with a view to defying the general sense of the House, which is usually right, but in order to persist in urging that a particular policy is in the public interest, even though it is unpopular and has electoral disadvantages. Both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food have stood up well to criticism. After all, who minds criticism? During 37 years as a Member of the House, both in this Committee and the House of which it is part, I have been shouted down on a number of occasions and expect to be on a good many more occasions.I think that only one person has a record that is greater than mine in that respect, and that is my right hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), and apparently he is not satisfied with his triumphs, but wishes to repeat them-abroad.
Before the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food replies, there are one or two points made in the course of the Debate which I should like to reinforce or to disagree with. First of all, the Minister of Agriculture said that there was still in some parts of the country a failure to make use of the waste food from the towns which is now being processed for the purpose of feeding to animals. That is a matter which requires urgent attention, not only from the Ministry of Food, but from the Council of Agriculture, and the recognised bodies of representatives of the agricultural industry. There is something wrong there, and it should be put right My right hon. Friend also said, what is undoubtedly true, that before the war a great deal of the grass of this country was wasted. I think his figure was one-third. It is undoubtedly the case that for some reason the English farmer requires more grass to feed his animals compared with a farmer in any country with which I am acquainted. In this connection- may I point out that there is a terrific waste of grass on roadside verges?
I entirely support what was said by my right hon. Friend on the need for the use of women on the land. My right hon. Friend spoke of the waste land which had been taken over. I hope he will not think 1151 me conceited when I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and myself are entitled to some credit for the way in which we have consistently pressed on a reluctant public, and sometimes on a reluctant House of Commons, the need for the utilisation of waste land. Again and, again we have heard speeches from farmers' representatives, in which they have referred to the difficulties. But hitherto too little has been done in bringing virgin land into cultivation in this country. Every credit is due to the war agricultural committees and to the Ministry for the splendid work which is now being done in this regard. I am very pleased to hear that 2,000,000 more acres are to be ploughed up in the next ploughing season.
My right hon. Friend did not make a very extensive reference to sheep. I am not familiar with farms in the Eastern counties, but I think it is the case, even under present conditions, that sheep are an important factor in the fertility of the soil in that area. Reference has also been made to sugar, and I agree with everything which was said by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise). Credit is due to a previous Government, of which I was a very junior member, for our sugar-beet policy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South, that the optimum to be aimed at is an approach, by what I may call, a well-graded road, to an all-round rationing. I do not ask for an answer on that point to-day, because it would be foolish to do so, but I am convinced, from the point of view of the morale of the country, that the nearer we get to an all-round rationing system the better it will be. There is an answer to it, but, from the public's point of view, it has an unfortunate effect when a person can walk into a West End club or restaurant and order a large meal, when in many other parts of the country, such as the area where I am living, it is exceedingly difficult for people, rich or poor, to obtain enough food for their households of the kind to which they were accustomed before the war. People coming to London see this apparent discrepancy, and they cannot understand it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Sir G. Schuster) raised, in an 1152 interesting form, a matter which has not been touched upon before, that is, trying to make the people of this country more bread conscious. I put this to the Committee. Is it not an anomalous situation, after two years of war and with the pressure on our shipping space, that a greater effort has not been made to bring home to the people that it is as wicked to waste bread as it is any other commodity? I think my hon. Friend was very courageous when he asked whether there was any inviolable law or something so sacred that you could not in any circumstances say that bread was going to be rationed. The Minister of Food should not be nervous in approaching that point if it ever becomes necessary to do so. At any rate, I think it should be impressed strongly upon the public that it is as wrong to waste bread as anything else. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall on the subject of food and food values was excellent.
In conclusion, I would point out that there is a road of high endeavour before both of my right hon. Friends which is still before them, and, to some extent, before the Secretary of State for Scotland, namely, to persuade the British people tactfully, but firmly, that more and more as the war goes on they must live on the food which their own land, so grievously neglected, like the tillers of it, can produce. It can be done, and I should like to lay it down, not as a general proposition, but as a fact which cannot be gainsaid, that it should be considered a disgrace, and would be considered a disgrace in peace, as well as in war-time, in any other country, and an offence to God and man to own a single piece of waste land which could grow but which is not growing food for human or animal consumption. At the risk of being tedious, I would repeat what I said in a previous Debate. There is no other country in Europe where you can see, as you do in this country, coming from Dover to London in peace-time, more land which is not fully used. You see more uncultivated land during that journey than you would see in a journey of 1,000 miles in Europe. That is a terrible situation. It is not the fault of the farmers. It is partly the fault of economic conditions. But it goes a little further than that. The people of this country are not quite as land conscious as in other countries. Not 1153 many farmers would be able to live for long under the French farmers' conditions of terrible hard work and a low standard of living. We have not got the peasant sense in this country, and we must recreate it. It will be generally admitted by anyone who reads history, that in the eighteenth century our people had, relatively, the highest physical standard compared with any other country—that also applied to some extent in the seventeenth century—before the industrial revolution did so much mischief to our people. What did our people live on then? They lived on food grown in this country. They did not require bananas, and the majority could not buy oranges or any of the delicacies which we now see. They just lived on English food.
§ Earl Winterton
Relatively their wages were no higher than to-day. It is a fact that the physical constituents of our soil can produce superlative stocks, and vegetables and grain, and there is no reason why they should not be developed to the utmost. It means hardship and a change of habit, but it is very necessary it should be done. In conclusion, I extend my good wishes to my two right hon. Friends, who are representing the Government in this Debate, in their very successful endeavours to save the soul of Britain by teaching the people that they neglect their own soil at their own peril.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)
I agree with my Noble Friend that we have had a very interesting Debate—I would go further and say not only interesting but extremely valuable. The one weakness that I can see about it is that the time is rather too short for two subjects of such immense significance. In the short time available I will cover as much ground as is possible. I must first deal with the administration of the Ministry of Food in relation to what are, after all, the most essential commodities. It seems to me that the Ministry has three duties. The first is to secure our essential foodstuff supplies and to make us secure for as long a time as is reasonable despite the worst that could happen to us by sea, land or air. I think we can say that that has been done. Whether we like it or not, despite the great efforts that have 1154 been made by our agricultural industry we are still dependent on overseas for our main sources of supply, and that involves shipping. We know what the demands on our shipping have been for munitions and raw materials, for Expeditionary Forces which have to be not only conveyed to their destination but maintained there, and we know about the concentrated attack upon our roads, harbours and transport system. I think the Committee ought to realise what this has meant. In the first year of the war the average loss of shipping was 110,000 tons a month. From June, 1940, to June, 1941, it has gone up to 292,000 tons. Despite this increase in the attack not only on our shipping but on our ports and our transport system, the stocks of major food commodities to-day are better than they were this time last year. They are substantially better than m January of this year, and they are better, as far as the major commodities are concerned, than they were even before the war. As far as invasion is concerned, I can assure the Committee that the precautions which have been taken to ensure our food supplies in that event have been greatly improved within the last 12 months, and they are as adequate as they can possibly be made.
The next duty is to see that this food is available to our people at prices within the reach of all. I can say that that also has been done—I am talking still about the staple commodities. It has been done by Government subsidies running into anywhere around £100,000,000 a year. I have heard to-day one or two observations about the cost of living. The Cost-of-Living Index in food has only risen by 29 points since September, 1939, which is equivalent to 21 per cent., and if you ignore the first month, in which a steep rise occurred, it is only 11 per cent, since October, 1939.
The third duty is that we should secure distribution of these commodities fairly among the people of the country. I think no one would dispute that that has been done by rationing, which has been working perfectly satisfactorily.
There is left the problem with which we have been dealing mostly this afternoon, and that is the other foods which are not essential in themselves but, some to a greater and some to a less extent, are regarded as things worth having and things 1155 of which to a large extent people have been deprived. They are in very great demand, and the Ministry of Food are fully aware of this deprivation. We are fully aware of the hardship involved to many of our people in trying to get them. We have heard about queues to-day. In a good many cases the source of the queues can be traced to those people who have to wait for these things, but do not let us delude ourselves into the belief that all queues are due to that sort of thing. There are many women who stand in queues who do not know why they ever went there. I am not saying that without knowledge [Interruption]. It may be the exception, but there are certain women who cannot resist a queue and do not know why they stand there. That does not alter the fact that queues also wait for things that seem necessary, but do not let us delude ourselves that that is the only reason, because it is not.
May I now say a word on the un-rationed commodity problem? It is not an easy one. The first thing is that the demand for unrationed commodities is greatly in excess of the supply at present. I think the reason is well known. Large numbers of our people are earning more wages than they were before the war. Essential food supplies have been rationed, but rationing is not confined to essential foodstuffs. Many other commodities which could be bought have also been rationed, and very heavily rationed. Wages are greater in many instances than before the war, and therefore there is a large excess of spending power now available for unrationed foodstuffs. In addition, the Government have kept down the cost of foodstuffs. The result of that has been to increase the demand for those very commodities which are in short supply.
No one questions the wisdom of the policy of the Government in doing everything they can to keep down the price of foodstuffs, but it is creating a very difficult problem for the Ministry of Food. It is almost like trying to make water run up hill. The more foodstuffs that are price controlled, the greater becomes the demand for them. This is a task which in the last war the Ministry of Food never attempted to tackle. We are breaking new ground, and extremely difficult ground, and indeed working against the ordinary laws of economics
1156 It does not appear to me to be unreasonable to ask the Committee to appreciate the magnitude and difficulty of this task. Strictly speaking, the job of the Ministry of Food is to feed the people of this country. The additional job of keeping down the price of foodstuffs has been extended by the Government, with the approval of the country and the House, to the Ministry. If we had left the prices of unrationed commodities to remain without any interference, this problem would not be with us at the Ministry of Food. It would have settled itself as far as prices are concerned, but by this policy, which everyone admits is a right policy, we have made the solution more difficult. There are some people who say that rationing should be extended. Rationing is a term which is rather loosely used. You cannot have universal rationing, especially when commodities are in very short supply. The word "rationing" is not the panacea that can cure all the evils with which we are afflicted, because the demand for different commodities varies in different parts of the country. Take the case of rice, for example. Some people eat a lot of rice. If we rationed rice, people who ate a lot of it would be penalised and people who usually do not want it would take it. That is one of the things about rationing that the Committee should remember. Very often, when we ration a commodity, we find that people who never used it before want their share, and if it is in short supply that makes the problem more difficult. That applies not only to rice but to other commodities as well.
What is known as straight rationing cannot be extended to those commodities which are at present unrationed. We have, therefore, to approach the problem from an entirely new angle—how to deal with those unrationed commodities which are not essential in themselves to the life and well-being of the nation, but are, nevertheless, an important part of the dietary of our people. I will not give an undertaking that any scheme proposed will solve the problem of the mal-distribution of unrationed foodstuffs over-night, but I am in a position to say that a great deal of thought and work has been expended on this problem. I see no prospect of being able to deal with the unrationed commodities, commodity by commodity, but by means of a comprehensive scheme 1157 we hope to ensure that all households will obtain a fair share of the supplies available and that distribution will run parallel with demand. There are several ways of doing this, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) and others have suggested various methods, all of which are being examined. We must, however, make it as simple as we can because we do not want to add any more complications to the shopkeeper, to the housewife or, indeed, to the Ministry.
It is not so easy to make these things simple. We tried one scheme recently— the egg scheme—and there were one or two difficulties in that scheme. We have had in that scheme in the last week or so examples of the difficulties of attempting to control an unrationed commodity. We have heard a lot about the egg scheme and the Committee will be interested to know that from 1st July to 17th July, when things were not going so well, nearly 200,000,000 eggs were distributed in this country, of which over 70,000,000 went through our packing stations. That compares very favourably with the position before the war. We have had trouble with other eggs, but they were not laid in this country. They came from overseas—it does not matter where—and they were not of the best quality. I am glad to inform the Committee that these eggs will no longer appear in the scheme. They will be disposed of, but not in that way. At any rate they will not come into our egg scheme. But of necessity there must be an interval between the decision to go in for a scheme of this character and the putting of it into effect, because administrative arrangements have to be made and there are many details to be gone into. We have decided to see that this scheme is put into operation, not with the idea that everybody will get a ration in the same way as he gets his ration with ordinary commodities, but to ensure that at any rate there shall be a fair distribution of eggs throughout the country as far as we can manage it.
Many questions have been raised today, and I have not time to deal with all of them. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) was very much worried about the potato muddle, as I think he called it. It is not the first time I have heard about the potato muddle. As far as I can gather, it is said to be 1158 entirely due to somebody at the Ministry of Food. I would like to disabuse his mind on that point. I gather that the suggestion is that, if only we had had a little vision at the Ministry, we should a long time ago have acquired stocks of potatoes for human consumption, so that when we had this gap between the old and the new crops everything would have been all right. Let me tell my hon. Friend that on 8th June this year we had 250,000 tons in stock, as compared with 38,000 tons last year. I think, therefore, that I am entitled to claim that somebody at the Ministry foresaw the situation. We bought 105,000 tons of long-keeping potatoes purposely for May and June, a further 30,000 tons were bought afterwards to meet emergency needs in case of need, through enemy action, and yet another 45,000 tons were bought from growers who were taking them to market themselves. I am referring to long-keeping potatoes bought specially for this very purpose. Unfortunately, as everybody knows, the new crop was late. The hot weather at the end of June made it impossible for any potatoes to be kept, even if we had had 2,000,000 tons. To show the Committee that I am not trying to make excuses for the Ministry of Food I should like to read an extract from a German broadcast giving a summary of their own Press. With regard to potatoes they had a difficulty—it is not confined to this country. The extract is:The people are told that the old potatoes have been used up while the new potatoes are from three to four weeks late. The Press say that this is an emergency which is regrettable but cannot be helped. German food officials have dealt successfully with many things but they are not able to influence the weather.That was one of the few German broadcasts with which I have agreed since the beginning of this war. The same conditions applied to us. Every possible step to deal with the situation was taken long beforehand, and this gap arose out of conditions entirely beyond our control, conditions which I have been told have not been seen for more than 100 years in this country.
The fish scheme has also been mentioned. I think the Committee will appreciate that it is a difficult thing to prepare a scheme for so complicated an industry. We did our best to arrange it through the ordinary trade channels, but we failed, and now we have a scheme 1159 which is working temporarily until we can get a more comprehensive scheme. I am hoping that it will be a satisfactory one. With regard to Iceland—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson)—we have now taken steps to acquire the whole of the Icelandic catch for this country.
With regard to bread, I very much appreciated the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). I agree entirely with him that we must watch that we do not waste bread. It is already an offence to waste bread. In the last war we prohibited the selling of fresh bread, but the wastage went up, for the simple reason that a stale loaf is much staler on the second day than a fresh one.
I am very much afraid that time will not permit me to go into detail as I should like to have done upon many of the points which were raised. I hope hon. Members will realise that we are now trying to evolve a scheme for the un-rationed commodities which are thought essential to the well-being of the people of this country.
The Committee should be under no delusion as to the difficulties which we are facing. As my Noble Friend has already said, we are almost in the position of a beleaguered country, and the first thing we have to do is to secure essential supplies. I think we have succeeded in doing so. The next thing is that we must do what we can not only to acquire those extras which make life very much more pleasant, but to maintain supplies and get them distributed as fairly as possible throughout the country. I promise the Committee that that is what we are doing at the present time.
Even if we have to come down to essentials only, and though those essentials may be simple, they will be sufficient for our requirements. Those are to defeat the enemy and to preserve for ourselves and those who come after us the things which we regard as the most priceless possessions of this country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.— [Major Dugdale.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.